A Meeting In The Town Tonight

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA, October 23, 1999

By Erik Flannigan

Any longtime fan who has seen their fair share of Springsteen shows has at some point played the Time Machine game: If you could go back in time and see any Bruce concert, which would it be? A wish to witness tours and performances well before our time is a charming fantasy. More painful is taking stock of the shows you could have seen but didn’t. Yet another level is more haunting still: concerts you were supposed to attend until life got in the way.

Los Angeles 10/23/99 is my cross to bear. I was living in the Northwest at the time, which the Reunion tour wouldn’t visit until April 2000. That meant my closest chance to see the reconvened E Street Band were shows in Oakland and Los Angeles, the latter a four-night stand. A fortuitously timed work trip allowed me to catch the second night at the newly opened Staples Center on 10/18, and I was holding tickets for the final show on 10/23, for which I would fly back to LA.

On 10/22, the flu hit me hard. After much deliberation and soul searching, I conceded I was just too sick to travel, canceled my trip, and gave away my tickets.

On the morning of 10/24, I got on the Internet to check the setlist of the show the night before and realized what a terrible choice I had made, shouting the following between several choice expletives: “He played ‘Take ‘Em as They Come’?!” “Incident on 57th Street?!” “For You?” “Blinded By the Light?” “The Promise?” “SOLO PIANO?!” Motherclucker!

That nagging regret has not relented to this day, and the release of 10/23/99 confirms it is justified. The final LA ‘99 show is an outstanding Reunion tour performance, from the moment “Reverend” Clarence Clemons implores, “Brothers and Sisters, all rise” to start the show. There’s something special about Reunion sets that open with the “Meeting in the Town Tonight” preamble, and going from that straight into “Take ‘Em as They Come” is irresistible. The River outtake/Tracks highlight is one of those songs I never imagined I would hear in concert back when it was but a hissy song on a cassette I got mail order via a classified ad that ran in the back of a music magazine like Goldmine or Trouser Press.

For me, that’s one of the elements that made the Reunion tour so enthralling. The band was back together for the first time since ‘88, but they were also playing unreleased songs I never dreamed possible in a Springsteen concert. Add to that the return of songs unplayed since the ‘70s and you had the intoxicating belief that any song could find its way into a Reunion tour setlist.

The first half of the set nails the ‘99 blueprint, with the notable inclusions of an excellent “The Ties That Bind” following “Take ‘Em,” a resolute “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and one of the best takes of “Factory” on the tour. It’s fascinating how distinct this “Adam Raised a Cain” is compared to the performance from the Chicago ‘99 archive release recorded less than a month before, putting more muscle into thick guitar where Chi-Town soared on incredible vocal dynamics.

Then there’s the humor. I’m not sure Bruce has ever been more deadpan than delivering jokes expressing his disdain for the corporate branding of LA’s state-of-the-art arena. “Good evening office supply lovers,” he says. “I’ve been searching for Mr. Staples.” On opening night of the run, he called out the building for its triple-decker skyboxes that start where upper bowl of a typical arena would be. “They don’t call ’em middle-of-the-room boxes,” he added, before invoking a line he famously uttered at The Roxy 21 years prior: “I don’t play no private parties anymore.” True to his word, despite Staples Center being the newest and biggest arena in Los Angeles, Bruce has not played another concert there to this day.

Every archive release provides an HD window to hear details otherwise lost on bootleg recordings and 10/23/99 is no exception. Though they are but a few seconds each, I love hearing Danny Federici’s organ swells at the start of “Murder Incorporated” and “Incident on 57th Street.” HD quality also shines a light on Roy Bittan’s lovely playing on the aforementioned “Factory,” not to mention Bruce and Patti’s lilting harmonies that wind down the song.

The back half of 10/23/99 is sensational. By request, we get “Incident on 57th Street.” This Wild & Innocent fan favorite returned to the set in Philadelphia on 9/25/99 for the first time since Nassau ‘80, but its appearance here is arguably even more special. Based on available setlists, Springsteen had never played the song on the west coast, let alone LA, going all the way back to 1974. For all but a lucky few, this was its Pacific Time Zone debut.

“Incident” is followed by an essentially perfect “For You,” which couldn’t be played better in ‘99 (maybe any year) than this. The pacing, the vocal intonation, the band, the spirit, Max’s cymbal work, the Big Man’s sax… all are spot on. A divine performance.

Of all the regrets I have about missing this show, “The Promise” stands as the biggest. The feeling of seeing the band leave stage and Bruce walking back to Roy’s piano by himself had to be an all-time “Holy Shit” moment for many, and I still wish I could be counted among them. Hearing the performance here made me appreciate it all the more, starting slightly tentative on piano then gaining composure. Bruce sings with a touch of weariness, taking time to let his words land and ultimately restoring one of his greatest compositions to the canon. So very special.

Bruce could do no wrong from that point forward, and he didn’t. Like “For You,” we’re gifted a remarkably timeless “Backstreets,” steeped with Bittan’s expressive piano. Setlist normalcy returns for the end of the set and the encore, delivered with high-gear intensity. “Light of Day” is extra fun, with a quick romp through “California Sun” (made famous by The Rivieras) by way of the memorable guitar riff from Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.”

As the last show in LA, 10/23/99 is definitely a “one more song” kind of night. To the delight of every office supply lover in the building, we’re treated to “Blinded By the Light,” in only its second performance since 1976. Though arguably Bruce’s most famous song pre-Born to Run (largely because of the Manfred Mann cover), the song has a spotty performance history even back in the day. Its celebratory, playful appearance seals the night with a fitting E Street kiss goodnight.

The Boss Homes Home

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ, September 19, 1978

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.

The Snake That Came Around and Began To Eat Its Tail

Bruce Springsteen feat. Danny Federici and Nils Lofgren

Bridge School Benefit Concert

Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA, October 13, 1986

By Erik Flannigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Brand New Record, Rosie, Made It All The Way To Number One

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY, December 29 and 31, 1980

By Erik Flannigan

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 12/29/80 and its sister show 12/31/80 (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 12/29 and 12/31 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 12/29 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 film Once 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 12/31 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 12/29 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 12/31/80 moves the listener from the 40th row to the first, proximity that reveals incredible new detail and musical power.

After electing to Plangent Process 12/29/80 for release, it was clear that 12/31/80 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 12/31/80 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.

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.

SONGS OF HOPE AND ETERNAL DAMNATION

Bruce Springsteen
Sovereign Bank Arena, Trenton, NJ, November 22, 2005

By Erik Flannigan

If one were to assign a single attribute to every tour across Bruce Springsteen’s career, audacious would be an apt one for the 2005 Devils & Dust tour.

Over the course of 72 shows, Bruce took the stage alone, surrounded by a phalanx of guitars and keyboards, fearlessly revisiting and reinterpreting every corner of his catalog down to the deepest nook and cranny. Be a song rarely or never played, or often played but never like this, night after night the Devils & Dust tour offered fascinating alternate readings of music we thought we knew inside-out.

Bruce’s new album of the same name, his third solo record, was the jumping off point, full of character-driven stories that fit squarely into what he declares in Trenton are the two types of songs he knows how to write: songs of hope and songs of eternal damnation.

Springsteen had an equally strong body of work in hand for his previous solo tour in support of The Ghost of Tom Joad, but in 1995-97, performing exclusively on guitar and harmonica, he was selective in what complementary tracks were added to the set. In fact, Bruce debuted a number of new original songs in the spirit of Joad over the course of that tour (some, admittedly, more lighthearted than the album, but still akin), while deep cuts were more selective.

The addition of piano and keyboards in 2005 unlocked dozens of other songs for inclusion and opened up tour setlists to remarkable levels. Bruce’s approach suggested the new D&D material connected to everything that came before. In hindsight, there’s a sense of Springsteen on a mission to look back at his songwriting accomplishments and take many of them back out for a ride to see what they would reveal, an early hint perhaps of his budding autobiographical mindset. Without a doubt, the self-effacing candor and humor with which Springsteen addressed audiences on the tour are precursors to the voice he would come to refine for Springsteen on Broadway.

Trenton 2005, the final show of the tour, captures all these aspects of the Devils & Dust journey wonderfully, with a setlist full of bold surprises and striking moments. It begins with Link Wray’s “Rumble,” a tribute to the electric guitar pioneer who helped shape the sound of rock ’n’ roll. On this night, however, acoustic guitar is the stringed instrument of choice, and we get several exceptional performances.

The Rising’s “Empty Sky” gets a strong solo airing, played with thumping purpose and pace. “Saint in the City” is transformed by a radical slide guitar re-arrangement and bullet mic vocals. The song remains one man’s boastful declaration, and there’s still plenty of heat and humidity in the air, but the locale has moved from Shore towns to somewhere along the Mississippi Delta. The result couldn’t feel more different. Bruce is clearly enamored with the approach and walks “Fire” down the same bluesy backporch path, with the bullet microphone giving the song a fitting AM-radio filter.

