Posts Tagged ‘Roy Bittan’

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - Los Angeles Sports Arena 4/28/1988

The Tunnel of Love Express Tour’s five-show station stop in Los Angeles wraps with this peak ’88 performance on April 28th. The core Tunnel setlist, including “Be True,” “Brilliant Disguise,” “Tougher Than The Rest,” “I’m A Coward” and “Part Man, Part Monkey,” has never sounded better. An irresistible encore features Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music” and a deserving homage to Northwest garage rock, as Bruce covers The Sonics’ “Have Love, Will Travel.” Rarer still and even more meaningful is the seminal cover of Ry Cooder’s majestic masterpiece, “Across The Borderline,” the sound of which echoes through Springsteen’s writing ever since.

Setlist consistency has historically been considered something of a demerit for the ’88 tour. As I rolled from town to town, show after show, I’ll admit I initially yearned for changes, though that was more to counter my own unusual circumstances than any sense that “the show needs them.” It didn’t.

I now admire the Tunnel of Love Express Tour for its commitment to Bruce’s creative expression. Back in ’88, once I made my peace with the lack of changes and focused more on what he was playing, I came to appreciate the shows even more. Certain gigs , still stand out for their performance energy and connection to the audience.

By the time the tour rolled into Los Angeles for a run of five shows (allowing me to sleep in the same bed for more than two nights), I was fully on board. Any changes, should we get them, were icing on an already delicious cake. The fifth and final LA performance on April 28, 1988 is peak Tunnel tour and, with the addition of one extra special song, warrants inclusion in the Live Archive series.

We have revisited this stand before, as the second show on April 23rd was released back in July 2015. The first thing you’ll notice about 4/28 by comparison is that the Man in Black has moved your seat forward about 10-15 rows closer to the stage, revealing more sonic detail and placing you right next to the band.

It remains a memorable show opening, as the E Streeters walk out in pairs, then Clarence Clemons, then Bruce, to take us on a ride through “Tunnel of Love” straight into the resurrection of River outtake and b-side “Be True,” carried so capably by Clarence. 1988 was a great year for “Adam Raised a Cain,” bolder than ever with the addition of the Horns of Love. Each version from ’88 released in the series has its own distinct appeal in how Springsteen sings it. The tone of this night is expressed in the slightly tweaked reading of the line, “From the dark heart, baby, from the dark heart of a dream.”

“Two Faces,” so rarely played after this tour, stands out for its pure song writing excellence. The sweet “All That Heaven Will Allow” prelude with the Big Man on the park bench is heartwarming, a moment of looking ahead in life, not reflecting on his passing as we do now. Bruce mentions that when the weather turns warm, “Girls dig out all their summer clothes,” clearly making a mental note that would be remembered 20 years later for Magic. Equally prescient, while looking at photos of Clarence’s new baby, Springsteen jokes, “In about 15 years, there’s gonna be an E Street Band Volume Two.” He was off by just ten years and one familial branch, in predicting Jake Clemons joining the band.

There’s serious high voltage in the back half of the first set. Springsteen’s full-throated vocals fuel the tractor pistons of “Seeds,” and this “Roulette” is a candidate for best-ever status. Every musical detail is vivid, in particular Max Weinberg’s drumming and Roy Bittan’s piano. “Roulette” melds into “Cover Me,” and perhaps because of the horns, the ’88 editions of the song are my favourites. “Cover Me” gallops with conviction, pace and power, twisted just a shade darker by a few snippets of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”

“Brilliant Disguise” eases off the throttle a little, though one could argue the subject matter is darker still, as desire gives way to self-doubt. Roy and Danny’s gorgeous “Spare Parts” sonata prelude is one of those moments of E Street musical brilliance that never showed up on record but is nonetheless one of their most beautiful contributions to the cannon. The full band and horns bring “Spare Parts” to a roaring conclusion that stops on a dime and resets into Edwin Starr’s “War.” Bruce makes sure every line lands, shifting one for extra impact as he swaps “friend only to the undertaker” to “ain’t nothin’ but a widow-maker.”

The first set ends as it did every night on this leg with a fantastic “Born in the U.S.A.” I’ve written before about the emotive guitar solos that marked the long versions of the song performed on the ’88 tour, and this is a case in point. Jon Altschiller’s mix also reveals the multi-part layering of synthesizer and piano sounds by Federici and Bittan that give “Born in the U.S.A.” its staggering keyboard bite. Halftime.

The second set commences with “Tougher Than the Rest,” Bruce’s voice sounding slightly wearier and the swirling guitar sound (from a phaser pedal?) lusher than ever. In “She’s the One,” Springsteen’s vocal command is on point, pushing “She the onnnnnne” to the edge just before the bridge. In the land of malls that was ’80s LA, “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” resonates, and from there the second set only gains momentum. “I’m a Coward” is goofy fun; “I’m on Fire” offers a radical, alternate view on love to the point of obsession; and “One Step Up” nails one of the bittersweet parts of human relationships, another masterclass in songwriting. “Part Man, Part Monkey” turns the mood playful again, reminding us it’s just evolution, baby.

