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The Boss set to wow lucky few Thursday night

Peter Mongillo
Peelander Red, bassist for the Brooklyn band Peelander-Z, leaps into an appreciative audience Wednesday during his performance at the Chicken Ranch Records day party at Elysium during South by Southwest.

When Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band take the stage Thursday for their SXSW showcase at a still-undisclosed location, it will be without saxophonist Clarence Clemons, aka the "Big Man," who died in June.

In his absence, Clemons' nephew Jake and a second sax player have joined the band, but they're no replacements.

"It's emotionally nice for the band, and I think for the audience, to have that connection to Clarence," E Street guitarist Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven, said Wednesday.

"It's a nice extra thing that works nicely, at the same time without putting pressure on him to be the new Big Man. That's not necessary; that's not what we're expecting; that's not what anybody wants. There's only one Big Man."

Springsteen is scheduled to perform tonight. Winners and those who do not get tickets through the lottery will be notified by email this morning, according to SXSW, with winners getting instructions on ticket pickup and presumably what the "intimate venue" is.

Springsteen will also deliver the Music keynote starting at noon today in Ballroom D at the Austin Convention Center.

Before the keynote, Juanes, Jimmy LaFave and Eliza Gilkyson will each perform songs by Woody Guthrie, who would have been 100 this year, and then join for a special finale.

The Springsteen talk is open to anyone who holds a platinum badge, music badge or artist wristband. NPR is streaming the talk live online and on some member stations, including KUT. Watch at www.npr.org/music, at SXSW.com and through the NPR Music iPhone and iPad apps. This is the first broadcast of its kind of a SXSW Music keynote.

In addition to a second saxophone, the band has added three horns for their tour in support of Springsteen's new album, "Wrecking Ball."

Van Zandt says that the additions will give the tour an emphasis on the band's "soul music roots." When they kicked off their tour last week at New York's Apollo Theater, the set included covers of the Wilson Pickett hit "634-5789" and "The Way You Do the Things You Do," made famous by the Temptations.

The focus of the tour, however, will be the new material, a mix of different styles centered around the theme of economic hard times. Van Zandt says that Springsteen's writing continues to impress and inspire him.

"He keeps on blowing my mind by writing at such a high level of quality, way past the point where he has to do that," Van Zandt says. "He writes like it's his first album; he's still writing like it matters, and it does matter to us, and that's why we've never become a nostalgia band.

"We go out every tour with his new script, the new album that he has written, and that gives us a whole new energy again. You go out year after year, and you want to kill, like it's our first album."

Contact Peter Mongillo at 445-3696

Springsteen surprise

Austin Music Awards attendees got a treat Wednesday night when Bruce Springsteen hopped on stage to perform four songs with Alejandro Escovedo. Joe Ely joined the jam for two songs and 1960s soul singer Garland Jeffreys joined for one. The event ran much later than usual, with fans sticking around on rumors that the Boss would take the stage.

- Michael Barnes