Reimagination is a touchstone all evening, and the next subject is “All the Way Home.” The solo acoustic rendition on the 2005 tour recalls demos for The River, sharing the spirit of Bruce’s 1979 compositions and the Power Station band version that could have been. Material from Devils & Dust holds its own in such company, with well-honed versions of the title track, “Long Time Comin’,” “Matamoros Banks,” and a beautifully sung “Leah.” He even pulls out a ukulele for a sing-along rendition of “Growin’ Up” towards the end of the set.

Springsteen’s keyboard playing, always carrying with it a seductive hint of performance anxiety, is one of the most memorable aspects of the 2005 tour. His willingness to take the risk again and again on songs he hadn’t played in decades is why Audacious is such an appropriate descriptor.

After a lovely and lilting electric piano version of “All That Heaven Will Allow” (the same instrument on which he so memorably performed “Tunnel of Love” on the previously released Grand Rapids 2005 show), Bruce acknowledges his tentative playing, telling the Trenton faithful that their applause at end of his piano solos was “anxiety clapping” that “he made it through.”

In truth, the passion in Springsteen’s piano and organ playing is much more important than the precision. Limited as he might feel it is, his keyboard expression creates intimate moments between the performer and audience heightened by that touch of uncertainty.

Trenton offers a treasure trove of piano, organ, and keyboard gems. Bruce resurrects “My Beautiful Reward” from Lucky Town with fitting majesty on pump organ and plays “Backstreets” with touching reverence, in one of but three solo piano performances on the tour. “Drive All Night,” revived for the first time in 24 years just a few shows prior, captures the conviction of an artist rediscovering the magic of a forgotten work. “Jesus Was an Only Son” gets an insightful preamble that is right out of the pages of Born to RunAnd who could imagine the three-ring circus that is “Thundercrack” could be tamed into such an entertaining solo-piano rendition and still carry the song’s evocative spirit.

For veteran setlist trainspotters, Trenton has a couple of bombshells. One of Springsteen’s most beloved early outtakes, “Zero and Blind Terry,” had not been performed since 1974 and never as a solo piano piece. It’s one of those romantic fairy tales that could have easily slipped onto Wild & Innocent, a Jersey fable that mythologizes young lovers trying to escape to a better life beyond Route 9. All the more fitting for a show in Trenton, but the idea that the song would be played at all, three decades after it wasn’t released, affirms the Devils & Dust tour mantra: I do not play these songs often. I have not played them on this instrument. I may not play them this way again.

The other shocker debuted the night before but is no less special. After hearing it himself on E Street Radio and thinking, “Hey, that one was pretty good,” Springsteen reignited “Song for Orphans,” not heard since 1973. Collectors know it from a demo recording that predates Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., the album for which it was initially considered, though there is evidence to suggest Bruce considered the song for possible release all the way through Born to RunHere, joined by his otherwise off-stage keyboard accompanist Alan Fitzgerald on piano, Springsteen manages to blend the spirit of ’72 with ’05, rendering “Song for Orphans” and his most recent Devils & Dust material kindred works.

After some fun had with members of the extended Springsteen family on “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” and the Joad-tour arrangement of “The Promised Land,” Trenton comes to its pump organ epilogue. The meditative “Dream Baby Dream” provided the coda to most shows on the Devils & Dust tour and has no analogue in Springsteen performance history, as it builds wave upon wave of organ, synthesizer, and repeated vocal lines imploring us to “keep on dreaming” and “open up our hearts.” That it wouldn’t sound out of place over the end credits to a David Lynch film speaks to its peculiar and relentless brilliance.

Trenton 2005 is both the final show and the perfect summation of the Devils & Dust tour, when Springsteen chose night after night to go “cartwheelin’ up on that tightrope.”

One More Fairytale

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, FL, April 22, 2008

By Erik Flannigan

He was the first to fall.

Just 58 years old, Danny Federici died on April 17, 2008 from melanoma, the skin cancer for which he had been undergoing treatment since 2005. The disease eventually forced him to take leave of the E Street Band in November 2007, vacating a seat he had occupied since 1972.

Despite his nickname “Phantom” and onstage introductions like, “now you see him, now you don’t,” Daniel Paul Federici was a stalwart, symbiotic soldier perched at Springsteen’s side for nearly 40 years, going back to Bruce’s early groups Child and Steel Mill. His swirling organ and glockenspiel parts are as core to the E Street sound as Clarence Clemons’ saxophone. Max Weinberg summed it up perfectly when he described Danny’s role to Rolling Stone: “He was the glue that held the band together.”

Tampa 4/22/08 was the first show after Federici’s funeral, and the performance is as soulful as one would expect. But there’s something more subtle going on that becomes gradually apparent as one listens to Jon Altschiller’s inviting and wide stereo mix: while the audience is an essential catalyst, Bruce and the band are playing for themselves in Tampa.

After a preamble video tribute to Danny (set to the studio version of “Blood Brothers,” included here), the show proper begins on a deeply emotional note with “Backstreets,” played with purpose and conviction in a version that stands among its best contemporary performances. Maybe his throat was just dry, but when Springsteen’s voice catches a couple of times, one suspects the gravitas of the moment was getting to everyone.

A solid “Radio Nowhere” yields to “Lonesome Day,” and “It’s alright, it’s alright, yeah!” never felt more cathartic. Next, “No Surrender” is one of many songs that feel expressly chosen for the occasion and provide a foundation of nostalgia and reflection throughout the set. That being said, this is still the Tampa stop on the Magic tour, and the prevailing mood complements that agenda (even if it reduces the number of songs played from the album).

As it was most nights of the tour, “Gypsy Biker” is a high point. Roy Bittan’s piano playing channels his Power Station finest, while the Bruce and Stevie guitar solo shred-off provides a highly entertaining Listen to This, Eddie moment. Note to trainspotters who quibble about how much audience audio is heard on archive releases: you will be pleased to hear a woman clearly shouting Danny’s name in the left channel at the end of “Gypsy Biker.” You’re welcome.

Later, “Last to Die” soars with pulsating urgency (and more 1979 channeling by Bittan), and the spotlight shines sweetly on Van Zandt for a solo vocal turn towards the end of “Long Walk Home,” which has grown more majestic since Boston ‘07, the last released version from the tour.

In total, Tampa offers 12 setlist changes from Boston, only one of which could be called a rarity, but the allure of this show is a heartfelt performance, not an unusual setlist. Maybe it’s hindsight filtered by the circumstances, but the arrangements of “Atlantic City” and “Brilliant Disguise” sound distinctively restrained, and the band plays warhorses like “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Badlands,” “Out in the Street,” “The Promised Land,” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” with marked vigor. As a wise man once said, “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”

Moments of direct Danny recognition are just as gratifying, with back-to-back versions of “Sandy” and “Growin’ Up” that begin with Bruce warning an accordion-adorned Bittan, “Roy, you better get this one right now, somebody’s watching.” It’s an especially delicate reading, enriched by the Big Man’s baritone saxophone and Stevie’s joyous mandolin licks.

Introducing “Growin’ Up,” Springsteen says, “Alright, one more fairytale,” acknowledging, as he did on Broadway, his own myth-making and Federici’s invaluable role in the tale, set this particular night in Danny’s hometown of Flemington, NJ.

When it comes time to truly say goodbye to Phantom Dan, instead of reaching for an original, Bruce opts for the gospel standard, “I’ll Fly Away,” in its only Springsteen performance ever. The arrangement is a Seeger Sessions-style hootenanny, with Max out from behind the drum kit on tambourine, Garry W. Tallent on upright bass, and Charlie Giordano filling Danny’s big shoes (as he does capably and respectfully all night) on accordion. The sentiment of death as a pathway to freedom from suffering couldn’t be more fitting, as summed up by the song’s second verse:

When the shadows of this life have gone, now I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly away, I’ll fly away

“I’ll Fly Away” provides an emotional epilogue, but the denouement of the evening comes six songs before with “Racing in the Street,” presented in a widescreen print not always screened on recent tours. It is patiently paced, sung with sober richness, and played magnificently on piano by Bittan. Like “Backstreets,” this is as good as “Racing” has been performed in the 2000s.

As vital as Danny was to 40 years of Springsteen history, life goes on. The Tampa show is a rumination on both of those undeniable truths, because the stage is “a place where miracles occur,” as Springsteen said at Federici’s funeral the night before the show. “And those you are with, in the presence of miracles, you never forget. Life does not separate you. Death does not separate you. Those you are with who create miracles for you, like Danny did for me every night, you are honored to be amongst.”

I’m Gonna Fight My Way Through All This Goddamn Darkness

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, May 23, 1988

By Erik Flannigan

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 onTracks 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.

