Photos by Jo Lopez

Bruce and the E Street Band returned to the stage after nearly a month, to begin a true North American leg north of the border that will come to a close in December in Mexico. After the outdoor shows this summer, they’re bringing the Wrecking Ball tour back inside, beginning in Ottawa, Ontario’s Scotiabank Place. Despite the time off, there was no sign of rust on this well-oiled machine. From the first bars of “The Promised Land,” Bruce and the band were in mid-tour form. Jake Clemons, especially, was on top of his game from the beginning.

The Ottawa crowd was remarkable: they knew all of the sing-along parts and responded enthusiastically for every song. Scotiabank Place is a loud building, and Bruce fed off the energy.

“No Surrender” — which Bruce played twice at campaign rallies by himself the day before, now backed again by the E Street Band — was one of the standouts. On the very next song, “Hungry Heart,” Bruce jogged around the right side of the pit and crowd-surfed his way back to the stage. A rowdy “E Street Shuffle” was played by request for the doctor who had to unplug Bruce’s ear just before the concert — Bruce said he couldn’t hear anything in the afternoon.

“Prove It All Night,” complete with the ’78-style piano and guitar solo intro, featured Nils providing a smoking solo toward the end on an impressive two-tone wooden guitar. Nils also joined Bruce the next time he went back around the pit, on “Darlington County.”

For such an energetic show, though, the slow-build “Drive All Night” was the highlight by far. Steve and Nils provided great harmonies on the “don’t cry now” part, and Jake added a stunning sax solo.

To begin the encore, another rarity, this time from the 2009′s Working On A Dream: “Queen of the Supermarket.” The E Street Band has only played the song once in concert, but Bruce couldn’t resist the request — from a woman who works at Sobey’s, a Canadian supermarket chain — so for its tour premiere, he dismissed the band for the moment to go it alone on the acoustic guitar.

“Glory Days” brought a life-size cardboard cut-out of 43-year-old Bruce onto the stage. Modern-day Bruce and Steve played off of it for a while, to everyone’s amusement, and ended up dancing around it before Bruce eventually sent it back into the pit from whence it came.

The show-closing “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” drew an even more sustained response to the Clarence tribute than seen in some of the U.S. shows earlier this year; it seemed everyone was fired up on this first night back. It was a relatively short show — with the emphasis on “relatively” — at just over three hours, but a well-constructed and well-paced set that kicked off this new arena leg in fine style.

- Cliff Breining, backstreets.com