It’s not easy to own South By Southwest. There are countless bands playing 90 official venues. Music flows like booze in Austin every mid-March. Musicians are everywhere.
“It’s like some teenage music junkie’s wet dream,” Bruce Springsteen said while performing Thursday night at ACL Live at the Moody Theater in the heart of the capital of Texas.
The Boss owns SXSW 2012. It was evident during his thoughtful keynote and throughout the two-hour 45-minute performance by Springsteen and the E Street Band.
The show was an emotional roller coaster. It was only the second show the band rendered since the passing of beloved saxophonist Clarence Clemons last summer.
The capacity crowd of 1,500 knew Springsteen would toast his old friend. The only question was how he would mark his memory.
After singing ‘the big man joined the band’ during ‘10th Avenue Freezeout,’ Springsteen and the E Streeters stopped and let the crowd roar for a full minute in tribute to his late comrade.
Springsteen asked if anyone wasn’t present at the show. “If you’re here and we’re here, they’re here,” he said while acknowledging Clemons and the late keyboardist Danny Federici.
Clemons nephew saxophonist Jake Clemons provided a visceral blast with each sax solo.
Eight hours before the show Springsteen noted how much the British blues rockers The Animals impacted him while he was coming of age during the mid-60s.
Thanks to Twitter, he connected with Animals vocalist Eric Burdon, who joined the band for a version of ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.’ Burdon was initially shaky but within a minute he was singing in that familiar deep, menacing manner.
Reggae icon Jimmy Cliff joined the Boss for three songs, including ‘The Harder They Come.’ Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Nightwatchman fame delivered a scorching solo during ‘Ghost of Tom Joad.’ The combination of a slide and wah wah pedal was absolutely mind-bending.
Joe Ely, Alejandro Escovedo and the members of Arcade Fire joined Springsteen for the show closer, a beautiful version of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land.’
There was plenty of star power. Springsteen was typically backed by 17 musicians but there was no doubt who the focal point was throughout the event.
‘The inspired and rock solid Wrecking Ball,’ Springsteen’s finest album since ‘The Rising’ dropped a decade ago, was showcased first and foremost. The tunes are urgent and angry and there is that common us against them thread that goes back to vintage Springsteen.
Speaking of classic cuts, Springsteen and his band offered a gorgeous version of ‘Thunder Road,’ punctuated by a spot-on sax solo by the capable Clemons.
Not a bad performance for a group, which is just starting a tour after losing a key member. The epic show was one for the ages.
In fact, halfway through ‘This Land Is Your Land,’ Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler jumped from the stage to the audience. Who could blame him? This is the show of the 2012 South By Southwest music conference.