The 19,000 people crowded into San Jose, CA's HP Pavilion Wednesday night for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's kickoff to the Working on a Dream tour provided a snapshot of a generation.
Many had Blackberries and receding hairlines; some sported gray ponytails; a few brought their teenagers along. But the minute the music started, none of that mattered, because Bruce and his band... well, you already know that they can rock. What you might not realize, until you see them live, is just how fresh their energy is, and how relevant Springsteen's music remains.
Anyone looking for a nostalgia-fest was in the wrong place. Springsteen has kept busy writing songs that explore the nuances of a struggling middle-class America. His populist message was clear: You can take the boy out of Asbury Park -- but you can't take Asbury Park out of the Boss.
The 27-song set opened with 1978's "Badlands," but quickly focused on the new material. "Outlaw Pete" became an eight-minute jam that sounded grittier (and better) live. Next came "My Lucky Day," one of the rollicking, optimistic tunes he's been writing since September 11.
The Boss wailed on the harmonica, then growled the lyrics of "Good Eye." He switched to the country-esque sing-along of "Darlington County," causing an eruption of Boomer hands in the air with his pulsing "Sha-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la-la."
The stage grew dark and quiet as he moved into the heartbreaking lyrics of "The Wrestler" ("Have you ever seen a one-legged man trying to dance his way free?"). And then he lit into "Kingdom of Days," with wife Patti Scialfa sharing vocals.
Every six songs or so, Springsteen landed on a feel-good classic ("Out in the Street," "The Promised Land"), and he strutted the far reaches of the stage to play to the front, back, and sides of the house. He even pulled out a signature move, reaching down to lift a teenage girl onto the stage during "Dancin' in the Dark." Incredibly fit, singing with raw power for nearly three hours, calling out each of his band mates for solos and duets, Springsteen made 59 look easy.
One of the show's highlights came at the end of "Lonesome Day," from 2002's The Rising. "It's all right, it's all right, it's all right, yeah," the entire arena chanted along, as if lost jobs, foreclosed homes, and shrinking 401(k)s were no longer a problem -- at least not while Springsteen was on stage.
The encore songs continued this theme. The band ended the night with a thunderous, gospel-like version of Stephen Foster's 19th-century classic "Hard Times (Come Again No More)" and the fiddle-heavy "American Land."
Suddenly it felt less like a concert and more like a revival led by a preacher you could actually believe in.
"My Lucky Day"
"Out in the Street"
"Working on a Dream"
"Ghost of Tom Joad"
"Good Rockin' Tonight" (cover)
"Waiting on a Sunny Day"
"The Promised Land"
"Kingdom of Days"
"Born to Run"
"Hard Times (Come Again No More)"
"Dancin' in the Dark"
"10th Avenue Freeze Out"
"Land of Hope and Dreams"
Bruce Springsteen / Photo by Casey Flanigan
Sax man Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen / Photo by Casey Flanigan
Drummer Max Weinberg / Photo by Casey Flanigan
Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band / Photo by Casey Flanigan