Let's get it out of the way: I'm a Bruce Springsteen fan.
I've seen him multiple times and even traveled to Fargo, N.D., to see The Boss.
That said, I think 30 years in journalism gives me the ability to rise above the fandom and give you an accurate assessment of Springsteen's concert where he and the E Streeters took a wrecking ball to the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Friday night.
From the opening salvo – Bruce giving himself a wrestling announcer introduction – to the last note of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out," the sold-out show was an exhilarating, emotional roller coaster building to that final drop with hands raised in joyous praise.
The lows were drawn from the anger and spit about job loss and lost opportunities on his latest album "Wrecking Ball," ("No. 1 for one week," Springsteen cracked.)
The set list included eight songs from the album including opener "We Take Care of Our Own" and the forlorn yet taut "Jack of All Trades," about a man willing to take any job to keep his family fed and a roof over their heads.
The breathless highs, and there were plenty, came from the frothy sing-along favorite "Waiting on a Sunny Day," a rousing Motown medley of "The Way You Do The Things You Do" and "634-5789," a Courteney Cox dance moment with a young woman during "Dancing in the Dark" and a crowd surf. Yes a crowd surf, with me stuck in the club seats – argh!
Especially poignant were moments of tribute to now-gone band-mates Danny Federici, and "Big Man" Clarence Clemons, who died in June, though the crew needs more practice steadying the spotlights marking where each stood on the stage. Yeah, yeah, a quibble; the band is only three shows into a tour expected to last 18 months.
As fans might suspect, it takes a village to replace saxophonist Clemons and there's now a five-member horn section on stage, including the Big Man's nephew, Jake, who received a warm embrace from the crowd with every saxophone solo. (I'm not the only one who teared up during the night's first sax solo on "Prove It All Night," right?)
The set list had a good balance of old and new, especially nice was the new combo of "Atlantic City" and "Easy Money," where Bruce was vocally accompanied by wife, Patti Scialfa.
And "American Skin (41 Shots)," about the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo, resonated, given what's happening up the road in Sanford.
Among the favorites played: "Talk to Me," "The Promised Land," "Radio Nowhere," "The Rising," "Thunder Road," "Born to Run," "Land of Hope and Dreams," and "Glory Days." (Alas, no "Badlands.")
The three-hour show ended with "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" where Clemons was feted with more than a minute of raucous screaming and clapping after Springsteen stopped things cold following the familiar line "and the Big Man joined the band."
Clemons' son, wearing a porkpie hat adorned with jeweled saxophone pins, joined his cousin and Springsteen on stage for the tribute while many in the crowd waved placards of the Big Man's face.
It was a Boss night. (See, I told you I could rise above.)