At this point in the set, Springsteen had most frequently played “Walk Like a Man,” occasionally swapping in “Backstreets.” But for weeks, he and the band had sound checked Ry Cooder’s majestic “Across the Borderline,” and it finally made the setlist for the last two LA shows.

The song was written by Cooder, Jim Dickinson, and John Hiatt for the soundtrack to the movie The Border, in a version sung by Freddie Fender and featuring background vocals from future Springsteen backing singer Bobby King. Cooder put out his own rendition in 1987.

Despite fewer than a dozen performances ever, you can hear the influence of “Across the Borderline” in music Springsteen wrote for The Ghost of Tom Joad and beyond, as his fascination with the intersection of roots music on both sides of the border continues to this day.

The LA Sports Arena arrangement adds soulful scope while maintaining the Mexican elements of the original versions. The song fits so well because it feels like Springsteen could have written it himself, but that’s really a testament to the quality of the song writing of the original. “Across the Borderline” is a welcome and worthy addition to the Live Archive series.

From there, hit the party lights, as, aside from the sublime solo acoustic “Born to Run,” the last ten songs of the set turn into an E Street block party. Of note, “Sweet Soul Music,” in rare standalone, non-medley form, brings a fitting bit of Memphis to a horn-driven show. Equally fun is the rare cover of The Sonics’ “Have Love, Will Travel.”

“Have Love, Will Travel” was written by Richard Perry (who also penned “Louie Louie”) and popularized by Seattle garage-rock standard bearers The Sonics, who released their version in 1965 on the band’s debut album, Here Are the Sonics. As the story goes, back in 1984, a record store employee from Seattle slipped Springsteen a Northwest Garage Rock mixtape that included “Have Love”; Springsteen found the song and it became an encore feature for the last few weeks of the U.S. Tunnel tour.

As he so often does, Bruce makes “Have Love, Will Travel” his own, keeping the chorus of the original, but rewriting the verses to fit the nomadic love themes of the tour, while making the arrangement a showcase for the Horns of Love.

words by Erik Flannagan

When we regard several shows in a particular stand, setlist changes are often cited to distinguish good from great–the more changes the better being the general rule. Yet the 4/28/88 set differs by only one song from the previously released April 23rd show. Even when the addition is as significant as “Across the Borderline,” the takeaway is that setlist isn’t everything, as Tunnel tour fans already know and I learned out on the road 33 years ago.

The Band:

  • Bruce Springsteen – Lead vocals, guitar, harmonica; Roy Bittan – Piano, keyboards; Clarence Clemons – Tenor and baritone saxophones, percussion, backing vocal; Danny Federici – Organ, 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

david-bowie-station-to-station-art

 

“Station to Station” is an odd album for me, in that I feel I would probably have a higher opinion of it than I do were it not for the album that immediately preceded it. It’s not that I prefer “Young Americans”, far from it, but I feel that if Bowie had been able to make a smooth transition from the Glam-flecked dystopia of Diamond Dogs to the disconnection of Station to Station, I may have a far higher opinion of Bowie’s late 70s work.

As it is, Station to Station is a vast improvement on the shiny and disposable Young Americans, but there’s nothing on it to lift it to the level of anything from his early 70s hot-streak. That said Station to Station does have its moments, none more so than its epic title track, which brilliantly re-establishes Bowie as an artist of genuine depth after his previous stumble from greatness. “Golden Years” follows up the title track with a sprits of the type of funk soul that Bowie had dabbled with previously, but was an enjoyable single nonetheless.

The thing about Station to Station though is that while it gave notice that Bowie hadn’t totally lost his marbles, it also simultaneously marked the point where he traded ‘entertainment’ for ‘serious artistic statement’, and to me at least, became a lot less fun. That’s not to say that the albums from this era are without charm, but for me they suffer in comparison to his earlier work which managed to juggle rock, artistic statements, great song writing and brilliant entertainment. For me Bowie’s albums from Station to Station through to Lodger just took themselves to damn seriously.

Legend has it that David Bowie was so lost in a vortex of cocaine and ego during the making of this record to such a degree that he now can’t remember anything about its creation at all. Typically though, in the midst of all this madness he created a masterpiece, and arguably his greatest album of all. With a hint of the funk of influence of ‘Young Americans’, yet filtered through a glacial European sensibility, it’s a genre-transcending tour-de-force of boundless scope and imperious swagger. Forty-one years on, this record still sounds like the future.

David Bowie’s masterpiece or not, “Station to Station”, was released this week in 1976, its creation fuelled by “astronomic” cocaine, peppers and milk, an Aryan zombie alter-ego, a mental breakdown with a Hollywood backdrop, the Kabbalah, and finally a desperate search for love and meaning amid profound spiritual confusion.

