A year ago at this time, Nils Lofgren was touring England, giving his cult of fans a stripped-down survey of a career that stretches back to an extraordinary beginning, as a teenager playing on Neil Young's iconic "After the Gold Rush."
In contrast to the mob escorting him onstage with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for the past 30 years, Lofgren was accompanied in Europe only by longtime friend Greg Varlotta, a piano and a quiver of guitars. The result is captured on his recently released live album, "UK 2015 Face the Music Tour" (Cattle Track Road Records), and brings to the forefront qualities obscured in the sphere of Springsteen: the subtle phrasing of his acoustic playing, his personable stage repartee and the delicate warmth of his voice.
It is not surprising that in this more personal setting, Lofgren chose to include "Miss You C," an ode to his friend, the late E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons.
"It's usually very powerful and emotional because a lot of people in my audience are fans of the E Street Band and Clarence, and took his loss hard," Lofgren says from New York during an off day on Springsteen's The River Tour 2016. The band will perform Tuesday, Feb. 16, at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
The original version of the song appeared on Lofgren's album "Old School," a 2011 release about the vagaries of getting older. The song had been inspired by the death of Ray Charles, and originally was called "Miss You Ray," which Lofgren describes as a cautionary tale about how grief can blind you to the joys left in life. The idea to change the orientation of the song came in Palm Beach, near Clemons' home, on an emotional June 21 in 2011.
"In a strange twist of fate, on my 60th birthday, I was burying Clarence with my wife, Amy, in Florida, with all our friends and E Street family. Amy insisted on going to a birthday dinner, which I didn't want to do," Lofgren recalls. "It turned out to be one of the most beautiful 5 1/2-hour meals, where people laughed and cried and told stories and commiserated. It was very healing, and it reminded me of my own song I'd forgotten. Since that night, I've been singing 'Miss You C' to reflect the E Street family and our losses and how you've got to look around and find something left to carry on with."
The E Street Band's current shows begin with a track-by-track performance of Springsteen's 1980 double album, "The River," an extraordinarily eclectic release that includes the buoyant hit single "Hungry Heart" and haunting ballads such as "Wreck on the Highway," "Drive All Night," "Stolen Car" and the title track. Lofgren was among the first to hear the album, several years before he joined Springsteen's band.
"I ran into Bruce in L.A., and he had just finished mixing it, and he asked me to tag along and listen, which I was honored to do," Lofgren says. "I always remember feeling like it was the first album I'd heard that they got the sizzle and electricity of their live performances in all the grooves. Past the great writing and playing, I thought that made it a very special record. … Certainly to play the double album live is a joy."
Lofgren plays Dobro, lap steel guitar, pedal steel, six-string banjo and a Jazzmaster guitar warmed up with "the heaviest strings you can buy," all necessary to convey the mix of sounds on the album.
"After 'Stolen Car' — talk about a wake-up call — you go into 'Ramrod.' It's just amazing, the mood changes," Lofgren says. "It's really neat presenting it as a piece, and then we've got the whole other two hours of the show to play the greatest hits."
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will perform 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, at the BB&T Center, 2555 Panther Parkway, in Sunrise. Tickets cost $59.25-$154.25. Call 954-835-7000 or go to Ticketmaster.com and TheBBTCenter.com.