From the opening notes of The Clash’s “Clampdown,” only the second time Bruce and the E Street Band have ever played it, the captive audience at the Lakewood Amphitheater had a feeling that Saturday night’s show was going to be something special. Declaring early in the set that he was “in a River kind of mood,” Springsteen and the band tore through every song in the carefully crafted setlist with power and purpose.

The tone and thematic arc settled in early, with intense versions of “Adam Raised a Cain,” “The Ties that Bind,” “Jackson Cage,” and “She’s the One,” followed by a gorgeous rendering of “Independence Day” with just Bruce, a piano, and a hell of a story to tell. The mood was clearly contagious, as the band amped up the voltage at every opportunity. Seeing and raising Reverend Everett Bradley’s dynamic percussion work on “High Hopes,” Tom Morello got into the game by playing his solo with his teeth, taking the title track from the new album to greater heights.

“The River! The River! The River!” exclaimed Bruce, and his mission was not to be denied. “Cadillac Ranch” was a barnburner, with Sister Soozie Tyrell blasting through a violin solo at center stage and Jake Clemons blessing us with one of his many fantastic solos for the evening.

Always willing to rescue a fan from peril, Bruce grabbed a sign request that read, “Help a New Yorker trapped in 6A” and subsequently launched into an explosive rendition of “Trapped,” the entire audience screaming the choruses back at Bruce and matching his intensity.

The evening’s narrative continued with a powerful trio: a hauntingly beautiful “Point Blank,” the inspirational “Heaven’s Wall” and blistering “Seeds.” The last of these saw Nils Lofgren once again cement his position as one of rock’s all time great guitarists with a searing solo.

Powerhouse staples that wrapped the main set included “Death to My Hometown,” “Shackled and Drawn,” “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” and a version of “Badlands” that could have blown the roof off the place.

The River’s presence continued well into the encores, with a sublime version of “Drive All Night,” featuring a soulful solo from Jake. And an evening packed with River tracks wouldn’t be complete without “Ramrod” in the encore. This crowd-favorite’s booty-shaking moment even included the Mighty Max shaking his “tom toms.”

Bruce knew exactly how to cap this amazing Saturday night special, of course. Not with an eighth track from The River, or a gentle acoustic strummer, but a kick-ass cover to end things as they began. With Morello cranking out the familiar opening chords of AC/DC’s classic “Highway to Hell,” Springsteen, the band and the audience shared four more minutes of a collective primal scream before we were sent home delirious, drained and delighted.

- Neil Van Harte, Backstreets.com