It’s also a sonic masterpiece on a level un-attempted before or since, having been variously described as the merger of “Lou Reed, disco and Dr. John,” “space funk,” “alien dance music” with “a wail and throb that won’t let up,” “a masterpiece of invention” and, according to long time Bowie collaborator Brian Eno (who was not involved with Station to Station but would produce his imminent Berlin trilogy), “one of the great records of all time.”

How David Bowie Arrived at the Addled Splendor of <i>Station to Station</i>

The title track kicks off the LP with the sound of a train shoving off—for about 75 seconds, part of an instrumental opening that’s longer than many songs. Then comes the entrance of “The Thin White Duke,” whom Bowie described to Crawdaddy magazine as “The most scary of the lot [of characters he created] because he was the result of all those years of putting characters together. He was an ogre for me. I hadn’t seen England for a few years and when I got back there I found that I’d taken back to England with me a character who was the epitome of everything that it looked like could be happening to England. I saw the National Front and it was obvious to me: There was a Nazi Party in England. Whether or not it was a good thing that I did, I don’t know. I believe the best way to fight an evil force is to caricature it.”

Somehow the opening track that goes on for over 10 minutes (and really is three songs in one) doesn’t seem remotely self-indulgent. In fact, the most thrilling thing about the song and the album generally is that it’s so close to completely falling apart, yet not only holds together but soars. After the prog-rock(ish) title track, the album recaptures the white soul of Bowie’s previous record, Young Americans, with “Golden Years” (which Bowie said he offered to Elvis Presley), then rocks in full guitar-hero fury with “Stay.” Here’s a live version of “Stay” from that same 1976 show at the Nassau Coliseum in New York.

Bowie deconstructs and then reconstructs a pop masterpiece in “TVC 15,” and croons with a passion so pronounced it almost seems unreal—and maybe that’s what makes “The Thin White Duke” most frightening—on both “Word on a Wing” and “Wild Is the Wind.” Every track is enthralling.

Half a decade after writing himself into fame with the intergalactic rock messiah Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie was in danger of crash-landing – just like Thomas Jerome Newton, the extraterrestrial he had assumed the role of throughout August 1975. Though there’s some debate about this, Station to Station was reportedly a failed soundtrack for 1976’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, Bowie’s first big-screen credit. That would make it the second rock masterpiece to hold that distinction, as The Who’s Who’s Next was an abandoned soundtrack for a planned Peter Townshend film (Lifehouse) that seemed to drive Townshend to the edge of insanity, to the point where his bandmates could no longer even follow what he was trying to say.

In deference to the demands of the movie, resolved to lead a clean life, when he returned to Los Angeles, preparing to work on what would become his new album, “Station To Station”, Bowie was at a spiritual, psychological and artistic crossroads that would eventually lead to one of his greatest albums

According to Crawdaddy’s Timothy White writing 40 years ago, “Bowie shuttled from house to house around the Hollywood area, sometimes staying with onetime Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes and later moving in with his next (ill-fated) choice for a ‘business adviser,’ Michael Lippman, before leaving for a three-month stay in New Mexico to star in Nic Roeg’s uneven sci-fi film, ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth.’ Reappearing shortly thereafter at Cherokee Studios in Hollywood to record, Bowie was, to quote Lippman, ‘in a very weak mental state.’”

Reportage at the time had Bowie seeing ghosts, worrying about witches stealing his semen and living in fear of rock’s reigning master of black magic, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. “I had this more-than-passing interest in Egyptology, mysticism, the Kabbalah, all this stuff that is inherently misleading in life,” Bowie recalled in 1983. Black magic, Aleister Crowley’s late-19th-century collection of occultist poetry, White Stains, and the Stations Of The Cross also filled his head. Pushing himself to extremes, Bowie kept increasingly long hours (“There’s things that you have to do to stay up that long,” he later acknowledged) that would see him enter a “hallucinogenic state” in which he envisioned “this bizarre nihilistic fantasy world of oncoming doom, mythological characters and imminent totalitarianism”, he reported seeing a body fall past his apartment window, so had taken to living with the blinds drawn, lighting black candles and scrawling chalk symbols around the place, in the hopes of warding off evil spirits.

As sessions for “Station To Station” unfolded, however, it became clear that Bowie was pursuing an entirely different vision, and was spending more time than ever in the studio trying to capture it.

But in the studio, Bowie was grounded by a band that was perhaps the best he ever assembled: Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick on guitars, Roy Bittan of E Street Band fame on piano, plus long time rhythm section Dennis Davis on drums and George Murray on bass. Earl Slick was key, with Bowie later saying to Kurt Loder as part of the Sound + Vision boxed set, “I got some quite extraordinary things out of Earl Slick. I think it captured his imagination to make noises on guitar, and textures, rather than playing the right notes.”

More recently, Slick said, “It was a very important record artistically because it was the first time somebody took pop songs and twisted the hell out of them but didn’t lose the essence of the song. The only person who was really doing ‘out there’ shit at the time was Zappa, and that was wonderful but it was Zappa. This wasn’t avant-garde, this was pop stuff and nobody had approached a record like that.”

