Mission accomplished, Bruce.
At the outset of his "Wrecking Ball" 2012 tour stop at San Jose’s HP Pavilion Tuesday, Bruce Springsteen told the capacity crowd, "We're here to manifest the joyous power of rock 'n' roll and shoot it straight to your heart. We're here to take you to higher ground."
Three hours and 20 minutes later, the job was done.
Springsteen, 62, remains a powerhouse and phenomenon bursting with mind-blowing spirit and stamina. The legend, who opened the show saying he's "the only one in rock 'n' roll who introduces himself" somehow, wonderfully, manages to both embody and defy rock star clichés.
It's apparent why he's called the Boss; on Tuesday, he was in command – of himself, his expanded 16-piece E Street Band (minus wife Patti Scialfa, who was "home with the kids") and the ecstatic, mostly middle-aged, audience _ from the first song "We Take Care of Our Own" to the closing "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out."
Of course, the great Clarence Clemons was missed in this first E Street tour since his death. The dynamic saxophone player received a touching video tribute during the show's last tune; his role seemed to be filled by not one person, but a five-member horn section, including his nicely capable nephew Jake Clemons on sax.
Often serious and spiritual, Springsteen's charm and humor came out in "Thundercrack," a tune "from the vault." When he turned his mic over to a few folks who served up weak refrains of "all night," he joked, "This is why I'm getting paid."
Later, on "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," an adorable young boy from the audience did a much better job handling supporting vocals, and got invited onstage to do a rock star slide to the knees.
More lighthearted moments: an Apollo Theater soul medley that took him into the audience, featuring "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "634-5789" after which he surfed the crowd back to the main stage. (One wonders if some nights he's simply not in the mood to be man-handled like that _ but he showed no signs of displeasure.)
Still, as in any Springsteen show, the meat and potatoes are his odes and anthems to plain-speaking, hard-working, under-represented Americans, and those songs, old and new, were out in force: "Johnny 99," which got an amazing, upbeat rockabilly treatment; "Badlands," "Death to My Hometown," "Jack of All Trades," "Shackled and Drawn," "Backstreets," "American Skin (41 Shots)," "The Rising," "Lonesome Day," "Out in the Street," "Thunder Road," "The Promised Land," "We Are Alive" and "Born to Run."
Not above a dance tune, his encore included his biggest chart hit "Dancing in the Dark," followed by the fiery concert favorite, "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)."
A fitting near-conclusion, it fulfilled Springsteen's opening promise to fans, to send them home aching, asking themselves, "What the f--- happened to me? I feel changed."