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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

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

See the source image

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

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

The Live Series: Songs of Friendship

In December, Columbia Legacy Recordings surprised Bruce Springsteen fans with a digital album of live rarities called The Live Series: Songs of  the Road.  Now, The Live Series continues with Songs of Friendship, which brings even more rarities to digital and streaming for the first time ever.  Culled from Springsteen’s extensive vault of live material that was previously only available from the Nugs.net on-demand site, the 15-track set spotlights iconic tracks about the unbreakable bonds of friendship.

While the previous volume mixed solo and E Street Band recordings, Songs of Friendship fittingly features only band performances.  Four decades’ worth of live greatness is on-display here, from the rousing New Year’s ’75 version of “Spirit in the Night” and the East Rutherford 1984 take on “Glory Days,” to the sparse “If I Should Fall Behind” from 2014 and the 2017 outing of the obscure “Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart.”  Altogether, the collection is a testament to the power of Springsteen’s live shows, the talents of The E Street Band, and the enduring quality of these songs.  So take a listen and share it with a friend or blood brother.

The collection is available now from digital download and streaming services, including Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify.

Bruce SpringsteenThe Live Series:  Songs of Friendship (Columbia/Legacy, 2019)

Bruce Springsteen's 'Darkness on the Edge of Town': 10 Things You Didn't Know

On June 2nd, 1978, Bruce Springsteen released the album Darkness on the Edge of Town his first since 1975’s Born to Run had made him a big draw, it arrived after a lengthy lawsuit with his former manager Mike Appel where he was unable to enter a recording studio.

With three years on the sidelines because of the lawsuit with Appel an eternity at that time for a musician – Springsteen has said that he felt he needed to reintroduce himself. To make another dense record rooted in rock’s past,  In the three years between Born to Run and Darkness, he’d simply learned a lot and during this time he played some of the best live shows of his career. He spent a great deal of time in court, for one thing; he began listening to Hank Williams and old-time, class-conscious country music. He’d seen the films of John Ford and Howard Hawks and John Huston, and read the novels of John Steinbeck and John Dos Passos that Jon Landau had given him. The concerns of the lower-middle class became the concerns about which he began feeling most passionate, and those things are reflected in his writing, and his writing became more compact and direct as a result.

Although the lyrics didn’t directly reference the suit, his bitterness showed in the songwriting. Gone was the cinematic romanticism of his first three albums, replaced by stark portraits of blue-collar American life that would form the basis of Springsteen’s writing for the next decade.

Darkness On The Edge reached No. 5 on the Billboard albums chart, and the tour, where he and the E Street Band made their first ventures into headlining arenas, The tour solidified his reputation as one of the most exciting live acts in rock n’ roll. Many of its tracks, including “Badlands,” “The Promised Land” and “Prove It All Night” as well as the outtake “Because the Night” have still to this day continued to play an important role in his concerts to this day.

But the 10 songs released on Darkness represented a fraction of the music recorded for the album, with 57 song known titles recorded during the sessions, . Is “Darkness on the Edge of Town” Bruce Springsteen’s best album?.

Several other artists wound up benefiting from his surplus; Southside Johnny, Robert Gordon, Greg Kihn and Gary U.S. Bonds all recorded songs from this period that Springsteen felt didn’t jibe with the album’s bleak mood. But while “Prove It All Night” was the only single , two artists enjoyed massive hit smashes with his Darkness castoffs: The Pointer Sisters went all the way to Number Two with their recording of “Fire” – a song Springsteen claimed to have originally written in 1977 for Elvis Presley and Patti Smith scored the biggest hit single of her career with “Because the Night,” which reached  Number Five in the U.K charts.

Smith, who was recording her album Easter with Jimmy Iovine at the same time the latter was working on Darkness, took the unfinished “Because the Night” and added a verse inspired by her long-distance relationship with future husband Fred “Sonic” Smith. “I knew that I wasn’t going to finish the song, because it was a love song, and I really felt like I didn’t know how to write them at the time,” Springsteen recalled in The Promise, explaining his decision to give the song to Smith. “A real love song like ‘Because the Night,’ I was reticent to write; I think I was too cowardly to write at the time. But she was very brave. She had the courage.”

Darkness is the first Springsteen album where he sounds like the Springsteen whose legend was secured around this time. Springsteen finally found a way to match the yearning of youth with a grounded sense of adult experience, and it happened toward the end of a period of broad excess when the genre so badly needed it. The production is a wonder of amalgamation, too: He melded the West Coast’s spacious, very polished style with the power and force of Middle American and punk rock.

