Can the Boss still rock?


Yes, we know that Bruce Springsteen has morphed with age from the poet of rock 'n' roll to an increasingly acoustic troubadour. So, is his heart still in the unique blend of eloquent RB and working-class anthems that brought him stardom three decades ago?


Well, judging from Friday night's St. Paul stop with his beloved E Street Band ... it's hard to tell. Springsteen still puts a lot of energy into a show, but his passion seems to now lie in the ballads of recent vintage.


Not until late in the show did he seem excited about his old material again, providing a satisfying ending to a show that at times sagged a bit under the weight of nostalgia.


There was a time when Springsteen and his bandmates seemed to enjoy pouring every ounce of musicianship they had into his songs.

But "the Boss" isn't quite the collaborator he once was, the one who helped build complex and intricate arrangements that played to his musicians' strengths.

He instead favors a simpler, stripped-down sound that leans more upon comfort and familiarity than urgency and the element of surprise.

That said, there were moments at the sold-out Xcel Energy Center on Friday when the 58-year-old Springsteen seemed as intensely urgent as the one who played the St. Paul Civic Center on the same site in the late '70s.


After a string of rockers of recent years (dropping in 1984's "No Surrender"), he seemed to hit his stride on the haunting, hypnotic title track of his latest album, "Magic," the unapologetically political songsmith's dark reaction to the current powers that be. Following it was one of the evening's most memorable moments, a John Lee Hooker blues vamp that turned into 1982's "Reason to Believe" reimagined as harmonica-fueled nightmare.

But a pair from "Born to Run" - "Night" and "She's the One" - came off as pale shadows of their '70s selves, as did an ambling, uninspired reading of "The Promised Land."  However, he still found some passion in his old material, as evidenced by a gripping rendition of "Incident on 57th Street."

In some respects, the old Boss didn't really emerge until a five-song encore.


He showed hints of the master of stage banter who feeds off the energy of both his musicians and fans, delivering a surge of welcome adrenaline to "Thunder Road" and "Born to Run."


And the crowd of over 19,000 roared its approval, many of them packed tightly onto a standing-room-only main floor.

It's still early in this tour, so perhaps more of the old camaraderie and collaborative spirit between Boss and Band will have returned when they hit the Xcel Energy Center again on March 16, a show announced at concert's end.