Posts Tagged ‘Nils Lofgren’

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

With Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s new album “Colorado” arriving on October 25th, the reunited rockers have shared “Rainbow of Colors,” the second preview from the upcoming LP. It’s a bright, optimistic tune calling for unity in the age of Trump. Much like the previous Colorado single “Milky Way,” it is quite mellow by the usually loud standards of Crazy Horse.

“The idea of the song is that we all belong together,” Young wrote on his Neil Young Archives website. “Separating us into races and colors is an idea whose time has passed. With the Earth under the direct influence of Climate Chance, we are in crisis together needing to realize we are all one. Our leaders continually fail to make this point. Preoccupied with their own agendas, they don’t see the forest for the trees.”

Colorado is the first Neil Young and Crazy Horse album since 2012’s Psychedelic Pill, and the first since guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro retired from the group. He has been replaced by Nils Lofgren, who has played with Young going all the way back to After The Gold Rush in 1970. This new lineup of the band first played together on a California theater tour in 2018 and they cut Colorado at Studio in the Clouds near Telluride, Colorado earlier this year.

An arena tour was originally booked for later this year, but Young said he was pushing it back so he could focus on a series of archival concert films and documentaries. And in a recent note, Young hinted that he’s already looking ahead to Crazy Horse’s next record. “Another one is coming,” he wrote. “I can feel it. It’s a new generation for the Horse. Long live the Horse!”

Official Audio for “Rainbow of Colors” from ‘Colorado’ the new album from Neil Young with Crazy Horse available on October 25th.

Less than a month before the release of his physically and sonically mega box set Live/1975-85, Bruce went completely the opposite direction, stripping down to play his first all-acoustic set since 1972 at what would become Neil Young’s annual Bridge School Benefit Concert.

During a guest DJ session on E Street Radio, Nils Lofgren recounted getting a call from Bruce to join him for the Bridge (Lofgren was also on the bill as a solo artist). Along with Danny Federici, the trio worked up and rehearsed the set in a New York City studio in early October 1986. But as Nils tells it, in an anecdote that conveys deep admiration for the confidence and prowess of his bandleader, on show day at Shoreline, Bruce called a major setlist audible. It wouldn’t be enough to merely play acoustic; Springsteen would go one step further and open the show a capella.

Here was the biggest rock star in the world, last seen 12 months earlier wrapping his staggeringly successful Born in the U.S.A. tour in front of 85,000 fans at the LA Coliseum, taking the stage and singing “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” accompanied only by his snapping fingers. Nils described Bruce’s audacious performance as Elvis-like in its physicality, and grainy bootleg video of the show confirms that. What an entrance.

The Bridge ’86 is a special show. The short but oh-so-sweet set reconnected Springsteen with acoustic performance and can be viewed in hindsight as helping spur a decade or more of solo appearances like the Christic concerts and acoustic recordings like The Ghost of Tom Joad that followed.

The line-up for the inaugural Bridge benefit included Bruce, Nils, Don Henley, Robin Williams (who briefly referenced his famous “Elmer Fudd does Bruce Springsteen” bit during his stand-up set that night), Tom Petty, and host Neil Young (who had his own special guests in Crosby, Stills & Nash). Not unlike the M.U.S.E./No Nukes shows, another benefit where some of these same artists shared a bill, “Broocing” throughout the concert made it clear who most of the audience had come to see.

Following “You Can Look,” Bruce delivers an astounding rebuttal to the jingoistic appropriation that surrounded the title track of his last album. “This is a song about the snake that came around and began to eat its tail,” Bruce says introducing his first public airing of the original solo acoustic arrangement of “Born in the U.S.A.” Any misconstruing of or ambiguity as to the song’s meaning is vanquished over the next five minutes in a spellbinding performance. Until the Bridge, one could only speculate as to what “Born in the U.S.A.” would have sounded like on Nebraska. Now we know.

Nils and Danny then take the stage, and we get an exquisitely rare outing for this E Street Trio. What magic they weave. “Seeds” arrives as a companion to “Born in the U.S.A.” Angry and defiant in 1985, the 1986 model of “Seeds” is instead weary and knowing, sounding like a tune from a bygone era. “Darlington County” is next, preceded by a mini-edition of the story that introduced “Open All Night” in 1984 of Bruce getting pulled over on the turnpike. Nils provides charming harmony vocals throughout the show, none better than what he offers here, as “Darlington” takes its time driving down from New York City.

