Bruce Springsteen once again dazzles at Light of Day

It had been a boisterous Saturday night in Asbury Park. A marathon five and a half hours of guitar rock, broken only by brief occasional acoustic interludes, had set the sold-out house astir.

But shortly after midnight, all motion at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park stopped. Every head was turned to center stage as the curtain went up on a solo Bruce Springsteen, who held the audience spellbound with the story of Spanish Johnny and Janie and their “Incident on 57th Street.”

By the time he reached the chorus — one written years ago and recorded on an album devoted to madly romantic tales of street life — the rambunctious, festive crowd was ready to sing it back with the reverence of schoolkids doing a flag salute. Exhaustion, restlessness, inebriation — it was all forgotten. The Boss was in complete command, and the faithful were ready to follow him wherever he wanted to go.

By now, Bruce Springsteen’s unannounced sets at the Light of Day Festival are anything but a surprise. After he’d spent Friday shooting a video in Asbury Park to promote his upcoming album, few wondered if the Boss would sing at the charity concert, held annually to benefit Parkinson’s disease research. Instead, the speculation in the house was mostly about whether Springsteen would match the marathon two-hour set that closed the 2011 show.

He did. Backed once again by the capable Joe Gruschecky and the Houserockers — Pittsburgh’s steel-smelting answer to the E Street Band — Springsteen did not stop strumming until the clock ticked past 2 a.m, and even then, only reluctantly did he unstrap his guitar. Once again, the show reached its climax with a rollicking version of “Twist and Shout” and a cathartic mass singalong rendition of “Thunder Road.” If you missed it, head down to Asbury Park and press your ear against the boardwalk; it’s surely still reverberating.

But while many of the moves — and some of the songs — were the same, this was no rehash of Springsteen’s 2011 set. At this time last year, the E Street Band had no shows on the calendar, and Springsteen attacked the Light of Day concert with the desperate ferocity of a dog let loose in the park after a long winter cooped up indoors.

This January, he’s preparing to take to the road in support of a new set that he’s calling his angriest yet, and the Boss is clearly ready for a year of nonstop activity. His fabled sense of showmanship was perfectly calibrated and fine-tuned, and while it would be wrong to call the veteran rocker acrobatic, he can still execute a triumphant leap from a high drum riser, guitar in hand, as well as any of his countless imitators.

His storytelling vocals were growly perfection — no matter how big a star he’s become, he still effortlessly channels the moral authority of the working class hero — and his guitar leads, especially his barbed scrawls of notes on courtroom drama “Johnny 99,” were reliably exciting.

Expected as his concert was, Springsteen maintained the capacity to surprise. He leapt into the audience during the final chorus of “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” and led the crowd singalong surrounded by Light of Day revelers. E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg took the sticks for a run through “Light of Day,” the optimistic rocker that gave its name to the ever-growing series of charity shows.

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