The thousands of fans who turned up and pumped fists Tuesday night at American Airlines Center will be the first to say it: There's no show like a Bruce Springsteen show. With the large and supercharged E Street Band behind him, the 66-year-old rock legend gave his Dallas diehards the same remarkable energy he's banked on for decades.
His latest tour devotes more than half of its time to recreating the diverse and arena-ready magic of Springsteen's 1980 double album, The River.
"'The River' was my coming of age record," Springsteen said after kicking off with one of the album's outtakes, "Meet Me in the City." "All the ones before that were sort of young-man records.
"By the time I got to 'The River' I wanted to make a record that felt like an E Street show."
As the band and Springsteen (a.k.a. "Bruuuuuuuce!") worked their way through the album's 20 tracks, its power as a self-contained setlist became more clear by the song.
"The Ties That Bind," "Two Hearts" and "Ramrod" found the people on their feet, shouting the words and following Springsteen as he paced the open stage and shook fans' hands. He basically handed most of "Hungry Heart" over to them, allowing them to sing much of it while he connected and, yes, crowd-surfed.
As buoyant as the faster tunes were, with their full-throated chants and the rock posturing of Springsteen's bandmates (Steven Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren and Max Weinberg were particularly fun to watch), the stripped down sections impressed us even more. Springsteen's voice on "Independence Day," "The River" and "Wreck on the Highway" sounded world-weary, layered and beautiful.
It would've been wonderful to witness the original 'River' tour back in '80 at Reunion Arena, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Tuesday night's show exceeded it by a mile. As Springsteen reminded us while setting up many of the songs, the perspective he has now adds considerable weight and richness to the tunes when they're played live. It's difficult to imagine a better-performed or more perfectly paced concert.
And I haven't even mentioned the last section of the show, when the 'River' tunes gave way to Springsteen gems from other albums and eras. I don't need to tell you how "Badlands," "Born to Run" and Springsteen's reclaimed "Because the Night" went over.
The crowd on Tuesday night was with Bruce all the way.
More photos from the show:
Breakneck pace: Springsteen and the band knew they had a ton of material to get through, so there wasn't much time for banter. A song would end, and the main man would start counting down to the next one. It's an exciting approach, but it was nice when he slowed down long enough to give the crowd insight into those 'River' tunes.
About that insight: Even folks who hadn't listened to 'The River' millions of times came away from the show knowing about its inspirations. Before "Independence Day," Springsteen spoke of the moment one discovers the "adult sacrifices" made by his parents. Before "I Wanna Marry You," he said it was written about "love without responsibility, love without consequences." He paused a moment. "The crowd is silent right now because they know that doesn't exist."
The show after the show: After hearing all 20 tracks of 'The River,' fans were treated to what amounted to a bonus Boss concert. Some of the hits the band cranked out as the night wore on: "Badlands," "Promised Land," "Thunder Road," "Born to Run," "Bobby Jean," "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" and "Dancing in the Dark." A gaggle of kid fans went on stage during "Dancing" to do their best Courtney Cox moves.
No frills, lots of signs: There were no fancy backdrops or bits of stage trickery, and we didn't miss them. The E Street Band created stunning visuals, whether the vets were crowded around Springsteen at a single mike or the late Clarence Clemons' nephew, Jake, was working his jelly on the saxophone. A band that tight is enough. And the fans' homemade signs helped to complete the experience on Tuesday. Among those we spotted were colorful cardboard squares that read "Texas girls wanna dance with you!" and "My mom drove all night to see Bruce!"
Follow Hunter Hauk on Twitter: @hausofhunter.