By Erik Flannigan
Like all great live performers in rock history, Bruce Springsteen has been heavily bootlegged on vinyl and CD, and the five live radio broadcasts from the Darkness tour were manna for home tapers and bootleggers alike. Bruce acknowledged as much himself during the July 7, 1978 Roxy broadcast in Los Angeles (the city at the epicenter of the bootleg business) when he declared: “Bootleggers out there in radioland, roll your tapes!”
Those legendary transmissions began to appear on illicit wax the following year, 1979. Live in the Promised Land (Winterland, San Francisco, December 15, 1978) was first, followed by Piece De Resistance, which pressed the Passaic 9/19/78 radio broadcast to six hot sides of vinyl in a box set. Bootleg historians say Piece De Resistance is almost certainly the best-selling Springsteen title of all time, which makes sense given that the show aired in his biggest East Coast markets.
When Live/1975-85 was announced in 1986, many presumed the legendary Passaic broadcast would provide the bulk of the Darkness tour material, but in fact, nothing from the show made the box set. The Roxy and Winterland 12/16/78 proved to be the sources for all 1978 tracks featured on Live/1975-85.
The wait is finally over. Passaic 9/19/78 arrives in its glorious entirety, newly remixed by Jon Altschiler from multi-track, Plangent Processed master tapes. It offers a fresh take on the familiar broadcast version, crackling with energy and putting Bruce and the band so close you might reach out and try to touch the Big Man’s sax. It’s not a first-row seat; it is a first-row seat directly in front of the PA speakers.
Bruce is introduced with an exclamation: “The Boss comes home!” Indeed, this was a homecoming. The three Passaic dates were Springsteen’s first proper concerts in New Jersey since 1976, and the culmination of a NY-NJ Metroplex residency that included a trio of gigs at Madison Square Garden in August (his first-ever headlining the legendary arena) and three shows at the Palladium in the city just prior to Passaic. Following that introduction, it was off to the races.
“Badlands” bursts out of the gate, with more meaty guitars in the mix than we’ve heard before and Max’s drum rolls and trills snapping like someone lit a firecracker strip. Longtime fans will have heard the start of this show hundreds or maybe thousands of times before, but that familiarity coupled with the freshness of the mix makes for a thrilling listening experience. The sense of release “Badlands” delivers has never felt more tangible.
The first set features exemplary versions of core Darkness tracks “Streets of Fire,” “The Promised Land,” “Prove It All Night” with its tension-building instrumental intro, “Racing in the Street,” and the title track. We also get a preview of where Bruce is going next through “Independence Day,” played for only the fourth time in a still-evolving arrangement. The song was recorded for Darkness, and Bruce mentions it should end up on the next album. Another future River track, “Point Blank,” makes a spellbinding appearance in set two.
Along with “Fire” and “Because the Night,” Passaic 9/19/78 features four Springsteen originals that were not released at the time. While we have come to take the live performance history of these songs for granted, Bruce is virtually alone in featuring so much unreleased music in his sets, and the inclusion of songs you can only hear at the shows was part of the magic that defined the live Springsteen legend.
The first set ends with a special and apropos “Meeting Across the River.” It is the live version I’ve heard the most and my all-time favorite performance of the song, sounding moody and marvelous as Bruce spins the tale accompanied by Roy Bittan and Garry Tallent. “Meeting” into “Jungleland” (as they are sequenced on Born to Run) to close the first set is the coup de grâce for 80 minutes of sheer perfection.
Bruce begins the second set with “one for all the folks in Philadelphia listening in,” “Kitty’s Back.” The resplendent E Street showcase cooks for 13 minutes and has not sounded this crystal clear since Sally left the alley. The same can be said for a stunning “Candy’s Room,” as Steve’s backing vocals soar — you can even pick out Clarence’s baritone voice in the left channel as Bruce sings “what…she…wants…is…me.”
Riches abound as we move through “Because the Night,” “Point Blank,” a long “Not Fade Away” into “She’s the One,” and a sublime, luscious “Backstreets” before the set closes with a pacey “Rosalita.” The encore slows down to mythologize the Shore with “Sandy,” and the moment when Bruce sings, “the boys from the casino dance with their shirts open,” then asks, “is that you out there?” is a charming reminder that Passaic 9/19/78 is indeed one for the locals.
Incredibly, the encore sustains and at times exceeds the energy level of the main set. “Born to Run” is taken at breathless full speed. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out’ downshifts slightly in tempo, though Bruce remains fully committed to his wide-ranging vocal gymnastics. “Detroit Medley” presents one final opportunity to showcase the band’s chops (tune into the right channel for Stevie Van Zandt’s guitar lick masterclass) in a full-frontal rock ’n’ roll assault.
Because there always has to be one more, a final encore of Eddie Floyd’s soul classic “Raise Your Hand” closes the night, a lyrical reminder that Bruce and the band are there in service of the audience, be they inside the Capitol or listening at home in the markets Springsteen namechecks.
Though he couldn’t have known it at the time, 41 years later, Bruce gives us another chance to experience Passaic in the comfort of our own homes and marvel at the prowess of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band playing their hearts out for longtime fans.