You could tell it would be an epic night right from the beginning. Not from the acoustic pre-show—an early one, almost three hours before the actual concert, Bruce surprising us with a nice pair of “The Promised Land” and “Growin’ Up.” You could tell from the “real” opening of the sold-out show, which picked up exactly where the last Italian date ended. In Naples, Bruce had closed the show with a wonderful acoustic version of “Thunder Road,” all by himself in the Plebiscito Square. Here in Padua, in a packed stadium of 40,000, he came out all by himself. No E Street Band, just an acoustic guitar, and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” played in a raucous version, with full chords strummed hard rather than the delicate arpeggios of the original version.

At that point you could already feel the energy, which erupted fully with the arrival of the band: “Long Walk Home,” once again in the opening spot, followed by a “My Love Will Not Let You Down” that got the stadium jumping. Bruce’s voice was in much better shape than in Naples, and he felt good — you could tell that from his face, too.

After “Two Hearts,” it was already request time. And what choices: John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” a wonderful “The Ties That Bind,” and “Something in the Night” played as the sky turned dark. The next surprise: Bruce announced that this would be a full album show, Born to Run — just as some drops of rain started to fall. But the rain was easily forgotten with this classic sequence, “Backstreets” including some of the moving “Sad Eyes” interlude, a lights-on “Born to Run,” a powerful “She’s the One,” and the touching finale of “Jungleland.”

After that, the show didn’t have any more setlist surprises — just pure energy. And some very fun moments, too: “Pay Me My Money Down” saw a new member joining the E Street Band, a first-row Italian fan that introduced himself as a member of a cover band (The Fireplaces), who played his spoons nicely thorough the song, giving it a new rhythmic touch. On “Dancing in the Dark,” Bruce saw a sign reading “Please dance with my mother-in-law” — which he actually did, bringing up the woman up on stage. The show closed near the three-hour mark with a celebratory version of “Twist and Shout,” fans happily dancing all over the lawn and tribunes of the stadium.

Bruce and the E Street Band played in the northeast of Italy last year as well, in Trieste. Clearly, with the in-sequence Born to Run, he felt Padua had to be a different show. One can only wonder what to expect next, Monday at Milan’s San Siro, one of Bruce’s favorite venues and home of four wild shows in 1985, 2003, 2008 and last year, which stretched out to three hours and 40 minutes. One thing is sure: it will be as fun as Padua — Italian audiences kickstart Bruce like few others.

— Gianni Sibilla, Backstreets.com / Rockol.com