Strumming and singing brightly, Lofgren shines again on “Mansion on the Hill,” as does Federici. Danny first vamps a little “Lady of Spain,” as Bruce gets his guitar ready, then adds rich accordion swells that paint the song an emotionally tinged hue.

“Fire” will be familiar to those who own Video Anthology on VHS or DVD, where the Bridge version was showcased. Before it starts, Danny is again tapped to fill time due to minor technical difficulties, and he drops a dose of Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll.” Uncannily, Federici used the song in much the same manner in the earliest E Street days circa 1973-74. Though “Fire” is rightly remembered as a Clarence Clemons showcase, the acoustic version, carried by Bruce’s deep vocal, is pure delight, peaking when Lofgren and Springsteen raise their voices way up to sing, “your words they liiiiiie.”

“Dancing in the Dark” rides a particularly passionate lead vocal along with some fine accordion work from Federici in the final third that pushes the Shoreline audience towards rapture. “Glory Days” always had a bit of a campfire singalong vibe underneath it, and that comes through in this charming take that has the swooning audience joining in.

Serving as something of an encore, “Follow That Dream” lends poignancy to the evening as Springsteen dedicates the song to Neil and Pegi Young. In its River tour incarnation (as heard on the London ’81 archive release) “Follow That Dream” is stark and solemn. In 1986, it transforms into an uplifting song of hope, performed less as a mediation and more as an instruction.

For the final song of the set, “Hungry Heart,” the trio is expanded with backing vocals and guitar from special guests David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, and Young, putting a spirited ending on just under an hour of acoustic enchantment.

Bridge School ’86 is a significant moment in the rebirth Springsteen as an acoustic artist. Since that show, Bruce has done two fully acoustic tours and a Broadway run that carried on in the spirit of ’86. Perhaps someday, Bridge School ’86 could still inspire an E Street Trio tour as well.

Words by By Erik Flannigan

After The Gold Rush

By the end of the 1960s Neil Young was catching the ear of many influential figures – not least his old band mate Stephen Stills, who was now part of the Grammy-winning folk-rock super group Crosby, Stills & Nash. The band were keen to have him onboard as a sideman, but Young was insistent that he be given a full title credit as a condition for his contributions. Stills frequently found himself fighting with Young for control over the band’s songwriting, and has famously said that the latter “wanted to play folk music in a rock band.”

Young’s dogged self-determination, despite its interpersonal downfalls, was a major artistic virtue that fed directly into what was perhaps his first true masterpiece. After The Gold Rush had its beginnings in an unlikely place. Dean Stockwell, a former child star of the ‘40s and ‘50s, had been encouraged by his friend Dennis Hopper to write a screenplay whilst the pair were in the jungles of Peru producing a film entitled The Last Movie. Hopper assured Stockwell that he had the relevant connections to help get the film made, and once back in the US the latter retreated to his home at Topanga Canyon in the Los Angeles Mountains to commence the writing process.

A fellow resident of the canyon and a close friend of Stockwell’s, Young was suffering through a prolonged period of writer’s block and was under growing pressure from his label to record an album of new material. After learning of the writer’s creative endeavour he was intrigued to learn more and asked Stockwell if he could read a draft of the story. The script, which has since been lost, was an unconventional, non-linear narrative with religious and psychedelic undertones. It loosely detailed an end-of-the-world scenario centred on the local Californian environment, in which a biblical flood threatened to pull the state into the ocean. Captivated by this messy but intriguing tale, Young recalls: “I was writing a lot of songs at the time, and some of them seemed like they would fit right in with the story.”

Ironically Hopper’s proximity to the project scared off any interested executives, and before long the film seemed destined to remain in limbo. Nonetheless, Young was fired up and undeterred, commencing work immediately on what he imagined to be the soundtrack of this deeply counter-cultural Hollywood film. Finding time to write and record was difficult, as large swathes of 1970 were blocked out by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s huge US Tour and further live obligations with Crazy Horse. In the precious gaps between shows, Young made initial recordings at Hollywood’s Sunset Studios, yielding “I Believe In You” and “Oh Lonesome Me” but quickly realised he preferred the atmosphere of the Canyon, continuing the process at the home studio set up in his lead-lined basement. It was here that his ensemble of bassist Greg Reeves, drummer Ralph Molina, and guitarist Nils Lofgren assembled.

