Bruce Springsteen led his E Street Band and a sold out Tampa Bay Times Forum on an impassioned triumph last Friday night. His clenched fists pumped the air — so did ours — and his boots stomped the stage during Florida's only show on his current "Wrecking Ball Tour." It was a two hour-forty eight minute rock revival of hope and "heck yeah!"
The Boss played much of his "Wrecking Ball" album released earlier this month, opening with the evocative "We Take Care of our Own," his observation of the current American condition.
The night's special moments are too numerous to list, and Springsteen's connectedness with the elated crowd fueled most of them.
He gave a fan his broken guitar string after he cheese-grated his Telecaster against his microphone stand. For a giddy cover of the classic pop tune "634-5789," Bruce ran out to the middle of the general admission floor and crowd-surfed back to the main stage.
During "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," Springsteen held his microphone down to a young woman to help him sing the chorus. Her tone — yeesh. The fan wasn't flat or sharp; she was in another galaxy. (But, hey, she sang with The Boss while I can only write about it).
Still, Springsteen encouraged her. She'd sing a line and Bruce would say "Almost!" She'd sing another: "Almost!" Even in the most dire of situations, the Boss exudes hope for humanity.
The E Streeters, flanking Springsteen 16 pieces-strong, were in stellar mode just three shows into the tour. Max Weinberg, the human metronome of a drummer, provided the pulse. The sequence of encore hits displayed why Bruce and this band are known for gritty live shows.
Bruce screamed, "Let's go! 1! 2! 3! ..." and boom, the house lights blasted on, illuminating the euphoric crowd for "Born to Run." That 20 second-or-so sax solo by Jake Clemons, nephew of the late Clarence Clemons, was pure bliss. "Dancing in the Dark" followed, then "Glory Days." The finale, "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," was another chance to honor "The Big Man," Clemons.
When the song hit the lyric " ... and the big man joined the band ...," the music stopped. The band stood silent as the crowd went berserk. Clemons' son, Jared, came onstage and soaked it in, embraced by the arm of cousin Jake.
Following the final bow and a few minutes after the band retreated to the back caverns of the Forum, Springsteen popped out from behind the stage and raised his plastic cup to the few hundred faithful who remained. The cheers didn't compare in size to 10 minutes earlier when the other 17,000 folks were still there; still, he nodded and smiled in several directions, raising his cup again and again.
For that moment, he wasn't the Boss; he was much more like a guy at the end of the bar who just got off work, acknowledging some familiar faces.
When Springsteen did finally leave, he walked toward a tunnel, waving and smiling before pointing to a young boy. Then he reached into his back pocket, pulled out his harmonica and tossed it up to him.