Of course Bruce Springsteen delivered Monday at Xcel Energy Center.
The beloved rock 'n' roll legend, 66, is incapable of insincerity. If the Beatles and the Rolling Stones hit you below the waist - hips for the former, loins for the latter - and Bob Dylan strikes the head, Springsteen goes right for the heart.
That's exactly where his relentlessly earnest and impassioned performance in St. Paul came from, as The Boss and his E Street Band tore through 1980 double LP The River followed by another set of favorites, totalling three-plus hours of dedicated fan service.
"Are you ready to be entertained?," Springsteen asked at the onset of the show, with the house lights still beating down. "Are you ready to be transformed?"
That may have been the New Jersey rock 'n' roll preacher's only moment of at least partial insincerity - he knew the answer.
Stationed atop a modest stage configuration with zero bells and whistles, the E Streeters kicked things off with "Meet Me in the City," a River-era outtake that sparked a marathon of first-pumping from the sold-out crowd.
"The River ... The River .... The River was my coming-of-age record," Springsteen told the crowd, taking one of several Storytellers-esque breaks to introduce songs. "[It's] a record that felt like life, a record that felt like an E Street Band concert. It's about fun, dancing, laughing, sex, love, faith, lonely nights, and teardrops."
It felt like all those and more Monday, including, at times, too damn long (a 20-track LP from 36 years ago is gonna have some duds). The album got even longer last year when The Boss released the sprawling, 52-song The Tie That Binds: The River Collection box set. But mostly the show felt like a megachurch revival in frozen Minnesota, with the ripped and vigorous Springsteen leading his enraptured congregation with shouts of "eye-eye-eye" on a muscular "Ties That Bind" and inspiring four minutes of high-fives during "Hungry Heart."
It was all delivered via Boss-by-numbers integrity during the verses, and anthemic gusto during the choruses. At one point, Springsteen traveled a fourth of the way onto the floor and crowdsurfed back to the stage. For all the rock 'n' roll bluster, though, the aching humanity shined brightest.
Even on the corny moments of The River - of which there are several - Bruce is unafraid to be appear uncool; he's immune to cynicism, even when pouring himself into the throwback balladry of "I Wanna Marry You," the scorched-earth moans of "The River," and sentimental sax indulgences of "Drive All Night."
The softer moments were always countered with rockers, including a scorching burn through "Cadillac Ranch." Even when he's singing about a goddamn car, Bruce means it.
Led by guitarist Steven Van Zandt, drummer Max Weinberg, bassist Garry Tallent, and pianist Roy Bittan, the band has remained remarkably intact since its '70s/'80s heyday, save for departed sax great Clarence Clemons, whose dynamic nephew, Jake, replaced him, and organist Danny Federici, who died in 2008.
Our two-hour run through The River concluded with some fatalist poignancy from Springsteen.
"The River was about time ... time slipping away," he said. "You realize you have a limited amount of time."
It didn't feel that way at Xcel, however, because fans were then treated to a bonus hour and 15 minutes of career-spanning hits, including just one newish song (2002's "The Rising"). The vibe, despite the house lights being awkwardly turned on for the final half hour, was that of a party.
"Born to Run" inspired more high-fives than a Wild playoff goal; "Thunder Road" erupted into a massive singalong; "Because the Night" proved an appros, hard-charging anthem, and "Bobby Jean," feeling as though it could be the final number, elicited a we did it feeling throughout the spiritually linked crowd.
But oh no, we were not done. "Dancing in the Dark" - again, ironically/annoyingly with the house lights up - brought a moment sweet enough to warm the coldest of hearts. A 91-year-old woman toted a sign asking Bruce to dance, and that's exactly what they did, capped by big hugs and kisses (see video here). Faith in humanity restored.
"DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING LEFT?," Springsteen screamed multiple times as things wrapped up. Again, he knew the goddamn answer.
Jubilant, unexhausted charges through "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" had giddy superfans downright ecstatic; Springsteen had somehow turned a sports arena into a barn party. That vibe carried over beautifully into the night's final song: the Isley Brothers' call-and-response rocker "Shout."
Springsteen, somehow not drenched in sweat, and flanked by his E Streeters, took a huge bow as cries of "BRUUUUUUUUUCE!!!" implored him to stick around.
"I'm just a prisoner of rock 'n' roll," he said before retreating from the stage. In typical Boss fashion, it didn't sound like hollow showbiz sloganeering - it sounded like a from-the-gut declaration.
Critic's bias: I've casually consumed most of Springsteen's discography, but not with any real attention to detail. I'm aware that my relative Boss ignorance is something of a crime against rock 'n' roll.
The crowd: I mistakenly saw my boomer parents at least five or six times.
Overheard in the crowd: "I have The River Tour T-shirt from 1980, but now it fits more like a tube top!," proudly exclaimed one 50-something male Springsteen fan.
Random notebook dump: Did this multimillion-dollar artist use focus groups to determine when to insert ballads? The crowd gets to sit during the slower stuff, and every time my legs began to tire, Bruce mercifully toned things down. Is that a strategy in the boomer concert industry?