Energy is the word that might best define the E Street jaunt to Vancouver, Canada. Whether it was the prior week’s vacation for Thanksgiving, or the fact that the Wrecking Ball tour is on its final stretch of 2012, or because of a most appreciative Canadian crowd, Bruce responded Monday with an explosive performance, even for him. They say here in Vancouver (especially anywhere near a hockey rink) that “We are all Canucks” — Bruce pointed out a sign reading just that during the early part of the evening and asked with a laugh, “What the fuck does that mean?” Monday night, for his first Canadian concert in more than a month, it meant a show that clocked in at more than three hours, with 26 songs, Santa Claus himself, and a band humming at peak performance.

While the setlist might have seemed a bit standard out of the gate — the night’s first nine songs went more or less by the book  — Springsteen made up for it as the evening progressed, particularly as he selected sign requests. Indicating he likes his signs creative, the first pick was an impressively designed cardboard cutout replica of a redhead (Patti Scialfa herself was not in the house tonight), calling for the rarity “Red Headed Woman.” “The band doesn’t even know it and we’re going to play it,” Bruce declared, also very humorously indicating he’d be taking that impressive sign back to the hotel. After a solo verse and chorus, the impeccable E Street Band did indeed join in seamlessly. That was followed by another underplayed song, “Streets of Fire” — a strong version of that Darkness powerhouse.

The evening’s guest minor for “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” seemed as though she had been taking voice lessons in anticipation of this moment: the girl had chops, and Bruce indicated he wasn’t worthy, Wayne’s World-style. A few minutes later, he came close to what might have been a dangerous fall during “Raise Your Hand” but handled it with his usual aplomb.

Heading toward the end of the main set, one still wondered if it wasn’t an evening meant for a ton of surprises; that feeling lasted all of a few minutes until the encores started, beginning with a majestic “Racing the Street” and followed by another rare appearance, “Radio Nowhere.”  Age is relative, and it was proven at this show as Bruce’s “Dancing in the Dark” partner turned out to be an octogenarian. “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” was again performed with a team filling in Clarence’s part, and Santa himself was onstage, though clearly an improvised visitor. Bruce cracked the audience up with his remark, “I want to thank Santa, whoever he is!”

Paul McCartney was also in town this weekend, and the media actually announced that the two superstars would play together at Sir Paul’s show the night before. Needless to say they didn’t — at that show or this one. But we didn’t need a Beatle, and we didn’t need a rarity-packed setlist, either. What made the night was, again, the energy — coming from both the stage and the crowd, who embraced the band and its leader with the enthusiasm usually reserved for a Stanley Cup final game. Good for you, Vancouver.

— Gary Rubin, backstreets.com