Washington -- Has anyone ever put more heart into live rock than Bruce Springsteen?
"Is there anybody alive out there?!" The Boss yelled Sunday night before he and the famous E Street Band launched into a raucous version of "Radio Nowhere," the hit single about a rudderless and alienated society from the newest CD, Magic.
In front of a sellout crowd of 20,000 at Verizon Center, Springsteen and the band delivered a wildly energetic, hard-driving performance, with nine songs off Magic (including "Gypsy Biker," "Magic" and "Livin' in the Future") and enough of their old standards ("No Surrender," "Promised Land," "Badlands") to keep even grumpy Bruce traditionalists happy.
The show featured Springsteen in an exuberant mood. Gone was the somberness that characterized much of the Devils and Dust tour of 2005 and the hootenanny feel of last year's Seeger Sessions tour, with its emphasis on folk, gospel and blues.
This was The Boss, back as rock legend. He vamped with guitarists Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren and strutted flirtatiously with his wife, singer and guitarist Patti Scialfa, during "Lonesome Day" and "She's the One."
His mood seemed to darken when he delivered a short political harangue after "Livin' in the Future," decrying "illegal wire-tapping, lack of habeas corpus, civil liberties eroding, attacks on the Constitution," under the Bush administration.
"We're so glad to be back in your wicked, I mean beautiful, city tonight," a smiling Springsteen heckled the audience.
And the anger seemed to rise when he ripped into a passionate, raspy version of the anti-war screed "Last to Die" from the new CD, the veins in his neck threatening to explode.
But this show was more about hope, faith and redemption - favorite Springsteen themes that he's hammered for years - so the darkness didn't last long.
Three songs later, when Springsteen crooned the fluffy, sweetly innocent "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," also off Magic, the audience could be forgiven for thinking: War? What war?
As with any live show, all was not perfect.
At times, the E Street Band didn't seem quite as engaged as its 58-year-old frontman, particularly bass guitarist Gary Tallent and saxophonist Clarence Clemons.
Clemons' role with the band seems to grow smaller and smaller with each year. He's 65 and has had both hips replaced, and also a detached retina, which might explain some of it.
While the Big Man's weight is down again, he seemed listless and spent much of the show perched on a stool off to one side of the stage, sauntering out for brief, obligatory sax wailings and then retreating quickly from the spotlight.
Then again, Springsteen had enough energy to power the nation's capital all by himself.
Here is the worst job in America: security at the front of the stage when the Boss is in full, adrenaline-gushing mode.
Time and again, he leapt down onto a low ledge that left him inches from his fans, who jostled and elbowed the stone-faced security guys in an effort to high-five their hero.
At one point, a man in the crowd on the floor unfurled a big sign that said: "40th Birthday Wish: `Thunder Road.'"
Springsteen didn't fulfill that request, but the encore versions of the anthemic "Born to Run" - with the house lights on and 20,000 people on their feet - and "Dancing in the Dark" were driving, pounding numbers that seemed like anything but musty oldies.
The show closed with a dazzling, Pogues-like version of the Celtic-infused "American Land," a paean to the hard-working immigrants who shaped this country and continue to shape it still.
"There's treasure for the taking, for any working man/Who will make his home in the American Land," Springsteen sang convincingly before the band took a final bow.
And after a little more than two hours, another exhilarating live performance, the best in rock, was over.
Listen to a song from Bruce Springsteen's latest album, Magic, at baltimoresun.com/listeningpost