Moments before The Rascals hit the stage at Ruth Eckerd Hall Thursday evening, a passionate fan base realized this show would be different.
Reunited after a 40-year split, the white rock and soul band is on a “Once Upon a Dream’’ tour inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s longtime E Street Band sidekick Steven Van Zandt, who worshipped The Rascals while growing up in New Jersey.
With the curtains still closed, a mostly middle-aged audience was treated to a pre-recorded message from Van Zandt, who urged fans to keep their cell phones on, take pictures and generally, “Do whatever the (expletive) you want tonight.’’
Then The Rascals hit the stage, with all four original members striking familiar poses.
With keyboard player Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati sharing vocals, guitarist Gene Cornish showed off his rockabilly roots while dynamic drummer Dino Danelli proved he hasn’t missed a beat after four decades apart from the group.
Behind the band, a continuous video montage played on a giant screen, displaying archival footage of the group.
Part concert, part documentary, the show included recent video interviews with band members and commentary by Van Zandt’s fellow cast member on “The Sopranos,’’ Vincent Pastore.
With three No. 1 hits, The Rascals were one of the few American bands to withstand the British Invasion of the ‘60s, but Thursday’s performance also offered evidence of the group’s limitations.
The concert lacked energy until The Rascals tore into a rousing version of “Good Lovin’ ” an hour into the show.
What followed were a string of hits, including “Groovin,’ ” “Beautiful Morning,’’ “How Can I be Sure?’’ and “People Got to be Free,’’ but the band’s repertoire isn’t deep enough to sustain a two-hour concert and their experiments with psychedelic rock proved unsuccessful.
There were some obvious Rascals fanatics in the crowd of 1,629 who soaked up every soul-tinged moment and the band played with energy throughout, displaying their knack for covering Motown with the help of three backup singers.
The group’s enthusiasm was contagious and Danelli’s pounding drums set the tone for a satisfying night that sent a legion of fans home wondering why one of the most successful American groups of the late ‘60s lasted only seven years.