Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band stopped at Comcast Center in Mansfield, Mass., on Saturday, and brought with them a spectacular – and steamy – night of redemptive rock ’n’ roll.


 

For most bands it would sound gimmicky – collecting requests from the audience, some for cover songs they may have never played before. But for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, whose "Working on a Dream" tour stopped at Comcast Center in Mansfield Saturday, it brought an interlude of spontaneity and joy to an already spectacular – and steamy – night of redemptive rock ’n’ roll.


The heat was definitely noticed by Springsteen, who replaced his usual shouted refrain of “Is there anybody alive out there?” with “Is it hot enough for you?” But how Springsteen – who, I am required to note by the Law of Springsteenian Reviews, will turn 60 next month – keeps up the level of intensity he does for almost three hours and 28 songs is one of the great mysteries of the physical world.


The request segment was a definite highlight, with the band taking on Elvis Presley’s climate-appropriate “Burnin’ Love,” played only once before, and Jimmy Cliff’s “Trapped,” known from 1985’s "We Are the World" compilation. In between was the rarely played “For You” from Springsteen’s 1973 debut album, a Dylanesque ode to a suicidal girl that’s lost none of its rollicking power.


Doling out parts to the E Streeters and calling out keys on the fly, Springsteen clearly relishes this chance for his longtime band members to show their chops, which last night they did with a fiery intensity.


Of course, by the time the request segment came around, Springsteen was already in the midst of a show of blazing force. The first six songs, kicking off with “Jackson Cage” from "The River," came rolling out practically without a pause, Springsteen’s throaty growl sounding undiminished by either age or the heat.


He covered the bases of his more well-known numbers, with “Hungry Heart,” “Badlands” and “The Promised Land” all making appearances, and also some rarer songs, like “Working on the Highway” from "Born in the USA" and “Point Blank,” one of several slower songs that allowed the crowd to catch its breath before the band poured on the heat again.


It was a dynamic and varied setlist – to the detriment, unfortunately, of Springsteen’s latest album, "Working on a Dream," which saw only two songs played last night. The first, the overwrought cowboy epic “Outlaw Pete,” actually comes off better live, with it’s “Can you hear me?” refrain, set to a southwestern backdrop on the tremendous widescreen added for this tour, exploding into the arena.


And the title track at first seems like a bit of a letdown coming on the heels of a searing “Badlands” – you could sense a crowd on the edge of euphoria coming down just a notch when the new song started. But the band does such an inspiring job, bookending Springsteen’s show-grounding speech about “building a house out of love,” that it doesn’t take long before all is forgiven.


That number leads into what’s become known as the “recession suite”: “Seeds,” a bleak, hard-driving song about a man whose family winds up homeless, and "Nebraska’s" “Johnny 99,” about the laid-off auto worker who winds up in jail for killing a man during a botched robbery. It sounds harrowing, but the explosive versions here manage to be sobering and exuberant at the same time.


In fact, if there was a theme for the night, it was probably the ability we have as a community to rise above adversity, no matter how bad things seem to get. In “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” the, well, sunny song from "The Rising," Springsteen acknowledges that “Hard times, baby, well they come to us all,” a sentiment he repeated later in a gritty take on Stephen Foster’s Civil War lament, “Hard Times Come Again No More.”


But then the band pounded through its amazing final set, including an energetic “Detroit Medley” – inspired by devil-horned blowup doll in a blue dress that wound up on stage – a pulse-pounding version of “Born in the USA” and a stadium-bouncing “American Land” and “Dancing in the Dark” (featuring a very happy little girl brought up onstage in the Courtney Cox role). By then, bankers and layoffs were long forgotten – hard times do come, Springsteen seemed to be saying, but we can also overcome, sometimes through a steamy, inspired night of rock ’n’ roll.


For a longer version of this review, visit Wicked Local’s Springsteen blog, Blogness on the Edge of Town.


Contact Peter Chianca at pchianca@cnc.com.