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Best Encore 

Bruce Springsteen

By the time Bruce Springsteen had finished his third encore with the anticlimactic "Land of Hope and Dreams," many of his most hardcore fans had left the building -- they knew that the unremarkable anthem marked the true end of the show. But the September 24 audience wouldn't let Broooce leave. After a cathartic performance built around songs from Springsteen's 9/11-inspired The Rising (but also marked by the obligatory fist-pumping "Born to Run" as well as a "Born in the U.S.A." that sounded just as relevant more than fifteen years down the road, when the yellow man might as well be in Afghanistan), fans refused to quit with the applause. And Bruce surrendered. "It must be done!" he yelled, pointing to his guitar. "Key of F!" Audience members didn't have a clue what must be done -- until Springsteen broke into "Kansas City." He played the piss out of it, too, suddenly reminding 16,000 Kansas Citians why our town is legendary among rock stars if not among ourselves. It didn't matter that he was singing about a street corner that doesn't exist -- in a part of town that people who live here never visit. He was obviously having a kick-ass time, and he was going to get himself a crazy little woman, maybe two! (Wife and guitar player Patty Scialfa just smirked.) The band threw in a few rounds of audience call-and-response with the Beatles-trademarked Hey hey hey hey addition, then left the stage one by one -- until the spotlight remained on keyboard player Roy Bittan, who pounded out not one, not two, but several verses, each one louder and more complicated than the last, as if he'd been dying to solo all night. Then the Boss sneaked back onstage, and the band played until everyone in Kemper Arena was spent. For those few minutes, we were as cool as Springsteen.

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