"Giants Stadium: The House That Bruce Built," read one proud fan's sign. Friday night Bruce Springsteen returned one final time to the 70,000-seat New Jersey venue to tear it all down.
Bruce's 3-hour blowout -- his fifth show there in two weeks (each one devoted to a classic record) and his 24th since 1985 -- will be the last musical performance at fabled Giants Stadium before it is demolished next year. So nostalgia was very much in the air.
There were fireworks. There were 50-year-olds in tour jackets that read "Bruce Springsteen Cleveland 1974." There were 30-year-olds in football jerseys and Giants helmets.
This was Bruce nostalgia -- big, rollicking, take-no-prisoners nostalgia. An era may be coming to an end, but the Boss was, as ever, defiant. "C'mon take your best shot. Let me see what got. Bring on your wrecking ball!" he sang on "Wrecking Ball," the evening's opening tune and one written recently for the occasion.
Of course, Bruce had brought a wrecking ball of his own: the E Street Band. The crew that's been with him since the '70s did not desert him last night. Springsteen, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, guitarist Steve Van Zandt, and the rest ran through the evening's three acts -- the career-spanning prelude, the full performance of Born in the U.S.A., and the audience requests -- with as much enthusiasm and generosity as a group half their age with twice as much to prove.
Everything about Born in the U.S.A. -- from its string of Top 10 hits to its Reagan era flag-bearing Annie Leibovitz album cover -- has become a cliché. But fully at home in Jersey, Bruce made it fresh again.
"Downtown Train" burned with newfound desperation, while happy hour perennials "Glory Days" and "Dancing in the Dark" practically jumped off the stage. Springsteen even managed to return the often misunderstood title track, turgid synths and all, to its original glory -- making it a call for change instead of a plea for patriotism.
Elsewhere, Springsteen's set veered widely between early classics like "The Promised Land" and "Hungry Heart" (on which the audience sang the entire first verse), and recent hits like "Outlaw Pete" and the epic "Long Walk Home."
And there were those daft crowd requests: Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing" and the Rolling Stones' "Last Time." Yet it all made perfect sense.
One of the night's best moments had the band jumping from "The Rising" straight into "Born to Run" -- a 27-year leap that felt neither forced nor gimmicky, only thrilling.
So the music was extraordinary. But in the end, it was all about connecting with the audience, about making their day. Bruce crowd-surfed, shared a beer with a fan, even pulled an older guy up on stage to boogie after seeing his "Bald Guys Are Great Dancers" sign.
And there was that adorable six-year-old Springsteen found to sing the chorus on "Waiting for a Sunny Day." Another fan predictably, though endearingly, decided to ask for his girlfriend's hand in marriage. "Suzanne, Will You Marry Me?" his sign read. She said yes, of course.
Springsteen was there in a flash with a smile and hug. Rock star. Best Man. To Bruce, they're one in the same.