By the summer of 1977, the E Street Band – then consisting of guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, pianist Roy Bittan, organist Danny Federici, bassist Garry Tallent and drummer Max Weinberg  had become a road-hardened unit capable of bending almost telepathically to any of Springsteen’s musical whims, so it made perfect sense for Springsteen to record the songs for Darkness live in the studio with his band. Unfortunately, Springsteen’s endless search for the ultimate sound completely counteracted any efficiency that might have otherwise resulted from such an arrangement. Unhappy with the sounds they were getting at New York’s Atlantic Studios, Springsteen moved the recording sessions to the Record Plant, where he, co-producer Jon Landau and engineer Jimmy Iovine spent interminable weeks trying to capture the perfect drum sound.

Every song on the first side has a corresponding track on the second in the same sequence. “Badlands” and “The Promised Land” are about America, “Adam Raised a Cain” and “Factory” are about father-son relationships and so on.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is consistently among my top album from Springsteen’s catalog. I think the excruciating editing process he went through with this album speaks volumes about the focus and quality of the story he was telling at that time. What is the best song on the record?

As the opening song, “Badlands” not only sets the tone for everything that follows, it’s also a hell of an introduction to the album with those massive drums barreling into the picture. Every song on the album, more or less, stems from “Badlands.”

 “Racing in the Street,” because it turns the bombast of what came before completely inside out. If Born to Run was about the desperate desire to be free of your old life, your hometown and every preconceived notion, this album – and, my goodness, this song – was about what happens to those who were left behind. Even the expected early-career “car songs” tend to feature people lost in a cul-de-sac of regret. “Racing in the Street” is my favorite song by anybody. it was the perfect anthem  cruising around town, only realizing later that it had this other meaning. How anyone can comprehend how Springsteen wrote that last verse, given that he hadn’t yet been in a serious relationship. “Racing in the Street” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” The story he tells in the former is so specific and evocative that it really haunts the listener. That’s why it’s not even surprising when the couple from “Racing” ages a decade or two, and reappears, as I see it, in “Darkness.” Springsteen couldn’t get them out of his head any more than I could, and the stunning outro gives the listener time to contemplate their fate. It also remains phenomenal to me that early versions of the song didn’t even include the little girl he drove away.

“Racing in the Street” is a great narrative and a great song. The lyrics speak of desolation, lost chances and the things the desperate do just to live, both in the world and with themselves. Springsteen gives those words life and breath, and puts his voice in the middle of it all; there’s no separating it from either the story or the telling of it. The music is stark and brooding — it’s a keyboard song on a guitar album, and Roy Bittan and Danny Federici refuse to leaven the mood as they might on other songs. Bittan’s piano figure that runs through the song is every bit the match for the lyrics, and then Federici wraps an organ countermelody around the piano. … God, it gives me chills to this day.

The outtakes found on Tracks and The Promise show him writing very different material than what was released on the final album, the best tracks, sound like more chapters to the Darkness story. While the outtakes were informative, in particular for completists, they only confirmed Bruce Springsteen’s brilliance as an editor Darkness on the Edge of Town still sounds perfectly balanced. He was writing all these great songs rooted in ’60s pop and R&B like “Talk to Me,” “Save My Love” and “Ain’t Good Enough for You.” The finished product only reflected one side of him. And I like the idea of Jon Landau whispering in one ear about the art of the rock album and Steven Van Zandt in the other about more hit singles.  It gave me an even greater appreciation for his creative vision. He went through an agonizing period of writing and editing to arrive at the final product that was true to the feelings he wanted to evoke. He writes fantastic songs, and there are quite a few in those outtakes, but they didn’t fit the theme. When you have so many songs, and great ones at that, those are tough decisions to make. Dilute the album’s message or let the songs languish in the vault? But I’ve always felt that one of Springsteen’s gifts to his fans is that he has allowed us to look back at his editing process. I’ve always appreciated a peak at his rewriting, and how he’s not afraid to hold onto a a piece of music or lyric when he doesn’t think he’s done justice to it yet.

