Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Springsteen’

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Eight of the finest performances from Bruce Springsteen’s 1978 tour are now available in a limited, collectible box set. This 24-CD set contains all five of the legendary radio broadcasts on the Darkness On The Edge Of Town tour: The Roxy in L.A., The Agora in Cleveland, The Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ, Fox Theatre in Atlanta and Winterland in San Francisco. Rounding out the collection are the second shows in Passaic and San Francisco, plus the December 8th show in Houston, Texas. A limited number of empty boxes are also available to hold previously purchased CDs.

By Erik Flannigan

I’ve written before about the role the Darkness tour radio broadcasts played in the career development of Bruce Springsteen. Broadcast live from the Agora in Cleveland, the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, The Roxy in West Hollywood, and Winterland in San Francisco, those concerts were recorded off air by thousands of people listening at home in 1978. In the years that followed, many wore out their tapes, playing them again and again as the only “official” live Springsteen product until Live/1975-85 was released in 1986.

Through the “magic of bootlegging,” home recordings wound up on illicit vinyl pressings like Piece de Resistance and Live in the Promised LandCopies of those LPs made their way to Europe, which wasn’t visited by the Darkness tour itself, so overseas fans at least got to hear Springsteen on stage. He and the band wouldn’t return to those shores until 1981; for such Bruce-starved fans, those recordings were manna from heaven. Without question, the familiarity fans have with the broadcast recordings of shows like The Roxy and Capitol Theatre cemented their status among Bruce’s greatest performances ever. But what if there were another?

It would be an exaggeration to call Atlanta 9/30/78 “the lost broadcast.” But compared to the other four, which were pressed multiple times on vinyl and CD bootlegs, Atlanta is the least familiar, having no meaningful history on bootleg vinyl and a limited one on CD. Originally broadcast live on radio stations across the Southeast, Atlanta 9/30/78 is the fifth and final Darkness tour transmission released in the Live Archive series. While not as familiar to fans as other ’78 broadcasts, the blistering Atlanta performance more than holds its own and is newly mixed from Plangent Processed, multi-track analogue master tapes. The 23-song show presents a potent core Darkness tour setlist augmented by the yet to be released “Independence Day” and “Point Blank,” plus special additions “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” “Raise Your Hand” and the only performance ever of James Brown’s “Night Train.”

The home recording enthusiasts alluded to above were certainly more plentiful in the Tri-State area, for the Passaic broadcast, than in the Southeast for Atlanta. Other broadcasts got wider distribution (the Agora show was syndicated to FM rock stations around the country after the fact) or were simply bigger events to begin with (Bruce’s Roxy appearance was the most buzzed-about show in Los Angeles in 1978). On the other hand, Atlanta and the Southeast were more of a development opportunity for Springsteen that year, and legend has it, stormy weather in the region on 9/30/78 caused reception problems for those who did record.

All of which explains why, as fans traded tapes and bought bootlegs in the ’70s and ’80s, the quality of the Atlanta broadcast, if it could be found at all, was inferior to the other four broadcast recordings, hence its outlier status. But one listen to Jon Altschiller’s new mix from Plangent Processed, 24-track analogue master tapes and Atlanta is an outlier no more.

The 9/30/78 set captures the Darkness tour “picked at the peak of freshness,” as the old commercial used to say. It’s like getting a lost episode of Seinfeld, shot but never aired during Season 5. The official release of this Fox Theatre show gives us the chance to fall in love all over again with a spectacular slice of Springsteen ’78.

After a great intro to the stage, the show smashes to a start with “Good Rockin’ Tonight” straight into “Badlands.” Each E Street Band member quickly shows they are in it to win it this night, with first-among-equals Roy Bittan carrying the melodic load with aplomb, as he will throughout the night. “Spirit in the Night” sets the band-fan tenor. “Darkness on the Edge of Town” is flawless, and Bruce sings with total conviction — no more so than on a subtle lyric change, replacing “Where nobody asks any questions or looks too long in your face” with, “You can drive all night, and never make it around.”

Sonically, Atlanta offers crystalline clarity. In the stately “Independence Day,” which Bruce introduces as the “flipside to ‘Adam Raised a Cain’,” the level of instrumental detail — from Danny’s glockenspiel to Max’s hi-hat, Garry’s bass to Stevie’s delicate strumming — is breath taking and immersive. It pulls you into what just might be your new favourite version of “Independence Day,” a sentiment you are likely to feel across several Atlanta performances. Yes, the audience is mixed just right, too.

The rest of the first set holds to the same gold standard as we move from a faultless “The Promised Land” to a scintillating, extended “Prove It All Night” that’s as good if not better than any version you’ve heard from this tour — and that’s saying something. 

The same goes for “Racing in the Street.” Listen for a gorgeous and distinct bit of interplay between Danny and Roy around the 2:05 mark. The first set wraps with the peerless pairing of “Thunder Road” and “Jungleland.” It doesn’t get any better than this.

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” opens the second half of the show in jolly spirits, and because the fake snow that fell needed to be swept up by stagehands, Bruce and the band vamp by paying tribute to one of Atlanta’s adopted sons, James Brown. They play the Godfather of Soul’s “Night Train” so well, one would think the song was in the set every night of the tour. In fact, this is the only performance ever of “Night Train.”

“Fire” extends the frivolity before the tone turns dramatic via “Candy’s Room.” Danny and Roy again weave around each other in stunning fashion in the long intro to “Because the Night,” which includes a superlative guitar solo in yet another “name a better one” version. The second River preview of the night, “Point Blank,” surely sent anticipation soaring for Springsteen’s next album, with Danny and Roy intricately swirling behind the striking original lyrics.

E Street Band vocals in the “Not Fade Away/Gloria” intro to “She’s the One” have never sounded livelier, the guitar licks never more Link Wray than this terrific extended reading, another reminder of how special it is to re-live such a beautifully recorded document of the tour. “Backstreets” provides a tour de force denouement, with the middle section a Van Morrison-inspired, mind-blowing melange of “sad eyes,” “Drive All Night,” “you lied,” and “we’ve got to stop.” Listening to the Atlanta version will reaffirm everything you love about the song, this tour, and these musicians.

