Almost three astonishing hours into his return Melbourne show, Bruce Springsteen cranked up, unbelievably, yet another gear.
"Are you ready to get this party started?," the amped-up 64-year-old asked his adoring crowd, a huge smile stretched across his face.
And with that question lingering in the steamy night sky, the E Street band burst into the classic `50s rockabilly tune Seven Nights to Rock, which is basically what the Boss has been doing since his tour began 12 months ago – rocking every other day of the week with no signs of slowing.
It was another cover version that opened this extraordinary performance in front of 32,000 spectators when Springsteen appeared on stage with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder in a full-throated rendition of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell.
Vedder knows all about marathon rock shows, having just finished a run of Big Day Out performances that each ran for 2.5 hours. But the E Street Band have raised the bar well beyond anything this town has seen, or is likely to see any time soon, when it comes to playing heart on the sleeve, pumping rock ‘n roll.
Guitarist Tom Morello was again sharing the stage as a full-time member of the E Street Band and Steve Van Zandt was back in the fold on guitar, having completed filming commitments that prevented him from touring Australia last year.
The long-time chemistry between Springsteen and Van Zandt was soon on show, the pair trading guitar licks and cheekily peering over the microphone at each other as they belted out High Hopes from the recently released album of the same name and Just Like Fire Would, a wonderful cover of The Saints’ song from the same album.
As if Springsteen with his scratched Telecaster, Van Zandt and Morello all shredding on guitar wasn’t enough, Nils Lofgren, who first played with the E Street Band in the mid `80s, adds another wow factor to Springsteen’s star-studded line-up, which also features saxophonist Jake Clemens, the nephew of the late E Street Band member Clarence Clemons.
"We had such a great time (last year) we just wanted to come back," Springsteen told the euphoric crowd after a rousing rendition of Hungry Heart that was followed by Born in the U.S.A. and Cover Me.
Tracks from the Born in the U.S.A. album were given a mighty work out and didn’t the fans just love that special treat.
Springsteen’s set list changes every night, but never at any stage does it feel like there’s something missing.
Some 20 albums into a career that began with 1973’s Greeting From Astbury Park, the Boss has more than enough ‘favourites’ to fill his epic three-hour shows.
This one stretched to almost three-and-a-half hours by the time he’d worked through a spine-tingling version of I’m on Fire, My Hometown, Born to Run, and countless other classics.
His right hand partially strapped like a boxer and with a black sweatband on his other wrist, Springsteen has the look of a man ready to rumble, except everyone’s on his side, waiting for his next great moment.
And there are plenty of moments.
This night Morello came close to stealing one of the greatest with his guitar solo in The Ghost of Tom Joad, which left jaws on the floor as the one-time Rage Against The Machine member extracted sounds you might expect from a DJ with a turntable, but not from a guitar player.
However, Morello is no ordinary guitar player. And the E Street Band is no ordinary band.
Longtime drummer Max Weinberg is a picture of consistency and precision as Springsteen bounces around the stage, while backing vocalist Cindy Mizelle even brought the Boss to his knees at one stage.
Another nod to Australian music came with a seriously hip-shaking version of Shout, the Isley Brothers song made famous by Johnny O’Keefe, while closing song Thunderoad with just Springsteen on stage drew some of the loudest applause of the night.
They don't call him The Boss for nothing.