Thanks to philly.com & Dan DeLuca, Inquirer Music Critic

From a distance of 35 years, Bruce Springsteen revisited The River in South Philadelphia on Friday night.

With his E Street Band behind him, the 66-year-old Springsteen took the stage at the sold-out Wells Fargo Center just past 8 p.m. and, after proclaiming his delight at being back in the City of Brotherly Love, began the marathon communal gathering with “Meet Me In The City,” the rousing rocker that was an outtake from the 1980 release and is serving as the table setter for the ultra hot ticket tour occasioned by a release of an expanded River box set in December.

Before going on to play the 20 songs on the original double LP in sequence, Springsteen took a moment to reflect on his intentions on what he called “my coming-of-age album.”

Until then, he and the E Streeters had been part of “an outsider community in Asbury Park,” he said. With The River, he wanted to enter the adult world. “I wanted it to be about fun and laughter and dancing and sex, lonely nights and teardrops. I wanted it to be big. I wanted it to feel like life.”

On Friday, E Street was stripped down close to bar band essentials with the late Clarence Clemons’ nephew Jake stepping out on saxophone, serving as the sole horn player rather than the full section of recent tours, and consigliere and guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt’s ragged but right yowling vocals restored to primacy.

And to be sure, the band roared: yukking it up on the fraternity rock of “Sherry Darling,” pushing hard against the suburban claustrophobia of “Jackson Cage” and ripping it up on “Cadillac Ranch,” the party starter that Springsteen tipped off those not already in the know is really “a funeral song.”

The River is about finding joys in everyday life on songs like “Ramrod” and “I’m A Rocker,” and also being smacked down and put back in your place. Springsteen approached both its romantic moments, like “I Wanna Marry You” and its most sorrowful, such as “Independence Day,” with wisdom that comes with age.

He began the former with a gorgeous doo wop intro in which he reminisced about the first kiss he ever stole growing up in Freehold, N.J., while identifying the song as being about “a love without consequences that doesn’t exist.” And in his opening to the latter, one of his great songs about escaping the poisoned legacy of his father, he talked of the growing-up process of being “startled by your parents humanity and the fact that they had dreams and desires of their own.”

“There’s an opera out on the turnpike, there’s a ballet being fought out in the alley,” Springsteen sang later on in the show in “Jungleland,” from Born To Run, a 1975 album that’s far more grandiose than The River.

But The River plays out like an opera in its own way, albeit one with fewer crescendos and in which crushing disappointments are suffered more quietly, in ghostly ballads like “Point Blank” and “Stolen Car,” which Springsteen said was the first song he ever wrote that “got down to the nitty gritty. When you lose your love, do you lose yourself?”

The River ended Friday on a somber, philosophical country and western note, with the hero of the song spooked by the sight of a bloody car crash, holding his lover by his side and thinking about all he has to lose.

The River was really about time,” Springsteen said as the instrumental coda played out. “How when you enter the adult world, when you choose your partner, and you find your work, the clock starts ticking and you’ve got limited amount of time to do your work, raise you family and do something good.”

The River took two hours to ride, and of course the show had another hour and a half to go. The first set-after-the-set was heavy on sturdy rockers of moody seriousness and sweeping grandeur.

First up was one for the locals, with the electrified take on Nebraska’s small time hood tale kicking off with “They blew up the chicken man in Philly last night ….” flowing into an emphatic “Prove It All Night” in which Springsteen and Van Zandt got their licks in, but third man Nils Lofgren spun in circles and showed he’s the virtuoso guitarist on stage.

“My Love Will Not Let You Down” built up a Spectorian Wall of Sound, “Human Touch” was a opportunity for  Springsteen and wife Patti Scialfa to twine their voices together, and the pre-encore show came to a close with the one-two-three punch of Jungleland,” “The Rising” and “Thunder Road.”

And after that, three hours in, time for a bathroom break, right? Nope. House lights up and “Born To Run,” kicking off an extended encore instead, complete with a red jump suited Elvis impersonator taking a twirl with violinist Soozie Tyrell on “Dancing In The Dark” and, yes, “Rosalita.”

It was with the original River tour that the 3-hour-plus maximalist Springsteen experience was born, and while his performances are more carefully calibrated these days, Springsteen stills wipes you out with his endurance and enthusiasm, with next to no discernible drop-off in musical quality. And 35 years down the road, that’s something to marvel at.

More coverage

Springsteen book coming in Sept.Springsteen & the night music died… and was rebornSpringsteen hits Philly stage

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Dan DeLucaInquirer Music Critic

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