A darkened stage, the band entering one by one, and that sense of anticipation —what will tonight’s show be like? What’s the first song? Before there was time to think about it too much, spotlights illuminated Bruce Springsteen and Roy Bittan, and there were the opening chords of “Iceman,” a fan favorite from Tracks, which to this date had been performed live only once by Bruce and never by the E Street Band. The stunning performance was reminiscent of “Meeting Across the River” and featured Roy on piano, Charlie Giordano on glockenspiel and Garry Tallent on bass, with the backing singers adding vocal parts for additional effect. It was dark, desolate, moody, and absolutely exquisite.

A strong run of opening songs followed, including the first performance of High Hopes’ “Just Like Fire Would” in the United States, and a rollicking “Cadillac Ranch,” complete with full band dance routine at the front of the stage. “Cadillac Ranch” also featured not one but two shout-outs to the locale, both in the “Junior Johnson running through the woods of Caroline” lyric and the customized “driving alone through the Carolina night.” It was all greeted loudly by the enthusiastic Charlotte crowd, on their feet even in the upper levels.

Bruce then began to gather signs from the crowd, walking back and forth on the stage and peering into the audience, waving when a particular sign caught his favor. The first group of signs chosen turned the E Street Band into the best Saturday night cover band you’ve ever seen: “Louie Louie,” “Mustang Sally,” and later, “Brown Eyed Girl,” Bruce channeling Van Morrison as he prowled the crowd down front around the main platform.

The next group of signs would be for Springsteen originals, both for popular favorites such as “No Surrender” (for a group of very excited teenage girls in the front row) and “Out in the Street” (with a trio of backing singers from the crowd, who had to be specifically coached by Nils Lofgren to sing into the microphone), and also for rarities such as “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)” dedicated to “the lady from Mahwah,” “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” and a commanding performance of “Racing in the Street.”

Bruce started the encore with a sign for “Darkness on the Edge of Town” from a group of Spanish fans, also noting that fans from many countries were in the audience — Sweden, Germany — before the crowd answered back with a “USA! USA!” chant. Bruce playfully acknowledged, “We’ve got a lot of fans from there, too!”

“Darkness” was followed by a heartfelt reading of “The Wall,” with Bruce giving a long introduction about his first exposure to a “rock star,” recalling Freehold musician and inspiration Walter Chicon, who was killed in action in Vietnam. “This is a short prayer for my country,” Bruce said, and then dedicated the song to the veterans in the audience, whether from Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq. A fierce, intense rendition of “Born in the U.S.A.” followed, Bruce gripping the microphone stand with both hands as he snarled the first verse. As the song built to its conclusion, Bruce turned to his right, encouraging Tom Morello’s incredible guitar solo, followed by Max Weinberg’s thundering drum break.

A playful rendition of “Shout” at the end of the night featured Bruce telling the crowd not once, but twice, that he was “just a prisoner of the everlasting power of rock and roll!” and also, after introducing the band, urging everyone in the house: “I want you to go tell your friends… wake up your neighbors… go up to strangers on the street… and tell them that you just saw the heart stopping… death-defying… E Street Band!”

- Caryn Rose, Backstreets.com