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The Boss Conjures A Crowd For Rehearsals

It might have been billed as a rehearsal, but Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band showed 3,000 fans he still has the magic.

The show Monday at the oceanfront Convention Hall was the first of two benefit rehearsals for Springsteen and his band, who are about to embark on their first tour together in four years to support their new album, "Magic," due out Oct. 2.

"We're going to run through some things, some new things, some old things. There may be some mistakes, but I doubt it," Springsteen warned the crowd.

Before the show ended two hours and 21 songs later, Springsteen would chuckle, "Well, so there were a few mistakes."

Not that any errors mattered to the faithful, who paid $100 a ticket. Despite the many balding heads and paunchy middles, the audience greeted nearly every song with enthusiasm that ranged from pandemonium to delirium.

Springsteen, 58, responded with equal energy in covering three decades of work. He delighted the fans not only with his vocals and some harmonica solos, but when trading guitar riffs with longtime band members Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren.

A second benefit rehearsal was to be held Tuesday at the oceanfront Convention Hall, in this city made famous through his songs. A third was scheduled for Friday at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford.

Asbury Park and the boardwalk where the Convention Hall is located have been featured prominently in the New Jerseyan's work. His first album was titled "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.," and the boardwalk Casino was the scene of the title track video for his 1987 "Tunnel of Love" album. Blocks away is the famed Stone Pony nightclub, where Springsteen has performed many times.

Springsteen offered political commentary when introducing "Livin' in the Future" off the latest album, referring to terror suspect renditions and "illegal wiretapping."

"This is about the things you didn't think could happen," Springsteen said.

While the six songs off the new album got warm responses, none got the instantaneous ovation that greeted the opening chords of his greatest hits, including "Born to Run," "No Surrender," "Promised Land," "She's the One" and "The Rising."

The 10-member band closed with "American Land," featuring a two-accordion attack from keyboardists Danny Federici and Roy Bittan.

Fans quickly made the two shows sellouts last week, eager for the first chance in four years to hear the Garden State's favorite son perform with the E Street Band. Tickets for the Friday show go on sale Tuesday at noon.

Before the show, several generations of fans gathered in warm sunshine on the boardwalk outside the hall.

Maida Webster, 63, was attending her 20th Springsteen show with one of her regular concert-going comrades, her daughter.

"I think it's rare that you get any musician who appeals to so many generations," said Dara Webster, 34, of Westport, Conn.

Her mother, a retired social worker from New Canaan, Conn., said, "I think he speaks from the heart. He's down to earth."

Aside from the atmospheric title track, "Magic" returns Springsteen to rock 'n' roll, and all 11 songs are new. He released a solo acoustic effort, "Devils & Dust," in 2005 and the folk-inspired "The Seeger Sessions" last year.

"Magic" is the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's first album with his longtime bandmates since the Sept. 11-inspired "The Rising" in 2002.

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