Whew! Last night Bruce Springsteen started out his four-hour concert at the Captial Centre the way most bands would like to end theirs, with songs as urgent as news flashes, lyrical bulletins on the status of love, the economy, and growing up, everyday concerns that are at once eternal.

Working the crowd as finely as Muhammad Ali or Billy Graham ever did, Springsteen set down his working thesis with his first two songs -- "Born to Run" and "Prove It All Night." Interspersing his many anthem-like rockers with ballads, elegies and monologues, Springsteen took the capacity crowd on a reckless rock 'n' roller-coaster ride. Careening around the stage like a man possessed by the spirit, rather than the myth, of rock 'n' roll, Springsteen displayed a contagious exuberance. It created an immediate and unique bond with his audience -- 20,000 strong, they were ordinary people joining in extraordinary lyrics about ordinary lives.

Springsteen's street credibility is the core of his effectiveness. His striking working-class imagery is within everyone's experience, or at least within their reach. He is particularly effective in delineating the ties that bind useful dreams to adult disappointments, celebrating the challenge while acknowledging the difficulties.

Last night, Springsteen and the E Street Band created a whirlwind of passion and excitement. Bunching old anthems like "Badlands," "Thunder Road," "Rosalita," and "Jungleland" at the ends of two long sets and two encores, Springsteen also delivered most of the songs from his new "The River" album, as well as songs he has written for others and not recorded himself -- "Fire," and "Because the Night."

If there is a better live performer in rock, he or she has yet to appear in public. Riding the perfect gesture, Springsteen controlled the stage every moment of the long night, constructing a series of dynamic climaxes and restful counterpoints that left the audience as exhausted and drained as the singer himself obviously was.

Clarence Clemmons dispensed flashes of ice cold water each time he took a searing saxophone solo, while the E Street Band proved itself tight as ever, a stripped down rock 'n' roll engine. Last night "The Promised Land" was inside the Capital Centre, with 20.000 hitchhikers thrusting their arms out into the air, asking Bruce Springsteen to pick them up. He did . . . and drove all night.