Lights, Camera, Action

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, September 21-22, 1979

By Erik Flannigan

There’s a case to be made that Bruce Springsteen’s appearance at two MUSE benefit concerts in 1979 mark the moment he truly arrived, when his status as not merely a rock star but THE rock superstar of his era became undeniable. And not unlike similar moments that affected Bruce himself, specifically Elvis Presley and The Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, the power of a filmed performance was a major contributing factor. After all, the No Nukes film (released in 1980) and, to a lesser but still important extent, the No Nukes triple album, were the first commercial releases to ever offer live Springsteen performances.

After spending the better part of 1978 playing to ever-growing crowds on the Darkness tour (including arena dates in top markets), Springsteen had become a major touring act. Better still, the legend of his three-hour concerts was spreading, and word-of-mouth reviews sounded like tales of religious conversion. The collective sentiment expressed by those who had been to a Bruce concert to those who hadn’t was simple: You HAVE to see this guy play.

But with the Darkness tour wrapped and the focus shifted to studio recording, it seemed there would be no chance to see Springsteen live in 1979. The pent-up demand to see Bruce in concert, particularly in his NY/NJ homebase where he hadn’t played since September 1978 (save for an on-campus gymnasium show at Princeton in November), was off the charts.

Meanwhile, in March 1979, an accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station near Harrisburg, PA, highlighted the risks of nuclear power to the entire nation and further galvanized the already active anti-nuclear movement. MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) was formed soon after Three Mile Island by a group of like-minded artists and music-industry leaders, including Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, and Bonnie Raitt.

To raise awareness and money, the newly founded organization wasted little time in announcing The MUSE Concerts for a Non-Nuclear Future, five shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Two of those would be headlined by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in their only concerts of the year (not counting the final Darkness show, Cleveland 1/1/79). Needless to say, ticket demand for September 21-22, the two nights Springsteen was scheduled to perform, was enormous.

Bruce and the E Streeters had spent much of the spring and summer in the studio at the Power Station on West 53rd, recording songs for what one year later would become The River. In fact, soon after the MUSE concerts, for which they paused to rehearse and perform, they considered stopping recording entirely and turning in a ten-song single album (eventually released in 2015 on The Ties That Bind box set).

While recording for The River would not only resume but carry on well into 1980, Springsteen was at least considering that his new album might be pretty much done when he took the stage on September 21. He was also two days away from his 30th birthday. Combine that with an eight-month layoff from the road, and it is no wonder he and the band played with such passion and ferocity at the two MUSE concerts, both presented/captured here in full.

Jon Altschiller’s new multi-track mix crisply captures the electric anticipation in the air as the band tunes up and blasts into “Prove It All Night” on 9/21, with Max Weinberg in particular adrenalized by being back on stage.

With a limited, 90-minute slot on the multi-artist bill it’s a bang-bang set both nights: “Prove It All Night” into “Badlands,” into “The Promised Land.”  What Bruce performs is in effect a mini Darkness concert that adds an important look to the future with the first-ever performances of his newly written masterpiece, “The River.” Introducing the deeply personal song the first night, Bruce says simply, “It’s for my brother-in-law”; the second night he says it’s for “my mother and my sister.”

While some finer details of the final arrangement of “The River” were yet to come, the emotional core of the song is fully realized. It is thrilling to hear these initial performances and to imagine what it would have been like to experience the song for the first time amongst the No Nukes crowd. My jaw would have been on the floor.

The look-forward to The River continues with “Sherry Darling,” shifting the mood materially with an “end-of-the summer song” and restoring the party atmosphere from the top of the show. From there, it is a race to the finish through “Thunder Road” (the performance from the second night is featured in the No Nukes film), “Jungleland” (a couple of particularly passionate versions), “Rosalita,” and “Born to Run.” All killer, no filler.

The two MUSE performances are relatively consistent, with the second night perhaps slightly less frenetic, as one might expect. The “encore” songs are where the changes come.

Night one we are treated to the delightful rendition of Maurice Williams’ “Stay” featured on the No Nukes album, a song which had been a regular part of Jackson Browne’s sets. Browne and his backup singer Rosemary Butler guest on the E Street version, as smooth a groove as any they’ve laid down. “Detroit Medley” also appeared on the No Nukes album in edited form, expunging some of Bruce’s hilarious “hazardous to your health” warnings and insurance pitching, which are restored here. The show closes with a 100 MPH cover of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On.”

The encore from night two repeats “Stay,” this time with the late Tom Petty sharing lead vocals with Springsteen and Browne, and wraps with a “Quarter to Three” for the ages, material parts of which made it into the No Nukes film.

The footage of “Quarter to Three,” which shows Springsteen giving it his all to point of collapsing on the floor and needing to be revived (in jest) by the band, preserved for all to see the unique magic of Springsteen in concert. The film also shows other artists reacting to the pre-show cheers of “Brooooce” (and acknowledging that Springsteen is the artist the crowd is really there to see), not to mention the incredible performances of “The River” and “Thunder Road” noted above.

Remember, at the time the No Nukes film was released in 1980, there was no MTV. Springsteen had never appeared on American television. You literally couldn’t see him perform without going to a concert until the No Nukes film opened that July. And when it did in the US, and later in the UK and Europe, tens of thousands of future fans saw with their own eyes what they had only read and heard about. Though he only appears on screen for perhaps 15 minutes of the film’s 103-minute run time, No Nukes managed to bottle up for the first time the essence of Bruce Springsteen in concert.

Finally, the No Nukes shows also marked Springsteen’s first overt foray into political activism. During the show, Bruce says it was Jackson Browne’s “sense of purpose and conviction that got me down here tonight,” and Browne’s commitment to the cause continues to this day. To honor that, $2 from each sale of No Nukes 1979 will be donated to Musicians United for Safe Energy, to support nearly 40 years of fighting the good fight.

Thinking Young And Growing Older Is No Sin


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Roxy, West Hollywood, CA, Oct. 18, 1975

By Erik Flannigan

When the Born to Run tour rolled up to the Roxy in West Hollywood in October 1975, the objective was to break Springsteen in Los Angeles with a high-profile, six-show/four-night residency at the small club, mirroring the famed Bottom Line run in New York in August. Incredibly, Springsteen had yet to play a proper headlining date in LA until the Roxy gigs. His only appearances in the area circa 1973-74 were as an opening act or sharing a bill with other Columbia Records talent at label-sponsored showcases.

The Roxy run came just a few days before Bruce would grace the covers of Time and Newsweek simultaneously, so while it wouldn’t be accurate to say he was flying under the radar, DEFCON 1-level hype was still to come. Though make no mistake, Columbia saw the Roxy shows as their chance to capitalize on the growing buzz.

As legend has it, opening night on October 16 was a show packed with music journalists and industry types, prompting Springsteen to declare the following evening (as broadcast on KWST-FM), “ain’t nobody here from Billboard tonight!” That phrase became the de facto title of one of the earliest Bruce bootlegs, pressed from a recording of the b-cast.

On October 18, night three of the run, Springsteen performed two shows (one early, one late) and Columbia arranged to have Wally Heider’s mobile recording truck parked outside to capture the performances for future release. The engineer was the late Ray Thompson, a legend in live recording, and the man who just a few months earlier had taped the shows that would go on to form the basis of one of the biggest live albums of all time, Frampton Comes Alive!

Though one song from this stand made it onto Live/1975-85, this marks the first-ever release of a full performance from the Roxy ‘75, the early show on October 18. That song was of course “Thunder Road,” which kicks off Live/1975-85 and represents the only pre-1978 track on the box. Though it’s familiar, hearing the performance restored to its proper context opening a full ‘75 show reinforces the audacity of the sublime, piano-first “Thunder Road.” Who opens a show with a completely reimagined version of the first song on their latest album? It’s a gutty and admirable artistic statement.

Following that stunning start, the rest of the band join in and launch into a winning and crisp “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out,” then roll into “Spirit in the Night.” Listening to the truly you-are-there mix by Jon Altschiller (complete with clinking glasses and bottles), one can’t help but recognize the audience’s relative unfamiliarity with the material. If you’ve listened to a lot of live shows, even circa-1975 East Coast crowds knew “Spirit in the Night” inside out; here the reactions to the stops and starts of the tale unfolding sound more intrigued and surprised.

That’s because the tiny Roxy was packed with fans who had never seen Bruce perform before. “[I’d like to] thank the folks that came out and seen us last year and the year before in Santa Monica,” Bruce says, met by nary a clap or cheer. “I don’t know if there is anybody….[Laughs] Nobody made it to that one.”

Aside from the guy who yells, “I was at the Troubadour,” and perhaps a handful of others, the Roxy crowd was the Springsteen-curious, and some of the pleasure of this exquisite recording is that over the course of the show, we get to hear and bear witness to their conversion into fans.