You’ve got play around with it or it gets to be a dreadful bore.” Pulling apart the notions of conventional song writing, Bowie would bring formative ideas to the core group of Alomar, Murray and Davis in the studio, fashioning finished wholes out of an array of takes that turned these fragments inside out. “He had one or two songs written, but they were changed so drastically that you wouldn’t know them from the first time anyway,”

Bowie would later claim Station To Station was so “devoid of spirit” that “even the love songs are detached”, it contains two remarkable outpourings of emotion that are almost painful in their defencelessness. A “hymn” which Bowie also felt “sure… was a call for help”, Word On A Wing was written during The Man Who Fell To Earth shoot, and finds Bowie plainly seeking spiritual salvation amid “the darkest days of my life”. “It was the first time I’d seriously thought about Christ and God in any depth,” he revealed to the NME, adding that it “was a protection. The passion on the song is genuine.” Closing the album, Wild Is The Wind – a cover of a 50s film tune which Bowie had discovered through Nina Simone’s 1966 recording – was similarly yearning. With a vocal nailed in one take, it marked yet another progression for Bowie, in terms of his abilities as a singer. Having long admired Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, Wild Is The Wind proved he had the range and nuance to take his place alongside them as one of the all-time great vocalists.

Dramatically entering the song “throwing darts in lovers’ eyes”, the Duke, with his haughty demeanour, slicked-back auburn hair and monochrome clothing – white shirt, black slacks and waistcoat – was, in Bowie’s estimation, a “nasty character, indeed”. But he also pointed the way to his creator’s eventual rescue from LA. Acknowledging the new musical influences Bowie was gravitating towards, the Duke, Bowie never went back to either the Thin White Duke or that sound again. No one did. Maybe it was the product of so many destructive forces that he couldn’t revisit. As for the rest, it’s just too perfect and fully realized for anyone else to dare pick up.

In the case of Bowie’s relocation to Europe, one of those moves would be literal, and would find him laying the blueprint for the future of music, starting with the first album in his “Berlin Trilogy”, 1977’s Low. However, a deep psychological change had also taken place. Two decades after Station To Station’s release, Bowie reflected on how he had been “lucky enough to know somewhere within me that I was really killing myself, and that I had to do something drastic to pull myself out of that”.

david-bowie-station-to-station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

words by Erik Flanagan

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The Summer Tour of ’81 was a U.S. victory lap that marked Springsteen’s triumphant return from Europe. It began with the christening of the brand new Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, NJ. Recorded July 9th, Brendan Byrne 1981 was the final show of the six-night stand and catches Bruce and the E.Street band at a River Tour performance peak. The set list mixes riveting new songs and a summer Shore party including “Follow That Dream,” “Trapped,” “Johnny Bye Bye,” “The Ties That Bind,” “Sherry Darling” “Jersey Girl” the “Detroit Medley” featuring “Shake” and “Sock It To Me, Baby,” plus a guest appearance by Gary U.S. Bonds for the songs “This Little Girl” and “Jolé Blon.”

Imagine what it must have been like in New Jersey when it was announced that Bruce and the E Street Band would christen the newly constructed Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford with a six-show stand to kick off their post-Europe victory lap.

Though only 32 dates in total, the Summer ’81 tour is one of the most celebrated in Springsteen’s long performance history. The epic-length sets of the previous winter had tightened up, giving the shows a sharper focus. The summer run also came after Springsteen’s first extended tour of Europe, an inflection point in his musical development that, with the introduction of three vital new songs to the set, brought with it the first indications of where his music might be going.

East Rutherford 7/9/81 is the final night of the Brendan Byrne run and a moment of culmination for Springsteen and the E Street Band. Their confidence and a new sense of purpose developed on the stages and streets of Europe drives this outstanding performance, and the audience is there to meet them. Even when Bruce assays new songs, the crowd sounds fully on board. Listen to the sympathetic clapping they add to “Follow That Dream”; the live archive version from London a month earlier has no audience participation at all.

The 7/9/81 show wastes no time getting to the meat of the matter, opening with “Thunder Road” into “Prove It All Night” and “The Ties That Bind.” Playing his sixth show in nine nights, Bruce’s voice needs a little warming up at the start, but his passion is already dialed in at 10. By “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Bruce and the band lock into gold medal form, and the song spotlights Stevie Van Zandt’s critical vocal contributions in this era.

“Follow That Dream” is the first of the new songs, all three of which blur the line between cover song reinterpretations and originals. The Elvis Presley reinvention retains its stark, meditative arrangement debuted in Europe and closes on one of the most disquieting, chilling notes in the Springsteen catalouge.

“Follow That Dream” has an especially curious place in the canon in that it feels like an extremely significant song in Bruce’s evolution as a songwriter, despite having never had an official studio release (it was recorded for Born in the U.S.A. in 1983). It’s only been performed 15 times since the Bridge School Benefit in 1986, but it shows up in every decade, as recently as Australia 2017, the last E Street Tour to date. Is there a more meaningful unreleased song?