Even venerable “Rosalita” gets an intriguing instrumental introduction more than two minutes long. There are so many moments in Atlanta 9/30/78 that are just a little different from the Darkness shows we know best, and it is all the more compelling because of it.

The traditional but no less exceptional Darkness tour encore of “Born to Run,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” and “Detroit Medley” brings us home, and the night ends with one of only eight tour performances of “Raise Your Hand,” far fewer than you’d guess because all five broadcasts are counted among those eight renditions. With the release of Atlanta, the quintet of 1978 broadcasts in the Live Archive series is now complete, representing not only some of the greatest Bruce Springsteen performances of all time, but arguably the greatest live concert recordings in rock history. 

8 Complete Shows On 24 Factory-Pressed CDs.
• 7/8/78 The Roxy, West Hollywood, CA
• 8/9/78 The Agora, Cleveland, OH
• 9/19/78 Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ
• 9/20/78 Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ
• 9/30/78 Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA
• 12/8/78 The Summit, Houston, TX
• 12/15/78 Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
• 12/16/78 Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

Release date February 1st, 2021

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Bruce Springsteen performed with the E Street Band for the first time since the pandemic began — and for the first time, not counting private studio sessions, since February 2017 (!) on December 12th, on “Saturday Night Live.”

They performed the songs “Ghosts,” the second single from Springsteen’s recent “Letter to You” album, in the show’s first musical slot. Springsteen seemed to be enjoying himself, smiling and laughing often. The song became most dynamic at the end, when Springsteen let pianist Roy Bittan, saxophonist Jake Clemons and and guitarist Steven Van Zandt take brief solos. But it ended only moments later. While the seemed a little tentative on “Ghosts,” especially early in the song, their second song — “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (another track from Letter to You), performed later — seemed smoother and more assured.

Jack Daley, of Little Steven’s Disciples of Soul band, played bass in place of original band member Garry Tallent, who did not make the trip to New York from his home in Nashville. And violinist Soozie Tyrell did not perform with the band.

Springsteen shared the following message on social media, December. 10th: “We’ll be missing our great bass player Garry Tallent and our compatriot Soozie Tyrell on Saturday night due to COVID restrictions and concerns. Garry and his family are fine as is Soozie, but we thank Jack Daley of the Disciples of Soul for sitting in.”

Garry Tallent Tweeted the next day: “I don’t have the Vid and intend to avoid catching it. Stay safe and weigh the risk/benefit for whatever you do. I personally felt that a two song TV appearance was not worth a week long stay in NYC. Thanks for your concern.”

I believe this was the first time in the entire nearly-50-year history of the E Street Band that they have made an appearance with a bassist other than Garry Tallent.

Loss is one of life’s most challenging experiences. There is no universal path to solace, no prescriptive behaviours to mitigate its pain. But as we process the death of a loved one, at some point in the days and weeks that follow, the one undeniable truth of the situation is eventually revealed: Life goes on.

Just 11 days removed from the passing of Danny Federici, Greensboro opens with a video tribute to the band’s fallen comrade set to the music of “Blood Brothers.” But from there the mood shifts markedly. At the first four shows performed after Federici’s funeral, setlists dipped back to Springsteen’s first two albums for songs like “Blinded By the Light,” “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” and “Growin’ Up” in tribute to Phantom Dan. There would be time for that this night too, but to open Greensboro, something more cathartic was delivered.

The pairing of “Roulette” into “Don’t Look Back” rivals the best one-two punch from any Springsteen show in any decade. Two stunning, underplayed rockers—one haunting, one life-affirming—blow off the doors of the Greensboro Coliseum, and the release of energy is unmistakably liberating for all.

As the diehard collectors well know, “Roulette” has a very tricky arrangement, especially as a one-off, and here it is played with full conviction in what has to be one of its best modern performances. How convicted? Listen to Bruce declare, “They say they wanna help me but with the stuff they keep on sayin’, I think those guys just wanna keep on playin’.” The guitar solo is searing as well, and Max crushes one of his signature drum parts.

The same can be said for “Don’t Look Back,” which faithfully follows the 1977 arrangement in its only live outing circa 2000-2012 and one of only 31 performances ever. Short-listed for, but ultimately left off of Darkness on the Edge of Town, “Don’t Look Back” remains one of Springsteen’s greatest non-album tracks. In fact, “Don’t Look Back” was so “ready” for Darkness, it is the only song that wasn’t newly remixed for Tracks in 1998. The performance in Greensboro is a faultless rebirth.

One could argue the top of the show isn’t merely a perfect pairing, but a trio, quartet, or even quintet of brilliantly linked performances. The momentum of “Roulette” and “Don’t Look Back” pushes kindred spirit “Radio Nowhere” to new heights. “Out in the Street” (a phrase also uttered in “Don’t Look Back”) bears renewed vivacity and “The Promised Land” brings us home, riding Roy Bittan’s piano and Stevie’s guitar.

Bruce finally catches his breath as we move into Magic territory with a solemn (and timely as ever) reading of the title track with Soozie subbing admirably for Patti. “Gypsy Biker” was a Magic tour highlight every night and continues to deserve consideration as one of the finest E Street Band songs of the 2000s. A heartfelt story follows, as Bruce describes meeting Danny for the first time, preceding a momentarily tentative but ultimately winning “Saint in the City.”

Setlists on the Magic tour were notably tight, and that bang-bang approach is in evidence as Bruce steers “Saint” left into a very fine “Trapped” and follows that with graceful right turn into the Nils Lofgren (and Soozie, too, in Ms. Scialfa’s absence) showcase, “Because the Night.”

The night’s crackling atmosphere sparks a terrific “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” Jon Altschiller’s mix positions piano and guitar ideally. The performance is anchored by an impassioned Springsteen vocal that drops in defeat when he sings the slight variant, “I lost my faith when I lost you,” only to rise to that arresting heightened register to deliver the rest of the verse starting with, “Tonight I’ll be on that hill, ‘cause I can’t stop.” “Darkness” and the “She’s the One” that follows are equal parts vintage and in-the-moment.

