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Let’s just skip the introduction about the E Street Band’s deserved reputation as the most exciting rock show on the planet or how Springsteen’s music has provided millions with a veritable guide for life. I probably don’t need to mention The Boss’s penchant for marathon shows or his decades of landmark work. And I definitely don’t need to remind anyone that since the Super Bowl Halftime Show, the E Street Band has completed a serious resurgence in generations ranging from kids picking up guitars for the first time to adults who remember scanning the radio for “Thunder Road.”

So let’s just start with all of the lights in the Verizon Center going out, tens of thousands of fans screaming at the top of their lungs, and twelve silhouettes taking their places on stage. The lights go up, a short greeting from Bruce, a four count, and the band explodes into the first track from 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, “Badlands.”

For those who haven’t religiously followed Springsteen’s set lists over the past couple tours, “Badlands” is the song the band usually employs to close out the main set before the encore. The lyrics proclaim defiance and hope, while the music is bright and energizing. For Springsteen to put his closer right up front let everyone in the arena know the bar was set high for the rest of the set to follow.

But unlike the recent Magic tour, Springsteen’s 2009 shows are not solely geared toward optimistic hope and change. While the last tour became an auxiliary campaign for the election of Barack Obama, this tour has two feet firmly planted in the America we are living in today. Starting with a revival sermon during “Working on a Dream,” Springsteen began the show’s Hard Times arc, leading his band through the employment drought of “Seeds,” the life sentence of “Johnny 99” and then the homeless wanderings of “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Each song was a gritty, angry, guitar driven warning about poverty and the crime that follows. While it was Bruce’s face up on the big screen, it was lead guitarist Nils Lofgren who was the keystone to the songs. Lofgren’s absolute command of his instrument came out in full force during “Tom Joad,” which featured a solo so fast, he had a camera mounted on his guitar so everyone could see his fingers dancing (think the beginning of AC/DC’s video for “Thunderstruck). Since none of the Hard Times songs were even remotely danceable, most of the audience sat down for this portion. The band played on unaffected though, showcasing the utmost conviction for this leg of the show.

Immediately changing pace, Bruce began collecting dozens of homemade signs while the band played “Raise Your Hand.” The collection of signs became a regular feature last year, only now Bruce has challenged the audience to stump the band. So far, the E Street Band has figured out songs on the fly just about every night, ranging from oldies like “Good Rockin’ Tonight” to anthems like The Clash’s “London Calling.” DC got a much sillier challenge, thanks to a large banner requesting “Hava Nagila.” Pianist Roy Bittan and organist Charlie Giordano figured out the traditional Jewish song with no trouble, with Bruce cutting them off to honor another request, the first song off his first album, “Blinded By The Light.”

From there on out it was business as usual for the band. With the exception of the confessional brooding of “The Wrestler,” it was one rowdy guitar rock song to the next. “Radio Nowhere” brought out the most fist pumps while “Born To Run” gave everyone in the audience back their youth.

“Kitty’s Back” was the last surprise of the night, as the encore otherwise stuck to the blueprint of rousing patriotism and perseverance. Bruce finished the show, honoring the hundreds of requests for the fan favorite “Rosalita.” The house lights came up, and the Verizon Center resonated with thousands of voices shouting the lyrics pledging to indulge in a life of music and young love. In the course of three hours, the E Street Band touched on every facet of blue collar America with the 26 song set, and like all Bruce Springsteen shows, it was still over too soon.

[Photos: Chris Sikich]

Setlist:

Badlands
No Surrender
Outlaw Pete
She’s The One
Working On A Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Raise Your Hand
Out In The Street
Little Latin Lupe Lu
Hava Nagila
Blinded By The Light
Waiting On A Sunny Day
The Promised Land
The Wrestler
Kingdom Of Days
Radio Nowhere
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born To Run

Hard Times
Kitty’s Back
Land of Hope and Dreams
American Land
Rosalita

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