I’d read interviews with him in the past talking about how he’d write something like “Fire” or “Rendezvous” or “Bring on the Night” and have to set them aside, because they didn’t fit the tone of the work he was recording. To hear some of those songs on Tracks and The Promise was great, The overarching thing I take away from them (and from the outtakes from The River) was just how mind-blowingly prolific a songwriter he was at the time. Like, two-albums-a-year prolific.

Almost every other song on Darkness sounds epic, both in the lyrics and the music. “Factory” is a quiet, personal ode to his father that scales down the album’s bigger themes. If replaced with “The Promise” which is way closer to what Darkness is all about. Plus, they’re both slower cuts, so it would fit into that missing slot perfectly.

The other songs tend to feel like they were left off for a reason because of differences in production values, because they are clearly unfinished or (quite often, actually) because upbeat tracks like “Save My Love” and “Gotta Get That Feeling” just don’t fit thematically. That said, the brilliantly ambiguous “Breakaway” might just have made the cut.

“The Promise” belongs on there, but you couldn’t find anything better that’s thematically similar to go in its place (“The Brokenhearted,” “City of Night”?). It could have another kinda love song, “Don’t Look Back.”

I do think “The Promise” would have made a great addition. It’s among his most heartbreaking, and fits well with the tone of the record. In addition “Racing in the Street” I’d surely go with the one he chose for Darkness, but the sped up recording on The Promise really hits the spot sometimes.

“Hearts of Stone,” is another great song which Springsteen gave to Southside Johnny, but which also was a standout cut on the Tracks box.

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On March 2nd, 1973, a young, scraggly, a no-name punk from New Jersey landed in Berkeley, California., just weeks after the release of his first studio album, “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”, to record a performance for the King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show. A certain Bruce Springsteen opened the show that night for Blood Sweat and Tears, ravaging his way through a seven-song set, each tune picking at the essential storytelling-songwriting so heavily influenced by Dylan in those early years.

This performance showcases an early iteration of the E Street Band, with bassist Garry Tallent, keyboardist and accordionist Danny Federici, and Springsteen’s essential partner, saxophonist Clarence Clemons. (The world wouldn’t see the full classic lineup, including guitarist Steve Van Zandt, until 1975.) But it’s the Boss himself who steals the night with an unrelenting energy and obvious wealth of ambition. Some tracks, like “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” and “Bishop Danced,” are folkier and more story-driven. (The latter, with its fluttering accordion, has been rarely performed and never appeared on a true studio recording). Others, like “Lost in the Flood,” “Spirit in the Night” and “Blinded By the Light,” have remained constant in Springsteen’s 40-year touring career. He also offers a fun, fast-tempo “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?”—cheekily chiming in, “A song about New York City, 82nd Street bus,” after a near two-minute intro. Springsteen completes the set with “Thundercrack,” an 11-minute epic that allows each member of the band to jam, with some provocative guitar work about halfway through.

You can tell the young Springsteen is having a great time as he performs—something that has never changed. This is quite possibly the very first professional live recording of The Boss to surface, recorded 45 years ago on this date.

The Band

Bruce Springsteen: guitar vocals Clarence Clemons: saxophone Danny Federici: organ Vini Lopez: drums Garry Tallent: bass

What makes this show particularly interesting and historical is that a few weeks earlier, Springsteen had actually been part of the very first King Biscuit Flower Hour, which was broadcast over three decades ago (February 18th, 1973). On that broadcast, Bruce only performed two songs and had to share the bill with Blood, Sweat & Tears and jazz-fusion pioneers, the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

 

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As Bruce Springsteen continues his sold-out Springsteen on Broadway run, he has continued to release live concerts from his archives.

Released a couple of weeks ago is Springsteen and the E Street Band live from Stockholm, Sweden on July 3rd, 1988.  This concert was part of Tunnel of Love Express tour, which was of course supporting 1987’s album “Tunnel of Love”.  What makes this concert significant, however, is that the first 90-minute set was broadcast to radio stations at the time, making it one of most known concerts in the Springsteen canon.   “Chimes of Freedom” from the show was released on an EP of the same name.  But the broadcast did not contain the full concert, which would continue for another set and three encores.  Now, for the first time, the entire concert is being officially released, remixed from the multi-tracks.

Shortly after this tour, Springsteen would disband the E Street Band.  Other than recording a couple of tracks for Springsteen’s first Greatest Hits album, the full group would not come back to together until 1999’s Reunion tour.  The concert that has just been released is the final one from the tour:  July 1st, 2000 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  Portions of this concert were included on the Live in New York City album released in March, 2001, but this is the first time you can officially hear the entire show.  Unique tracks from this show include the closing number, “Blood Brothers,” which had never been performed on a tour before.

