Springsteen Puts on Epic Show at SXSW
March 16, 2012 – Mike Duffy
It’s difficult to pin down a single highlight when attending a Bruce Springsteen concert.
But it was damn near impossible in his intimate show for approximately 3,000 lucky fans at Austin’s Moody Theater Thursday night.
Was it the roll call, where Springsteen named off the members of his 16-piece E Street Band, noting the absence of late saxophonist Clarence Clemons?
Was it when Clemons’ nephew, Jake, took center stage to deliver a spotlit solo that would have made the Big Man proud?
Was it the appearance of Rage Against The Machine guitar wizard Tom Morello on three different occasions – including “Death to My Hometown” and a haunting “The Ghost of Tom Joad?”
Was it reggae legend Jimmy Cliff’s three-song run with “The Harder They Come,” “Time Will Tell” and “Many Rivers To Cross?”
Oh yeah, Eric Burden of The Animals joined Springsteen for a version of the hit “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.”
And double oh yeah, Arcade Fire – who were in town to deliver a lecture at the University of Texas next week – came out with openers Alejandro Escovedo and Low Anthem, Joe Ely and Morello for a show-closing “This Land It Your Land.”
Seriously, this was a big-time event, despite the venue’s relatively small size.
Springsteen had already given the SXSW keynote speech earlier in the day. A self-penned statement, Springsteen addressed the state and fate of the music industry. After sharing his personal music history journey, he left young rockers with some sage advice.
“Young musicians, learn to bring it live and bring it home, night after night after night,” he said. “Your audience will remember you.”
His 26-song performance at the Moody showed that he is still carrying that torch.
Opening with Woody Guthrie’s “Ain’t Got No Home” – “Happy birthday, Woody!” – the black-clad Springsteen then played two tracks off his latest album, a revolutionary act of protest titled Wrecking Ball.
“We Take Care of Our Own” and “Wrecking Ball” were followed by “Badlands,” and the opening keys of that classic from pianist Roy Bittan sent the audience afire.
Selecting songs like “Death to My Hometown,” “This Depression” and “Joad,” which featured the Nightwatchman and the Boss trading angry guitar licks, tipped a hat to the struggle of the working man, but a triumphant “The Rising,” “We Are Alive” and “Thunder Road” preached that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
One can never be sure if Springsteen planned his setlist to play out this epic tale, but we wouldn’t put anything past such a stellar showman.
Springsteen had kept the room on its toes with his brand of tight storytelling, and by the time Arcade Fire walked out for another Guthrie cover, everyone was ready to fight alongside the Boss.
Even at 63, Springsteen is as ready to rally the troops as ever.
This land was made for you and me, indeed.
Tom Morello and Rancid’s Tim Armstrong hanging out backstage …