The 26-song set kicked off with a cover of Woody Guthrie's "Ain't Got No Home," in honor of the folk singer's 100th birthday. It showcased the vocal power of the current edition of the E Street Band, with a five-man horn section featuring Jake Clemons, whose Uncle Clarence used to man that post.
Springsteen's first mind-blowing surprise guest was Cliff, resplendently dressed in red, in contast to the slimming black favored on E Street. Bruce fans might have thought they were going to get "Trapped," the Cliff song that Springsteen often plays live. Instead, Cliff, at 63 a year older than his host, sang three other songs of his own in a keening, undiminshed voice, with a Jersey reggae band behind him: "The Harder They Come," "Time Will Tell," and "Many Rivers to Cross."
Earlier, in his keynote address, Springsteen talked about the influence the 1960s British Invasion band the Animals had on his work. In part that was because of the working-class rage in identity-seeking songs like "It's My Life," but also, he said, because he found it inspirational that the Animals weren't good-looking, "and I was feeling pretty hideous at the time."
Well, lo and behold, Burdon himself turned out to be in Austin for SXSW . . . and the next thing you know, the 70-year-old singer was on stage with Springsteen, after being introduced as "the man I stole all my songs from, including my entire new album." The gray-haired, bull-like figure stalked the stage with intensity and sang "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" as Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt smiled at each other, like they couldn't believe this was really happening.
To say that Springsteen slayed Austin during his two-day, first-ever stopover at SXSW would be an understatement. This Lone Star State capital city prides itself on being "The Live Music Capital of the World" but at the bar and on the street, Texans and out-of-towners were overheard singing the praises of the guy from Jersey.
Dan Keen, my new pal from Nashville who was sitting next to me at the show and had never seen Springsteen before, pretty much summed up the consensus.
"I've seen some big acts, like the Rolling Stones and Earth, Wind and Fire," Keen, who teaches in the music business school at Belmont University, said to me about halfway through. "But this is the best show I've ever seen. There's no big production, no special effects. No pyro. It's just a guy and his band."
Napster and Spotify
I went to a panel discussion Wednesday at the Austin Convention Center with Napster founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning. They're in a coming movie about what their invention wrought called Downloaded, and are involved with a new video social-media site called Airtime that's getting ready to launch. Parker is a gregarious, garrulous presence. "The stupider you are the more likely you are to create a viral video," he said, while also talking about the music and entertainment industries' resistance to change and their collective "fetishization of celebrity and money."
Parker, who was played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, also has a hand in the social-focused Swedish music-streaming service Spotify, a company that he said is growing so fast it "will overtake iTunes in terms of revenue in under two years."
Fiona and Sharon
Fiona Apple, who opened the NPR Music bill at Stubb's on Wednesday night, has a new album coming in June with a 23-word title, starting The Idler Wheel Is . . . . She sampled tunes from it, working minor keys and dark, now-swinging, now-banging arrangements. She psyched herself up against stage fright by blurting out, "You're imaginary, you're not real!" to the audience, and one new song had the lyric: "Every single night's a fight with my brain."
Sharon Van Etten's music is just as emotional, but in a more swoon-inducing way. Her new album, Tramp, toughens her melancholy musical attack, and at Stubb's, she played electric guitar and autoharp, and her luxurious voice filled the Austin night.
Contact Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @delucadan. This story appeared first on "In the Mix," at www.philly.com/inthemix, where he'll be blogging through SXSW.