Posts Tagged ‘Tunnel of Love Express Tour’

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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

Madison Square Garden 19'88

The final U.S. stop on the Tunnel of Love tour is a powerful showcase for the album along with rare Springsteen originals and covers. Bolstering core Tunnel tracks are non-album gems “Be True,” “Seeds,” “Part Man, Part Monkey” and “Light of Day,” while Bruce taps his R&B, rock, blues and folk roots for covers of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” The Sonics’ “Have Love, Will Travel,” Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops” and even a couple verses of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild.” Plus, a soundcheck bonus track cover of Ed Townsend’s “For Your Love

Thirty years after it rolled across America and Europe, we continue to view the Tunnel of Love Express Tour as a career inflection point, a period marked by heart-heavy shifts in Springsteen’s life even as the concerts were taking place. Professionally, key relationships were evolving, too, as it is well established that the decision to tour with the E Street Band in support of what was really a solo album was not a foregone conclusion.

Even as Bruce and the band took to the road in February ’88, conscious decisions were made to alter established E Street archetypes. Band members switched their usual spots on stage, swapping sides to presumably shake things up. There was a subtle yet telling change to the billing, too, as the long-standing “Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band” moniker was altered to “Bruce Springsteen featuring the E Street Band.” The core setlist for the tour served as another point of departure from the familiar (more on that to come).

Why making those moves seemed so meaningful at the time we can only infer, but Springsteen’s desire to do things differently was undeniable.

Today, the personal and professional changes surrounding Springsteen at the time (and what was to follow on both fronts) are inextricably tied to the Tunnel era and remain something of a filter through which we view the tour. Less considered is what powerful fuel both provided to 1988 performances.

Whatever switching stage positions or altering the billing effected, make no mistake: this was a full E Street Band outing, and the E Street Band has never played with more self-assurance than they do on the Tunnel of Love tour. The addition of the horn section only boosted the horsepower of their already mighty engine.

While one cannot presume to know what Springsteen was going through that year, an armchair psychologist might suggest that however traumatic and draining such a period of emotional upheaval may be, it can also trigger a profound recognition of what it means to feel alive. As you listen to Madison Square Garden 1988, there is a strong sense of a performer truly living in the moment. Pair that with a band playing at its peak and an ambitious setlist, and you have the stuff of the extraordinary.

How in the moment? Listen to Springsteen’s vocals on the final verse and chorus of “Boom Boom,” which careen between shrieking falsetto and full-throated bluesman. His scintillating guitar solo starting at 5:02 of “Born in the U.S.A.” and carrying on for well over a minute soars with the clarion ring of pure emotional catharsis. On the Darkness and River tours, Bruce laid it all on the line every night to convert the masses. At MSG ‘88, the motivation feels far more personal. Just maybe, performing itself is what provides a path through what he calls later in the show, “the goddamn darkness.”

And then there’s that incredible setlist. The Tunnel tour is notable for featuring so many non-album tracks and cover songs. MSG boasts five Springsteen originals not featured on a studio album: “Be True” (the River b-side, also released on Tracks), “Seeds” (a Born in the U.S.A. outtake, officially released in a live version on Live/1975-85), “Part Man, Part Monkey” (a Tunnel outtake, re-recorded during Human Touch and released as a b-side in 1992 and on Tracks in 1998), “Light of Day” (covered by Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox in Paul Schrader’s film of the same name, but never released in studio form by Bruce himself) and “I’m a Coward.” Some may consider “I’m a Coward” a cover, and while it was clearly inspired by Geno Washington’s “Geno Is A Coward” (penned by Ronald Davis), Springsteen’s song bears little musical resemblance to the original and shares only a couple of lyrics (perhaps making it more akin to “Johnny Bye-Bye”). There are no known studio recordings of the song; “I’m a Coward” only exists in its Tunnel tour performances.

All five songs are in the baseline Tunnel setlist, which by Springsteen standards was relatively rigid, especially for the first couple of months of the tour. Things started to loosen up around the time of the five-night LA stand (from which the April 23, 1988 performance was previously released as part of the live download series). As the tour worked its way north up the coast and across the country on its last leg, a few new additions (notably “Have Love, Will Travel” and “Boom Boom”) stuck.

