Bruce Springsteen didn't talk politics.
Yet, his music spoke volumes about how he's feeling these days. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who campaigned heavily for Barack Obama's re-election, opened his show Friday at the Oracle Arena in Oakland with the ringing anthem "Land of Hope and Dreams," putting more than a little extra weight behind the lyrics "Dreams will not be thwarted" and "Faith will be rewarded."
He closed the piece -- first released on 2001's "Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Live in New York City" and then later recorded in the studio for this year's "Wrecking Ball" -- by melding in a bit of Curtis Mayfield's inspirational "People Get Ready."
No, this wasn't a night for "Darkness on the Edge of Town" (even though "the Boss" did play a few cuts from that classic 1978 album), but rather for rejoicing in the warm light of good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll.
Springsteen was joyful to the point of near-giddiness. The 63-year-old star shook hands, let fans strum his guitar, mugged with his E Street Band members and exuded more energy than most artists half his age -- all of which, I realize, are trademarks of his live show. Yet, the way he conducted himself seemed particularly genuine and natural on this night. He acted like he was having the time of his life as he performed before the capacity crowd.
And the feeling was most definitely mutual. Fans ate up pretty much everything Springsteen had to offer, which added up to 27 songs over the course of three-plus hours.
The show was every bit as good as Springsteen's April gig at HP Pavilion in San Jose, if a bit less revelatory. That earlier outing was the Bay Area's first chance to see the E Street Band minus Clarence Clemons, Springsteen's sax man since 1972, who died in 2011. The sideman is still greatly missed, but many fans are quickly growing accustomed to seeing Springsteen's new five-piece horn section -- which includes Clemons' nephew Jake Clemons on saxophone -- blow through the songs.
One of the first highlights of Friday's show was a rambunctious take on "Cover Me," from Springsteen's bestselling album, 1984's "Born in the U.S.A." The singer's urgent delivery was perfectly matched by a pair of outstanding guitar leads, one from Nils Lofgren that cut as sharply as a Ginsu knife through paper, followed by one from Steven Van Zandt that soared like a jet.
The audience sang lead on the fun "Hungry Heart," from 1980's "The River," with the Boss filling in a few lines here and there. It was amazing that he found time to sing at all, as he spent much of that song stagediving and being carried, by hundreds of outstretched arms, around the arena floor.
Yes, he was having a ball.
The show slowed down a bit as Springsteen ventured into "Wrecking Ball," which, despite what many critics will tell you, is far from being one of his best albums. Still, "We Take Care of Our Own," "Death to My Hometown" and the title track sounded stronger on stage than they do on record.
Fortunately, those songs were easily eclipsed by all that followed -- which included a powerful run through "Because the Night," which the Boss co-wrote with the great Patti Smith, and a mesmerizing, elongated take of "My City of Ruins," from 2002's "The Rising." I can't get enough of that album, which does rank as one of his best, and was pleased that he also offered up "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" and the title track in Oakland.
The song that fans will still be talking about today, however, came at the start of his typically generous encore. He opened the five-song set with an epic version of "Kitty's Back," a treasured "deep cut" from 1973's "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle." It stretched 12 minutes, roughly five more than found on the record, and was filled with more interesting jams than one would find during an entire String Cheese Incident tour.
The crowd had a blast. Yet, Springsteen seemed to be having at least as much fun as anybody.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.
To see a slideshow of Friday's concert, go to www.mercurynews.com/entertainment.