Photo: Todd V. Wolfson

Bruce Springsteen opened his SXSW blitz a night early, making a surprise appearance on lead guitar and occasional vocals during Alejandro Escovedo‘s closing set at the 30th annual Austin Music Awards, at the Austin Music Hall on March 14th. “We need one more guitar player,” Texas singer-songwriter Joe Ely declared after performing “The Highway Is My Home” with Escovedo and his band the Sensitive Boys. Springsteen – scheduled to own the town the next day, with a highly anticipated keynote speech and an evening concert with the E Street Band – walked on in a black-and-white checked shirt, with a modest grin, to a roar of delight from the audience. Ely immediately kicked into “The Midnight Train,” a song by his Flatlanders bandmate Jimmie Dale Gilmore, with Springsteen taking a pair of meaty feedback-laden guitar solos.

Escovedo told a story about his own guest shot at a Springsteen gig, in Houston a couple of years ago, and “how it changed my life,” before reprising the song the two played at that show, “Always a Friend,” from Escovedo’s 2010 album, Street Songs of Love. Ely, Escovedo and Springsteen then alternated verses and harmonized in the traditional pilgrim’s song, “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad,” with Springsteen firing dirty-metal lead-guitar breaks.

Springsteen was about to leave the stage when Escovedo called, “One more!”, and brought out one of his earlier guests, New York singer-songwriter Garland Jeffreys, for a version of the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden.” Jeffreys handled lead vocals, but Springsteen played tart fills, like a New Jersey-born Keith Richards, and took a howling turn in the song’s signature litany: “Am I hard enough/Am I rough enough/Am I rich enough/I’m not to blind to see.”

By DAVID FRICKE, March 15, 2012

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