"Pittsburgh! Is anybody alive out there?"
Bruce Springsteen launched his show at the Mellon Arena with that call and got his answer back with a mighty roar from the sold-out crowd of 17,000-plus.
The connection was instant and, with that, Springsteen and the E Street Band souped-up their engine for "Radio Nowhere," the lead-off track from "Magic" and a perfect set opener, with Bruce declaring, "I was spinning 'round a dead dial."
There's nothing like a Springsteen show to bring back all those memories of when the dial was very much alive. It's a rush of nostalgia seeing Springsteen and his remarkably intact band on stage, whether it recalls the great mid-'70s or the glory days that followed.
Fortunately, that's only a small piece of the deal. Springsteen, at 58, continues to step up his game and if anyone's looking for a voice of reason, a moral compass, in these tough times, they need look no further.
More than anyone else writing songs right now, Springsteen has found a way to deliver a message about the state we're in, while still making it rousing and fun and cathartic.
The Boss delivered no less than eight songs from "Magic," his latest recording and his best since, well, maybe "Nebraska" 25 years ago. If you knew the songs going in -- or even if you didn't -- the words about war and sacrifice and deception and faith rang out strong and powerful.
The pairings made them all the more poignant. "Lonesome Day," a song from "The Rising" about post-9/11 grieving, preceded "Gypsy Biker," a new song (that could have come off of "Darkness on the Edge of Town") about a soldier who doesn't come home.
He introduced "Magic," a quietly menacing song, saying, "We're living in a time when you see the truth twisted into lies." It was followed immediately by the more hopeful "Reason to Believe," delivered like a boot-stomping ZZ Top song with Springsteen singing in the harmonica mike like mean ol' Tom Waits.
There was a whole lot of glorious, fist-waving "Born to Run" in the set, as well. "Night" came back to back with "She's the One," electrifying the house. "Backstreets," with his friend Terry Magovern recently dying, was as emotionally wrenching as it was uplifting.
He introduced the deceptively joyous-sounding "Livin' in the Future" talking about the "attack on the Constitution" the last six years. He turned around with "The Promised Land," with that thrilling collision between his harmonica and Clarence Clemons' sax -- a dream of how things could be. He belted out the words "I've done my best to live the right way/I get up every morning and go to work each day" as if it were part of the Pledge of Allegiance.
"The Rising," a soul-stirring requiem for 9/11 victims, slammed into "Last to Die," one of the most powerful anti-war songs of the decade, and "Long Walk Home," a rousing plea to get the country back on track.
Yeah, it sounds heavy, but it was a blast at the same time, and it took on a local flavor with Joe Grushecky (introduced as "the man who's bringing sexy back") joining him for "Code of Silence" and, during the encores, an eerie, devilishly acoustic run through "Youngstown."
Also, during the encores, Bruce shelved "Thunder Road" (awww) but did reach back for the rollicking "Kitty's Back," a rare showcase for E Street's wondrous jazz chops, particularly from the keyboard men: Professor Roy Bittan and Danny Federici.
On this trip, The Boss wasn't jumping off of pianos or sliding across the stage, as he once did. But he didn't have to. He and the songs were still giving 150 percent, and the crowd (as eager to sing as he was) gave it right back.
On anthems like "Badlands" and "Born to Run" there was enough energy in that building to power a medium-sized city. Like Pittsburgh.
Long live The Boss.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Nov. 16, 2007) Bruce Springsteen opened his concert at Mellon Arena on Wednesday Nov. 14, 2007 by singing "Radio Nowhere." An incomplete song title was given in photo captions with this story during the Nov. 15, 2007 news cycle.
Scott Mervis can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-2576. First Published November 15, 2007 5:15 AM