A big first step towards that comes with “E Street Shuffle,” in which every member of the E Street Band shines, but especially those oh-so-sweet swirls from Danny Federici’s organ cabinet. Remember, “E Street Shuffle” is another radical rearrangement from what anyone would have heard on the second album, and after Bruce tags Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party” onto the end, audience applause moves from like to love.

Cover songs were a major feature of Born to Run tour setlists, especially songs from the ‘60s that shaped Springsteen’s musical palette. With the Roxy, we get the first official release of the enchanting “When You Walk in the Room.” Written by Jackie DeShannon and a hit for the Searchers, the song is a perfect vehicle for Bruce and the band to show their Merseybeat-via-Jersey Shore chops. If this performance doesn’t raise a smile, it’s time to resign your fanclub membership.

“She’s the One” and “Born to Run” dial up the intensity, both impeccably performed in powerful, pacey versions that underline the outstanding mid-tour form of the band. When one of the few familiar fans shouts for “Sandy,” Bruce complies, and despite its unusual position in the set (it was typically an encore song in ‘75), the heartfelt version delivers a welcome mid-show change of scenery.

While a hint of vocal raspiness suggests Springsteen may not have started the show feeling 100 percent, you’d never know it from the performance, which was escalating already and goes next-level following “Sandy.” Gorgeous organ, guitar and piano interplay start “Backstreets,” in a performance that evokes the Dylan lyric, “bathed in a stream of pure heat.” There’s no denying the versions of the song performed in ‘77 and ‘78, but this is a tremendous 1975 “Backstreets.”

After wrapping themselves in glory all night, the band steps into the spotlight for “Kitty’s Back.” The small venue and the recording quality combine to reveal gorgeous musical details: every subtle click sound of Danny’s organ keys; Garry Tallent paying homage to Donald “Duck” Dunn; Roy Bittan weaving in the melody of “Fever” (the one made famous by Peggy Lee). Listen around 15:45 for a rare isolated backing vocal by the Professor after Clarence Clemons switches back to sax. Such a treat.

The last song in the set from Born to Run is “Jungleland,” and we’re granted another exquisite reading, highlighted by Stevie Van Zandt’s redolent guitar solo and Danny’s delicate and doleful organ that flows out of the Clemons’ roaring solo. Phantom Dan and the Big Man ultimately yield to Bittan’s stately piano, upon which Springsteen leans into his vocal rasp, spurring some beautiful rephrasing of the song’s fifth verse, notably the line “refusal and then surrender.”

A storming “Rosalita” wraps the main set and leads to chants of “WE WANT MORE” from the newly converted. Who can blame them?

Yet instead of reaching for a standard BTR-tour encore, Bruce opts for a striking and revealing cover. “This is a Carole King song. It was done on one of the early Byrds albums…which is my favorite LA band, I guess….Also Nils Lofgren did a nice job with the song on his last album.”

Goffin and King’s “Goin’ Back” captures the yearning for lost innocence, and given what was going on in Springsteen’s career at the time, the song seems a fitting reflection of his thoughts and feelings in gorgeous, romanticized ballad form. Springsteen debuted “Goin’ Back” with King herself in the audience at the first Roxy show, but he never played the song again after performing it at all six shows in this stand.

Ten years later, standing on the precipice of another major career milestone, Bruce stuck a kindred note with his one-off performance of Brian Wilson’s “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” at Slane Castle ‘85, also never played in concert again. We’re lucky such a fleeting moment of emotional transparency is captured so beautifully by this recording.

Earlier in the show, microphones pick up someone shouting that it is Chuck Berry’s birthday, which no doubt prompts the appearance of a rowdy and raucous “Carol” to close the encore and a marvelous set.

The Born to Run tour is well documented by Hammersmith Odeon London ‘75 and Tower Theater 12/31/75. But more than 30 years after the inclusion of a single track on Live/1975-85, Roxy ‘75 gives us all the magic in the night that “Thunder Road” hinted at and our most intimate opportunity to date to hear, in the words of King, “the world the way it used to be.”

 

Maximum R&B


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
First Direct Arena, Leeds, England, July 24, 2013

By Erik Flannigan

Looking back today, as Springsteen winds down over a year of solo shows in a 975-person theater, the 2012-13 Wrecking Ball tour stands in stark relief. Far from going it alone, Bruce augmented the first E Street Band tour of the post-Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici era with a horn section, back-up singers, and a percussionist for his biggest on-stage line-up since Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom. It was a band built for stadiums, and many did it play, including two runs through Europe in consecutive years.

But upon his return to the United Kingdom in the summer of 2013, it is said Springsteen himself requested that he and the band christen the newly constructed First Direct Arena (also known as Leeds Arena). The 13,000-seater is configured so all seats face the stage, and it boasts superior acoustics because it wasn’t designed for basketball or hockey like most arenas. “This is a great room,” Springsteen tells the Leeds faithful. “You play anything in here, it’s gonna sound good.”

Moving his biggest band indoors from stadiums and in doing so becoming the first artist to play the state-of-the-art “super amphitheatre” would prove to be a tasty recipe for a memorable performance. Leeds 2013 is not only chock full of treats, but it captures Bruce and the band at their road-tested yet relaxed best.

Bruce fires the special-setlist flare right from the start, opening the show with a rare and potent “Roulette.” It’s the first shot in a staggering top of the show that continues with “My Love Will Not Let You Down” into “No Surrender.” With the final note of “No Surrender” still sustaining, the set slides down gorgeously into “Something in the Night,” a performance that reinforces the song’s beauty and majesty. The same can be said for “American Skin (41 Shots),” a tale as relevant, a crescendo as cathartic today as ever. Perhaps it is going too far to call both songs underappreciated, but the pairing here reinforces their stature in Bruce’s songwriting canon.

The mood lightens through “The Promised Land” and “Hungry Heart,” leading to a trio of tour premieres, the kind of sequence many fans dream of, where it feels like anything can (and will) happen. It commences with the delightful “Local Hero” from Lucky Town, a song rarely performed with the E Street Band and arranged here (in its only Wrecking Ball tour appearance) as a best of both worlds, matching E Street muscle with backing vocals a la the 1992-93 tour courtesy of the E Street Choir.

Turns out fans aren’t the only ones who appreciate rare tracks. “Steve always complains that we don’t play anything off this record,” Bruce admits, introducing “Gotta Get That Feeling.” “This is an outtake from Darkness on the Edge of Town…for Steve Van Zandt.” As Springsteen counts the song in, he is interrupted by a spontaneous chant of “Steven! Steven!” as the crowd voices their support for the man and his request. A Stone Pony benefit set and the 2010 promo shoot at the Carousel in Asbury Park notwithstanding, this is the only tour performance of “Gotta Get That Feeling” to date, and the expanded band does it justice, with horns soaring and Steve’s harmony vocals pure soulfire.

Surprises continue, as Bruce heeds a sign suggestion from a traveling Spanish fan for Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” arranged on the fly and performed with exuberance and fearlessness earned through months and months of successful rounds of “stump the band.”

“We’re gonna try one more crazy request,” Bruce says, extending the controlled chaos. “‘Thundercrack’…was written to be our first showstopper. This used to end our set when we [would] play for crowds who didn’t know us at all.” After name-checking some of the acts they once opened for (among them Black Oak Arkansas, Sha Na Na, Mountain, and Aerosmith) and warning the audience the middle of the song could prove tricky, Bruce and the band confidently crush “Thundercrack” in its only 2013 outing.

While Leeds boasts ample rarities, Wrecking Ball material gets its due as well, with robust versions of the title track, “Death to My Hometown,” “Shackled and Drawn” (aided by a fine gospel-tinged solo from Cindy Mizelle), “Land of Hope and Dreams,” and “This Depression.” Making its last appearance to date this night (and one of just seven performances ever), “This Depression” impresses through its admirable lyrical candor, gripping arrangement, and affecting musicality. It’s a performance that should win over a few converts, and the coupling with “Because the Night” is another slice of Leeds’ setlist genius.

To the encore, and Springsteen has one more trick up his sleeve, bringing “Secret Garden” back to the set for the first time in 13 years, moody, measured, and matrimonial. Credit Jake Clemons for doing right by his uncle with a poignant sax solo to bring the song to conclusion. Sublime.

A marvelous night in Leeds concludes with a scarce Wrecking Ball tour airing for “If I Should Fall Behind” followed by “Thunder Road,” both performed solo acoustic. Towards the end of “Thunder Road,” Bruce invites the audience to join him in singing, “La da, da, da, da,” which they do in full voice, giving back generously to the performer who gave so much to them all night long.

