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Last Updated: November 14. 2009 2:12AM

Springsteen ageless at The Palace -- despite Ohio gaffe

Adam Graham / Detroit News Pop Music Writer

Auburn Hills-- There was something a bit off with Bruce Springsteen's greeting to the audience at the Palace of Auburn Hills Friday night.

Wait a minute, it sounded like, did he just call us Ohio?

Indeed, Springsteen said the three words a Detroit crowd does not ever want to hear under any circumstances: "Good evening, Ohio!"

It was strange, off-putting, but he quickly corrected himself: "Good evening Detroit!"

OK, back on track. Perhaps he was purposely making some sort of plea for Midwestern unity, saying that in the trying times we find ourselves in, we're all in this together.

But then during his opener, "Wrecking Ball," he made another Ohio reference, which hung in the air like a bad stench. And five songs in, during "Working on a Dream," he did it yet again, bellowing to the crowd: "Good evening, Ohio!"

At that point it was clear: The Boss didn't know where he was.

A quick conference was had on stage, as E Street Band guitarist "Little" Steven Van Zandt whispered into Springsteen's ear. Springsteen grabbed a large sponge he sometimes uses to wet himself or his bandmates down with, and handed it to Van Zandt. Van Zandt promptly hit Springsteen over the head with it three times.

"I've been waiting 40 years to (mess) that one up!" Springsteen told the crowd of 16,000, laughing. "Finally, no more nightmares anymore." He then let out a loud, long four letter word that let everyone know how he felt.

He worked the rest of the evening to overcome the gaffe and make it up to the crowd, offering up a spirited, impromptu cover of Bob Seger's "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" and the E Street Band's famous "Detroit Medley" during the audience request portion of the show. (During the former -- clearly a newbie for the E Streeters -- the band watched him closely for their cues.)

He also brought out "Because the Night," the 1978 single he co-authored with Patti Smith, during which he played a stifling guitar solo on which he seemed nothing less than possessed.

Springsteen used the Ohio bit as a comic crutch at several points during the 27-song, nearly 3-hour show. "Are any of ya actually from Ohio?" he asked late in the evening, to some scattered cheers. "That ain't so bad!"

But it was obvious the Ohio bit threw Springsteen off his mark and tour fatigue had begun to set in, as he and the E Street machine performed at only about 80 percent capacity Friday, down from their usual 110 percent showings.

Understand, the E Street Band at 80 percent is a level of performance most bands could only hope to achieve. But the magic that's been there during the band's countless other Detroit performances was not in the air Friday.

That's despite the front-to-back reading of "Born to Run," the 1975 classic that put Bruce Springsteen on the map, which was at the heart of the show. Introducing the album, he said "Born to Run" "started a lifelong conversation" between himself and his audience, one that is still continuing today.

"Thunder Road" came six songs into the set, kicking off the 8-song run, and it was a treat to hear the album in its entirety -- particularly the soulful, somber "Meeting Across the River," as close to a rarity as there is on "Born to Run." But the album's boundless energy was stunted, and songs like "Thunder Road" felt slower, more labored. And "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out," used as one of the centerpieces of the band's show during recent tours, was less effective within the confines of the album, not given room to breathe to be a standalone showcase.

At the close of "Born to Run" finisher "Jungleland," the band took a bow and then got right back to work, kicking off the second half of the show with "Working on the Highway." Things picked up late with a rollicking "Born in the USA" and a houselights-up "Dancing in the Dark," as well as the always thrilling "Rosalita."

For his part, Springsteen was ageless as ever, wandering into the general admission floor area early on during "Hungry Heart" and falling backwards into the crowd's open arms, which passed him back to the foot of the stage. At 60, Springsteen is too old to be crowd surfing, but try telling that to him.

And he continues to defy physics by bending himself into a backwards arch position while holding the microphone stand, as he did during the opening of "Tenth Avenue Freezeout." In a sense, the Ohio goof was welcome, in that it showed he is indeed human.

Continuing to do due diligence to Detroit, Springsteen donned a Tigers cap as he walked off stage after the smokin' closer, a celebratory cover of Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher." The night ended on a high, as the fans shuffled out of the arena and headed back to their homes -- in Michigan, Ohio or wherever they were from.

agraham@detnews.com (313) 222-2284

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