Carrying on, “Independence Day” revisits Springsteen’s father-son narrative, but this time with a new chapter recognizing the need to say the things that need to be said, now, while there’s still time.  “Who’ll Stop the Rain” has never sounded bigger or bolder than this terrific rendition, and Jon Altschiller’s mix offers incredible instrument separation. The acoustic and electric guitar interplay is marvelous — and listen for the electric to kick in again, quite thrillingly, five seconds into “Two Hearts.” What a great version. The same can be said for “The Promised Land,” as heightened vocal phrasing brings the song to another level.

There’s an intriguing break in the mood as Bruce begins the harmonica intro to “This Land Is Your Land” only to be interrupted by the explosion of a firecracker (heard clearly in the right channel). Condemnation is immediate. “Whoever just threw that firecracker, you can do me a big fucking favor and don’t do it,” he says with total convinction. “Whoever you are, you are no friend of mine. This is a song about that respect; it’s about having respect for yourself, for the land that you live in.” Pure conviction powers Springsteen through the daunting take of “The River” that comes next as he attempts to reset following the firecracker, leading to one of the highlights of the night — if not the whole of the 1981 tour.

Word of this incredible new song “Trapped” . I had to hear it. Through the magic of mail order, I bought a bootleg LP called Prisoner of Rock and Roll that included “Trapped,” and I was gobsmacked. The simple start, the build, the intensity, the crescendo, then again and AGAIN, with the final release coming as Springsteen shouts “I’m Trapped” and the last note sustains. Mesmerizing and unlike any Springsteen song that had come before it.

“Trapped” is a cover (originally recorded by Jimmy Cliff), not an original. Cliff’s lyrics are basically intact, and fundamental melodic elements are there, too. But how Springsteen listened to this and developed the arrangement he performs in New Jersey is the alchemy of a musical genius. Hearing the song in this context—following the firecracker incident, “This Land Is Your Land” and a tentative “The River”—“Trapped” offers unmistakable catharsis.

Set one wraps with a high energy “Out in the Street” and full-tilt “Badlands,” rich with Van Zandt vocal accents, Roy Bittan piano, and plenty of Max Weinberg propulsion.

East Rutherford 7/9/81 is marked by its new songs, but it was also a summer Shore party as the second set makes clear. The festivities begin with “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch),” replete with some interesting lyrical additions where our protagonist is “going downtown, gonna buy a gun.” Love the guitar mix on this one.

From there, bang bang into “Cadillac Ranch,” Bruce’s ultimate party song “Sherry Darling,” and “Hungry Heart” (with the audience taking the first verse capably) before we’re treated to a guest appearance. Gary U.S. Bonds, whose Springsteen-Van Zandt-produced album Dedication was released that April, duets with Bruce on the traditional “Jolé Blon” (which Springsteen introduced to his own sets in the UK), and Bonds takes the lead vocal on his hit single, the Springsteen original “This Little Girl.”

The third and final new song of the show, “Johnny Bye Bye” follows. Bruce offers a eulogistic rumination on Elvis Presley to introduce the song, which, like “Follow That Dream,” draws potency from its spare arrangement. It is a compassionate farewell to The King. Paired together, “Racing in the Street” extends the elegiac sentiment in a resplendent reading led by Bittan on piano.

Time to party. “Ramrod” low rides into an extra playful “Rosalita,” as Clarence Clemons set the scene with the opening lines from Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee”: “The night was clear, and the moon was yellow. And the leaves came tumblinggggggggg.” Band intros are on point, accented by tasty Stevie guitar licks throughout and concluding, of course, with The Big Man himself, who Bruce posits could be the next Governor of New Jersey. “Sounds like a good idea. Clarence Clemons Arena, I like that,” he says, referencing the new arena named for Governor Byrne. All of which leads to “Spotlight on the Big Man” and its brief vamp on “Sweet Soul Music.”

For the encore, the most Bruce Springsteen song Bruce didn’t write, “Jersey Girl.” This performance of the Tom Waits classic is the one that would be officially released as the b-side to “Cover Me” three years later, but I don’t recall that mix bringing Van Zandt’s guitar so charmingly to the fore. A superb “Jungleland” accompanies, with sublime soloing from Stevie and Clarence, along with a pacey “Born to Run” with Bruce soaring for “girl I’m just a scared and lonely rider.”

The New Jersey homecoming wraps with an extended “Detroit Medley” which takes several exciting detours as it careens along the turnpike. The first is “I Hear a Train,” then a rare romp through Mitch Ryder’s “Sock It To Me, Baby!” (written by Bob Crewe and Russell Brown), another scoop of Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” and finally a generous slice of Sam Cooke’s “Shake” in what might constitute the best “Detroit Medley” ever.

The phrase “giving the people their money’s worth” would be an apt description for the final night at Brendan Byrne Arena 39 years ago. Now, it is time to return the favor. All net proceeds from the sale of the East Rutherford 7/9/81 will be donated to the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.  Words Erik Flanagan.

