As the lights went down in First Niagara Center Friday night, a recording of Bruce Springsteen singing the old, traditional song "Buffalo Gals (Won't You Come Out Tonight?)" blasted through the P.A. while Sptingsteen and the members of the E Street Band took their places on stage.
Springsteen stepped to the microphone and led the band through several verses of the folk song before starting the concert properly with "We Take Care of Our Own."
"Wrecking Ball," the title song from his new album, and of the tour, followed.
Those two songs set the tone for what lay ahead.
From the first notes over the sound system, the audience in the full house was going completely ballistic.
The stage was The Boss' typical no-frills set-up, with a few large screens and room for the musicians to roam. Early on, it looked like they would need it -- Springsteen and the band were on fire, with the energy palpable right out of the gate.
When, after "Wrecking Ball," they switched it up for "The Ties That Bind," the crowd exploded. Spotlights raked the crowd, and everyone was on their feet.
The concert could not have been more anticipated.
The band, still in the early stages of its world tour behind Springsteen's No. 1 charting "Wrecking Ball" album, was performing on the Buffalo stage for the first time since November 2009, when Springsteen and company tore through a nearly three-hour show highlighted by a full rendering of his debut album, 1973's "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J."
Friday's show was granted significant emotional heft before the band even took the stage, for the now-fabled November '09 show proved to be the final performance with the E Street Band by saxophonist Clarence Clemons, Springsteen's on-stage foil for more than 40 years. Clemons died on June 11, 2011.
Springsteen didn't get far into the show before stopping to honor his good friend with a beautiful take on "My City of Ruins." During a midsong break, he took a roll call, mentioning every member of the E Street Band who was onstage. (It was a 17-piece version of the band, with a five-piece horn section that includes Clemons' nephew, saxophonist Jake Clemons.)
Once Springsteen had namechecked everyone there, he turned to the crowd and asked, "Are we missing anyone?" He repeated the emotionally charged question several times as the houselights went up, and then asked, again several times, "Do I have to say their names?"
As the crowd gave a vocal and visceral response, Springsteen himself never did say their names. Instead, he told his fans, "If you are here and we are here, then they are here."
And the show went on.