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SXSW: Making Friends at Springsteen

by Stephen Becker 16 Mar 2012 1:43 PM

Tales of how The Boss recruited many friends to the stage and how I introduced a couple of rocks stars.


AUSTIN – “You’re now officially ruined for Springsteen. You can’t see him again.”

That was KXT programming director Mark Abuzzahab’s assessment to me as we talked about the show that had just emptied out of the Moody Theater at midnight. He’s probably right. When else do you have the opportunity to see a legend in a venue that holds just 2,700 people?

I wrote yesterday about how I never really got Bruce Springsteen – that I always respected him but didn’t quite understand the dedication of his fan base. After last night’s show, I can’t say I’m ready to buy the entire back catalog on iTunes. But I do have a much better sense of what all the hubbub’s about.

Things started somberly with “Ain’t Got No Home,” a tribute to Woody Guthrie on the occasion of his 100th birthday. But from there Springsteen and his 15-piece E Street Band were guns a blazin’ for much of the nearly three hours that followed. “Badlands” drew out a sing as loud as you can response from the crowd. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” featured a blistering back-and-forth between Springsteen and special guest Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave fame. And “The Rising” would have been just as at home in a charismatic church as a concert hall. For most bands, any of these songs would serve as the bring-the-house-down finale. But a Springsteen set list seems to alternate between tearing the walls down and building them back up again.

And that was all before The Boss broke out the Rolodex. Here’s Jimmy Cliff for a trio of numbers, including “Many Rivers to Cross.” Now welcome Eric Burdon of the Animals to sing his band’s classic “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place.” (As we learned yesterday, Bruce loves that one.) And it wouldn’t be Austin if Joe Ely didn’t hit the stage. He joined show openers the Low Anthem and Alejandro Escovedo plus Morello and members of the Arcade Fire for a singalong “This Land is Your Land.” You couldn’t slap the smiles off the faces of most everyone in the crowd. Noticeably missing: most of his bigger hits. “Born in the USA,” “Glory Days,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Born to Run” and others were AWOL. People didn’t seem to mind.

Let’s end on a quick side note. I got to the show early enough to catch the Low Anthem and Escovedo and found a pretty good seat in the first balcony. A few minutes before Springsteen took the stage, Low Anthem frontman Ben Knox Miller plopped down on the stairs next to me and started up a conversation. Among the topics: his love for the Granada Theater, the fact that multi-instrumentalist Jocie Adams is his band’s secret weapon and his excitement that the Low Anthem was making its Carnegie Hall debut Friday night. “Now I think my parents will finally understand that this is what I do,” he told me. Cute, huh?

Anyway, I told him that I always enjoy watching other musicians at a big show and seeing their reactions. He asked who I’d seen and I told him for starters we were sitting about 10 feet from half the Arcade fire, including frontman Win Butler. I pointed out that he was the guy wearing the ’70s Pittsburgh Pirates hat. “We’re supposed to sing on stage with them later – let’s go meet him,” Miller said. How can you say no to that?

So up the stairs we went to say hi to Butler, a nice guy who was doing his best to stay incognito. They hit it off quickly and exchanged numbers, Butler told me a little about the Arcade Fire’s experience playing the Moody for an episode of ACL Live. I think they were even making plans to hang out at some future event. At one point I have to admit thinking: One of us has opened for Bruce Springsteen. One of us has a Grammy for Album of the Year. And one of us once held the 8th grade school record for the triple jump (until it was beaten by three feet the next year).

Anyway, one of the mottos we have around here at Art&Seek is “connecting people to the arts.” I feel pretty good about the connection I helped make last night.

  • Abothwell

    Sigh. Meanwhile, Jerome and I toil away at our desks….
    Seriously – what a cool night!

  • Abothwell

    Sigh. Meanwhile, Jerome and I toil away at our desks….
    Seriously – what a cool night!