Bruce Springsteen's favorite moment in his current Tunnel of Love Express concert is when the houselights come on and he can see individual members of the ecstatic audience waving at him and dancing to his tunes.
After singing, jumping, screaming, strumming his guitar and blowing his harmonica, rolling on the floor and performing somersaults for nearly four hours during his recent Denver concert, at that climatic moment when the lights expose his fans, he asks, "You think this mile-high altitude is getting to me? Nope! I'm just getting my second wind!"The euphoric response of 17,000 fans at the McNichols Arena seems to feed the incredible energy of this superstar. As a balladeer, actor, storyteller, dancer, poet, showman, event-maker, Springsteen holds back nothing.
The audience is with him all the way, losing any self-consciousness to the enticing excitement of the moment.
A businessman wearing a yuppy suit and a yellow tie does a strange version of the Swim. Teenage girls wearing "Born in the U.S.A." T-shirts toss their heads back and forth, perfectly synchronized to the beat. And a young man who is deaf smiles as he feels the rumble of the ground and the air around him, and happily signs the songs' lyrics.
It's at this moment, when the lights show the audience's diversity yet cohesiveness that Springsteen feels a connection with his fans. He is satisfied his message has reached them.
His new show is not about excitement, he says. It's about emotion.
"Intimacy" is the word he uses to sum up his new theme. His western tour concludes Friday in Tacoma, Wash. The final stop of his 20-city tour is Madison Square Garden, N.Y. on May 23.
For the Tunnel of Love tour, Springsteen has left the enormous stadiums for the more intimate ambience of inside arenas. His attire is more formal - white shirt and black pants replacing the blue jeans and bandana.
The most significant change, however, is the simple gold band on his left hand.
In the notes of his Tunnel of Love Express program, he says his marriage four years ago to actress-model Julianne Phillips has given him a world of new things to think - and write songs - about.
His Tunnel of Love album reflects the philosophical ponderings of a new Boss as he celebrates the stabilizing aspects of marriage but confronts the unrelenting challenges of maintaining adult, romantic relationships.
His love ballads do not offer love and marriage as a cure-all for loneliness. Rather, his songs explore the tenuousness of adult romance.
"I know I've been the happiest I've ever been, since I've been married," Springsteen says. "But the richness of life lies in its complexity, and the beauty of relationships lies very often in their struggle - people doing their best, slipping and falling and helping each other back up."
Commitment and family are scary words, he concedes.
The carnival background music in his lead song, "Tunnel of Love," emphasizes the frightening ride that stands ahead of anyone who enters the up-and-down world of committed love.
The lyrics tell the story:
"The lights go out and it's just the three of us
You and me and all the stuff we're so scared of
It ought to be easy, ought to be simple enough
Man meets a woman and they fall in love
But the house is haunted and the ride gets rough
And you've got to learn to live with what you can't see above
If you ride on down in through this tunnel of love."
In another new love ballad, "Walk Like a Man," Springsteen describes a young man who prays for strength to stick with his commitment as he watches his bride-to-be walk down the church aisle toward him.
The Tunnel of Love album hasn't sold as well as Born in the U.S.A., but Springsteen believes his hardcore fans will stick with him. His intention with the recent tour was not to pull off another grab-you-by-the-throat rock phenomenon like the Born in the U.S.A. concert, but to reflect his new perspective of life.
While The Boss has a serious message to convey, his Tunnel of Love tour is anything but somber and dull.
Springsteen's engaging sense of humor wins the crowd over as he joins his married, saxophone-playing sidekick Clarence Clemons in a skit recreating their former girl-watching days.
He also offers a raucous, comical portrayal of a husband who is flabbergasted by his wife's obsession with shopping.
His Denver fans clearly understood that "Born in the U.S.A." is not a flag-waving anthem but a caustic criticism of America, particularly the Vietnam War. They join Springsteen in shouting the spirited, angry chorus, and the coliseum shakes.
Springsteen proves himself to be an intimate communicator as he talks with his audience about loneliness and leaving bad love behind.
The man from New Jersey speaks directly and personally about his search for a home. Explaining the meaning of "Born to Run," a song he wrote when he was 24, he tells his fans, "When I wrote this, I guess I figured it was a song about a guy and a girl who wanted to run and keep on running.
"But as I sang it over the years, I guess I realized that it was about two people out searching for something better, searching for a place they could stand and try to make a life for themselves. I guess in the end, they were searching for home - something everyone looks for all their lives.
"I've spent my life looking for it. Anyway, this song has kept me good company in my search. I hope it's kept you good company on your search."
Springsteen wraps up his concert with a string of familiar, rollicking songs, including "Hungry Heart," "Rosalita" and "Devil with a Blue Dress On."
The Denver show began at 8 p.m. After midnight, The Boss, who stops only to drench himself with water, is outlasting his fans. He and his famous E Street Band play until security guards have to turn the lights off.
A philosopher at heart, Springsteen says he judges his success by his show's relevance to his audience. He tries to reflect peoples' lives back to them, providing new insight, through his music.
If the wild applause and the non-stop demands for encores were an indication, Springsteen's new tunes on love, commitment and family are relevant to his fans.