Bruce Springsteen has been taking stock of late.
He just finished writing his autobiography that will be published in September, when he turns 67.
In December, he released a six-disc boxed set, "The Ties That Bind: The River Collection," which revisited his 1980 double album "The River" and three-dozen outtakes. This winter, Springsteen has hit the road with the E Street Band to present "The River" in its entirety, which they did Monday night at the sold-out Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Springsteen introduced it as his "coming of age album," his first grown-up record. He wrote it when he was 30 and grappling with the idea of settling down and having a family. Not really a concept album, "The River" is more of a rock drama that covers a wide range of human emotions — and musical styles. Or as Springsteen put it on Monday: "It's about fun, dancing, laughing, sex, love, faith, lonely nights and teardrops."
However a Springsteenite views "The River," experiencing it live — from front to back, with one outtake to introduce it — meant an unusual orthodoxy for a Springsteen concert. He wasn't the usual free spirit for the 21-song, 124-minute "River" run. And these weren't those romanticized epic story songs that had made him famous in the 1970s. And he wasn't his usual hyperkinetic self, either.
He was purposeful — he's been earnestly purposeful in concert for a long time — but not always as playful. It just didn't feel like the same old Boss in performance, even though the too-fit-for-66 dude in the gray T-shirt, black vest, striped scarf and tighter-than-E-Street-Band jeans sure looked and sounded familiar.
As he tore into the ebullient opener "Meet Me in the City" and "The Ties That Bind," the New Jersey icon roared with passion and urgency. "Two Hearts," a concert staple over the years, was a jangly, explosive crowd-pleaser, complete with a coda of "It Takes Two," the 1965 Motown hit.
As has been his custom, Springsteen did some explaining before songs. "Independence Day" was the first song he wrote about a father and son. It was the first time he realized his parents had dashed dreams and had to make adult compromises. After the long spoken introduction, organ and then piano introduced this deeply felt dirge.
As I watched the father and adult son in front of me, arms around each other's shoulders, sway back and forth as Springsteen crooned, somehow it seemed as if the preamble had been as important as the words the Boss was singing.
The Hall of Famer connected with everyone in the arena — all 19,000 — during the ensuing "Hungry Heart," his first Top 10 hit. Not only did the blue-collar tale turn into a giant singalong, but the Boss ventured into the audience and then crowd-surfed his way back to the stage.
There was more fun to have sailing through "The River." The revved-up Boss and band crushed "Crush on You" and the rip-roaring "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)." However, a new arrangement of "I Wanna Marry You" felt overthought, a mashup of boardwalk soul and mariachi wall of sound.
Navigating the second half of "The River" is challenging because of a few slower songs. "Stolen Car," the haunting "Price You Pay" and the tragic closer "Wreck on the Highway" are pensive and purposeful, artful songs that sound powerful and penetrating on your home stereo but not in an arena. Especially when they were broken up by the "Ramrod," which was missing its usual rock 'n' roll strut.
Faster than Springsteen could give his postscript about you've only got so much time, do your work, raise your family and do some good, he transformed into the Boss that fans have loved since the 1970s. He roared through a series of classic rockers that needed no introductions.
"Badlands" kicked it off, and "Prove It All Night" received the night's loudest reaction. "Backstreets" and "Because the Night" back to back were unbeatable. How could you resist "Dancing in the Dark" and his twirling a 91-year-old fan onstage?
"The Rising" was the only song played from this century. In this election year, the always socially conscious Springsteen didn't mention politics — not even urging people to vote, as he has in the past. The closest he came was plugging a local food bank.
Of course, he did "Born to Run." It isn't a Springsteen concert without it. And it reminded you what his concerts are all about: If "The River" was satisfying, the closing 83 minutes were exuberant and exhilarating — as Boss-tastic as ever.