Perhaps to tie in with the concept of Springsteen on Broadway, another recent concert is from March 19th, 1996 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Falling between the other two concerts released, this concert was is support of The Ghost of Tom Joad and features a solo, acoustic set from Springsteen.  He had performed in this way before, but this was the first time he embarked on a full tour in the format.  Many of his familiar songs were recast with new arrangements to sit alongside newer material.

In addition, Springsteen has also released the concert from December 8th, 1978 in Houston, Texas.  This show first appeared in The Promise: Darkness on the Edge of Town boxset in 2010, but this is the first time it has been available separately.  All proceeds from the sale of this concert will go to benefit MusiCares Hurricane Relief Fund.

All three newly released concerts have been mixed by Jon Altshiller and mastered by Adam Ayan at Gateway Mastering.

All the shows are offered in a variety of formats: Direct Stream Digital or DSD (with 64 times the sampling rate of CD), MP3, FLAC or Apple Lossless, HD-Audio (24 bit/192 kHz, FLAC-HD or ALAC-HD) and CD-R ($26.00).  A CD-R plus MP3 package is also available for each.

All previous ten volumes of The Bruce Springsteen Archive Series are available at Springsteen’s official live store for download and physical purchase.

A special reminder: all titles are on sale today for Cyber Monday (25% off CDs, 50% off downloads)!

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With a shout of “270 days till Christmas!” Bruce Springsteen introduced “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” at his concert with the E Street Band at Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England. On A Rain Soaked Day Bruce Springsteen and the E.Street Band opened the UK leg of his current “River” Tour

The classic holiday song, which Bruce Springsteen and the band have been performing since 1973, most frequently makes its appearance in E Street Band setlists in the seasonal winter time, though there have been some spring and summer performances before, most recently in May 2014 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

A fan wearing a Santa suit made the request by holding up a sign reading, “Santa Claus is coming to Manchester.”

“What’s the story with the guy in the Santa Claus suit?” Springsteen asked, from the stage. “Is there some connection between Manchester and Santa Claus that I’m not aware of?”

Springsteen then invited the guy to come onstage and sing with the band. After the song, he said: “Let’s hear it for Santa … only in Manchester! Only here. It’s the only place that’s gonna happen. Nobody knew that Manchester was where Santa lives in the off-season. Now we know.”

Bruce Springsteen isn’t the sort to cut corners but leaving out some of ‘The River’ tracks  feels like the right decision for his stadium gigs, but means he can wheel out other songs from his amazing catalogue like “Darkness on the Edge of Town, the sublime “Because the Night”  and “Backstreets” , The Rising, 10th Avenue Freeze Out and exquisite rocker “Johnny 99”.  Song from the set “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” and “Hungry Heart”, the most rousing song , ‘The River’, seem positively frivolous compared to the bleakness and high drama of “Point Blank”

The second half of the set features ‘Born in the USA’ tracks – “Darlington County”, “Working on the Highway” and, best of all, the perfectly gorgeous Bobby Jean and Fan favourite) Dancing in the Dark on which Springsteen brings a female on stage. The Boss has always been unapologetically crowd-pleasing and generous – and it’s a huge part of his appeal. He’s not embarrassed to entertain . He runs through the crowd for Hungry Heart, he brings up a young 12 year old girl who is at her first concert for Waitin’ on a Sunny Day and doesn’t stop grinning throughout this giddy experience.

Setlist for 25th May 2016 Manchester Etihad Stadium

1. Atlantic City
2. Murder Incorporated
3. Badlands
4. The Ties That Bind
5. Sherry Darling
6. Two Hearts
7. No Surrender
8. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
9. Hungry Heart
10. Out in the Street
11. Darkness on the Edge of Town
12. Crush on You
13. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
14. I Wanna Marry You
15. The River
16. Point Blank
17. Johnny 99
18. Darlington County
19. Working on the Highway
20. The Promised Land
21. Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
22. Because the Night
23. The Rising
24. Thunder Road
25. Backstreets
26. Born to Run
27. Glory Days
28. Dancing in the Dark
29. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
30. Shout
31. Bobby Jean
32. This Hard Land (solo)

Bruce Springsteen performing at the Etihad Stadium