Photos: Scenes From SXSW 2012
March 15: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band captivate ACL Live at Moody Theatre.

Nils Lofgren "still startled I'm not standing next to" Clarence Clemons on stage

The members of the E Street Band may play only sporadically on Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" -- and some don't appear at all -- but guitarist Nils Lofgren says that as with "Nebraska," "Tunnel of Love" and other Springsteen "solo" albums there's been no trouble adapting the new material for the band.

"I think it's all great," Lofgren tells Billboard.com. "It's a beautiful record, a great melting pot like Bruce always is. It's very powerful songwriting. I think there is some of the flavor of the Seeger Sessions band and the banjos and the universal folk feel from Irish to American. Already the songs have evolved into more of an E Street Band presentation, but they're still authentic and true to the spirit of the record. And they will evolve as the tour goes and becomes more and more our own."

Lofgren -- who released a new solo album, "Old School," during the fall -- says that rehearsals for the just-started "Wrecking Ball" tour were filled with "a lot of experimenting of arrangements, keys, songs -- but it's all good. It's very challenging and rewarding and fun. It's all part of a giant, beautiful jigsaw puzzle." And there was apparently more fresh fare than just the "Wrecking Ball" dealt with in the runup to the tour. "We've got an enormous amount of new music to choose from and integrate into what was already a significant, powerful show," Lofgren notes "There's 23 songs from the 'Darkness' package ('The Promise') that are basically unreleased, and when you throw that in with the 11 songs on 'Wrecking Ball' you're talking about three and a half hours of new music that we've never put into the show. It's pretty powerful and evolving, and we're just scratching the surface. It all keeps being a beautiful musical surprise, for us and for the audience, because that's the kind of band we're best at being."

Lofgren says he's "still startled I'm not standing next" to the late Clarence Clemons but gives thumbs-up to Springsteen's decision to fill the void with a five-piece horn section that includes Clemons' nephew Jake as one of its two saxophone players (and primary soloist), along with Springsteen tour vet Ed Manion. "Jake was around a long time," Lofgren says. "I got to know him really well through Clarence because Clarence loved Jake. He and Ed Manion share the duties, so we're not having one sax player stand next to me in Clarence's spot. That was never really a serious consideration, I don't think, and I'm grateful for that. I think it was a good call to carry on this way, and I know Clarence is up there and encouraging us to sing and play our hearts out and spread some healing, which the world really needs, through music."

Springsteen and the E Street Band are currently booked in North America and Europe through July 31. More dates are expected, but Lofgren says it's anyone's guess.

"That's the great thing about being in a band -- I don't have to think about it," he says with a laugh. "I'm just hoping that if things go well and everyone is OK with their families, and particularly Bruce and Patti (Scialfa), that they will certainly keep their options open for it to continue. But that's not my call. This is a very special musical adventure. It's very powerful and healing for me, so I'll be there whenever (Springsteen) wants to do it."