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Bruce Springsteen takes E Street Band on an unexpected River ride
During the summer of 1980, Nils Lofgren bumped into Bruce Springsteen at the Sunset Marquee in Los Angeles.
Springsteen was headed to the studio to hear the final mix of his fifth studio album, "The River," which would come out in October of that year. Springsteen, who'd met Lofgren -- then a solo act and also a veteran of Grin and Neil Young's Crazy Horse -- a few times, invited the guitarist to come along and listen.
"Past the great songs and performances I was excited that it sounded to me like the sizzle and electricity of a live show in the grooves," Lofgren, 64 -- who joined Springsteen's E Street Band in 1984 -- says by phone from his home in Arizona. "It's a beautiful album."
This year Lofgren and the rest of the E Street Band finds itself playing "The River" in its entirety as Springsteen and company tour North America. The group had played it once before -- on Nov. 8, 2009 at New York's Madison Square Garden -- but the release of the retrospective box set "The Ties That Bind: The River Collection" in November prompted Springsteen to make the 20-song set a fixture in each of the shows, a stark change from the always-changing, seat-of-the-pants approach that's long been Springsteen's stock and trade.
"I'm used to watching Bruce and never knowing what's next," notes Lofgren, who had to cancel a planned solo tour to accommodate the Springsteen trek but has released "UK2015 Face The Music Live" from his last British tour. "I still have to remind myself to stop being suspicious and to know what I'll be playing next for 20 songs. I've never done that, so it's kind of an interesting thing.
"But it's all beautiful. I love playing those songs. They're gorgeous lyrics, very powerful what Bruce is singing about in those songs."
Most importantly, Lofgren says, the audiences have embraced the idea. And their indulgence is rewarded with the last 90 minutes or show of the night, when Springsteen and company play a selection of favorites, mixing staples such as "Born To Run," "The Rising," "Thunder Road," "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" and more with drop-in selections -- including a return of the "Detroit Medley" of songs made famous by Mitch Ryder.
"That's more of the traditional, seat-of-your-pants, 'What's next?' kind of thing, based on how Bruce is feeling," Lofgren says. "Look, he's a master bandleader. He's got 300 amazing songs plus, so whatever his instincts tell him to play is gonna work, period. And there's this massive influx of energy from the crowd that changes all of us and just kicks int into overdrive and you can count on it as long as you prepare."
The River Tour 2016 is currently booked through April 25 in North America, then moves to Europe in mid-May. Some stadium dates are also rumored for North America during the summer but have not yet been confirmed. Like his bandmates, And like his fellow E Streeters, Lofgren says he's ready to ride "The River" as long as Springsteen wants to keep it afloat.
"It's pretty formidable when you listen to the history of the band and, collectively, the hundreds of hours that have gone into this since we were kids playing in teen clubs and learning how to play in front of people and improvise, and know that's what got us here," he explains. "It's a very rare, powerful band, so any time there's a chapter -- even if there's an unexpected one -- it's a beautiful thing."
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14.
The Palace of Auburn HIlls, Lapeer Road at I-75.
Tickets are $58-$153.
Call 248-377-0100 or visit palacenet.com.
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