By the halftime arrival of “Living in the Future,” the score Bruce has put on the board is at MJ/Lebron levels. And to continue the analogy, those games still make for great, memorable wins, even if the superstars don’t hit quite as many downtown three-pointers or monster dunks in the second half.

The return of a newly streamlined “Mary’s Place” registers as another highlight. “Let’s see if we remember this one…debut on this tour. Come on, let’s try it,” says Bruce with undeniable glee. There is something fresh about “Mary’s Place” mk2, with more echoes of the kind of updated “Thundercrack” or “Santa Ana” vibe that he seemed to be going for in the first place, compared to what the song morphed into on the Rising tour.

Sure, there is something peculiar about spending your sign request on “Waiting on a Sunny Day.” The motivation may have had more to do with being picked for the singalong (which, as it turns out, didn’t even happen for this tidy performance), but we’ll excuse it as well-meaning if slightly misguided. From there, Greensboro moves through a solid back ten that may lack a bit of the first half’s urgency but holds its own, especially the Magic songs: “Last to Die, “Long Walk Home,” and “Devil’s Arcade.” The last of these and “Magic” make their first appearances in the Live Archive series from 2008 performances.

Springsteen and the band ultimately bring Greensboro home in fine form through a long and lively “Badlands,” a musically rich and beautifully sung “Backstreets,” the fitting farewell of “Bobby Jean” (kudos to Clarence for nailing the solo), and the high-spirited finale, “American Land” with Charlie Giordano eloquently deputizing for Danny on accordion.

The recent release of Letter to You on record and film reinforces that life does go on for the E Street Band, and equally that the spirit of those who have departed continue to inspire those who carry on. Greensboro is a wonderful reflection on the process of loss and the power of perseverance.

  • Bruce Springsteen – Lead vocal, electric and acoustic guitars, harmonica; Roy Bittan – Piano, keyboards, accordion; Clarence Clemons – Tenor and baritone saxophones, percussion, backing vocal; Nils Lofgren – Electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocal; Garry Tallent – Bass; Stevie Van Zandt – Electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, backing vocal; Max Weinberg: Drums; Charlie Giordano – Organ, keyboards, accordion; Soozie Tyrell – Violin, acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocal

words by Erik Flanagan

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Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa

Lately, Bruce Springsteen has been contemplating his past. He started the previous decade by revisiting four older songs on the otherwise newly written 2012 album Wrecking Ball, which also paid tribute to E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons after his death in 2011. Two years later, Springsteen filled the entire High Hopes LP with songs he’d written, but then discarded, for other projects – some dating back to the mid ’90s. And 2019’s ’70s-soft-pop homage Western Stars contained songs that were recorded years earlier.

Then there’s the 2016 memoir Born to Run and its sorta stage version, Springsteen on Broadway, that opened a year later and ran for 14 months. Both projects were all about looking back.

On Letter to You, his 20th album, Springsteen confronts mortality, talks with ghosts and pulls out three cuts from his early-’70s songbook he never got around to releasing before. There’s no getting around it: The past lurks behind every note. But, ironically, he hasn’t sounded this alive and in-the-moment in years.

Much of that has to do with the spontaneity surrounding the record’s creation. Many of the songs were quickly composed by Springsteen and then recorded in five days with the E Street Band at his home in 2019. It’s the first time the group made this much music live in the studio since the first part of the ’80s.

It starts solemnly, though, as Springsteen whisper-sings the first line to opener “One Minute You’re Here” – “Big black train coming down the track,” evoking the traditional blues, country and folk metaphor for death. From the start, Letter to You lets you know where it’s headed, but there’s also joy in the celebration of life as an understanding, and acceptance, of what follows. The album was made pre-coronavirus, but at times it sure sounds like a product of the pandemic.

The title track recalls the re-energized and reinvigorating spirit of 2002’s The Rising, Springsteen’s heartfelt response to 9/11 and his first album with the E Street Band in nearly two decades. There are similar anthem-sized songs on Letter to You, digging up glockenspiel (“Burnin’ Train”), lyrical references (“House of a Thousand Guitars”) and even outtakes (“Janey Needs a Shooter”) from Springsteen’s past. Guitars jab and organs swell throughout, and Springsteen’s throaty rasp recalls The River’s stadium shakers more than they do the truth-telling troubadour folk found on 2005’s solo Devils & Dust and the reigned-in vocal clearness of more recent records like 2009’s Working on a Dream.

It doesn’t all work. The self-mythologizing “Last Man Standing” aims for Born to Run-style grandeur but lands flat both musically and lyrically (“Faded pictures in an old scrapbook / Faded pictures that somebody took”), despite a sax solo by Jake Clemons straight from Uncle Clarence’s playbook. The forgettable “The Power of Prayer” could be a leftover from any Springsteen album from the past 15 years.

Springsteen doesn’t get too political on Letter to You. Only the rousing “Rainmaker” makes passing references to the current climate, dropping in lines about a “house … on fire,” a “mean season” and how “sometimes folks need to believe in something so bad.” He never comes out and says “Trump,” but it’s not hard to connect the dots from the songs central character – “Says white’s black and black’s white, says night’s day and day is night” – to the divisive president.

Mostly Letter to You is about finding peace in the past, so in some ways the trilogy of ’70s castaways – “Janey Needs a Shooter,” “If I Was the Priest” and “Song for Orphans” – form the album’s center. The songs sound very much like pieces from Springsteen’s back pages, even with the updated performances and modern co-production by Ron Aniello. Biblical themes, along with Dylanesque wordplay and harmonica, and big, sweeping musical flourishes, run through the tracks, which haunt the album as much as “Ghosts,” the LP’s most personal confrontation of days gone by. They’re also the longest on the album, each clocking in at more than six minutes.

Letter to You ends as contemplatively as it begins, with the hopeful “I’ll See You in My Dreams” declaring “death is not the end.” Like the opening “One Minute You’re Here,” it serves as a melancholy bookend to Springsteen’s most reflective work. But his reconciliation with the past and, ultimately, his mortality comes down to a single line in the bustling “Ghosts”: “I’m alive!” And on this stirring band album, that breathless sentiment is both earned and deserved in the end.

