Redemption arrived Saturday night at The Roadhouse at the Lakefront.
Bruce Springsteen, a longtime Harley enthusiast from New Jersey, brought his E Street Band to town for a scorching 3 ½-hour set that set an almost impossible standard for Harley parties to come.
Playing before a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd an a perfect late-summer evening, Springsteen and friends flexed musical muscles through a 31-song slate heavy with stadium rockers ("Badlands," "Darlington County," "Glory Days" and "Rosalita"), low on quiet numbers ("Racing in the Street," "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" and filled with last-show-of-a-long-tour abandon.
Springsteen himself declared the show Aug. 24 in Kansas City "The last official night of the 'Magic' tour," and it was evident early Saturday what he meant by that.
It has been decades since casual and curious customers outnumbered zealots, diehards and zealots / diehards in training at a Springsteen show. Put simply, the overflow crowd Saturday night was filled with Harley-Davidson fans. Though most all clearly enjoyed the opportunity to see a first-class performance by a legendary band at the top of its game, there was a feeling that many would have been content to be entertained by biker-bar favorites like The Doobie Brothers, George Thorogood or Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Die-hard Springsteen fans spent hours on message boards agonizing over what song Springsteen would use to open the show. They cheered the first harmonica wail of "Gypsy Biker" -- a completely appropriate choice from last year's studio album "Magic," many of the bikers seemed oblivious to the first-verse lyric that set the tone for the evening:
"We pulled your cycle out of the garage
And polished up the chrome
Our Gypsy biker's comin' home"
Nuance can be hard to grasp in a shoulder-to-shoulder, stadium-sized crowd -- particularly one filled with so people unfamiliar with Springsteen's catalog beyond "Born to Run" and a handful of other jukebox staples.
But, nuance wasn't necessary when Springsteen and guitarist Steve Van Zandt stood center stage and traded searing solos in the coda of "Gypsy Biker."
Early in the show, Springsteen seemed to draw energy from the frenzied diehards in front of the stage. The "veterans," many of whom spent hours in line for coveted checkered wristband, didn't miss cues to sing along in "Out in the Street" or "Badlands" or to raise their hands during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out."
As the show progressed, he did what he always does in a live setting; he blew people away with his knee-sliding, crowd-surfing, balls-out approach to physical performance that is rooted in his undying belief in the redemptive power of rock and roll and the immediate, unfiltered emotional exchange between artist and audience.
Like most E Street Band shows, this performance contained so many highlights that naming one above the others seems almost impossible. Here are a sampling of the more memorable moments on an unforgettable night:
Springsteen's nightly search for request signs rears up a three-dimensional plea for "Wooly Bully." He complies, saying "Any bar band worth its salt knows this one."
Nils Lofgren, the most overqualified third guitarist in rock, played a jaw-dropping solo during "Youngstown."
At the end of "Born to Run," Springsteen tried to launch into "Rosalita," but his guitar was hopelessly out of tune. He stopped the song after one bar, ran back and got another axe to finish.
"You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)," a rollicking song from "The River" was a request.
Springsteen dedicated "Racing in the Street" to Willie G. Davidson, the pied piper of biker culture.
Van Zandt sang a soulful, Jersey Shore-influenced vocal line in "Long Walk Home."
The night's most poignant moment came was an appearance by Jason Federici, the son of longtime E Street organist Danny Federici, who died of melanoma this spring. "This is the first time we've finished a tour without Danny," Springsteen said. Jason Federici played accordion alongside E Street pianist Roy Bittan on "Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)."
Springsteen and Van Zandt referred to being "loose," a nod to the band's famous "bomb scare" show at Milwaukee's Uptown Theater in 1975.
After testing the audience's endurance limit during the first 10 songs of the "encore," Springsteen and the E Streeters closed the show with a cover of Steppenwolf's biker anthem "Born to be Wild."
The complete set list from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's concert at Harley-Davidson's 105th anniversary party Saturday night at The Roadhouse at the Lakefront:
Out In The Street
The Promised Land
Spirit In The Night
Wooly Bully [Tour Premiere-Sam The Sham cover]
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
Darkness On The Edge Of Town
She's The One
Livin' In The Future
Working On The Highway
Racing In The Street
Last To Die
Long Walk Home
Seven Nights To Rock
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Born To Run
Dancing In The Dark
Born To Be Wild [Tour Premiere-Steppenwolf cover]
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.