The studio was a small and sweaty space, adjoined to a side control room from which producer David Briggs kept an eye on proceedings. The youngest of the ensemble, eighteen year-old Lofgren was brought in to play keyboards despite being a relative novice at the time of recording, highlighting Young’s unconventional laid back approach. Accordingly the musician recalls that “Neil didn’t mind rehearsing a bit” but they “didn’t belabour stuff.” It’s often considered that Young was attempting to merge musicians from both Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crazy Horse on this album, and Stephen Stills even appears on “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” to provide backing vocals.

The basement’s make-shift setup influenced the stark and plaintive sound of After The Gold Rush. Young featured solo on piano throughout the album, most notably on the title track which is often praised as the centrepiece of the album. Charting a surreal and fantastical course through three verses, the song starts in a medieval era of knights and peasants and ends in outer space with the remnants of humanity, after the world has descended into apocalypse.

The song was designed to directly mirror the plot of the proposed film, and Young invited Stockwell to sit in on some of the album’s sessions. The writer was impressed: “If you could calculate the amount of human energy that goes into the making of one of his songs, you would have a really fucking high number, man.”
Explaining his thoughts behind the environmentally conscious song Young recalls: “I recognise in it now this thread that goes through a lotta my songs that’s this time-travel thing… When I look out the window, the first thing that comes to my mind is the way this place looked a hundred years ago.”

But stepping out of the failed film’s shadow, After The Gold Rush as a whole fits neatly into Young’s continued development as one of the finest songwriters of the North American tradition. Young’s ability to convey nuanced emotion through potently simple chord sequences and unvarnished yet poetic lyrics is exemplified on songs such as “Birds” and “Only Love…”, which highlight the often overlooked yet effortless sonic beauty of his music. The fact that the album allows such space for this aspect of Young’s work to blossom reveals why it remains one of the most beloved in his expansive catalogue.

Despite producing no major hits and suffering a ferociously critical review from Rolling Stone, the album truly kicked off Young’s celebrated solo career, preceding game-changing albums, such as 1972’s Harvest, and was quickly re-considered as one of the finest albums of the 1970s by the very publications who had tore it to pieces just a few years prior. It’s a testament to how swiftly Young’s career was ascending – from folk-rock’s resilient underdog to one of the standard-bearers of the great American songbook.

Nils Lofgren performs at the 30th Annual Bridge School Benefit Concert at the Shoreline Ampthitheatre, in Mountain View, Calif30th Annual Bridge School Benefit Concert - Day 2, San Francisco, USA

Nils Lofgren was lounging by the pool of his Phoenix, Arizona, home with his wife Amy in April 2018 when the phone rang. “It was a Saturday,” recalls the guitarist. “I got a pad and paper out as I thought to myself, ‘Who is calling on a weekend? What will I need to take care of now? What business do I need to address?’ That was the cynic in me.”

It turned out to be Neil Young. “He said, ‘Look, we have these five Crazy Horse theaters shows booked in California to commemorate the release of the Roxy album Lofgren says. “[Crazy Horse guitarist] Poncho [Sampedro] can’t make it. Instead of canceling the shows, we’re wondering if you can walk in pretty much without any rehearsal and wing it with us?’”

The request left Lofgren completely stunned. He had got his first big break back in 1970 when Young invited him to play on After the Gold Rush when he was just 19. He went on to join Crazy Horse for their 1971 self-tiled LP (recorded without Neil Young) and two years later he cut Tonight’s the Night with Young and the Crazy Horse rhythm section of Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot. But besides sporadic charity shows and the 1993 MTV Unplugged special, Lofgren hadn’t really been in one of Young’s backing bands since the Trans tour in 1982.

Once he got over the shock, Young filled him on in the details. Three concerts were on the books in Fresno, California, and another two in Bakersfield, California. Lofgren was due to kick off an extensive U.K. tour on May 14th , just eight days after the last show  but if he rejiggered his schedule and missed just a single day of production rehearsal, it would be feasible for him to make it work. “I talked to Amy and looked at the calendar and said, ‘Man, count me in,’” says Lofgren. “He said, ‘Give me a day. I’ll call you back to see if I can make this happen.’ The next day he called back and said, ‘We’re on. Let’s do it.’”