Leeds may be the fourth archival release from the Wrecking Ball tour, but it stands strongly among those peers on the strength of its distinctive setlist, stellar performance and the sense of Springsteen’s personal motivation to showcase his expanded band in this optimal indoor venue.

We’re Gonna Play Until the Sun Goes Down


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Olympiastadion, Helsinki, Finland, June 16, 2003

By Erik Flannigan

Come on up for the rising. At long last, the first live archive release from the Rising tour is here: Helsinki, Finland, June 16, 2003.

What took so long? Let’s address that right off the bat.

The detailed answer is quite technical in nature, but in a nutshell, Rising tour recordings were made on what was then a state-of-the-art DSD (Direct Stream Digital) system, the first to offer high-resolution audio in an easily transportable, multi-track recording unit. But 15 years later, the proprietary nature of the software and hardware elements in that system have caused what might best be described as forward-compatibility issues, making it challenging to restore the original recording files. Helsinki is the first successful result of ongoing efforts over the last several years to address the problems.

Listening to the show now, one would never know how difficult it was to recover the multi-track recordings, as Jon Altschiller’s crystalline mix shines brilliantly and brings out fine details in the lush arrangements of the Rising material featured. Helsinki is a Rising showcase, offering nine songs from the album performed with gravitas befitting much of the subject matter.

While but one tour removed, the spirit captured in Helsinki is quite distinct from that of Chicago ‘99 released last month. The playing is equally accomplished, but there is more narrative unfolding, more stories being told in a very intentional manner. It makes the contrast between heavier material like “You’re Missing” and “Into the Fire” and that of lighter fare like “Mary’s Place” stark, with the night’s high-spirited songs offering release and relief, recognition that there is light beyond the darkness. Different tour, different mission.

Exemplary of this solemn and bold approach is “Into the Fire,” which opens with Patti Scialfa’s haunting vocalization and Springsteen’s most direct lyrical reference to 9/11. When the band kicks in majestically before the second verse, we can only marvel at the sympathetic support. Nils’ pedal steel bends expressively throughout, and while she has performed with the E Street Band ever since, Soozie Tyrell’s contributions have never felt more vital. She’s the musical lynchpin of the song, and she pulls significant melodic weight all night long. Even “Dancing in the Dark,” performed in what is otherwise its purest form since the 1984-85 tour, deftly downplays synthesizer in favor of Tyrell’s violin carrying the melody.

It seems apropos that nine Rising songs are paired with seven from Born in the U.S.A. Sure, this is Bruce and the band’s first-ever show in Finland, so drawing from their most popular album makes sense. Yet the incorporation of so many tracks from both records also suggests that their characters and stories are intertwined, that the people who inhabit “My Hometown,” “No Surrender,” and “Glory Days” went on to experience what unfolds across The Rising later in their lives. Hearing so much from both chapters of that narrative makes Helsinki powerful.

Powerful is a word that stays top of mind listening to the full 25-song set, which by Springsteen standards is as focused and straightforward as any I can recall — with the exception of a delightfully shambolic “Ramrod,” which rolls on for more than 12 minutes including an extended piano solo by Roy Bittan.

The evening’s catharsis peaks with “My City of Ruins,” its gospel-tinged musical cleansing perfectly positioned as a restorative in the encore and the ideal segue to the life-affirming “Land of Hope and Dreams.” A potent pairing.

On its debut, the Helsinki audience impresses, singing along and responding passionately, as evidenced by the call and response at the end of “My Hometown.” The same can be said of the band, performing with utter confidence and control.

As for Springsteen himself, he sets the tone for the night at the start with his bluesy, solo-acoustic “Born in the U.S.A.,” a version that is impassioned and world-weary all at the same time. Informed by that prelude, there’s a sense of purpose to this performance, a commitment to telling stories that reflect some of our darkest and lightest moments. And that is the essence of the Rising tour.

Listen To Your Junk Man


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
United Center
Chicago, IL, September 30, 1999

By Erik Flannigan

It is hard to believe we are fast approaching 20 years since the Reunion tour commenced and the recommitment of Bruce Springsteen, the E Street Band and their many fans was validated night after night across the stages of Europe and the United States.

The archival download series has already given us perhaps the most famous show of the tour, closing night at Madison Square Garden in July 2000, a masterful performance that was appropriately conscious of its place as the culmination of the 132 concerts that came before it. Now, we get a markedly different slice of the Reunion tour and how sweet it is.

Taking nothing away from great shows in E. Rutherford, Philly, Boston and other cities which preceded it or memorable stands in Los Angeles and Oakland to follow, Chicago ‘99 is a barn burner. It actually gains potency from our collective and relative unfamiliarity with the performance and as a result feels deliciously fresh.

It was the last night of three in Chicago as well as the final show of the first U.S. leg of the tour. On the cusp of a two-week break, the mood is buoyant and at times downright joyous. You can hear how excited these musicians are to be playing together again and the confidence they are feeling at this point of the tour is reflected in an adventurous setlist.

To start (and apologies in advance for the language, but it feels wholly appropriate to convey the sentiment), Bruce Springsteen sings the shit out of this show. There are vocal highlights in both expected and unexpected places, many the kind of heightened, upper-range reaches that signal when Bruce is in the zone.

During the last minute of “The Promised Land,” it comes in the form of a sweet, unexpected, soaring “Weeeee-oooo.” At the end of a hard-hitting “Adam Raised a Cain,” it’s a shrieking stretch of vocal improvisation loaded with emotion. In “Thunder Road,” “your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet” rises to a gorgeous high register. And the coup de grace is “Youngstown,” when Springsteen holds the final note of “the fiery furnaces of hellllllllll” a full ten seconds. Time it yourself!

Chicago also presents the opportunity to reassess the altered arrangements Bruce and the band explored in ‘99. At the time, subtle changes to familiar songs may have thrown a few people off a bit, as they were coming in with expectations of how things “used to sound.” Listening now, the explorations prove fascinating.

Played but 15 times on the Reunion tour, “Independence Day” has a distinctly different feel and begins with a lovely guitar and pedal steel intro. Similarly, Bruce bends the first verse and chorus of “She’s The One” (performed only 16 times circa 1999-2000) in unexpected directions before the band arrives with stirring force.

Jon Altschiller’s vivid mix captures band interplay and subtle work from every E Streeter, much of which you may have never noticed before, with the apex coming in the form of “New York City Serenade.” This piano-driven epic had gone unplayed since 1975 before making its momentous return during the Continental Airlines Arena run a month earlier, its first of five appearances on the tour.

“New York City Serenade” is arguably the most challenging piece of music in the Springsteen canon, full of twists, turns and musical nuance. Chicago offers a bravura performance, enriched by the contributions of the band (extra nod to Roy Bittan) and Bruce’s fearless lead vocal. It is by turns majestic, enthralling, even astonishing for 1999, with no strings attached as in more recent performances.

“Serenade” is joined by two other special rarities. The show opens with a fierce “Take ‘Em As They Come,” one of Springsteen’s underappreciated rockers. Mercifully liberated from the vault in 1998 on Tracks (the song is also included on 2015’s The Ties That Bind box set), The River outtake gets a rare outing (it has only been performed ten times) with the band fully locked and loaded. To be fair, they are a bit less so on the likable Born in the U.S.A. era b-side “Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart,” which ends with Bruce chuckling “we gotta practice that one,” though it is still wonderful to hear.

Noteworthy as those rare tracks are, Chicago ‘99 pays dividends song after song, be it common or uncommon to a setlist. It is one of those nights where the versions run long (even “Ramrod” goes seven minutes), the crowd response is huge and the band plays hot. Case in point: Danny’s organ and Clarence’s solo in “She’s the One,” plus the Big Man nailing the final note of “Bobby Jean”; a mini cover “Boom Boom” worked seamlessly into “Light of Day”; Nils and Stevie shining on all types of stringed instruments; Garry and Max electrifying “Atlantic City” and pushing the pace all night; Patti taking her solo turns with aplomb during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “If I Should Fall Behind.” As it did every night on Reunion, the latter song brings the spirit of the band’s rebirth to life in poignant fashion.

As for Springsteen himself, he sounds like he is enjoying every single minute.

More than 20,000 people saw this show in person and have known ever since what a great performance they witnessed. As for the rest of us: Chicago ‘99, we didn’t know what we were missing.

Follow That Dream

Bruce Springsteen 06/05/1981

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Wembley Arena, London, England, June 5, 1981

By Erik Flannigan

Though they performed four concerts there in 1975 to promote Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s 1981 European Tour was the first proper visit to the continent. Those three months and 33 shows would go on to form a bond between band and fans that persists to this day.

“Most of the audiences we played to spoke English, at best, as a second language,” Springsteen writes in Born to Run. “It didn’t seem to matter. We played to crowd after crowd who let us know they felt about music the way we felt about it….Playing for our fans overseas was, and continues to be, one of the greatest experiences of my life. It fully started in 1981, and it’s never stopped.”

