The Boss is Back: Bruce Springsteen rocks the house at triumphant TD Garden show

Bruce Springsteen on the walkway, amid the crowd at TD Garden Monday.
Bruce Springsteen on the walkway, amid the crowd at TD Garden Monday.
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BOSTON — For those lucky enough to score costly tickets for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s first New England show in more than six years, it is safe to say no one is asking for their money back. Everyone got their money’s worth.

As for Springsteen, at 73, you’re not getting older. You’re getting better.

Despite losing precious time touring due to the threat of COVID-19, compounded by the small matter of those cryptic “Due to Illness” postings marking the postponement of three recent concert dates, Monday night’s sold-out show at TD Garden was another great triumph from the tireless, seemingly ageless and still very relevant Springsteen.

While it’s no secret that Springsteen has been itching to get back to the concert arena, the place that keeps him young, keeps him sane and keeps him engaged with his fans, Monday night he delivered a roof-raising, two-hour, 50-minute concert that featured a 19-song main set and eight-song encore.

Almost as if he’s all talked out from doing 236 performances of “Springsteen on Broadway,” the usually chatty Springsteen kept the idle chitchat down to the bare minimum. Despite this, he was playing on all cylinders and was on fire from the get-go. He sounded great. He was energetic. He was frisky. He looked like he was having the time of his life. And the jubilation carried over to the crowd.

And keeping up with The Boss all night was his “heart-stopping, pants-dropping, earth shocking, hard rocking, booty-shaking, earth-quaking, love-making, Viagra-taking, history-making, legendary” E Street Band.

2016:Springsteen's 'River' still rages at TD Garden

Measuring 19 members strong (counting Springsteen), the E Street Band features three guitarists (Springsteen, Little Stevie Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren — four, if you count Soozie Tyrell when she puts down her fiddle and picks up an acoustic guitar — bassist Garry W. Tallent; drummer “Mighty” Max Weinberg; keyboardist “Professor” Roy Bittan and keyboardist/accordionist Charlie Giordano; as well as a piping-hot, five-piece horn section led by Jake Clemons — the sax-playing nephew of the always beloved and still sadly missed Clarence “Big Man” Clemons — along with trumpeters Curt Ramm and Barry Danielian, saxophonist Eddie Manion and trombonist Ozzie Melendez; four backup singers — Curtis King Jr., Michelle Moore, Lisa Lowell and Ada Dyer — and percussionist Anthony Almonte.

Wearing a black short-sleeve shirt, a black armband on his left arm, a black fingerless workout glove on his right hand, gray jeans and burgundy work boots, Springsteen kicked into high gear with the evening's first of many anthems, “No Surrender.”

Sandwiched between Van Zandt, looking like a rock ‘n’ roll pirate, and Lofgren, looking like a western outlaw, Springsteen and his “Blood Brothers” led the “No retreat, baby. No surrender” brigade. So much for social distancing. Springsteen and Little Stevie invaded each other’s personal space as they faced each other to share harmonies around the same microphone. And like conquering marauders returning after a long absence, Springsteen and Lofgren marched down to the mini-catwalk that reached 10 feet into the pit, to the crowd’s delight.

“Ghost,” the first of four tracks performed from 2020’s “Letters to You,” quickly revealed that this is a number meant to be played live and loud. The song’s crowning couplet, “Count the band in then kick into overdrive/By the end of the set we leave no one alive,” resonated as both a rousing mantra and foreshadowing battle cry of the evening.

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With his eyes clenched as he embraced the intimacy of his unguarded lyrics, Springsteen sang about his love for the lost art of letter writing on “Letters To You,” a number well worth writing home about.

“The Promised Land” featured a harmonica-playing Springsteen huffing and puffing his belief that there has to be something better out there. When it comes to ageless pop icons, not likely.

Anchored by the cymbal-smashing Weinberg and the piano-tickling Bittan, Springsteen delivered his best nocturnal Casanova vocals of the evening on the short but sweet “Candy’s Room.”

