March 16th, 2012
10:17 AM ET
Bruce Springsteen's 62 now. He lost his lead sideman and good friend, Clarence Clemons, last year.
But The Boss can still put on a show.
The veteran rocker gave a free concert in Austin, Texas' 2,700-seat Moody Theater Thursday night for attendees of the South By Southwest music conference, and although he didn't play "Born to Run," it's doubtful anyone came away disappointed.
Joined by a parade of special guests, Springsteen and his E Street Band played for more than two-and-a-half hours in what amounted to a final rehearsal for their upcoming international tour.
"We've got some old friends with us. And we've got some new friends with us," Springsteen told the audience. "But the mission of the E Street Band remains the same."
For his first tour in three years, Springsteen complemented his usual bandmates with a horn section, several backup singers, an extra percussionist and a violin player. But the absence of Clemons, and longtime keyboard player Danny Federici, who died in 2008, was clearly felt.
"I don't know where we go when it's over," Springsteen told the audience while introducing the band. "But I know some of us are still here. And if you're here, and we're here, then they're here."
Jake Clemons, Clarence's nephew, filled in admirably for his late uncle on saxophone, although the set list mostly avoided songs with signature Clarence moments, such as "Jungleland" and its epic sax solo. During “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” Springsteen paused after the line, “When the Big Man joined the man …” and held his microphone toward the heavens in tribute.
Springsteen seemed to take special delight in the eight songs he played from his new album “Wrecking Ball,” which just supplanted Adele’s “21” as the top seller in the country.
He also tossed in a handful of older staples, including “Badlands” and “Thunder Road,” although he ignored his ‘80s commercial heyday and the “Born in the USA” album completely.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer threw himself into each song with his usual intensity – even leaping into the crowd on "Waiting for a Sunny Day" – although he got winded a few times and complained good-naturedly about having to give a SXSW keynote speech earlier in the day.
The last third of the show featured a series of guest performers, from Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello to reggae star Jimmy Cliff, who joined Springsteen to sing his classics “The Harder They Come” and “Many Rivers to Cross.” Springsteen also invited one of his early heroes, The Animals’ Eric Burdon, onstage to duet with him on the ‘60s hit, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”
By the encore, the stage was crowded with singer-songwriter Joe Ely, Alejandro Escovedo and members of indie band Arcade Fire, who teamed up with Springsteen & Co. for a rollicking version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” that had the audience singing along. (Given the political tenor of Springsteen’s new album, the song came across like a rallying cry for the Occupy movement.)
“Thanks for being part of our test run," Springsteen said before leaving the stage. He and the band kick off their North American tour Sunday in Atlanta.
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