European audiences had been waiting years to see Springsteen on stage, hungry to witness what their ears had only heard, indoctrinated by bootlegs of the ‘78 radio broadcasts as much as by the official catalog. They kept the faith when the UK leg, scheduled as the start of the tour in March, moved to May, and bought enough tickets to warrant second shows in Stockholm and Rotterdam.

Springsteen had been waiting, too. Promotion of his 1975 London dates spurred some antagonistic press outlets to question the hype surrounding him. Despite playing what in hindsight were two great shows in London (one of which has since been officially released), Bruce and the band left on a bit of a sour note. Shows outside the U.S. were never seriously considered on the Darkness tour, so after a nearly six-year gap, Europe remained unconquered and unfamiliar territory when the tour kicked off in Hamburg on April 7, 1981.

Many of us have eye-opening experiences the first time we visit other countries. Viewed through the lens of a new culture, that which we call home can look quite different. Based on quotes and comments made by Bruce at the time and thereafter, Europe ‘81 catalyzed an already evolving perspective on the country and culture that shaped him.

At his first show in Paris, Springsteen altered the familiar introduction to “This Land Is Your Land” and spoke not of Woody Guthrie, but of Elvis Presley, telling a condensed version of the “jump the fence at Graceland” tale before reflecting on the last time he saw Presley in concert. There, he didn’t play his “rocking stuff,” but instead songs like “How Great Thou Art” and “American Trilogy.”

“In the end,” Springsteen told the French audience, “it seemed like the songs that were closest to him and that he sang with the most heart [were] about the land that he grew up in and…the God that he believed in, who I guess he hoped would save his soul. This is a song about freedom, [about not] having to die when you’re old in some factory or…in some big million-dollar house with a whole lot of nothing pumping through your veins.”

The next show, again in Paris, an introduction to one of Bruce’s most personal songs, “Independence Day,” also evolved, as he spoke of reading Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States and gaining insight into “how things got to be the way they are today and how you end up a victim without even knowing it.” Seemingly inspired by his own comments the night before, Springsteen opened that second Paris show with a new interpretation of Elvis’ “Follow That Dream.”

Nine weeks later on June 5, 1981, Bruce and the band took the stage for the final night of a six-show stand in London forever changed by the experience of the tour. It’s a triumphant performance that summons up everything which had justifiably earned Bruce his reputation up to that point along with a sense of realtime awakening and fresh perspective fostered on the stages and streets of Europe.

The night gets off to a cracking start with “Born to Run” straight into “Prove It All Night,” the latter notable for the kind of heightened vocal (listen to Springsteen reach for a higher register in the second verse and chorus) that usually signals a special show. The invitation of “Out In The Street” is met with the full support of the crowd and then we downshift to the aforementioned “Follow That Dream.”

Springsteen’s “Follow That Dream” completely re-imagines Presley’s song of the same name (written by Fred Wise and Ben Weisman), transforming the King’s lightweight ditty into a stark, meditative hymn. Bruce blends new lyrics with lines from Presley’s cut, interpolating strains of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” along the way to create a striking new original.

The London performance captures all of the song’s evocative power and reinforces how Springsteen’s Europe ‘81 performances show early signs of where his songwriting would go next with Nebraska and the demos for Born in the U.S.A., for which he would cut “Follow That Dream.” Its chant-like quality also echoes the Devils and Dust tour’s set-closing cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream.”

Three songs later, after a stirring “Darkness On the Edge of Town” and “Independence Day,” Bruce’s reflections on Elvis’ final days and the “whole lot of nothing pumping through your veins” from the first Paris show have spawned a new song in its own right, “Johnny Bye Bye.”

Like “Follow That Dream,” Springsteen’s eulogy to the King is a pastiche of musical sources, combining lyrics from Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny” with music and several lines from his own Darkness outtake “Come On (Let’s Go Tonight)” (later released on The Promise box set) and recently penned words. “Johnny Bye Bye” would eventually be recorded with an revamped melody and a faster tempo for Born in the U.S.A. (where it was issued as the B-side to “I’m On Fire”), but the original live arrangement bears poignancy and solemnity not retained in the later version.

The new songs are but two highlights in a stalwart first set that also features superb covers of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and “I Fought The Law,” the latter almost certainly a tip of the cap to The Clash, who so memorably covered the song made famous by the Bobby Fuller Four (and written by Sonny Curtis) two years earlier.

The second set provides a showcase for uptempo River songs, plus the underplayed “I Wanna Marry You” (replete with its “Here She Comes” intro) and a rich “Point Blank” which highlights the interplay of Roy Bittan’s piano and Danny Federici’s organ. Bootleg favorites “Because The Night” and “Fire” are perfectly rendered crowd pleasers. If that wasn’t enough, Springsteen debuts his ardent arrangement of the traditional Cajun song “Jolé Blon,” having recently played on and produced Gary U.S. Bonds’ version from the 1981 comeback album, Dedication. Riding infectious lead vocals, “Jolé Blon” is one of Springsteen’s most charming and perhaps underrated covers.

Springsteen is in complete command as a spot-on “Ramrod” leads into “Rosalita” where Jon Altschiller’s mix neatly positions the audience response with the band introductions, including the always appealing “Spotlight On The Big Man” vamp. Kudos as well to Bruce for putting a UK spin on Rosie’s signature declaration: “This is his last chance, for his daughter to get down, ‘cause the record company, Honey, just gave me the big pounds.”

High-spirits carry over to the encore via an impeccable “I’m A Rocker,” while “Jungleland” provides the show its epic denouement. From there, one last nod to the King with brief, earnest cover of “Can’t Help Falling In Love” and finally “Detroit Medley,” augmented by welcome sprints through “Shake” and “Sweet Soul Music.”

Somewhere near the end of the “Medley,” the multi-track recording of Wembley runs out and a fan recording fills in the rest of the song. It seems fitting that this outstanding performance wraps in the hands of a fan, someone who undoubtedly waited those six long years for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band to come home to Europe.

The Business Of The Unexpected: Roxy ’78


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
The Roxy, West Hollywood, CA, July 7, 1978

By Erik Flannigan

Imagine yourself at the Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles on Wednesday, July 5, 1978. Bruce Springsteen is playing his first headlining arena show in the area, a culmination of his growing popularity. During the intermission between sets, a rumor swirls that a special show is happening on Friday night at the Roxy in West Hollywood and tickets are going on sale tomorrow morning. With a capacity under 500, seeing Bruce and the E Street Band at the tiny club will be the toughest ticket in town. What do you do? Leaving early means missing the rest of the Forum show when the rumor may not be true. But if you stay, do you miss the chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime intimate performance? A true Sophie’s Choice.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band 7/7/78 The Roxy, Hollwyood, CA

Perhaps a few did leave before the encores; others rushed straight from the Forum to the Roxy to join the growing queue because the rumor turned out to be true. A small item in Thursday’s LA Times confirmed tickets were going on sale for Bruce’s “first club appearance in nearly three years.” The faith of those who braved the overnight line was likely rewarded as eyewitness reports suggest as many as 1,000 people were waiting when the Roxy box office opened at noon.

“It was like the Beatles when we announced the Roxy,” says Paul Rappaport, Columbia’s west coast promo guy at the time and organizer of the show on behalf of the label. After it quickly sold out, “hundreds of kids showed up in the KMET lobby and at the CBS Records lobby in Century City looking for tickets,” he adds.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band 7/7/78 The Roxy, Hollwyood, CA

Why KMET? Because the silver lining in the Roxy announcement for those who couldn’t attend was that it would be broadcast live on the radio, the first of five such transmissions on the Darkness tour that helped cement Springsteen’s peerless reputation as a live performer.

Each one --The Roxy, The Agora, Passaic, Atlanta and Winterland -- has its merit. They are compelling shows one and all. But the circumstances surrounding the event and the remarkable, risk-taking performance make the Roxy stand apart.

Rappaport recalls a phone conversation with Jon Landau where they discussed how difficult it was to create breakthrough buzz in LA even given a sold-out Forum show. “It is such a big town and there’s a lot going on, so it is hard to get attention,” he told Landau. The manager in turn suggested the idea of a live broadcast on KMET.

The FM rock radio powerhouse had grown more popular than the biggest Top 40 station in the city. “It’s like that scene in Back to the Future where the guy takes two electrical cords, shoves them together and sparks fly,” Rappaport says. “That’s what happens when you marry the greatest thing in rock ‘n’ roll to the greatest amplifier in Los Angeles…. I told Landau it would be amazing.”

The catch was there were only a few of days to pull it off, including buying out the band already booked to play the Roxy that night, getting Ma Bell to lay special high-fidelity phone lines at the venue to send audio to the radio station, as well as procuring a remote-recording truck to handle the mix and--as we’re fortunate enough to hear today--preserve the concert on multi-track tapes.

