"Bruce! Bruce! Bruuuuce!" The stomping chant that has launched countless Bruce Springsteen concerts roared through the Capital Centre lsat night, 20,000 voices strong.

A thunderclap fo recognition followed as two spotlights came up, focusing on Springsteen center-stage, the opening chords of his first song barely audible. In moments, Springsteen and the crowd were caught up in the throes of "Thunder Road." Clarence Clemons' mighty tenor sax pierced the din and Springsteen and his E Street Band were off and running for nearly three hours of extraordinary rock 'n' roll.

The first hour was masterfully paced. Reflective ballads like "Independence Day" and a new song about Elvis Presley, written recently while Springsteen was touring Europe, were offset by the sound and fury of "Prove It All Night" and "Two Hearts."

During Clemons' sax break on "Promised Land," Springsteen put down his guitar and roamed the stage, firsts held high, urging the capacity crowd to join him on the chorus. Little coaxing was necessary. He capped the tumultuous sing-along with a lung-collapsing harmonica solo that almost rivaled Clemons' playing in tis intensity. Another time he followed a remarkably faithful and moving rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" with John Fogerty's "Who'll Stop the Rain." By then you couldn't have hoped for a tighter, more insistent sound from a rock band. They closed the first hour, as they had begun it, with the crowd growing hoarse with approval, this time for "Badlands."

If anything, Springsteen was even more committed to the music after the intermission. He was also a good deal more animated, leaping onto a couple f amplifiers during "Hungry Heart," choreographing his step with Clemons and guitarists Steve Van Zandt and Garry Tallent on an instrumental shuffle, wildly dancing across the stage with a woman hoisted from the audience during "Sherry Darling." When he leaned her over backwards in his arm and planted a kiss on her lips, the crowd let out a cheer that was loud enough to stop traffic on the Beltway.

There was no stopping the songs, however. After being physically carried off the stage by Clemons following a particularly exhausting "Rosalita," Springsteen brought the concert to a stunnin g close with several encores, including Jungleland" and "Born to Run."

Whereas sop many arena rockers leave their fans with a night to remember. He returns tonight and Friday night.