TELL YOUR MAMA

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA, September 27, 1985

By Erik Flannigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Weir and Wolf Bros Tour Recap

Last weekend Bob Weir and Wolf Bros wrapped their second tour together. The legendary Grateful Dead guitarist has been touring with Don Was and Jay Lane since this past fall. For those that have never seen or listened to a Bob Weir and Wolf Bros show, they play a mixture of Grateful Dead classics, Bob Weir solo material, and some awesome covers. These shows are a fantastic listen for Grateful Dead fans new and old. Every show from the tour is now available for download or streaming with a nugs.net subscription. Below we’ve got a recap of some of the best tour highlights:

February 28th: Ithaca, NY – The State Theatre

The trio kicked off their tour in Ithaca, New York by dusting off a pair of rarities. This was the first night Bobby had played “Bombs Away” and “The Winners” in nearly 5 years. The rest of the show was filled with Grateful Dead hits like “Peggy-O”, “Let It Grow”, and “Scarlet Begonias”. There were also a pair of great Bob Dylan covers toward the end of the show with “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”.

March 5th: Detroit, MI – The Fillmore

The next week the band played a special show in Don Was’ hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Playing at The Fillmore on March 5th, the trio were joined by another Detroit native- saxophonist David McMurray. He sat in on five songs throughout the night including “Bird Song”, “Eyes of the World”, and a cover of The Temptations’ “Shakey Ground”.

March 8th: Philadelphia, PA – The Metropolitan Opera House

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead guitarist and vocalist, Tom Hamilton, joined the band in Philly for a rousing Friday night. Hamilton joined the band for 4 songs including a reprise of “Man Smart, Woman Smarter”. The King Radio song made its way into the setlist twice on International Women’s Day. The band opened their second set with the tune and then later brought it back for the reprise with Tom Hamilton toward the end of the show. Our webcast of the set-opening cover is available to watch on YouTube.

March 11th: New York, NY – Blue Note Jazz Club

Arguably the most special night of the tour was the surprise one-night show at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York. The trio announced the show only a day in advance with tickets being distributed via a lottery system. The intimate venue only holds 200 people, notably smaller than the large theaters the band typically plays. To ensure the maximum amount of people got to watch the show, the band rotated audiences between sets. To help out eager fans who weren’t lucky enough to score one of the 400 lotteried tickets, we offered free webcasts of both sets on nugs.tv, YouTube, and Facebook. The setting wasn’t the only unique part of the show- longtime RatDog Saxophonist Kenny Brooks joined the trio for four songs throughout the night. It was a fitting jazz flare for a show at a historic jazz club. You can watch our webcast of the full show right now:

March 13: Red Bank, NJ – Count Basie Theatre

Following the last-minute show in New York, Bob Weir and Wolf Bros made it to New Jersey- and they weren’t done bringing out surprise guests. Sasha Dobson, of Puss N Boots fame, joined the band for the final two songs of the night. Together they performed “Easy Answers” and covered Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. “Knockin” was the second Dylan cover of the show, earlier in the second set the trio performed their version of “All Along the Watchtower”.

March 26th: Miami Beach, FL –  The Fillmore

Phish fans are in for a pleasant surprise when listening to the second set of the band’s stop at the Fillmore in Miami. Page McConnell sat in with the band at the opening of their second set. The quartet performed two Grateful Dead tunes: “Hell in a Bucket” and “Scarlet Begonias”. To close out the show, Bob Weir and Wolf Bros played a “U.S. Blues” encore.

March 30th: North Charleston, SC – North Charleston Performing Arts Center

This band closed out the tour this past weekend in South Carolina with a pair of new debuts. First, the trio played their take on Bob Dylan’s 1965 track “Desolation Row”. At the end of the night, the band played the Grateful Dead hit “Black Muddy River” for the first time as the show’s sole encore. The only Bob Weir solo piece in Saturday night’s show was “Lay My Lily Down”. To close out the first set, the band played the Jerry Garcia classic “Deal”. This was the perfect setlist to close out the run.

NEW RELEASES THIS WEEK

Jerry Garcia Band ‘Electric on the Eel’

Three shows, three years, one special venue- this massive new release is now available to stream and download on nugs.net. The Jerry Garcia Band made three stops at French’s Camp on the Eel River between 1987 and 1991- each of these electric sets is filled with classic Jerry Garcia jams and longtime collaborators. Joined by band members Melvin Seals, John Kahn, David Kemper, Gloria Jones, and Jacklyn LaBranch- these shows will be music to the ears of Grateful Dead fans new and old.

The release is separated into three shows: August 1987, June 1989, and August 1991 which is being hailed as the “jewel of the collection”. Each set includes signature renditions of classics, standards, originals, and some surprises all performed with the soul, passion, and playfulness the band had become known for.

The Electric on the Eel collection and over 150 shows from the Grateful Dead are available right now on nugs.net.

Widespread Panic

Night Three at the Capitol Theatre

For the first time in nearly three decades, Widespread Panic returned to the Capitol Theatre- and they came back with a bang. The setlist from this show is filled with classic jams that are sure to excite longtime fans. Add all three shows from the three night run to your cart and receive a 15% discount!

The Disco Biscuits

March 27th 1999 – Pittsburgh, PA

20 years ago this week, The Disco Biscuits closed out their Winter/Spring 1999 tour with a legendary east coast performance. You’ve got to check out the extended jam on The Dribble. Be on the lookout for more archival releases from The Disco Biscuits soon!

Spafford

March 24th 2019 – San Rafael, CA

Both sets are now available to stream online and in the nugs.net app. During the performance, the band paid tribute to the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One” while playing at the Phil Lesh owned Terrapin Crossroads.