Springsteen starts the set by acknowledging the ticket challenges, which he owns with humility, a tenor that then gives away to something akin to a coiled snake. “We’re gonna do some rock ‘n’ roll for ya. A WELL, A WELL, A WELL THE LITTLE THINGS THAT YOU SAY AND DO, MAKE ME ALWAYS WANT TO BE WITH YOU HOO HOO.” Inspired by the recently released biopic, Springsteen opens the set with a thrilling surprise, the band’s stupefyingly tight take of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On.” With it, the breakneck pace for the Roxy is established, never to be vanquished.

How fast? If your digital playback device had a pitch control, you’d probably check the setting during “Candy’s Room,” jet-fueled by Max Weinberg. Every song in the first set teems with confidence and conviction, none more so than the sequence of “Candy’s Room” into a flawless “For You,” followed by the next of the night’s shockers, “Point Blank.” It’s a bold debut for the future River track, stunningly performed with early lyric and arrangement variants.

The caliber of performances in the first set carries on in the second, which opens in high spirits with more unreleased tunes, the instrumental band spotlight “Paradise By The ‘C’” and “Fire.” While the setlist serves as a showcase for Darkness tracks and the Roxy versions are uniformly brilliant, when people suggest the ‘78 radio broadcasts drove thousands of new converts, it is because they captured both the music and the magic.

As the set moves to “Growin’ Up” and its delightful “goddamn guitar” story, enchantment turns irresistible. “Growin’ Up” flows into a scintillating “Saint In The City” and the E Street Band crushes it. The new mix by Jon Altschiller makes Springsteen and Van Zandt’s guitars sabre sharp.

If somehow that weren’t enough to convince, we get “Backstreets,” in a version many cite as one of the very best. The mid-song “Sad Eyes” passage (edited on Live 1975-85) is intact here, restoring this masterpiece to its full grandeur. From the charm of “Growin’ Up” through the emotional catharsis of “Backstreets,” religious conversion is complete.

“In the middle of the show, I stepped out because I needed fresh air,” Rappaport recalls. “It was one of the greatest scenes I have ever witnessed in rock: A couple hundred kids with their ears pressed to the wall outside the Roxy; all of the Sunset Strip listening to this broadcast, car after car, windows down, people singing along. It blew my mind.”

There would be more mind blowing to come. Bruce opens the encore with yet another new song, premiering “Independence Day” on solo piano, a monumental moment. Neither “Point Blank” nor “Independence Day” would be played again until September, which makes it all the more astounding that Springsteen chose to debut them in the broadcast. In fact, over the course of the night he performs five unreleased originals, two of them for the very first time, plus another four unreleased cover songs, two them also live premieres.

All this knowing full well--as he proclaims at the top of the second set--that bootleggers and thousands of fans listening at home would indeed be rolling their tapes. When the stakes couldn’t be higher, Springsteen went all in.

“One of the things I had to do,” Rappaport explains, “was tell the sales branch that I guarantee there will be a bootleg. But we had to do it….It’s one of the greatest live recordings of all time.”

When asked about the audacity of debuting brand-new songs, Rappaport replies, “Bruce understood the platform he had. I think he wanted to play those songs because he was always trying to do something different. He didn’t want to repeat himself. I have never seen a guy work harder than him, ever. ”

Rappaport then recounts a tale told to him by Columbia’s then head of sales, who had seen Springsteen backstage at a big show debating doing another encore when it seemed like he had already given the people all they could want and then some. When asked why we was even considering one more song, Springsteen replied, “I’m in the business of the unexpected.”

With the Roxy, the unexpected was broadcast all over town, and via tapes and bootlegs, ultimately to fans the world over.

The encore rolls on after the sublime “Independence Day” and Bruce and the band push the show as hard as she will go. “Born to Run,” “Because the Night” (which was already a hit for Patti Smith), Eddie Floyd’s “Raise Your Hand” and finally, after 12 minutes of cheering, “Twist and Shout.”

From the band to the audience in the club, from the kids outside the venue to the listeners all over Southern California listening on KMET, anyone who experienced the Roxy performance would concur with Rappaport’s final assessment: “I witnessed rock ‘n’ roll history.”

Down The River We Ride


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, November 9, 2009

By Erik Flannigan

Sometime in the early 2000s, playing full albums in sequence, in concert came in vogue. For the final leg of the 2009 Working On A Dream tour, Bruce Springsteen got in on the fun, announcing that for the band’s five-show stand at Giants Stadium, they would revisit a classic album each night, drawn from Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Born in the U.S.A., after test-driving the concept with BTR at a show in Chicago.

For fans, there’s a lot to like about a full-album performance. Hearing those songs in that order hearkens back to how many of us fell in love with the music in the first place, playing the albums over and over until we memorized every note and nuance. For Bruce and the band, it was something novel and different, too, shifting the approach to both the songs and sequencing within a concert dynamic. Case in point, “Badlands” and “Thunder Road” had evolved into key tracks used to wind down or close sets; in a full-album context they reverted to their roles as the starting point of the narrative.

In a run of a dozen or so shows starting at Giants Stadium, Springsteen rotated the three albums into his sets, one each night. In truth, many of the songs were in regular rotation anyway (acknowledging outliers like “Meeting Across the River” and “Streets of Fire”), so the new experience was hearing the songs in order, presented as a whole.

But when it was announced that Springsteen would return to Madison Square Garden and feature one-off, full-album performances of The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle and The River, stakes were raised. Considerably.

Both albums contain songs that were not part of the regular or even extended concert repertoire, plus a few that had barely made a set list in decades. The River is also a 20-song double album, so to perform it meant devoting nearly two hours of the show to that material alone. An ambitious prospect, and one that made this an unmissable night, because The River is just as much THE album that got many of us into Springsteen as Born to Run, Darkness and BIUSA are.

The River performance at MSG holds its own today as much as it did in 2009, even given the 2016 River tour first leg which saw the album essayed every night. When Bruce and the band hit the road in January 2016 to start the new River tour in Pittsburgh, they were rehearsed and ready. In November 2009, a better operative word might be game. Firing in peak tour form, they were game to perform their most ambitious studio work as a special, one-time event. “It’s too long to do it again,” Bruce quipped at the time.

For those lucky enough to be there (myself included), the result was a marvelous, in-the-moment experience for band and audience, as rarely played songs like “Crush On You,” “Stolen Car,” “Wreck On The Highway” “Fade Away,” “I Wanna Marry You” and “The Price You Pay” roared back to life, fulfilling long-held fan desires and restating the case for The River’s place in the core canon.

It seems contradictory to feel heightened anticipation for a set where you know what 20 songs are about to be played, but there was an undeniable air of expectancy in the building as Springsteen took the stage for the opener, “Wrecking Ball,” which served to remind us Bruce had history with the building. Indeed, MSG was the site of four epic performances on the original River tour in 1980.

“We’re gonna get right to work now,” Bruce then declared, explaining The River’s place as a transitional record, moving into adult themes later explored on Nebraska and Tunnel Of Love. He also said it was also a conscious attempt to balance the dark with the light, or what Springsteen called, “the music that made our live shows so much fun and enjoyable.”

From there we were off, galloping through both ends of the emotional spectrum with equal aplomb. Stalwarts like “The Ties That Bind” and “Out In the Street” felt freshened by renewed context, while Bruce made a delightful meal out of “Crush On You,” “a hidden masterpiece” only played once since 1980. The charm of mid-tempo romantic gems like “Fade Away” and “I Wanna Marry You” resonated and left one wondering why they lay dormant for so long.

Part of the answer is the absence of Stevie Van Zandt from the two major tours that followed the album. His imprint on The River cannot be understated. Heard in the robust, up-close mix by Jon Altschiller, Van Zandt’s guitar playing (which on this night included 12-string electric) and vocals (backing harmonies and shared leads) are essential to this body of work.

For many, “Stolen Car” was the moment they had been waiting for. With Max Weinberg, Garry Tallent, Charlie Giordano and Roy Bittan in particular providing a gorgeous accompaniment, Springsteen played one of his greatest and saddest songs with heart-wrenching austerity.

The River’s high contrast is truly brought to bear in the sequence of “Stolen Car” into the hydraulic pounding of “Ramrod” followed by the exhilarating declaration of “The Price You Pay,” the latter another high point in the show. For its final act, The River winds down through the slow rising crescendo of devotion pledged in “Drive All Night” and, lastly, the stark humanity of “Wreck on the Highway.” On the 2016 tour, “Wreck” was given a more lush and full-bodied arrangement, ending the album sequence on a different note. The 2009 edition retains more of the somber majesty of the original and serves as a plaintive coda to the overall River story.

