Bruce Springsteen is back as the Boss.After a dark, provocative solo tour and an invigorating trek with a too-loud and too-large Americana band, Springsteen is back with his legendary E Street Band.
"Is there anybody alive out there?" he screamed as he took the stage Friday at the soldout Xcel Energy Center. Then he tore into "Radio Nowhere," his new single about no sense of direction in our society, and the Boss was reborn like Randy Moss hooking up with Tom Brady.
Springsteen sang so vein-poppingly hard you feared he might explode onstage. He performed Friday like music is what matters most, hoping to bring a sense of community -- and a sense of hope -- as he sang about dreams and disillusionments.
At 58, Springsteen was more urgent than five years ago with the E Streeters and as refreshed as he seemed last year with his so-called Seeger Sessions Band. Even though he did nine songs from his new "Magic" CD (compared to 12 songs from "The Rising" -- or half the set -- in 2002), he managed to balance the message (about the deception and despair brought by the Bush administration) and the joy (it is rock 'n' roll, after all).
With many sonic echoes of earlier Springsteen tunes, the new material was easy to integrate with the old. And given the oldies he did (including "Promised Land,"Badlands,"Thunder Road,"Dancing in the Dark" and the really ancient and unexpected "Incident on 57th Street"), the 2 ¼-hour performance was exuberant, liberating rock 'n' roll.
Unlike the past, there were no long-winded stories to introduce songs, no preacher-like posturing about salvation and no long harangues about politics, freedom and food shelves (just two short ones). Still, he managed to seem like the old heroic Boss, starting several songs by counting off "1,2,3,4." He had an indomitable spirit, unbelievable energy, a powerful sense of purpose, and an unstoppable bent for fun.
It's always a marvel at how he can start a concert in overdrive -- and rarely downshift more than three or four times all night. Too bad on Friday that many of E Streeters -- save for Max Weinberg, who was as mighty as ever on drums -- were still in first or second gear early on. The eight-member band (his wife, Patti Scialfa, was home in New Jersey with their three teenagers, he said) finally all clicked with their Boss on "Reason to Believe" (from 1982's dour "Nebraska" album), which was recast to a Canned Heat boogie beat. The vintage mid-'70s stuff, including "She's the One," brought the saxophone of Clarence Clemons, who has been slowed substantially by two hip replacements, into the mix.
Of the new tunes from "Magic," none was particularly magical. Springsteen exuded boyish-like enjoyment on "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," a breezy slice of '60s pop; he dedicated it to Jeanne Heintz, who was celebrating her 86th birthday. "She's the only one in here older than me," he joked.
Unlike classic shows with the E Street Band, this one almost seemed like a Springsteen show with the E Streeters as sidemen. He rarely used Clemons or guitarist Steve Van Zandt as a physical foil. Nonetheless, Springsteen gave all 19,000 concertgoers reason to believe that he is still the Boss -- rock's most purposeful, exhilarating and fun live performer.
If you need further proof, Springsteen and the E Street Band will do it again at the Xcel on March 16; tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. Nov. 10.