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Bruce Springsteen tears it up on stage at SXSW

For Journal Register Newspapers

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AUSTIN, Texas – It was Boss Time on Thursday, March 15, at the South By Southwest Music + Media Conference.

After making a surprise appearance at the Austin Music Awards the night before and delivering SXSW’s keynote speech earlier in the day, Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band took the stage Thursday night for a two-hour and 35-minute barn-burner of a show in ACL Live at the Moody Theatre, a 2,700-capacity venue that’s far more intimate than the arenas the group will be playing during its upcoming tour in support of Springsteen’s chart-topping new album, “Wrecking Ball.”

This being SXSW, Springsteen did not shy away from reaching out to musical friends who were also in town for the conference, turning the show into a high-spirited, guest-laden revue that will rank as historic in the storied annals of his live performance legacy. Tom Morello was on hand to recreate his contributions to the “Wrecking Ball” tracks “Death to My Hometown” and “Jack of All Trades,” and to pull out his bag of guitar tricks during a fierce “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Reggae legendy Jimmy Cliff, clad head to toe in red – contrasting nicely with the E Street Band’s traditional black – sang “The Harder They Come,” “Time Will Tell” and “Many Rivers to Cross” (though surprisingly not “Trapped”), while the Animals’ Eric Burdon – who Springsteen lauded in his SXSW keynote speech earlier in the day – came via what Springsteen called “the twitterverse” to sing “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”

And after starting the concert with Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home” – a nod to the folk music legend’s centennial this year – the finale of Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” was an all-hands-on-deck celebration featuring Morello, both of the evening’s opening acts – Alejandro Escovedo and the Low anthem – along with the members of Arcade Fire and Garland Jeffries. All this while a feeling-no-pain Glen Hansard (the Swell Season, the Frames) and members of Mumford & Sons and Superchunk watched from the VIP mezzanine.

All of that added to an already potent and focused concert by Springsteen and company, who had “a story to tell” built around the politically and socially conscious material on “Wrecking Ball.” The group performed eight of the album’s 11 songs and surrounded it with complementary older material such as as “Badlands,” “My City of Ruins,” “The Promised Land,” “Seeds” and “The Rising.”

But as Springsteen said early in the show;, the group – whose body count of 17 resembled an army more than a band – was “here to kick some Tex-ass” and raised spirits with renditions of “E Street Shuffle,” “Thunder Road” and a “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” that paid tribute to the late saxophonist, whose nephew, Jake, has essentially f illed the Big Man’s role, if not his spot on stage. All told, it was a reason to get excited for the group’s tour, which kicks off March 18 in Atlanta and hits town April 12 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Springsteen was far from the only thing happening at SXSW on Thursday, of course. A few other notable highlights:

* A surprise performance by Lil Wayne at the Austin Music Hall that also featured many of the up-and-coming artists on the Young Money/Cash Money label – who were not entirely welcomed by the Weezy-loving crowd. He did, however, let folks know early on that Nicki Minaj, who was rumored to be coming in for the show, would not be there.

*Dance music artist Girl Talk put on a pounding hour-and-45-minute mash-up at Vevo/NikeFuel Station , complete with confetti, a balloon drop and brilliantly bright video walls.

*The Michigan Tastes and Tunes party was a success, drawing more than 500 people, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s Josh Epstein, for American Coney dogs, Better Made potato chips and two stages of local bands who played both plugged-in sets inside and acoustic sets on an outdoor stage.

* The New West Records label had a day party at the bucolic Threadgill’s, where Ponderosa displayed a new, Southern rock shoe-gazer kind of sound and Morello performed a set that many hoped will feature a guest appearance by Springsteen. That didn’t transpire, but Morello did praise Springsteen’s keynote speech and saluted him as a “link”in “the chain of social justice.”

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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