Setlist:

Thunder Road, Prove It All Night, The Ties That Bind, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Follow That Dream, Independence Day, Who’ll Stop The Rain?, Two Hearts, The Promised Land, This Land is Your Land, The River, Trapped, Out in the Street, Badlands, You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch), Cadillac Ranch, Sherry Darling, Hungry Heart, Jolé Blon, This Little Girl, Johnny Bye-Bye,
Racing in the Street, Ramrod, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Jersey Girl, Jungleland, Born to Run, Detroit Medley,

The Band:

  • Bruce Springsteen – Lead vocal, guitar, harmonica; Roy Bittan – Piano, synthesizer; Clarence Clemons – Tenor and baritone saxophones, percussion, backing vocal; Danny Federici – Organ, glockenspiel; Garry Tallent – Bass; Stevie Van Zandt – Electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocal; Max Weinberg – Drums
  • Additional Musicians: Gary U.S. Bonds co-lead vocal on “Jolé Blon,” lead vocal on “This Little Girl”

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

ORDER NOW: 12/29/80 - NASSAU COLISEUM

December 29th, 1980 Night two of the legendary three-show stand at Nassau Coliseum 1980 is a barnstormer. It features the tour premiere of “Night” as the opener and, in its lone River tour performance, an extraordinary “Incident On 57th Street” into “Rosalita” to close the set. Spanning 35 songs, Nassau  29th beautifully blends deep River cuts (“Stolen Car,” “Wreck on the Highway,” “Point Blank”), seasonal nuggets (“Merry Christmas Baby” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and fan favorites (“Fire,” “Because the Night”).

One of the most thrilling times to be a sports fan is when your team is in the midst of a winning streak. They occur in all sports, but in baseball and especially basketball, winning streaks are irresistible because of the unique way they place team chemistry, a “never give up” mentality, and moments of individual brilliance against a backdrop of ever-rising stakes. Who doesn’t want to tune in to see if your team can push their streak to 17, 21, or 33 in a row?

It could be argued that the entire live performance history of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is one long winning streak. That acknowledged, and with the benefit of hindsight and live recordings, fan consensus has coalesced around notable E Street streaks: the last two weeks of the 1977 tour with the Miami Horns; the late-’84 stretch of the Born in the U.S.A. tour.; and the final U.S. leg of Magic 2008 to name but a few.

The River tour boasts a few of its own streaks, and without question, Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve 1980 is among the best of them. A staggering run of shows throughout the Northeast culminated in a three-night stand at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. With his first chart-topping album and a Top Five single (“Hungry Heart”) in hand, Bruce and the band closed out 1980 more popular than ever.

Shows that wrapped that leg of the tour offered an intoxicating mix of musician-athletes performing at their peak, newfound confidence drawn from a long-awaited commercial breakthrough, and a continued hunger to prove it all night.

Supporting a double album of new material, that hunger was manifest in the increasing duration of the concerts and the stunning number of songs performed. In fact, until records were broken in 2012, the late-’80 River shows were the longest of Bruce’s career. Other shows and tours have their own distinct qualities, but if you are talking about a run of epic Springsteen concerts, the Thanksgiving-New Year’s ’80 streak is the reference point.

Nassau Coliseum 29/ 12/80 and its sister show 31/12/80 (reissued in a newly remixed and remastered edition) each stretch to 35 or more songs and live up to the legend of Bruce’s four-hour concerts by running close to that (counting the between-sets intermission). There may be other eras where the band played this well, but there is no period where they played better.

Both stunning performances are packed with delicious rarities along with some of the strongest versions of core material ever caught on multi-tracks. With a bounty of more than 70 songs between the two shows, there’s too much good stuff to cover, but here are ten things to listen for as you relive these magical nights.

1.Springsteen debuted his brilliant take on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain” three shows earlier at Madison Square Garden. It has endured as one of the band’s finest covers, popping up a few times on tours ever since. The versions performed on 29/12 and 31/12 are musically rich and heartfelt, pointing to the musical direction Bruce would explore six months hence on the band’s first proper tour of Europe.

2. Having just read Joe Klein’s biography of Woody Guthrie, Bruce covers “This Land Is Your Land” for the first time during the three-show Nassau stand, calling it an “angry song…an answer to Irving Berlin’s ‘God Bless America’.” With the possible exception of a one-off performance of Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” in 1978, it is the first protest song Springsteen performed in concert with the E Street Band and signals the start of his public turn toward social and political commentary.

3. The paternal pairing of “Factory” and “Independence Day” on 29/12 is not only an evocative stretch of storytelling, but could pass for a dramatic monologue at a Broadway theater.