A documentary on Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s new album Letter to You is coming to Apple TV+ on October 23rd.

Almost nothing is known about Bruce Springsteen’s follow up to 2019’s Western Stars, including any timeframe for its release, but he’s indicated that it’s a collection of rock songs recorded with the E Street Band. Last year, he told Martin Scorsese that the songs came to him after a long period where he found himself unable to write for a rock band. “It just came out of almost nowhere,” he said. “And it was good. I had about two weeks of those little daily visitations [of songs], and it was so nice. It makes you so happy. You go, ‘Fuck, I’m not fucked, all right?’”

Bruce Springsteen will release Letter to You, a new rock album recorded live in his New Jersey home studio with the members of the E Street Band, The title track is also the first single and is available now.

“I love the emotional nature of Letter To You,” he said in a statement. “And I love the sound of the E Street Band playing completely live in the studio, in a way we’ve never done before, and with no overdubs. We made the album in only five days, and it turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I’ve ever had.”

In addition to nine new songs, the album also includes fresh recordings of three songs that predate Springsteen’s 1973 debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.: “Janey Needs A Shooter,” “If I Was the Priest” and “Song for Orphans.” Assuming Springsteen keeps the lyrics from the early bootlegged versions, “If I Was the Priest” (covered by Hollies singer Allan Clarke in the Seventies) is a sacrilegious fantasy (“If Jesus was the sheriff and I was the priest/If my lady was an heiress and my mama was a thief”), while “Song for Orphans” is a Dylan-esque tale of “aimless quest-less renegade brats who live their lives in songs,” and “Janey” is a slightly twisted love song.

Springsteen wrote at least some of Letters to You last spring, judging from comments he made in a public conversation with Martin Scorsese last year.  “I couldn’t write anything for the band,” he said. “And I said, ‘Well, of course … you’ll never be able to do that again!’ And it’s a trick every time you do it, you know? But it’s a trick that, because of that fact that you can’t explain, cannot be self-consciously duplicated. It has to come to you in inspiration. And then about a month or so ago, I wrote almost an album’s worth of material for the band. And it came out of just… I mean, I know where it came from, but at the same time, it just came out of almost nowhere. And it was good, you know. I had about two weeks of those little daily visitations, and it was so nice. It makes you so happy.

Release date: on October 23rd

bruce springsteen letter to you album cover

Many nations can lay claim to being Bruce Springsteen’s second home or adopted country. Italy has a strong case, given the ancestral roots of Bruce’s mother Adele (maiden name Zerilli) and a history of special shows that took place there, particularly in Milano. England is in the conversation too, with an incredible run of concerts dating back to 1975, and the passion of Spanish fans is well documented on Live in Barcelona. Australia may be a latecomer, but there’s no denying the love affair between Bruce and the land down under that played out in two major tours in 2014 and 2017.

Yet it would be hard to deny Sweden the symbolic honour of first among equals. Sverige’s history with Springsteen also dates back to 1975, when it was one of three markets Springsteen played on a brief European sojourn on the Born to Run tour. But the special relationship really starts with a pair of shows inside the very building in which this Devils & Dust performance takes place. Then called Johanneshovs Isstadion, the venue was the site of two legendary nights on the 1981 European leg of the River tour, memorialized on the famous vinyl bootlegs Follow That Dream and Teardrops on the City.

Four years later, Gothenburg cemented its place in the narrative with two dates at Springsteen’s home away from home in Sweden, Ullevi Stadium. Legend has it the passionate response of fans in Ullevi actually caused structural damage to the building in ‘85, and Springsteen has played the stadium nine times since that human rumble took its toll. Throw in the 1988 radio broadcast from Stockholms Stadion, the Tom Joad tour at Cirkus, and many other celebrated gigs, and the case is quite compelling. The country’s passion for Springsteen never wanes. Case in point: He sold out three stadium shows in Gothenburg alone in 2016, where it would appear he is as popular now as he was in 1985.

You can hear the special bond with Bruce’s Swedish fans on Stockholm 2005. Jon Altschiller’s mix showcases the audience-artist dynamic and the interplay between the two that makes live performance so special and so missed in these times of social isolation.

One element that made the Devils & Dust tour so bewitching was ever-changing setlists. At nearly every stop, Bruce dusted off a few songs that had been sitting on the shelf awhile and added them to a common core. In Stockholm, he opens with the tour debut of “Downbound Train,” hearkening back to those Ullevi ’85 shows. Boldly, the second song of the night is one of the highlights of that common core, “Reason to Believe.” Springsteen completely reimagined the song on this tour, transforming “Reason to Believe” into a Delta blues stomper with his inventive use of the bullet microphone.

Bullet mics are designed for harmonicas, with intentionally limited frequency range (usually cutting anything above 5,000 khz) and distortion. For his new take on “Reason to Believe,” Bruce played harmonica and sang his vocals through the bullet mic, distorting his voice and crunching down the sound to an eerily narrow slice.

The result sounds like an otherworldly transmission from the Crossroads or a lost Bluebird 78 RPM record spinning in the past. Rearranging his own songs is something Springsteen has excelled at going all the way back to “E Street Shuffle,” but this radical and riveting “Reason to Believe” is one of his most memorable and a standout every night of the Devils & Dust tour.

“Empty Sky” from The Rising had a second act on the tour as well, making close to two dozen appearances. The mournful tale rides Springsteen’s percussive acoustic guitar and focused vocals. Two guitar songs follow, the heartfelt parental reflection “Long Time Comin’,” which gains poignancy when Springsteen sings off-microphone, and the least-played track from Devils & Dust, “Black Cowboys,” which made 16 setlists in 2005.

Bruce moves to the keys for a rare outing of “The Promise,” in its first ever performance in Sweden. What a moment that must have been for diehard fans, five years before it became the title of the Darkness on the Edge of Town box set. We go down to “The River” on piano as well, with a striking prelude that starts with a single note, builds, swells and then settles solemnly before Bruce sings the evocative first lines.

