It's been more than 35 years since Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played in Baltimore, but Friday night's show at the 1st Mariner Arena was well worth the wait.
Bruce and the boys plowed through nearly 3 1/2 hours of rock 'n' roll that rattled the old arena like few bands can. Seeing Springsteen and the E Street Band was like going to church on a Friday night. From the first notes of set opener "Wrecking Ball" to the fist-pumping finale of "Glory Days," Springsteen grabbed hold of the capacity crowd and never let go.
The last time Springsteen was in town was 1973, when he opened for Chicago at what was then the Baltimore Civic Center.
"I think it was $2 to get in," Springsteen said of that show. "Some guy yelled at me, 'Hey, we didn't come here to see you,' and I said, 'Yeah, well, the next time we come here, it's going to cost you $5.' "
Try $100 a ticket (for floor seats). Springsteen made sure the more than 14,000 fans got their money's worth, though.
Neither Springsteen nor the arena has changed much since 1973. He might be 60, but Springsteen acts like a spry 20-something, strutting across the stage and dropping to his knees for dramatic effect.
Near the beginning of Friday night's concert, Springsteen waded out into the audience, took a slug from a fan's beer and crowd-surfed back to the stage. During a high-stepping rendition of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," Springsteen bent backward until he was horizontal, stared up at the rafters and straddled the microphone. Good luck finding another 60-year-old rocker who can do that.
One of the latest trends in live music is for bands to play entire albums, start to finish.
On the last leg of this tour, which ends today in Buffalo, N.Y, Springsteen has dusted off classic E Street Band albums such as "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle." Friday night, he led the band all the way through "Born to Run," the album that first made him a superstar.
"This is the record that started a lifelong conversation between you and me," Springsteen said before easing into "Thunder Road." The spine-tingling song opened with nothing but Springsteen's gravelly voice and pianist Roy Bittan's lullaby-like playing, until the rest of the band joined in and turned the gentle tune into a triumphant arena anthem.
When it was time to play the album's title track, the house lights came up and stayed up all the way through the song. It was jarring at first, but seeing thousands of other enthusiastic fans made the moment that much more enjoyable. The dark and chilling "Meeting Across the River," with its sparse instrumentation, gave way to the album's closer, "Jungleland," which was about as epic as it gets.
"Born to Run" might have introduced Springsteen to a generation of rock fans, but at 1st Mariner Arena, the seminal album was only one part of a much larger, longer show. Few groups are as versatile as the E Street Band, and the group proved it Friday night by playing everything from Jackie Wilson's rousing soul revue "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" to the Irish jig "American Land." Drummer Max Weinberg's daughter Ali joined the band to play some accordion on the jig.
Though health problems meant Clarence Clemons had to use a lift to get on stage, The Big Man wailed on saxophone like he always has. Both guitarists Nils Lofgren and Steven Van Zandt offered some scorching solos, and Weinberg's steady playing helped hold the tunes together.
After all that howling over all those years, Springsteen still has his voice. He hit a few falsetto notes and, at times, belted so hard and loud his head trembled. Perhaps the night's most poignant moment came when Springsteen booted the rest of the band off stage and sat down at the piano for a solo version of "For You," a song off his debut album, "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J."
Since Springsteen likes to keep his live shows spontaneous, a handful of the 30 songs played were audience requests. Crowd members brought signs with their suggestions, and Springsteen sifted through them and picked ones he liked. The always cheerful "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (complete with Santa hats), the playfully frantic "The E Street Shuffle" and the irresistible, retro-sounding rocker "Ramrod" were all requests.
Springsteen kept bidding farewell to the audience and then launching into another song, as though he couldn't bear to end the night. As rumor has it, this could be his last tour with the full E Street Band in quite some time. Well, we Baltimoreans have waited 35 years since the last Springsteen show here and, if need be, we'll wait another 35. Even a 95-year-old Springsteen would probably still be one of the best shows in rock.