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Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008

Bruce Springsteen @ The Lakefront

Aug. 30, 2008

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   Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have easily and routinely filled concert venues like the Bradley Center with their thunderous rock 'n' roll, but Saturday's performance at Veterans Park closing the Harley-Davidson 105th anniversary celebration proved that the band's musical reach is bound only by the great outdoors.

  The E Streeters rocked Milwaukee's lakefront for three-and-a-half hours, running through a playlist of popular hits, occasional obscure song choices and two unexpected surprises and tour premiers before an estimated 100,000 fans and Harley enthusiasts spread out on blankets and Harley-Davidson logoed plastic tarps across the landfill's grassy acreage. The evening was less a concert and more of an event. For the most part, The Boss had seldom performed better.

  A dark stage populated only by a revving Harley engine masked the arrival of the band, which immediately launched into a soulful version of "Gypsy Biker" to open the evening, immediately followed by "Out in the Street." Springsteen knew his crowd, altering his playlist to meet their expectations.

  The Harley date capped off a 100-city tour, and the band seemed to work harder and stretch farther than it had in recent memory. Springsteen playfully jumped into the crowd, let individuals sing choruses in to the wireless microphone and treated the front rows as his own personal mosh pit. At times he seemed a little tired, but one can hardly blame the artist, who turns 59 on Sept. 23. Few people half his age could easily match his boundless energy.

  The playlist covered a lot of ground: "Spirit in the Night," "Radio Nowhere," "Badlands," "She's the One," "The Rising" and 26 other songs by the time the night ended. Springsteen spent 15 minutes collecting hand-lettered signs from the audience requesting songs-"London Calling?" Really?-until eventually he found a suggestion he liked.

  "Any bar band worth its salt knows this one," said Springsteen, launching the band into the tour premier of "Wooly Bully," Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs' 1965 hit.

  The E Streeters hit a similar mark with the closing number. Following a 10-song encore that included "Glory Days," "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," "Rosalita," "Dancing in the Dark"-in which he danced with a fan on stage much like he did a young Courtney Cox in the 1984 music video-and "Thunder Road," the band ended with "Born to Be Wild," Steppenwolf's hit from 1968. This was a second tour premier and the perfect closer considering the crowd.

  Fans who were at the Harley-Davidson's 100th anniversary celebration remarked how much smoother this year's concert ran. Apparently the organizers had learned from past mistakes, both in terms of the facilities and the talent.

  Tejano rocker Alejandro Escovedo, who himself sounds a little like Springsteen, opened with an entertaining hour-long set, featuring Wauwatosa native Susan Voelz on violin. The Austin-based band worked hard on their set, but only Springsteen could prove it all night. And he did just that.