Though it had been a standard feature on the Tunnel of Love Express tour, Bruce’s entertaining evolution tale, “Part Man, Part Monkey,” had its own second life on the Devils & Dust tour, a narrative befitting the candor Bruce was expressing about human behaviour in story and song during the shows, sometimes in deeply contrasting ways. Several Link Wray guitar turns only add to the appeal.

“All I’m Thinking About” is an underrated charmer. Sung in a faltering falsetto, it’s a series of sweet, real-life snapshots (little boys carrying fishing poles, little girls picking huckleberries) set to a simple chorus of devotion (or obsession?). Two songs later in “Reno,” fishing poles and blueberries give way to a price list of front and back door sexual access. Damn.

Snuck in between (no pun intended) is “Across the Border,” played for the first time since the Joad tour, augmented with a rich, accordion-like harmonica. You’d never know Springsteen hadn’t played it in so long, his reading is faultless.

Over to the irresistible eclectic piano we go for “Point Blank,” sounding more haunting and knowing than ever, then a true gift, “Walk Like a Man,” making its second archive appearance this year. Springsteen starts it on electric piano (not unlike the arrangement of “Tunnel of Love” from the previously released Grand Rapids 2005 show) and it unfolds warmly. It’s interesting to note that when he last played the song in 1988, he had no children of his own. Singing it here, Bruce is son and father. The song’s gravitas rises for the final verse as Bruce switches to full piano and the arrangement grows richer and more confident. What a gift to have two incredible live versions in our hands now.

That theme of fatherhood is enhanced with the piano pairing of “Walk Like a Man” with “My Hometown” in a powerful, straight-ahead reading where every line rings true. With that, the first half of the show concludes and we move back to guitar for “The Rising” and an intense take of “Lucky Town,” with Bruce strumming his acoustic with physicality and conviction like “Darkness on the Edge of Town” at the 1990 Christic Institute performances.

The back nine of the show rides his conviction to excellent performances of a trio of story songs, “This Hard Land,” “The Hitter,” and “Matamoros Banks.” One might go so far as to call “The Hitter” the closest thing to an unpublished screenplay Springsteen has penned since “Highway Patrolman” and until Western Stars, where it could have slotted in nicely. As character studies go, it is one of his finest.

As he does so masterfully, Springsteen rounds the bend and lightens the mood with a storming, Seeger-ized “Ramrod,” Dylan-ized “Bobby Jean” and a true-blue “Blinded By the Light,” making its Scandinavian premiere 32 years after its release.

The show wraps with the soul-stirring Devils & Dust tour pairing of “The Promised Land” and a cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream,” both offered in meditative, at times mantra-like arrangements. In “Dream Baby Dream,” the words “keep on dreaming” and “I just want to see you smile” sink into our subconscious, floating on dark-cloud organ notes that brighten as they turn towards heaven. Given the genuine dark clouds that so many of us are weathering, the spiritual power of the “Dream Baby Dream” mantra may provide genuine solace

Words by Erik Flannagan

  • Bruce Springsteen – Lead vocal, electric and acoustic guitars, ukulele, harmonica, electric piano, acoustic piano, pump organ
  • Additional musicians:  Alan Fitzgerald – Off-stage keyboard

If there was ever a time to appreciate archival live recordings, that time is now.

Many years ago, I heard the brilliantly talented and famously cantankerous guitarist Robert Fripp of King Crimson posit a provocative position on the subject of live recordings. “Of the many, many performances [I’ve seen] over four decades,” he told an audience at SXSW in Austin, “I have [never] left and felt I wished to have it on tape. There was nothing in my experience of any of [those] events which were other than available to my experience. And if I wasn’t there, I missed it. And if I missed it, photographs, recordings, nothing could bring this back to me.”

The core idea Fripp articulates is undeniably true: Nothing can fully replace or replicate being at a concert in person, as it happens. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Archival live recordings are, as Ma Bell used to say, “the next best thing to being there.” As undeniably magical as live concerts can be, they are by nature fleeting, real-time experiences. Yes, they live on in our memories, but what’s the larger cultural value of these unique performances? When the technology was invented in the 1870s to record and preserve audio, after the spoken word, the earliest recordings captured on those cylinders were of musicians performing live. Preserving performances is arguably the fundamental underlying purpose of recording technology.

Hearing a show you attended can stir memories back to life. Amazing as that is, live recordings even allow time travel and can place us at the Tower Theater in 1975, the Roxy in 1978 or Wembley Arena in 1981 when we couldn’t have possibly been there any other way. Is it the same as having had Bruce stand on your cocktail table during the middle of “Spirit in the Night?” No, but close your eyes, let your imagination flow, and it is awfully close.

Gothenburg 28th July 2012 allows fans who weren’t there at Ullevi to travel through time and space to hear one of the best nights on the Wrecking Ball tour in a closing run of European concerts that was, to quote Stevie Van Zandt’s predictive tweet before the show, “one for the ages.”

There’s something about rainy shows that brings out the best in Bruce and the E.Street Band. The show opener, a cover of Creedence’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” is a bellwether for great things to come, with crunchy guitar leading the way. Fan-band bonds are solidified through sparkling takes of “The Ties That Bind” and “Out in the Street” (with extra long intro) before we move to the less-traveled corners of Born in the U.S.A. with an excellent “doubleheader” of “Downbound Train” and “I’m Goin’ Down.” The former extends the guitar-richness of the show’s opening salvo and benefits from the heft of the horn section; the latter restores a bit of often-missing edge to the self-deprecating tale.

The aforementioned guitar tone extends seamlessly into a sharp “My Lucky Day” in one of only four Wrecking Ball tour performances. Special nights are built on special songs, and Gothenburg has particularly juicy ones.

What is it about “Lost in the Flood?” Bruce and the band can let it lie dormant for ages, then nail it as they did in NYC 2000. “Flood” had gone unplayed for three years prior to Gothenburg, wasn’t soundchecked, yet the mighty E Street Band is more than up to the task. “In the key of E minor,” says Bruce, “then we’re gonna hit the big chord.” Do they ever. The big chord that follows Roy’s prelude smashes forth an electrifying version that sounds as vital and fresh as it did four decades prior. Bruce vocals are especially gritty, evidenced by this not-so-subtle lyric change: “Hey man, did you see that? Those poor cats were sure fucked up.” Damn.