In keeping with Young’s longstanding “Don’t Spook the Horse” rule, he decided they’d forego any formal rehearsals even though Lofgren hadn’t played a show with Molina and Talbot since the end of the Tonight’s the Night tour in 1973. “The first time we put on our instruments was at soundcheck,” says Lofgren. “It was really seat-of-your pants.”

It sent Lofgren’s mind right back to the Tonight’s the Night sessions, shortly after the death of original Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. “We’d get together at dinner time and drink and play pool, smoke a little Thai weed and not worry about music,” he says. “It wasn’t until after midnight we’d go into the studio and play. Neil would sketch out three or four songs we really didn’t know. He said, ‘I don’t want you to know them. I want to do an anti-production record. I don’t want you to have a part for the chorus and a part for the verse. I don’t want you get to know them that well.

Opening night of the 2018 Crazy Horse run wasn’t quite that impromptu, but Lofgren still had to tackle songs like “Big Time” and “Scattered (Let’s Think About Livin’)” that he’d never played live in any capacity, with or without Young. But he’d done his homework and was able to feed off the energy all around him and deliver a killer show. “I knew songs like ‘Don’t Cry No Tears’ and ‘Like a Hurricane’ from the Trans tour,” says Lofgren. “And I’m grateful he included songs in the set from After the Gold Rush and Tonight’s the Night.”

Whenever they played a Tonight’s the Night song, it was essentially a complete reunion of Young’s backing band from that period minus the late Ben Keith. “We thought, ‘Four of the five of us are standing,’” says Lofgren. “‘That’s gotta be good. We’ll take it. We’ll miss Ben, but his spirit is with us.’”

There were no future plans for Crazy Horse after the mini-tour wrapped up May 6th, 2018, at the Fox Theater in Bakersfield, and Lofgren flew off to England thinking he may never play with them again. But then in December he got another call from Young. “He said, ‘I’m going to Winnipeg where I have such a long history,’” recalls Lofgren. “‘I want to visit old family and friends and do a couple of shows with Crazy Horse. Can you make it?’”

He happily accepted, though this time he had a little bit more time to prepare. While Young was busy playing solo shows in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Lofgren travelled to South Dakota to rehearse with Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot at the bass player’s home studio. It was at the peak of the polar vortex gripping much of the country and the temperature was well below zero. “Just walking across the ice and the howling wind in South Dakota to the studio was a big adventure every day,” says Lofgren. “Each time I was like, ‘We made it! Nobody fell and broke anything!’”

If that wasn’t frigid enough, the three of them then got onto a tour bus and drove more than 10 hours to Winnipeg for the shows. It was roughly 15 below before you even factored in the wind chill. “We were going right into the heart of the polar vortex,” says Lofgren. “Amy sat me down repeatedly and was like, ‘Look, you must promise that if the bus breaks down, before you do anything, before you call me, you call 911,’” Lofgren recalls. “‘This is not weather to mess around with. This kills people.’”

They managed to make to make it to Winnipeg without freezing to death or calling in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to rescue them. And once again, Young wanted the shows to be spontaneous. “He said, ‘I’m here with my old family and friends and I don’t want to even write a set list,’” Lofgren recalls. “‘Let’s just figure it out as we go. But don’t think. You guys rehearsed hard in South Dakota. Just don’t think. Let’s go and have an experience.’ The first night was a lot of rockiness in and out and the second night, man, we hit some groove and it felt kind of like flying or floating. It was very cool.”

The future for Neil Young and Crazy Horse is very unclear. Young has many shows on the books during the next few months, but all of them are either with Promise of the Real or solo. No explanation has been given for Poncho’s absence from the recent run of shows, but if Young decides to call up Lofgren again, he’ll be there. “It’s been a beautiful opportunity to play with dear friends that are still alive and well,” he says. “Look, I hope there’s more, but I’ll take it a gig at a time right now.”

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band had been on the road for well over a year when the Born In The USA tour wrapped up with a four-night stand at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in late September 1985. Springsteen was at the absolute pinnacle of his success after seeing six straight singles from the album hit the Top Ten (with a seventh on the way) and sold out stadiums and arenas anywhere he played. A professional crew was on hand to record every night of the run for the Live 1975-85 box set, but they wound up only using recordings from night three. The tape of opening night on September 27th, 1985 has sat in the vault for the past 34 years, but today Springsteen has released it as part of his ongoing live download series.

Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, 1985 represents the apex of Bruce Springsteen’s mass popularity. No concerts performed before or since represent the same level of mainstream cultural impact inherent in the final four performances that wrapped the mammoth Born in the U.S.A. tour.

According to the LA Times, on September 27th, opening night of the sold-out stand, Bruce and the band played to 83,000 people. That means over the course of four sold-out shows, more than 330,000 people clicked the turnstiles at the site of two Olympic Games, to see not world-class athletes but the world’s greatest live performer. Staggering.

Springsteen long factored for the person in the very last row at his concerts, but now that fan was 100-150 yards from the stage. Scaling up production elements at stadiums to deliver a comparable level of band-to-fan connection was crucial, and that affected everything from the sound of Max’s drums and the quality and size of the stage-side video screens to the clothing the band wore on stage, which was brightly colored to help boost the visibility and discernibility of individual members from far away.

Los Angeles 1985 starts as it must with a dazzling “Born in the U.S.A.” Jon Altschiller’s zoomed-in mix (with a notably livelier audience levels) dials in a difficult-to-achieve balance of synthesizer and guitar. The deepest notes of the former provide a sternum-compressing whoosh that anyone who saw a BIUSA stadium show will remember; the latter more forward and clearer than we often hear on 1985 recordings. As Bruce sings, “long gone daddy in the U.S.A.,” we get some real chugga chugga licks, followed later by an extended solo that’s up there with the great ones that append the song on the 1988 Tunnel of Love tour. As for Max Weinberg, he absolutely crushes one of the best live versions of “Born in the U.S.A.” ever released.

At this point of the 1984-85 tour, the E Street Band was a machine in the best sense of that word, operating under both Bruce’s and the individual players’ master control. The transition from “U.S.A.” to “Badlands” is lush with Danny Federici organ swirls, and we can hear every band member in sharp detail right down to Clarence Clemons’ percussion.

LA 1985 is rife with distinct moments worth highlighting: Bruce singing out, “debts that no honest man could pay” with particular passion on “Atlantic City,” and matching that energy again for the last line of “Downbound Train”; the happiness in his voice ahead of “Glory Days” as he talks about turning 36 four days prior; Patti Scialfa’s soaring high notes that raise “Trapped” to full crescendo; Clarence’s under-appreciated solo on the same song releasing the pent-up tension that makes the arrangement so mesmerizing; the heightened peaks of the extended “Cover Me” that finally relent to the breakneck release of “Dancing in the Dark” (the exclusion of which from Live/1975-85 still puzzles); Roy’s best Jerry Lee Lewis impression splashing all over a rip-roaring and rarely played “Stand On It.”

But the E Street MVP this night is Nils Lofgren. LA 1985 is an opportunity for reappreciation of how much of the load he carried on the tour and the many spots when he shined. His intro to “Seeds” oozes dirtier than you might recall, and the hypnotic prelude to “I’m on Fire” alters the tone of the song significantly.

As Nils plays, Springsteen’s spoken introduction to “I’m on Fire” (omitted on Live/1975-85) subtly shifts the song’s narrative, too. He speaks of the struggles endured by his father and mother, and of his fear that, if he didn’t get out, whatever sense of hope and happiness was figuratively dying inside his dad would be his fate as well. Lying awake in bed, thinking dark thoughts like one of the characters he wrote about on Nebraska, the narrator confesses he understands how one could snap. It makes the “Hey little girl is your daddy home” that follows more of a disturbing dream.

What’s commendable given the circumstances and stakes surrounding LA 1985 is that Bruce is still taking risks and using his status to make a statement. The night marks the daring debut of Edwin Starr’s righteous anthem “War,” written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield. With lyrics taped to his forearm, Springsteen tears into the anti-war cry, in a version appealingly raw compared to the finished track that would later become the first single released from Live/1975-85. For a man whose messages and political views had been co-opted and misinterpreted of late, “War” allows zero ambiguity, no more so than when Bruce implores, “Tell your mama!” Nils adds another compelling guitar intro here, as Bruce sounds his solemn warning that “blind faith in anything…will get you killed.”

The bulk of LA 1985 is made up of what might be called a refined stadium setlist, optimized for maximum impact in venues of this scale. Over the last 34 years, so-called stadium friendly material suggested something that couldn’t compare to the greatest theater and arena performances that preceded it. Yet listening today, one marvels at how skillfully the band is playing in front of 83,000, not merely showing themselves up to the task of reaching that distant back row but retaining the tightness, power, and nuance that made them the best live act in the world. In other words, don’t sleep on ‘85.

