FOXBOROUGH - "Sorry about the delay" said Bruce Springsteen by way of explaining why he and the E Street Band hit the Gillette Stadium stage nearly two hours late. "We were dodging lightning bolts on the way here." They weren't the only ones, as the ushers were instructed to temporarily clear the floor seats after a brief (no more than 10 minutes) but torrential downpour, possibly out of concern that keeping everyone on a football field-size aluminum surface surrounded by light towers during a thunderstorm might not be the sharpest move.
And so, faced with a substantial delay (not to mention an audience that was drenched to the bone), Springsteen did the only thing he could do, which was blast past Gillette's noise curfew by 70 minutes. That gave him just under three hours from the opening thump of "Summertime Blues" to itchily hormonal closer "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)," and while a person could sink into a deep funk by fixating on the list of no-shows (no "Thunder Road," no "The River," no "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," and so forth), someone far more reasonable would have had a hard time arguing with the wide-ranging set.
Somewhere along the way, Springsteen seems to have decided that 2002's "The Rising," his reemergence after the longest dormant period of his career, and last year's "Magic," his best album of the past decade, were companion pieces. "Radio Nowhere" and "Lonesome Day" were played back to back early on, and the albums' other songs were bundled up into a five-song stretch that included the evening's most overtly political numbers ("Livin' in the Future" and "Last to Die") as well as its most testifying ("Mary's Place").
The snaky "Spirit in the Night" nearly bested the righteous fervor of the latter, with Springsteen singing the opening verse splayed on stage against the mike stand in his best "lying in the gutter, looking at the stars" pose. He revisited his debut album once more when he collected request signage and enthusiastically agreed to play "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" If the audience listened to it closely enough, they could hear the Hold Steady being born.
Those signs also paved the way for "I'm Goin' Down" (introduced as "The rarely played and even more rarely requested . . .") and "Jungleland," which, from pianist Roy Bittan's familiar street-ballerina intro to Clarence Clemons's iconic saxophone solo to the conclusion like an open door flooding a dark lounge with the bright light of morning, caught the Boss at his most epic.
Then again, Springsteen hardly worked small-scale. ("Nebraska" and "Devils & Dust" went unrepresented, while the lone selection from "The Ghost of Tom Joad" was the raucous, Richard Thompson-like "Youngstown.") Launching into "Hungry Heart," he ceded the entire first verse and chorus to the crowd . . . and then sang them from the top himself. There may have been over 50,000 people at Gillette, but there was only one who everybody came to hear sing.