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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Boss takes a back seat

Posted By on Wed, Dec 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Bruce Springsteen's October 14 onstage collaboration with Arcade Fire husband-and-wife team Win Butler and Regine Chassagne (sparked by a Springsteen-Butler cover story in Spin) had me thinking about Springsteen's greatest artistic virtue: the way that he has remained, 35 years after signing a record deal, the perpetual fan.

Ample evidence of that can be found on YouTube, where the most compelling Springsteen clips find him generously supporting or collaborating with other high-powered artists. Here are some highlights to look for:

1. Arcade Fire: Butler and Chassagne joined the E Street Band in Ottawa for "Keep the Car Running" and the joy on Springsteen's face throughout this song is unmistakable. By Butler's request, they also played Springsteen's ominous "State Trooper," with Springsteen and the Arcade Fire frontman trading verses and singing unison on the choruses. Now it's Butler's turn to be the unabashed fan, giddily -- and somewhat geekily -- playing air guitar while Bruce solos.

2. Joan Jett: A rough-and-ready Bruce joins her band in Jersey, looking like he just made it over from a softball game. He joins her for some spirited harmonies and unleashes one of his most furious guitar solos. At the end, he simply announces, "Joan Jett! She's great!" and walks off.

3. Michael Stipe: On October 11, 2004, he brings a white-suited Michael Stipe out for "Because the Night" (best known for the hit version by Stipe's hero Patti Smith). Springsteen is so deferential to Stipe, he even sings Patti Smith's lyrics rather than his own. On the same tour, we see Stipe returning the favor by bringing The Boss out with R.E.M. for "Man on the Moon."

4. Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes: My favorite Springsteen YouTube clip. Johnny invites Springsteen onstage in 1978 to help on a version of Springsteen's torch-ballad "The Fever." This is a Cleveland club gig, and The Boss was filling arenas by this time, but acts like Johnny is doing him the favor. He exuberantly claps and grins in the background while Southside hams it up. Obviously secure in his star-power, Springsteen is happy to let his Asbury Park homeboy shine.

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