Stadium staples aside, let’s not overlook the second of the night’s world premieres. “Alright, let’s try it” serves as the rallying cry to the live debut of “Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart,” the charming Born in the U.S.A. outtake and “I’m Goin’ Down” b-side that is a kindred spirit to another equally enchanting leftover, “Be True.” Both share a certain mid-tempo melodic romanticism that marks a lot of the songs Bruce often left on the cutting room floor. It’s a winning version that curiously omits The Big Man’s recorded sax solo in favor of piano solo by The Professor. Listen for Bruce hooting encouragement and howling with glee as Roy takes the spotlight. He clearly likes Janey.

The show wraps fittingly with a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelin’ Band,” resplendent with Clarence’s baritone sax, Roy’s piano fills, and nearly a dozen tour-stop name checks. It’s the perfect selection for the end of the line, recalling the mystery train that left the station at a St. Paul arena 15 months earlier and wound up conquering the world by the time it came to a halt in LA, playing to an audience more than five times the size.

Thanks Erik Flanagan

Vinyl issue of a late 1973 recording from New York with the Santa Monica Flyers.

In the second half of 1973, Neil Young formed The Santa Monica Flyers, with Crazy Horse’s rhythm section augmented by Nils Lofgren on guitar and piano and Harvest/Time Fades Away veteran Ben Keith on pedal steel guitar. Deeply affected by the drug-induced deaths of Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, Young recorded an album specifically inspired by the incidents, “Tonight’s the Night”. The album’s dark tone and rawness led Reprise to delay its release and Young had to pressure them for two years before they would do so; it finally came out on in June 1975.

By late ’73, Young and The Flyers were touring and performing songs, as yet unreleased, later to be included on Tonight’s The Night. On November 15th the ensemble performed at Queen’s College in Flushing, New York, for a show which remains quite staggering and is featured on this CD in its entirety. Including six cuts from Tonight….., plus a smattering of numbers from previous records, this concert, released here for the first time, is unlike any other Neil Young ever played.

Springsteen 11/19/2007

The last U.S. tour stop of 2007 would prove to be Danny Federici’s final show as a full-time member of the E Street Band. Boston ’07 is a fitting farewell to Phantom Dan and catches Bruce and the band firing on all cylinders at the height of the “Magic” tour. Rich with core album tracks including “Radio Nowhere,” “Gypsy Biker,” “Livin’ In The Future” and “Girls In Their Summer Clothes,” Boston also features the tour debuts of “This Hard Land” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” with guest Peter Wolf.

Bruce Springsteen brought the E Street Band to TD Banknorth Garden in Boston for a two-night stand in November of 2007 to end the first leg of a tour in support of Magic.  Springsteen has released an official recording of the concert from November 19th, 2007 which wound up being multi-instrumentalist Dan Federici’s final complete performance with the band.

Federici passed away just fourth months later on April 17th, 2008 due to melanoma. While he would perform with the group for portions of a show in Indianapolis on March 20, 2008; he never played a whole show with The Boss and his famed backing band after that night in Boston. Danny was spotlighted throughout the concert at the TD Banknorth Garden on songs such as “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Sandy” and “Kitty’s Back.”

“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” was a tour debut as was “This Hard Land.” Peter Wolf joined the ensemble to add backing vocals to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” Springsteen and his band put an emphasis on material from Magic, which was their new album at the time. In total, eight songs from the LP made the 24-song setlist. to purchase the official recording of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s November 19th, 2007 performance in a variety of formats.

  • Bruce Springsteen – Lead vocal, electric and acoustic guitars, harmonica; Roy Bittan – Piano, keyboards, accordion; Clarence Clemons – Tenor and baritone saxophones, percussion, backing vocal; Danny Federici – Organ, keyboards, accordion; Nils Lofgren – Electric and acoustic guitars, pedal steel, backing vocal; Patti Scialfa – Electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocal; Garry Tallent – Bass; Stevie Van Zandt – Electric guitars, mandolin, backing vocal; Max Weinberg – Drums; Soozie Tyrell – Violin, acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocal
  • Additional musician: Peter Wolf – backing vocal on Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out