Springsteen Rehearsal Show Rocks Boardwalk

Rock Hall of Famer introduces new song and plays several E Street Band classics for a few thousand delirious fans.

ASBURY PARK, N.J. -- Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band introduced a new song and went deep into their classic 1970s and '80s catalog at a public rehearsal that turned into a two-and-a-half hour concert Thursday night.

The show, a benefit for several local organizations, was advertised as an

hour-long rehearsal for Springsteen's reunion tour with the band, which begins April 9 in Spain.

But after 11 songs, Springsteen told the several thousand delirious fans at

Convention Hall, "We don't need a break. We're just gonna keep on playing."

He and the E Street Band -- Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren and Patti Scialfa (guitars), Clarence Clemons (saxophone), Roy Bittan (piano), Danny Federici (keyboards, accordion), Garry Tallent (bass) and Max Weinberg (drums) -- ended up playing 23 songs in all.

For the final song of the set, Springsteen said, "We have one more thing for you -- something new." That turned out to be a new song called "Land

of Hopes and Dreams" (according to the band's setlist). The mid-tempo number included the lyrics, "Darling if you're weary, lay your head on my chest/ We'll take what we can carry and leave all the rest." The chorus went, "Meet me in the land of hopes and dreams."

For longtime Springsteen fans, Thursday's show was the fulfillment of some long-standing hopes and dreams. "I am ecstatic to be part of this special night," said Vicki Meier, 30, of Neptune, who said she became a fan as a teen-ager, when Springsteen and the E Street Band were at the height of their fame with the Born in the U.S.A. (1984) album.

A second Convention Hall show is scheduled for Friday night (March 19).

Tickets, which cost $20, are sold out.

On Thursday, ticket-holders began lining up as early as 3 p.m. in a bitterly

cold wind on Asbury Park's desolate boardwalk for a show scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. A few hundred hopefuls without tickets waited in a standby line, hoping for a miracle. Some of them got one: Shortly before showtime, 50 more tickets went on sale.

Inside, Convention Hall looked like an old high-school auditorium -- a large, open floor, with raised seats around the perimeter. Around 8:10 p.m., more than an hour late, the house lights went down, the stage was bathed in blue light and Springsteen and the band took their places to deafening applause.

"Welcome to Asbury Park," Springsteen shouted. He counted off "1, 2, 3" and the band crashed into "Prove It All Night," from Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978). That was followed quickly by "Two Hearts," on which Van Zandt and Springsteen shared the microphone for the first of several times.

Anchored by Weinberg's powerful drumming and bulked up by a multitude of guitars, the E Street Band, which has been using the Convention Hall to rehearse for the upcoming tour, sounded like a fine-tuned rock 'n' roll machine, even though there was a casual air about the performance. The only real hints that the show was a rehearsal were the two times Springsteen forgot some lyrics, during "Out in the Street" and "Spirit in the Night." He laughed those moments off and quickly found his way.

The new Rock and Roll Hall of Famer -- he was inducted Monday -- was clad in black jeans, rolled-up sleeves and a black vest. Although the upcoming tour ostensibly is to promote Springsteen's box set Tracks (1998), a collection of previously unreleased recordings from throughout his career, he played only one Tracks song, "My Love Will Not Let You Down."

There was also a sprinkling of songs from the past 10 years, during which

Springsteen recorded and toured without the E Street Band. Songs such as "Streets of Philadelphia" (RealAudio excerpt), "Youngstown" and "The Ghost of Tom Joad" (RealAudio excerpt) were reworked for the band.

But most of the set was from the E Street Band's glory days. They played five songs from Darkness on the Edge of Town -- including the title track and "Factory," which was rearranged in a country vein with Lofgren on pedal-steel guitar -- and five more from Born to Run (1975). From the latter came such longtime fan favorites as "Thunder Road" and "Born to Run" (RealAudio excerpt).

"Bruce seemed real happy to be here," said Mike Tannenbaum, 45, of New

Milford, who said he has been a die-hard fan since 1978, when he saw

Springsteen and the E Streeters at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

"On standards like 'Born to Run' and 'Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,' " he said, "you could clearly see how the band and the songs were re-energized and brought back to life."

Springsteen has never been one to rest his laurels, though. He played only one song, "Bobby Jean," from his best-known album, Born in the U.S.A., and reworked familiar tunes. Lofgren switched over to the pedal steel and Van Zandt picked up a mandolin for several numbers.

Scialfa -- Springsteen's wife -- provided back-up vocals throughout the

evening. On some songs, including "Tougher Than the Rest" she shared

Springsteen's microphone, creating a romantic mood that was met with

enthusiastic applause.

"This is a special night for us, a rededication of our band and the job we do

and our commitment to serve the fans" Springsteen said before the band played a stunning version of "If I Should Fall Behind." Springsteen, Scialfa, Van Zandt, Lofgren and Clemons each sang a verse, and they ended the song singing together.

This week's shows and the upcoming tour reunites the native of nearby

Freehold, and his old band for the first time in 10 years. "Tell everyone we'll be seeing them this summer," Springsteen said toward the end of

the night. "There's a train coming down the tracks."