4. One of the signature sequences of early River tour shows is Roy Bittan’s mini-suite of “The River” into “Badlands.” 1980 performances of “The River” start with an original piano prelude (echoed by Danny Federici) before Bruce’s plaintive harmonica wail starts the song formally. Shortly after “The River” ends, Bittan starts into his interpretation of Ennio Morricone’s theme from the Sergio Leone filmOnce Upon A Time In The West. As Bittan plays the moving piano refrain, electric guitar chords start to chime in, building energy that crescendos when the intro gives way to an explosive “Badlands.” Magnificent.

5. The River tour is the height of Stevie Van Zandt’s role as backing vocalist, at times reaching the point of co-lead vocals. He’s a marvel at these shows on expected songs like “Two Hearts” and “Prove It All Night,” but listen for him in more unexpected places like the chorus of “Thunder Road” for signs of just how into it he is at Nassau.

6. Bruce’s spirited vocal on “For You” is full of fresh intonations distinct from other renditions.

7. The earnest story that leads into “Stolen Car” on 12/29 might melt your heart; the moving performance itself will have you reaching for a tissue or three.

8. The gorgeous, stripped-down arrangement of “The Price You Pay” on 31/12 starts solo. The band joins softly in the second verse, and we’re treated to the alternate third verse found in the single-disc version of The River included in The Ties That Bind box set. As good as it gets.

9. While we’ve heard the incredible version of “Incident on 57th Street” from 29/12 before (it was released as the b-side to “War” from Live 1975/85), hearing it in context of the show is so much sweeter. “This is a song we haven’t done in a real long time,” says Bruce, as he tests out the chords on his guitar. “No, it ain’t ‘Kitty’s Back.’ I hope I remember all the words….” Roy tinkles out the first few notes, the crowd swoons in recognition of the song, Max comes with his drum intro, and the lead guitar sends us soaring. If that wasn’t enough, after nearly ten majestic minutes, it rolls straight into “Rosalita” as it does on The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle.

10. You want rarities? We got rarities. Beyond the aforementioned, the Nassau shows feature “Rendezvous,” the first-ever version of the “Hungry Heart” b-side “Held Up Without a Gun,” sublime seasonal nuggets “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” plus Happy New Year covers of “In the Midnight Hour” and “Auld Lang Syne.” All that, plus 15 of the 20 songs on The River, including the under-played “Fade Away,” “Wreck on the Highway” and “The Price You Pay.”

A Final Note: Jon Altschiller’s new mix and mastering on 31/12/80 moves the listener from the 40th row to the first, proximity that reveals incredible new detail and musical power.

After electing to Plangent Process 29/12/80 for release, it was clear that 31/12/80 also deserved a Plangent-transferred new mix and mastering to match, as the version released in 2015 was not up to the same standards.
While the Plangent Processed and remixed version of 31/12/80 is being sold as a standalone release, anyone who bought the original can access the new upgraded audio for free via the “My Stash” section of the nugs.net app, which provides streaming access to all shows purchased as downloads or CDs (no subscription required). Previous buyers of New Years Eve ’80 can log in with the account credentials they used to buy the show the first time.

ORDER NOW: 12/31/80 - NASSAU COLISEUM

December 31st, 1980 For the first time, multi-track master tapes of the classic New Year’s Eve 1980 show have been transferred via Plangent Processes and newly remixed by Jon Altschiller for superior sound. This upgraded edition breathes fresh life into a jaw-dropping 38-song performance which is packed with highlights, including “Spirit in the Night,” “Rendezvous,” “Fade Away,” “The Price You Pay,” “Held Up Without a Gun,” “In The Midnight Hour,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “Twist and Shout” and “Raise Your Hand.” The all-time fan favorite has never sounded better.

The Band:

  • Bruce Springsteen – Lead vocal, guitar, harmonica; Roy Bittan – Piano, keyboards; Clarence Clemons – Tenor and baritone saxophones, percussion, backing vocal; Danny Federici – Organ, glockenspiel, accordion; Garry Tallent – Bass; Stevie Van Zandt – Electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocal; Max Weinberg – Drums

Bruce Springsteen  took the stage at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey 40 years ago as a man on a mission to prove that he wasn’t a flash in the pan who could be washed up at just 28. that night he delivered to the 3,200 fans in attendance not merely a great show but the concert that many consider the single-best performance of his career, one captured for posterity on a WNEW-FM simulcast broadcast throughout the East Coast and recorded with then state-of-the-art video technology at the venue itself.

“I’d just recently vanished for three years,” Springsteen wrote in his autobiography, Born to Run. A dispute with his manager had delayed the release of his follow up to the Born to Run album for nearly three years, an impossibly long time in the industry at the time. “[I] had barely felt visible most of my life, and if I could help it, I wasn’t going back.”

Richard Neer was simulcasting the show that night and realized from the start that something was different. “Usually Bruce would say something before the show for the simulcast in a joking way like he was a boxer ready to take the ring.” But there was no mock Muhammad Ali on this night.