The energy generated by “Lost in the Flood” propels the ensuing three-pack from Wrecking Ball (“We Take Care of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Death to My Hometown”) plus kindred spirit “My CIty of Ruins.” Pick your cliche—firing on all cylinders, in the zone, killing it—all would apply, and doesn’t the horn section sound fantastic? Despite the stadium scale of the show, Jon Altschiller’s mix is tight and close, with Roy’s piano and Max’s high-hat in particularly sharp focus.

“Frankie.” Merely typing the song title brings a smile. The marvelous, lost-and-found Springsteen original premiered on the Spring 1976 tour, his first new song after the release of Born to Run. It was performed around a dozen times that year and cut for Darkness a year later (despite Bruce’s introduction saying The River). It was recorded again for Born in the U.S.A. in 1982, and that version was eventually released on Tracks in 1998.

The song’s live outings in modern times are equally limited. One-off attempts in 1999 and 2003 showed “Frankie” deceptively tricky to get right; something about the song’s lilting quality and mid-tempo pacing proved elusive. But after working through the arrangement in soundcheck, Bruce unlocks the wondrous heart of “Frankie” and lets it wash over Gothenburg in a spellbinding performance.

The show’s second act begins with slightly off-kilter take of “The River,” though normal service is restored in a crisp “Because the Night” and on through “Lonesome Day,” “Hungry Heart,” “Shackled and Drawn,” and “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day.” We step back into special-show territory with another great pick from Tracks, the rollicking River outtake “Where the Bands Are” dedicated to the fans who had travelled from show to show around Europe. It is the last performance to date of the irresistible track.  Thanks for the words Erik Flanagan

The Band

Bruce Springsteen – Lead vocal, guitar, harmonica; Roy Bittan – Piano, keyboards, accordion; Nils Lofgren – Guitar, lap steel, backing vocal; Garry Tallent – Bass; Stevie Van Zandt – Electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, backing vocal; Max Weinberg – Drums; Jake Clemons – Tenor saxophone, percussion, backing vocal; Charlie Giordano – Organ, keyboards, accordion; Soozie Tyrell – Violin, acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocal; Everett Bradley – Percussion, backing vocal; Curtis King – Backing vocal, percussion; Cindy Mizelle – Backing vocal; Michelle Moore – Backing vocal; Barry Danielian – Trumpet; Clark Gayton – Trombone; Eddie Manion – Baritone and tenor saxophone; Curt Ramm – Trumpet

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A stunning snapshot of the Tunnel Of Love Express Tour in its purest form, Detroit 28/3/88 serves as a showcase for the album’s key songs including “Two Faces,” “All That Heaven Will Allow, “Spare Parts,” “Brilliant Disguise,” “Tougher Than The Rest, “One Step Up,” the title track and most notably the first live archive release of “Walk Like A Man.” The 30-song set also features a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” and the “Detroit Medley,” plus a bonus soundcheck performance of “Reason To Believe,” a song which never appeared in a Tunnel show.

The 1988 Tunnel of Love Express Tour was marked by material changes to the Springsteen concert baseline in place from 1978-1985. The band changed on-stage positions, setlist warhorses like “Badlands” and “Thunder Road” took a breather, and Bruce drafted in a horn section for the first time since 1977. But the true differentiator separating the ’88 tour from every other is its original narrative arc. A Tunnel performance was a blend of song selections, sequencing, and even on-stage elements that took the audience on a journey through the complex and nuanced world of adulthood and relationships: romantic, fraternal, and familial.

Bruce started Tunnel shows with an invitation along the lines of, “Are you ready to ride?” The visual metaphor on stage was that of an amusement park, implying a night of thrills, chills, and spills. Marketing for the tour intoned “This is not a dark ride,” but as Bruce wrote in “Tunnel of Love,” “the house is haunted and the ride gets rough.” Does it ever.

The Tunnel set, in story and song, explored adult life’s emotional ups and downs and the hard questions that arise when you recognize being in a deep committed relationship requires acknowledging your doubts and vulnerabilities. At the time, the tour’s setlist rigidity raised eyebrows from longtime fans, though it did loosen up as the tour wore on. But in hindsight, the initial core setlist in the tour’s first several weeks can be seen one of Bruce’s most fully realized artistic visions. Detroit 3/28/88 captures the Tunnel of Love Express Tour in its purest form.

The first set in Detroit borders on perfection, opening with a stellar version of “Tunnel of Love” into “Be True,” the latter released as a live b-side from this performance. The River-era selection serves as a showcase for the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, who was at the top of his game on the tour and blows “Be True” beautifully. Patti Scialfa’s vocals are also on point.

The resurrection of “Adam Raised a Cain” for the first time since the Darkness tour is a long-awaited return, especially with the Tunnel of Love Horns adding heft to the performance and Bruce’s guitar pushed to the fore. In terms of familial relationships, “Adam” is one end of a father-son thread that will come back later in the show with “Walk Like a Man.” But before that there is other provocative ground to cover: introspection (“Two Faces”), companionship (“All That Heaven Will Allow”), oppressive outside forces (“Seeds,” “Roulette”), shelter from those storms (“Cover Me”), self-doubt (“Brilliant Disguise”), a mother’s doubt (“Spare Parts”), and lastly the lingering impact of the Vietnam War (“War,” “Born In the U.S.A.”).

The sequencing of the set is so strong that the transitions between tracks are as memorable as the songs themselves. “Tunnel” gives way to the soaring “Be True.” “Roulette” ends but “Cover Me” rises from the mist in the same key. The haunting keyboards that end “Cover Me” flow straight into “Brilliant Disguise.” Every song change has been thought through and rehearsed, or in some cases newly written. The stirring piano and synthesizer suite that serves as the music bed to the introduction of “Spare Parts” is one of my favourite musical elements of the entire tour, cinematic in scope and poignant in expression. Kudos Mr. Bittan and Mr. Federici. The set ends with a brilliant “Born in the U.S.A.,” again showing that 1988 versions of the song are the most potent, driven by Bruce’s additional lyrics and storming guitar solo.

