PITTSBURGH -- They played all "The River" and covered "Rebel Rebel." There was "Dancing in the Dark" and a nice long encore that gave euphoric fans a reason to "Shout."
Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band launched "The River" tour without a hitch Saturday at Consol Energy Center, delighting the sold-out audience surrounding the end-arena stage.
No conspicuous opening night flubs surfaced during the 34-song, three-hour-18-minute performance that began with a run through "The River," Springsteen's 1980 double album. First up, with the houselights still on: "Meet Me in The City," a vintage-sounding, freshly released outtake from that album, which set the evening's tone for uplifting, emotionally rendered rock, richly textured and well balanced by sax, piano, violin, multi guitars and Max Weinberg's drum hammering.
Absent from the 2014 tour due to TV acting pursuits, guitarist Steven van Zandt and his bandanna were back, giving Springsteen someone to harmonize with at close range from a shared mic. The evening's best guitar solo, though, came from Nils Lofgren, making his instrument scream on "Because The Night" as he stood on one leg and pirouetted athletically.
Springsteen, in a blue button-down shirt and charcoal vest, accessorized with gold earrings, didn't run around the stage quite as much as usual. Though during "Hungry Heart" he roamed into the audience via a catwalk and crowd-surfed his way back to the stage, like any other 66-year-old rock legend would do, right?
The Boss had another legend on his mind, mentioning at the start of the encore that David Bowie had been an early supporter who even covered a couple of Springsteen's tunes. With that, the E Streeters ripped into "Rebel Rebel," capturing the raw glory of one of the signature songs by the late-Bowie.
"Time catches up to us all ... you've only got a limited time to take care of your family," Springsteen said earlier in the night in one of his ruminations on "The River," which he acknowledged as an album written by a young man trying to figure out where he fit in as those around him began settling down.
Time marches on but great music endures, symbolized by each clean, fluid blast of energy from the saxophone of Jake Clemons -- nephew of the band's beloved original sax man, the-late Clarence Clemons. During "The River" sequence, Jake shined on "Ties That Bind" and almost single-handedly kept "Drive All Night" from being a snoozer.
That's the mixed bag with playing a full album start to finish. There were selections that weren't so riveting, like during "Wreck on The Highway" and "Independence Days" where fans took their seats. Though some underrated gems sparkled, notably a stripped-down and poignant rendering of "Point Blank."
Fans, many in their 50s, sang along loudly to "Sherry Darling" and rose in jubilation for the most recognizable "River" songs; "Hungry Heart," "Out in The Street" and "Cadillac Ranch," which fell a little short of high gear but still was fun.
Nobody sat for the marvelous, career-spanning greatest-hits set that started strongly with "Badlands" and included the spirit reviving "The Rising" and a "Thunder Road" singalong that was nothing short of beautiful.
"Dancing in The Dark" sparked a sing-along, too, with one lucky woman, holding aloft a "Be my last dance before my wedding" sign, living out her fantasy, Courteney Cox style, by being welcomed on stage to dance with Springsteen.
With no Joe Grushecky guest appearance this time -- Springsteen's Pittsburgh BFF had a gig in Asbury Park, N.J., of all places, the encore drove on, with the houselights turned up so everyone could see each other singing, dancing and fist-pumping gloriously to "Born to Run."
With Springsteen still in good voice up 'til then, things got a little sloppier -- though in a merry, late-night karaoke kind of way -- for "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" and then a cover of The Isley Brothers' "Shout."
With the clock nearing 11:20, it was time to go home, as another crowd-satisfying Springsteen show was ready to be logged into the Pittsburgh concert history books.
Backstreets.com -- the trusted reference point for all things Springsteen -- told fans worldwide it was "one of the strongest opening nights in memory, for an incredible Pittsburgh audience."