Nils Lofgren’s ready for Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band’s return: ‘Some hope that lingers’

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Nobody knows when (or if) Bruce Springsteen will make his 2015 touring plans known — and that includes members of his E Street Band.

Also unknown is whether Tom Morello will return as an additional guitarist. Morello has participated in recent E Street Band tours in support of 2012’s Wrecking Ball and 2014’s High Hopes, initially filling in for the busy Steven Van Zandt — and (finally) supplanting Nils Lofgren as the group’s New Guy.

Whatever happens, Lofgren says the goals for the E Street Band, recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, will remain the same. “It’s powerful music, presented at its greatest length to inspire people,” Lofgren said in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown, “and hopefully to send them out of the arena at the end of an exhausting, long night with some hope that lingers and some musical inspiration that they might be able to take into their daily lives the next day.”

Each night is different, whether because of new faces or Bruce Springsteen’s legendary predilection for tinkering with setlists. If an E Street Band show sometimes feels completely off the cuff? Well, Lofgren says, that’s because it is. Everyone must remain completely present, or risk getting left behind.

“I think my favorite line of the last year or two,” he says, “was when we were in Australia with one of these wild improv shows, which we do every night, but this night in particular Bruce just went crazy with the improv songs — songs out of the audience, songs we’ve never played. At one point, Tom walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, this is the first song I’ve recognized in an hour and 20 minutes.’ We just fell out laughing about it, because to play an hour of music that you’ve never heard in your life standing next to Bruce with a guitar on is a daunting thing. He handled it quite well.”

Despite leading his own groups for decades — Nils Lofgren’s solo career was brilliantly outlined in last year’s intimate Face the Music box set — he still enjoys the more dilated challenges found working inside the E Street Band. “That’s something that I’ve been embracing for 30 years,” Lofgren says. “I don’t get to do that as a band leader. I love to do that. To this day, if we do a song, and Bruce and Steve are on electric, I’ll pick up the acoustic. There are times when Bruce says: ‘I prefer three electrics,’ but now that Tom Morello’s with us, I’ll go back to the acoustic again.”

Over the years, Nils Lofgren has expanded from electric and acoustic guitars into accordion (his original instrument) and then on to pedal steel, slide, banjo and Dobro. “I hear what’s being covered and done, and now I have these four or five other sounds,” he says. “I’m just a beginner on those instruments but I’m a good beginner, I think. I love the music. So, I can usually find a couple of notes that I can execute to put in there to add some sounds. If anything, I find myself just playing a little less.”

There is, Lofgren adds, a mesmerizing focus within their signature roar.

“I think my ultimate joy, though, is playing acoustic rhythm inside this giant rock band, R&B thing — and finding these breathing place inside [drummer] Max [Weinberg]’s high hat, which I have very loud in my monitor,” he tells us. “Just turning into this hypnotic percussion person for five minutes, and not having to come up for air, and never having to break the groove. All of that stuff is very exciting and engaging for me, now as much as ever. I do embrace it when I’m not the band leader, which is very healthy. It keeps me musically sharp. I give myself to just be in the E Street Band, and explore every avenue of that and just embrace it.”

As for being the New Guy, Nils Lofgren — a member of the E Street Band since 1984 — was happy to pass the mantle to Morello.

“I’ve had a sense of humor about that,” Lofgren tells us. “That new guy thing took a big step back with [1987’s] Tunnel of Love, because we did a 155 shows or so — and boy, I’ve got to say, it’s more a humorous thing. But we had [keyboardist] Charlie Giordano who came in [to replace the late Danny Federici], and he has the notebooks and homework to prove it. Having Tom there too, just like the guys did for me, I’m happy to give Tom some pointers here and there. He’s very intelligent and self sufficient and has a sense of humor about it.”

In all, Bruce Springsteen played more than 30 dates with the E Street Band early in 2014, and has since only appeared at November’s Concert for Valor in November, at December’s World AIDS Day concert (filling in for Bono) and at Asbury Park’s Light of Day Festival this month.

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