Bruce didn’t say anything that night,” remembers Neer, He was so amped up, “He just couldn’t wait to get out there. Bruce has done so many shows and many argue which one was the best one. But this one had a lot of energy. It meant a lot for him and the band to be in New Jersey. It seems ridiculous now, but then he really had to prove he wasn’t a one-album guy.” While many shows on this tour opened with a cover, Springsteen decided to begin this night with a version of “Badlands” delivered with such fiery passion that it’s hard to believe there was anywhere left to go for the remaining three-plus hours.

Springsteen shows are communal events. And the birth of that really began on this tour. His fans by then had absorbed his recordings to the point where they could participate in the show in some odd dichotomy of both choreography and spontaneity. The audience never really knew how far and exactly when Springsteen would let them venture into the show—or how far he literally would venture into the crowd. On this night, it was farther than ever before, this was after Clarence Clemens took the saxophone solo into the crowd as well in “Spirit In The Night.”

Springsteen’s story telling, now honed to the point where he can carry a Broadway show not merely with his music but his words, is in fine form in “Thunder Road,” as well as his politics and his humanity. The power of the introduction moves the crowd to a spiritual connection rarely seen in rock and roll. Suddenly, he has more than 3,000 backup singers. There’s one big stage at a Springsteen concert, especially in that period, and the audience was on it. And that would become a defining characteristic of the Springsteen concert experience.

This tour featured for the first time the two-set Bruce concert experience. The show was broken up this way, Springsteen says, so he could give the audience the new material from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album that he felt they needed to hear, along with the then more established music that they wanted to hear.

“The live power, the strength of the of the E Street Band proved invaluable and, night after night, we sent our listeners away, back too the recorded versions of this music, newly able to hear their beauty and restrained power,” Springsteen wrote.

The “Darkness” material was so powerful live that this bifurcation soon became unnecessary. And songs from Darkness also bled into the second set. They were received with enthusiasm rarely seen at shows featuring new material. “Candy’s Room” here is the best example of this, about two hours into the show. Bruce’s restraint as he holds the artillery that he and the audience knows is coming in full fury is thrilling.

But Springsteen doesn’t want you to feel just something at a concert. He wants you to feel everything. The entire range of human emotion condensed into one, unforgettable night. And his commitment every night to delivering this has never been better chronicled.

“I want an extreme experience,” he told The New Yorker in 2006. When you leave, he wants, “your hands hurting, your feet hurting, your back hurting, your voice sore, and your sexual organs stimulated!”

“10th Avenue Freeze Out” is three hours into the show, with Bruce drenched despite playing on what Neer said was a very cold September night. But his enjoyment is palpable and infectious.

“For an adult, the world is constantly trying to clamp down on itself,” Springsteen said in that 2006 interview. “Routine, responsibility, decay of institutions, corruption: this is all the world closing in. Music, when it’s really great, pries that shit back open and lets people back in, it lets light in, and air in, and energy in, and sends people home with that and sends me back to the hotel with it. People carry that with them sometimes for a very long period of time.”

There’s no letup, with the show closer featuring fans on the stage as Bruce triumphantly exiting with a woman from the crowd strapped to his arm.

Could it really be that Springsteen’s greatest concert ever was in a former porn palace in Passaic, N.J., a site that became a venue only to fill the area void created by he closing the Fillmore East? (The Capitol declined after a Sgt. Pepper year in 1978 featuring not just Springsteen but also The Rolling Stones and The Who; it eventually closed when the then Brendan Byrne Arena was opened a few miles away in East Rutherford, ironically by Springsteen before the paint was even dry.)

Part of this show’s legacy was that it was recorded in radio quality and went on to become one of the most bootlegged concerts in history. Not to mention the video. Here it’s listed in the top spot on a very well-thought-out list of Springsteen performances. And note the live recording released by Springsteen last year was of the show at the venue the next night, featuring a revamped set list (another Springsteen innovation to keep the crowd even more on edge). Of course, the top Springsteen performance ever is no doubt a very strong contender for the best rock concert in history, too. All in an obscure New Jersey town, with Springsteen spurred on by fear of irrelevance and a desire to live out one of his iconic songs.

“Everybody’s got a hunger, a hunger they can’t resist
There’s so much that you want, you deserve much more than this
But if dreams came true, oh, wouldn’t that be nice
But this ain’t no dream we’re living through tonight
Girl, you want it, you take it, you pay the price”

Prove It all Night with the classic, searing, intense guitar work that was the hallmark of the ’78 Darkness Tour. From the 19th September, 1978 Passaic show. Play this LOUD.

Radio broadcast, soundboard tapes (all three nights in Passaic were recorded by the Record Plant’s mobile unit, both on multi-track and live-to-two track) and professionally shot in-house black and white video. Probably one of the best all-time concert recordings. Broadcast on WNEW-FM New York and nine other stations in the north-east, including WBCN-FM and WCOZ-FM Boston, WIOQ-FM Philadelphia and WIYY-FM Baltimore. Set includes great versions of “Because The Night” and “Fire,” and also includes what many consider to be the finest examples of “Racing In The Street” and “Thunder Road” ever. ”