“Tougher Than the Rest” opens the second set on a majestic note and reminds us of its place among the very best songs Bruce has ever written. After a foray into longing via “Ain’t Got You” and “She’s the One,” the mood lightens with the playful and self-effacing “You Can’t Look (But You Better Not Touch)” and Geno Washington cover-turned-original (and ’88 tour exclusive)  “I’m a Coward.” The pairing of “I’m on Fire” with “One Step Up” is a trip into a particular male psyche, perhaps even the same character at two different stages of life.

“Part Man, Part Monkey” offers a humorous take on animal instincts before the overall narrative arc reaches its dénouement with “Walk Like a Man,” revisiting the father and son from “Adam Raised a Cain.” The resplendently detailed yet understated arrangement is augmented by horns and shows off the band’s vocal chops, too. Bruce’s singing stays true to the original, and there’s a real power in the sincerity of his performance.

The set ends with “Light of Day,” in a less refined, more exploratory form than later versions in ‘88. In fact, rather than bring closure, this “Light of Day” seems more a celebration of uncharted waters — the line that really stands out now, “Don’t ask me what I’m doing buddy, I don’t know,” lands like an overall commentary on the narrative that preceded it. Standouts in the encore include “Love Me Tender,” which teeters on wedding band territory until you realize that Bruce is singing the hell out of it, and a free-flowing “Detroit Medley,” with Bruce calling out key changes and the band showing off their turn-on-a-dime prowess. The medley features “Sweet Soul Music,” which gives La Bamba & Co. one of the all-time great horn parts to chew on.

For dessert, we’re treated to the second soundcheck bonus track in the live archive series, “Reason to Believe.” While Tunnel of Love setlists had fewer variants than a typical Springsteen tour, 1988 soundchecks were often wide-ranging affairs, loaded with cover songs (some of which eventually found their way into the set) and other material. As cool as those covers could be, “Reason To Believe” is even more compelling.

The song regularly featured on the Born in the U.S.A. tour but was dropped when the show moved to stadiums. Here, Bruce and the band test drive a moody, horn-accented arrangement that is reminiscent of what they would do with Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” two months later at Madison Square Garden. Springsteen’s vocals and harp are resolute, the music swampy, and the end product a beguiling alternative take on one of Springsteen’s best and, as later versions attest most mutable songs. Highs, lows, pathos, comedy, sin, redemption—the Tunnel of Love Express tour had it all, and on stage in Detroit, Bruce shared as much of himself in these rich, satisfying performances as he would do three decades later on Broadway.

Thanks Erik Flanagan

  • Bruce Springsteen – Lead vocals, guitar, harmonica; Roy Bittan – Piano, keyboards; Clarence Clemons – Tenor and baritone saxophones, percussion, backing vocal; Danny Federici – Organ, glockenspiel, keyboards; accordion; Nils Lofgren – Guitars, backing vocal; Patti Scialfa – Guitar, percussion, backing vocal; Garry Tallent – Bass; Max Weinberg – Drums
  • Additional musicians: Mario Cruz – Tenor saxophone, backing vocal; Ed Manion – Baritone saxophone, backing vocal; Mark Pender – Trumpet, backing vocal; Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg – Trombone, backing vocal; Mike Spengler – Trumpet, backing vocal
  • Also appearing as the Ringmaster – Terry Magovern

After putting out Magic in September 2007 and touring it for the better part of 12 months, Bruce began 2009 with the drop of another studio album, Working on a Dream, followed a week later by the band’s Super Bowl, his most widely viewed performance ever. Barely catching their breath, Springsteen and the band kicked off the WOAD tour on April 1st, which would run through November .

Nassau Coliseum 4th May 2009 presents the first opportunity in the archive series to revisit the WOAD tour in its purest form, the first leg, before the full-album shows of the fall and on a night when Max Weinberg played drums the entire performance. Max’s son Jay had been drafted to take his sticks while the Mighty One was fulfilling his day job leading the house band for Conan O’Brien’s short-lived stint hostingThe Tonight Show. Because he was training his understudy, Max shared the drum stool with Jay for the preceding eight concerts. Max’s full participation at Nassau may be one of the factors energizing this excellent performance which offers a winsome mix of recent material, welcome returns, and a few true surprises.

The first half of the show is straight fire. There’s a real sense of purpose and focus right out of the gate with a punchy “Badlands” straight into “No Surrender.” Familiar territory, yet sounding mighty fresh indeed, buoyed by the E Street Band in especially fine voice (a good example of details you can only hear in the archive series recordings). Listen for lovely vocals from Soozie and Patti at the top of “No Surrender” and clear evidence of the night’s high spirits: after Bruce sings “Hearts of fire grow cold,” Clarence shouts an affirmative, “YEAH!”

With the show clipping along, Bruce goes all-in for “Outlaw Pete,” and damn if it doesn’t work, as his conviction brings the hokum narrative to life. Springsteen and the band have a rollicking good romp through the mini Western epic, and there’s even a quick nod to “Be True” in the final solo.

A snappy “She’s the One” makes an unusually early and appreciated appearance in the set, continuing the cool E Street vibes. Like “Outlaw Pete,” Bruce digs deep for “Working on a Dream” in what has to be one of the best versions of the song, sounding vital and rich, once again resplendent with background vocals from the band. One of the tour’s hallmarks was Springsteen’s preacher rap in the middle of the title track, and his gospel will surely move you, especially with the The Big Man’s call-and-response intonations so clear and heartfelt.

“Seeds” made a much-appreciated reappearance in 2009, the first E Street Band turn for the song since the Tunnel of Love Express Tour and played in a potent, straightforward arrangement that wraps with inspired guitar soloing. “Johnny 99” marks another WOAD tour return in a full-band version that bears an unmistakable Jerry Lee Lewis flavor. There’s no mistaking the blast the band is having, with Nils taking a sinewy slide guitar solo and Soozie and Patti singing sweet, train whistle “Woo Hoo”s.