Clocking in at a whopping 12 minutes (with every single second so piping hot that some of the people in the pit must have had singed eyebrows), “Kitty’s Back” made the best use of the beefed-up horn section and proved that there is no finer-tuned, well-oiled, fuel-injected music-making machine these days than Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

Springsteen paid tribute to the soul/R&B greats Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson on his cover of the Commodores’ Top 10 single, “Nightshift,” the evening’s sole number from his recent album of covers “Only The Strong Survive.” Stepping out from the shadows, vocalist Curtis King Jr. — who has sung with David Bowie, Celine Dion, Duran Duran and Billy Joel for starters — often outshined Springsteen. Not only didn’t The Boss mind, he encouraged it.

Springsteen followed his Commodores’ cover with arguably his best cover in his musical repertoire, Jimmy Cliff’s “Trapped,” a glorious showstopper that ranked up there with The Boss’ personal bests.

Singing about the burden of “debts no honest man could pay” (and no, we’re not talking about Ticketmaster’s “dynamic pricing” program and “platinum tickets” practices), Springsteen delves into the psyche of a man doing life who'd rather get the death penalty on “Johnny 99.” Despite its grim subject matter, Springsteen’s spirited vocals and rockabilly rhythms made this “Nebraska” nugget, quite possibly, the first feel-good, murder ballad ever.

Springsteen stood tall and proud and mostly on his own on “Last Man Standing,” his ode to his first band, The Castiles. The evening’s sole number that was accompanied with a chatty introduction, Springsteen reminisced how he was recruited to join his first band when he was 15 by his sister’s then-boyfriend George Theiss, and how in 2018, Theiss, the only surviving member of the group beside Springsteen died, hence making Springsteen the last man standing.

The Boss sang like a lover in the throes of passion on "Because the Night," the intense and timeless love song he wrote with Patti Smith, while Lofgren played his guitar as though he were wrestling with a force of nature (and in many ways, he was).

After inviting the crowd to come on up for “The Rising,” Springsteen ended his main set with the fist-pounding, roof-raising anthem, “Badlands,” which the audience could practically feel the sting of The Boss’ “I wanna spit in the face of these Badlands” lyrics. In addition to Springsteen wailing on his trusty Fender Telecaster like he was a guitar god, there was Jake Clemons channeling the classic sax licks of his late uncle.

Earlier:Bruce Springsteen postpones third concert in a week 'due to illness,' plans to reschedule

Springsteen kicked off the eight-song encore with a festive cover of The Standells’ “Dirty Water,” which seemed like a last-minute add-on done in appreciation of the fevered energy of the Bay State crowd, with one lucky fan getting Springsteen’s spit-covered harmonica that he tossed into the audience.

When it looked like Springsteen couldn't get any higher, he delivered killer, sing-along versions of two timeless rock anthems, “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run,” with the collective crowd’s volume rivaling that of the amped up Boss.

The always show-stopping "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" ended with Springsteen doing his best Curly Howard impression and Little Stevie and Jake Clemons joining The Boss with some silly Three Stooges-inspired antics that were, literally, in Bruce’s face.

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After some gratuitous beefcake in the form of Springsteen ripping open his sweat-soaked shirt to reveal his chiseled, glistening pecs and what appeared to be a St. Christopher medal dangling from a silver chain around his neck, The Boss introduced his bandmates and then kicked into an epic-sized “Tenth-Avenue Freeze Out.”

After declaring, “Boston, you never let us down,” Springsteen brought it down several notches with a solo acoustic version of the poignant and poetic mortal coil opus “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which closed out a perfect evening of arena anthems, beloved classics and choice new material penned and recorded during COVID.

More New England shows

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band will return to New England Aug. 24 and 26 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. (The newly added Aug. 26 show goes on sale 10 a.m. Friday on Ticketmaster.) There is a Sept. 16 show Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Bruce Springsteen's healthy energy returns to TD Garden in Boston