Midway through another one of his trademark three-hour-plus concerts at the BB&T Center in Sunrise Tuesday night, Bruce Springsteen stood at the edge of a riser on the arena floor, surrounded by fans singing along to his hit “Hungry Heart,” when he turned and fell backward into the sweaty mass.
Dozens of hands reached up to cradle the 64-year-old singer and, as he held the microphone with one hand and grabbed at fans’ hand-scrawled signs and souvenirs with the other, Springsteen surfed the crowd all the way to the main stage, singing as he bobbed along.
If Springsteen’s live shows often lean toward thoughtful earnestness, this night was more about having fun, with the audience, the set list and himself.
A recurring gimmick came in the form of the many signs that the crowd on the floor seemed to have in limitless supply, which Springsteen periodically would stop to harvest by the armload. Most were emblazoned with the name of a song suggestion, which provided several interesting detours during the evening.
One fan, whose sign said he had just proposed, was rewarded early on with “I Wanna Marry You” from 1980’s “The River.” (“We are in the love business!” Springsteen said with gusto.) Other songs suggested by fans included “Hearts of Stone” and “Talk to Me,” written for “Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes,” the under-appreciated 1978 debut album by his Jersey Shore friend.
The night was filled with other welcome oddities, including “Save My Love,” a “Darkness on the Edge of Town” outtake from the double-CD set “The Promise,” and “Linda Let Me Be the One,” from “Tracks,” the collection of B-sides, demos and revised recordings of other songs released in 1998.
The ageless Springsteen, who turns 65 in September, was in remarkable shape, in quickly damp black shirt and jeans, close-cropped hair and the suggestion of a goatee, with sparkly hoop earrings in each ear balanced by black sweatbands on his wrists. That hard look was necessary to carry off two of the best covers of the night, a blistering and faithful take on the indelible John Lee Hooker blues jam “Boom, Boom,” and an explosive version of AC/DC’s classic rock anthem “Highway to Hell.”
The “testifyin’, death-defyin’ E Street Band” was embedded among 17 musicians and singers onstage, led by veteran standard-bearers Roy Bittan on keyboards, Garry Tallent on bass, Nils Lofgren on guitar and the relentless Max Weinberg on drums.
Guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt, busy with TV work, was replaced by Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, who reined in his prodigious fret skills admirably until it was time to let loose on songs such as “Highway to Hell.” More impressive was what Morello did with “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” turning the pensive ballad into a resplendent, angry howl on a guitar etched with the words “Arm the Homeless.”
While the rarities and covers may have crowded out some fan favorites, Springsteen did make time for “Prove It All Night,” a beautifully emotive reading of “The River,” the politically charged anthem “The Rising” and the equally forceful “Wrecking Ball.”
Toward the end the house lights were turned up for crowd-pleasers “Dancing in the Dark” (yes, he did pull one lucky woman out of the audience to dance and sing), “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run,” which inspired apparent strangers behind the floor seats to dance arm in arm.
Also among the closing songs was the “Born to Run” classic “TenthAvenue Freeze Out,” which included a classy video tribute to “the Big Man,” late South Florida resident Clarence Clemons, and keyboardist Danny Federici.
The memorable lyric delivered in the song by Clemons, “And kid you better get the picture,” was handled by his nephew, saxophonist Jake Clemons, who proved in every way worthy of filling the Big Man’s shoes Tuesday night. There is no greater compliment.