Six-string pyrotechnics continue with a showcase for Lofgren on “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” completing the so-called “recession pack” of songs that started with “Seeds.” Thanks to Jon Altschiller’s revealing mix, the song is also a showcase for Roy Bittan, who, unbeknownst to most of us until now, plays a beautiful piano part behind Nils’ soaring solo. Another distinguishing feature of the WOAD tour was the impact of song-request signs made by the audience. The acknowledgment of these signs organically evolved the show to feature a moment where, during “Raise Your Hand,” Bruce collected signs and decided what requests to grant. Kismet was definitely in play for the first request granted, the one and to-date only performance of “Expressway to Your Heart,” a minor hit for the Soul Survivors in 1967 written by the legendary Philadelphia songwriting and producing team Gamble & Huff. Anticipating the request, Springsteen and the band rehearsed and sound checked the song, which helps explain why their one-off version is so bloody good.

Bruce has a rich history of covering minor hits (“Double Shot of My Baby’s Love,” “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Mountain of Love”) and making them his own, and “Expressway to Your Heart” joins the pantheon of the best of them. With its irresistible hook and infectious chorus, the song is an instant E Street classic cover worth the price of admission. The request section goes from strength to strength as a well-oiled “For You” follows “Expressway,” then the tour premiere of “Rendezvous,” an asset to any set list. This wonderful sequence concludes with a fizzing version of “Night.” What more could you want?

The back nine of Nassau holds up its end of the bargain, too. Some consider “The Wrestler” to be the signature performance on this leg of the tour, and the case is made strongly tonight. The song’s rustic, fleeting majesty is on full display (does anyone else hear hints of U2’s “Kite”?), with Bruce’s voice rough-edged and full of emotion. In hindsight, the story told by “The Wrestler” echoes some of the sentiment expressed first-person in Bruce’s autobiography and Broadway show.

Beckoning Patti to the mic, Bruce changes the mood with a soaring “Kingdom of Days,” pledging his partnership in full voice in this underappreciated song, rare for celebrating love not at its inception, but further on up the road.

A trio of 2000s songs (“Radio Nowhere,” “Lonesome Day” and “The Rising”) carries us to “Born to Run” and the encore, where Bruce speaks nostalgically about how “these old buildings” — arenas like Nassau Coliseum, the Spectrum in Philadelphia, and the Sports Arena in Los Angeles — are “great concert halls” that are being torn down one by one. Springsteen’s history in Nassau Coliseum alone, site of the epic New Year’s Eve 1980 set among others, is significant and resonates through this final performance in the original arena which has since been renovated. The encore ends, as it should, in joy mode, with “Dancing in the Dark” (in which Garry Talent keeps the time very tight indeed) and “Rosalita.” And surely any performance of “Jungleland” from Clarence’s final tour should be treasured. But it is the first line of a song unique to the WOAD tour, “Hard Times (Come Again No More),” that lingers: “Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears.”

Following Bruce’s comments about the value of old buildings like Nassau Coliseum and his suggestion to the audience to support Long Island Cares (founded by Harry Chapin), the sentiment of “Hard Times” — making its live archive debut here — is fitting. In early 2020, a time marked by national travails and reminders of how precious and fleeting life can be, the 166-year-old lyric sounds even more like a directive all should heed.

Bruce Springsteen – Lead vocal, electric and acoustic guitars, harmonica; Roy Bittan – Piano, keyboards, accordion; Clarence Clemons – Tenor and baritone saxophones, percussion, backing vocal; Charlie Giordano – Organ, keyboards, accordion; Nils Lofgren – Electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocal; Patti Scialfa – Electric and acoustic guitars; backing vocal; Garry Tallent – Bass; Stevie Van Zandt – Electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, backing vocal; Max Weinberg: Drums; Curtis King: Backing vocal, tambourine; Cindy Mizelle: Backing vocal; tambourine; Soozie Tyrell – Violin, acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocal

Words by Erik Flannigan

On February 21st, five Bruce Springsteen albums are set to be released on vinyl for the first time in over a decade, via Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings.

The Rising, Devils & Dust, Live In New York City, Live In Dublin and 18 Tracks comprise the majority of Springsteen’s recorded output from the beginning of the millennium – a period that saw the long-awaited reunion of the E Street Band. Each album has been transferred from the original source masters, allowing for the highest quality pressings possible.

The Rising (2002) will be reissued on 2LP vinyl for the first time in over 15 years. The album offered messages of healing and redemption in the wake of 9/11, and saw The E Street Band re-unite in the studio for the first time in nearly a decade.

Devils & Dust (2005) comes to vinyl for the first time since its original release on the format. “The songs are closely observed country noir vignettes,,” Hot Press’s Peter Murphy wrote in his review of the album, “the testimonies of losers reaching a detente with the fates and promising to do better.”

Live In New York City (2001) arrives on 3LPs for the first time since its original pressing. The set chronicles Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band’s much-anticipated reunion tour, recorded over two nights at Madison Square Garden in the summer of 2000.

Live In Dublin (2007) will be released on vinyl for the first time ever, a 2LP snapshot of Bruce Springsteen’s work with The Sessions Band. The album includes classic folk songs popularised by Pete Seeger, plus radically rearranged versions of Bruce Springsteen favourites.

Finally, 18 Tracks (1999) is coming to vinyl for the first time in over 20 years. The 2LP set features rarities like the original ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ demo and exclusive songs ‘Trouble River’, a 1999 re-recording of ‘The Promise’ and Springsteen’s original version of ‘The Fever’, made famous by Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes.

The Releases:

Bruce Springsteen – Live in Dublin (NEW 3 x 12″ VINYL LP)
Bruce Springsteen – Live in New York City (NEW 3 x 12″ VINYL LP)
Bruce Springsteen – Devils & Dust (NEW 2 x 12″ VINYL LP)
Bruce Springsteen – 18 Tracks (NEW 2 x 12″ VINYL LP)
Bruce Springsteen – The Rising (NEW 2 x 12″ VINYL LP)