The setlist for the final U.S. show at Madison Square Garden strikes an enthralling balance between core Tunnel tour material, recent adds, and a couple of specials just for the Big Apple. In contrast to opening night of the tour in Worcester in February, there are 13 variations between the two shows.

To those five originals, MSG ‘88 adds seven cover songs: John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” The Sonics’ “Have Love, Will Travel,” Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” Eddie Floyd’s “Raise Your Hand,” and Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops.” Throw in two full verses and the chorus to Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” inside of “Light of Day,” and the count pushes to eight.

On top of that, Tunnel arrangements of “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” and “Born to Run” are completely reimagined. “You Can Look” is performed in a rockabilly style similar to its earliest incarnation during the River sessions, while “Born to Run” is played solo acoustic, an affecting arrangement that survived all the way to Bruce on Broadway.

All told, nearly half the Tunnel setlist sits outside the core canon while also boldly eschewing such staples as “Badlands,” “Thunder Road” and “The Promised Land.” In fact, the only song that was a Tunnel tour regular from the stalwart Darkness on the Edge of Town is the pulsing, horn-driven version of “Adam Raised a Cain.” 1988 setlists were truly out of the ordinary, no more so than this night.

Madison Square Garden 1988 also features the first bonus track in the download series with the inclusion of “For Your Love,” recorded during the 5/23 soundcheck. The song was a modest hit for Ed Townsend in 1958. Springsteen’s interpretation moves the tune from earnest R&B ballad territory to something closer to light reggae. While that might seem like a stretch, on the Jersey Shore club scene just a year earlier, Springsteen sat in three times with reggae act Jah Love, and a bit of that vibe comes through here (and for that matter, in “Part Man, Part Monkey”).

“For Your Love,” like so many of the cover songs surveyed during the Tunnel tour, appears to be born from the kinship between Springsteen and the horn section. Led by Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg, the five-piece Horns of Love brought a shared musical knowledge that made them utterly simpatico with Bruce’s fondness for lost pop treasures. Even as early tour setlists went mostly unchanged, tour soundchecks often featured wide-ranging covers, and eventually some of the songs they were playing for themselves found their way into the set proper.

The Horns of Love are essential to covers like the barnstorming “Boom Boom” and the Northwest garage-rock nugget “Have Love, Will Travel,” but equally so to the unique Tunnel arrangements of songs like “Cover Me” (powerfully tagged with a few lines from the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”), the pile-driving “Spare Parts,” and, most strikingly, the aforementioned “Adam Raised a Cain.” “Adam” had gone un-played since the Darkness tour before being vivified in its 1988 edition. As impressive as the song was every night of the tour, the tag of Muddy Waters’ “I’m a Man” here adds even more declarative grit.

The sonic signature of the Tunnel tour is distinct, too, and Jon Altschiller’s mix accurately pushes Bruce’s and Nils’ guitars forward in the overall wall of sound. But the heart and soul of this Express are the horn section and Clarence Clemons, who together add exceptional texture, punch, and irresistible melodic runs all night long. The Big Man is on his game, and his showcase work on “Be True” remains a tour highlight, reigniting one of Springsteen’s finest b-sides. His hype-man vocal responses during Bruce’s evangelical intro to “I’m a Coward” are another slice of pure joy in MSG ‘88.

Let’s also credit the E Street Band for their sympathetic backing on Tunnel of Love tracks, some of which stand along Springsteen’s best songwriting ever. They may have begun as solo creations, but the live versions of “Two Faces,” “Brilliant Disguise,” “One Step Up” and “Tougher Than the Rest” are splendid, and in some ways more fully realized than their studio counterparts. Kudos, too, for the band’s ability to switch gears seamlessly, tackling Guthrie’s bluesy “Vigilante Man” (featuring Nils Lofgren on pedal steel guitar), Steppenwolf’s hard-rocking “Born to Be Wild,” and Jackie Wilson’s soulful “Lonely Teardrops” with equal flair. Special shout-out to Roy Bittan as well for his captivating piano introduction to “Spare Parts.”

The show goes into celebration mode after “Born to Run,” and even Jon Landau gets in on the fun, joining the band on guitar for the rest of the uplifting encore. The concert ends with “Lonely Teardrops,” one of only three performances ever. It’s a song about yearning and a fitting end to a performance that is equal parts heart-wrenching and exhilarating, two attributes befitting a ride through the Tunnel of Love.