Bruce Springsteen show at Apollo raises spirits

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Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at the Apollo Theater. (March 9, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Don't worry. It was still a party.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's show Friday night at the Apollo Theater had so much baggage attached -- the high expectations for the first full concert since the death of Clarence "Big Man" Clemons, as well as the weight of being the first concert in support of the new album, "Wrecking Ball," about struggles and celebration in a time of economic hardship.

The stakes were even higher as the private two-plus-hour show was broadcast live on SiriusXM, as part of the company's celebration of the 10th anniversary of satellite radio.

But Springsteen and the even mightier-than-usual E Street Band, now 15 members strong, delivered, dropping the stress as effortlessly as James Brown has shrugged off his cape so many times on the historic Apollo stage. Springsteen recreated the moment during "Hold On, I'm Coming" to end the show, with Steven Van Zandt draping a black T-shirt on his shoulders instead of a cape -- the grandest of all the nods he made to playing the legendary venue.

There was even more love for Clemons, the band's late saxophone player. During "My City of Ruins," which became far more soulful thanks to the five-piece horn section now led by Clemons' nephew, Jake Clemons, Springsteen declared a roll call, with each member getting introduced and taking a solo.

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Then Springsteen asked, "Are we missing anybody?" repeating the question until the star-studded audience -- including Tom Hanks, Elvis Costello and Ben Stiller -- understood he was referring to Clemons and longtime keyboard player Danny Federici, who died in 2008. He led the crowd in a rousing ovation before saying, "That's right. We're missing a few. . . . If you're here and we're here, they're here."

The tributes put the "Wrecking Ball" album mission statement into new context. "On our new record, our motto is dancing and crying," Springsteen said.

The Springsteen classics chosen specifically to support the "Wrecking Ball" economic theme packed the most punch. "Promised Land" outlines the same "Wrecking Ball" desire for the American dream, as does "Thunder Road."

"We're here to bring a smile to your face, an extra beat to your heart, and to raise your spirits high in these hard times," Springsteen said.

Mission accomplished.

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