There was no denying that this was going to be an epic night, given that many thousands of people were gathered for the final night of a three-show stand at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium. The first two nights were complete and utter mayhem in the best possible way, especially Night 2, which bore almost no resemblance to the written set list. But Night 3 was a Saturday, it was the last show before a three week break in the tour, and more than that – it was the night before Bruce Springsteen’s 63rd birthday. During a lengthy soundcheck where the band worked out rarely played gems like “Into The Fire,” “Where The Bands Are,” “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart,” “Meeting Across the River,” “Cynthia,” and “Give The Girl A Kiss,” it was quite clear that a scorched earth prophecy would come to pass later as the brand new building would be given its final workout – for now – by the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, earth-quaking, history-making, legendary E Street Band.

The show’s start ended up being delayed until 10:30pm because of extremely dangerous storms that were moving through the area; the vast stadium was emptied of ticket holders who waited in hallways and corridors for the all clear to be sounded. Once it was, and the vast building was repopulated, there was an even greater charge in the air – the people were more than ready to rock and roll. And, as the raindrops fell, they got their wish as Bruce and band hit the stage to the strains of Wilson Picket’s “In The Midnight Hour” on the PA system. “I think I’ve just invited 55,000 people to my birthday party!” said Bruce as they immediately set the tone with “Out In The Street.”

“The Ties That Bind” was next, followed by a barn-burning version (and tour premiere) of the rarely played “Cynthia” (for all the world sounding like a 60’s garage band hit that never happened). A power pack of “Badlands,” “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” and “Cover Me” (with a blistering solo by Bruce at the start of the song) seamlessly dovetailed into “Downbound Train.” Next they moved into four songs from the Wrecking Ball album; “We Take Care Of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball,” and the majestic “Death to My Hometown,” topped off with an even more heartfelt than usual version of “My City Of Ruins.” This song, as songs will, has gone so far beyond its original meaning as to encompass a world of hurt and sorrow and loss. “Are you ready for a houseparty tonight?” Bruce sang in his most Sam Cookesian style, and followed it with a few lines from Cooke’s classic “Twistin’ The Night Away.”

It was clear that Bruce was in an even more festive mood than usual which was a combination of his birthday, the last night of the stand prior to a three week break, and the delayed start of the show. Looking back fondly to his 22-year-old self, he reminisced about taking the bus to New York to audition for Columbia Records and playing “Saint In The City” for them. This song is always a standout in the show, roaring to a close with dueling guitar solos by Bruce and Steven, augmented by Max’s frantic drumming. Gary Bonds came out as he had the previous night and joined in on “Jole Blon” and “This Little Girl.” The Cajun mood extended to the joyous “Pay Me My Money Down” with the entire horn section joining Bruce center stage, dancing and swinging and playing. The rarely played and well-loved “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart” came up on its heels. More birthday craziness ensued with a full band version of “In The Midnight Hour” as it now was actually the midnight hour and therefore September 23rd, Bruce’s birthday. Let it be noted that the E Street Band had not played this song live since New Years Eve in 1980.

Showing his extreme prowess for toning down the wild party atmosphere into a solemn occasion in only a few minutes, Bruce dedicated the next song (another tour premiere), “Into The Fire,” to FDNY Lt. Rich Nappi, a 9/11 hero who died this past April in the line of duty. Earlier that day a massive tailgate memorial to celebrate Nappi’s life and great spirit took place in the parking lot outside; hundreds of people from all over the world attended and donated money to Rich’s family, proving beyond a doubt that indeed, we do take care of our own. Love and duty called him someplace higher – and somehow you knew he had joined the ghosts looking down and smiling.

The seething “Because the Night” was next, followed by “She’s The One,” then “Working on the Highway” and the show stopping “Shackled and Drawn.” After the appropriate (given the weather) “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” the main set came to a close with a beautifully rendered (mad props to Curt Ramm on trumpet) “Meeting Across The River” and “Jungleland.” There’s nothing like looking around at the rapt faces of thousands of people hanging on those opening words: “the Rangers had a homecoming in Harlem late last night…”

The encores began with “Thunder Road,” a beloved touchstone that was followed by a newer classic, “Rocky Ground” (a song that never fails to move me to the core). Before launching into “Born To Run,” Bruce grinned, “did I mention it’s my birthday?” “Glory Days” was the perfect follow up, “Seven Nights to Rock,” then “Dancing in the Dark” (during which his dancing partner was the lovely and lithe Maureen Van Zandt). By this time the entire audience was whipped into a frenzy. “10th Avenue Freeze Out” brought everything to a screaming close…and then! A huge guitar shaped birthday cake was brought onto the stage and Bruce’s mother along with his sister Ginny along with Patti’s mother and brother came out to help celebrate. Steven led the audience in a massive chorus of “Happy Birthday” for “The Boss of all Bosses” and Bruce cut some slices of cake, which he hand delivered to fans in the front – the first one going to Obie – “our first fan.”

“Somebody gimme a guitar quick willya,” Bruce quipped and then crashed into “Twist and Shout” to put a final stamp on the celebration. The show ended in the wee wee hours, as someone once said – it was by this point about 2 a.m. The mighty men and women of the E Street Band left the stage for a well deserved break – next stop, Oct. 19 in Ottawa! Happy Birthday, Bruce.

- Holly Cara Price