About 30 minutes into his nearly 3 ½ hour concert at the Oracle Arena in Oakland on Sunday, Bruce Springsteen surfed the crowd during a great sing-along version of “Hungry Heart,” the hit from “The River.”
At 66, could the American rock icon be in better shape? Or cooler?
He’s also a poet who ponders life’s most pressing realities: relationships, time, mortality.
He told his mostly middle-aged and senior crowd why “The River” is the subject of his current tour with the impeccable E Street Band. (Note: Saxophonist Jake Clemons is the nephew of the late, great Clarence.)
“It was my coming-of-age record,” he said, about the home he was trying to find, and something that “felt like life,” with fun, jokes, love, sex, faith, lonely nights and teardrops.
The 1980 double album (not necessarily a fan favorite) starts out rocking: The house lights stayed on for “Meet Me In the City,” then dimmed, as The Boss (who, when not playing guitar, shook hands with folks down front and turned around to face those behind him) and the band pounded through “The Ties That Bind,” “Sherry Darling,” “Jackson Cage” and “Two Hearts.”
Things slowed down wonderfully on “Independence Day.” Springsteen said it was the first song he wrote about fathers and sons and about being shocked to realize your parents had hopes and dreams, too. (Never mind the entirely inappropriate woman in front of me dancing like the tune was “Erotic City,” even though Prince didn’t play that one at Oracle 10 days ago.)
Other heavy tunes on “The River” also went over well: “I Wanna Marry You,” what Springsteen called “a daydream of a love song,” about love without consequences or responsibilities – the kind that doesn’t exist – and he called out the crowd for being old when they laughed. Alone in the spotlight, he accompanied himself on maracas.
He played harmonica on the weighty title tune, which was followed by the dramatic “Point Blank,” with a gorgeous piano intro by Roy Bittan and nifty spaghetti-western guitar by Steve Van Zandt.
“Fade Away” got a provocative fade away treatment; and, after two hours, the great “Wreck on the Highway” closed “The River,” as Springsteen reiterated that the album was about “time slipping away.”
Still, he and the band found more than 90 minutes to play 14 more uptempo tunes: “Badlands,” “Prove It All Night,” “Lonesome Day,” “Candy’s Room,” “Because the Night” (with an off-the-charts guitar solo by Nils Lofgren), “She’s the One” “The Rising,” “Thunder Road,” “Growin’ Up” (an ecstatic kid did a great vocal solo onstage next to Bruce), “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark” (a young woman joined him for that; was it really 32 years ago when Courteney Cox was in the video?), “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “Shout.”
All in all, it was another satisfying show from the world’s best live act, a guy who somehow manages to defy and embrace the passing of time.
His hairline isn’t where it was 30 years ago, and he’s got a few lines on his forehead. But his voice sounds fantastic, his physique is like a body builder, and, Sunday night anyway, his smile warmed the crowd throughout the show.
What more could one ask of a rock god?