Clad in biker boots, jeans, and dark T-shirt, Bruce Springsteen, with the E Street Band, kicked off his Worcester Centrum show last week with a spine-tingling version of ''Born in the U.S.A.'' - the story of a Vietnam vet's struggle to adjust to life back home - and never let the audience from his grasp.
Springsteen's outpouring of invigorating music, dance, and storytelling sets him apart in this day of high-tech rock shows. His ability to blend stark, emotional ballads with fun, hard-beating rock numbers is clearly unique.
Springsteen is renowned for both his endurance (his four-hour show is a trademark) and communication with the audience. Introducing many songs with either humorous snippets on life or more serious stories, he has a way of hitting common chords. For this 34-year old rocker, salvation is found on lonely stretches of the New Jersey Turnpike, in the arms of his best girl, or in a fast car - most likely a Cadillac.
But if that verbal communication is not enough, he also literally gets into the crowd. During ''Tenth Avenue Freezeout,'' a miniautobiography about the band , Springsteen hops into the first rows of the audience. No one rips at his shirt or yells into his mike. The crowd just holds him over their heads.
Onstage, he's loose and fun-loving. While rocking through the top-10 hit ''Dancing in the Dark,'' Springsteen pulls a girl from the front row and dances with her. He tells of a hilarious but burnt-out romance to kick into ''I'm Goin' Down,'' a light rock-and-roll number. Then, smooth and warm as ever, he slows down and brings us into his childhood and the parks he once played in to introduce a haunting rendition of ''My Hometown,'' a ballad that describes the racial disharmony and economic deterioration affecting the place of his South Jersey roots.
Midnight brought encores. The house lights were brought up, ''So I can see you all,'' he said, and the entire 12,000-plus crowd (as well as the band) danced wildly to ''Born to Run.'' Ending with a rousing version of ''Do You Love Me,'' Springsteen proved why he is the hottest ticket wherever he goes.