When Bruce gathered “the guys that recorded the record” and shouted out their missing comrade, Danny Federici, everyone in the room, be it on stage or off, recognized that this reading of The River was a audacious achievement. Nine years on, it still is.

It’s One Hell Of A Town

Bruce Springsteen
St. Rose of Lima Gymnasium, Freehold, NJ, November 8, 1996

By Erik Flannigan

Even for a career marked by legendary performances, Springsteen’s 1996 return to his hometown of Freehold, NJ stands out as extraordinary. Held in the gymnasium of St. Rose of Lima, the Catholic parochial school Bruce attended growing up, the one-off benefit concert might be the sweetest “prodigal son returns” narrative in rock concert history.

In hindsight, a deeply personal Springsteen solo performance at an intimate venue sounds not dissimilar to his current run on Broadway. Shows like the Christic Institute in 1990 (released as part of the live download series), Freehold 1996 and the Doubletake benefit in Somerville, MA 2003 are antecedents to Bruce On Broadway, juxtaposing Springsteen storytelling at its most personal with special setlists.

What makes Freehold particularly heightened is that Springsteen isn’t playing to his fans per se, he is playing to the people in his hometown (tickets were strictly limited to Freehold residents only), family and relatives and some of the very Sisters and Fathers who oversaw St. Rose of Lima then and now. One might say Bruce was throwing his own acoustic confessional at the scene of the crime.

“I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I wasn’t standing here, right under the cross,” Springsteen admits at the top of the show, “What can I say? Myself, I’ve been excommunicated with the divorce and all, but it’s still great to be here. I told my buddy Steve, ‘I’m playing Friday night.’ ‘Where?’ ‘At my Catholic school.’ And he says, ‘Oh. Revenge!’ I said, ‘No. Well. Maybe just a little bit’.”

With that spirit established, Springsteen begins to masterfully weave together his core Joad tour set and songs for the occasion into a poignant, heartfelt and frequently hilarious performance that runs the gamut from tender recollections of his mother coming home from work to tender advocacy for the relationship benefits of cunnilingus.

The latter was something Bruce included during his intro to “Red Headed Woman” throughout the tour, but given the setting, the subject is even more amusingly unsettling. Can you sing about cunnilingus while standing inside your Catholic school? “I talked to Father McCarron,” Bruce assures. “He said, ‘I’m not sure.’ “I took that as a yes….The Pope says, ‘I can’t, but you go right ahead’.”

The many comedic moments of Freehold shine, and so too the songs. Joad material like “Straight Time,” “Highway 29,” and the title track are in peak tour form, as is the four-pack of “Sinaloa Cowboys,” “The Line,” “Balboa Park” and “Across The Border.” Tour standouts “Adam Raised a Cain,” “Johnny 99” and “Born in the U.S.A.” also hit home with something a little extra this night.

“When You’re Alone” from Tunnel of Love is played for only the second time ever (and one of but 12 public performances) in a pure, beautiful arrangement featuring Soozie Tyrell on violin and Patti Scialfa on backing vocals. It is one of an impressive nine tour premieres in Freehold, some specially chosen like “The River” and “Racing In The Street” (both featuring Tyrell), some audibles, as Bruce tears up the set list mid-show for “Open All Night” and “Used Cars” in their only Joad-tour performances; the same goes for “My Hometown.”

The combination of musical highlights and humorous candor in such a setting makes Freehold one for the ages. So how do you end such a transcendent night? With the world premiere of the song of the same name, “Freehold,” an autobiographical narrative that literally sums up Bruce’s history with his hometown, name-checking many of the places, spaces, events and people that influenced him in those formative years. It even delivers one final uproarious nod to “revenge” in the delightfully contradictory couplet: “Well I got a good Catholic education here in Freehold / Led to an awful lot of masturbation here in Freehold.”

Until a release of Bruce On Broadway, Freehold ‘96 might be the closest substitute, the night Springsteen returned triumphantly to his hometown on his own terms.

Now All That Remains Is My Love For You Brother

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, MA, November 19, 2007

By Erik Flannigan

There is something appealingly workmanlike about the Magic tour. Reunion celebrated the return of the E Street Band and revisited the legacy. The Rising tour was imbued with the spirit of answering the call in the wake of 9/11 (famously, a fan on the street yelled to Bruce, “We need you, now”). In contrast, Magic reads more like, “we made a great record and we’re excited to take those songs on the road.”

That commitment comes through loud and clear on Boston, November 19, 2007, a cracking Magic show that showcases eight of the album’s 12 songs along with several special additions spotlighting one band member in particular.

Springsteen’s final U.S concert of 2007 would prove to be Danny Federici’s last full gig in the E Street Band. Following Boston and ahead of the European tour it was announced that Federici would take a leave of absence to receive treatment for melanoma. Well aware of the pending change, Bruce’s drafted a setlist for the second night in Boston with Phantom Dan in mind and soul, dipping deep in The Wild & The Innocent for three songs and adding the tour debut of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” another chapter in the band’s origin story. Even the night’s lone track (!) from Born in the U.S.A., “Working on the Highway,” rides a Danny keyboard riff.

Compared to the sprawling, three-and-a-half to four-hour epics to come a few years later on the Wrecking Ball tour, Boston ‘07 looks merely long, clocking in at a tight two hours, twenty-two minutes, and that includes almost 12 spent on “Kitty’s Back.” There’s barely a wasted second and the set derives potency from its taut pacing especially at the start, as Springsteen walks up to the speed bag and starts jabbing: “Radio Nowhere,” cross to “Night,” hook to “Lonesome Day,” uppercut with “Gypsy Biker.” It is a thrillingly breakneck start.

We get a moment to catch our breath with the cautionary ballad “Magic” before Bruce raises his gloves again. The bullet-mic, honky-tonk arrangement of “Reason To Believe” is one of the tour’s signature performances: Bruce blows some mean harp and his distorted singing through the vintage microphone gives this “Reason” it’s deliciously dark and dirty texture. From there, we roll straight into “Darkness On the Edge of Town” (sounding rich and expansive in Jon Altschiller’s guitar-forward, multi-track mix), then the always welcome “Candy’s Room” propelled by Max Weinberg before crunching guitars transition to a crisp “She’s the One.”

That song had barely concluded before Max counts in the next, “Living in the Future,” another tour highlight and a moment Springsteen seemed to relish each night, commanding every corner of the stage as he delivered a song about “sleepwalking through changes that shouldn’t have happened” in our country. One might forget that upon Magic’s release, a few questioned why the album didn’t overtly address the actions of the George W. Bush administration. Metaphorically it did, in spades, and Bruce seemed to be responding to that misunderstanding of his work and his role: “We’re gonna sing about it. We’re musicians! That’s a start and after that, the rest is up to…all of us.”

The Boston show also brought the tour premiere of “This Hard Land” in a fresh full-band arrangement, embellished with solo spotlights for many members; not surprisingly, Springsteen calls on Danny first. But the proper showcase was to follow. “Winner of the Ted Mack amateur hour in 19….not that long ago, Dan Federici,” Springsteen says as Danny comes to the front of the stage, accordion adorned, for a touching and fitting “Sandy.” Staying circa 1973, “E Street Shuffle” slides in for a playful romp through one the band’s most joyful slices of musical myth making.

The rest of the show blends setlist stalwarts (e.g. “Badlands,” “Born to Run”) with the remaining core Magic songs. All sound vital in retrospect, none more so than “Devil’s Arcade.” The performance builds slowly from Soozie Tyrell’s violin to ultimately soar on some of Springsteen’s most evocative guitar soloing this century. The crescendo, rising from the repeated phrase “the beat of your heart/her heart” is captivating, as Bruce pushes and bends his guitar tone sharply before giving way to Max’s repeated drum beat that winds the song to conclusion. A stunner.

The encore brings the night to a highly satisfying conclusion, first with what Bono recently called a song that should have been a hit, “GIrls In Their Summer Clothes.” The aforementioned “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” gives Clarence Clemons a chance to shine, then Springsteen gives the entire band their due with a long “Kitty’s Back” packing solo after solo, kicked off by a full minute of blissful Phantom Dan Federici organ. The show ends on a boisterous note with both Danny and Roy Bittan on accordions at the front of the stage for “American Land.”

The following March in Indianapolis, Phantom Dan made one last appearance as a special guest before passing away on April 17, 2008. Indy was goodbye. Boston is a celebration of Danny’s five-decade role in the E Street Band and damn good Magic tour performance.

I Believe In Your Song

 

Bruce Springsteen
Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ, August 20, 1984

By Erik Flannigan

Nearly three years ago, Bruce Springsteen’s archival download series delivered a previously un-bootlegged gem: Brendan Byrne Arena, August 5, 1984, the first high-quality Born in the U.S.A. tour soundboard from multi-tracks and opening night of the ten-show New Jersey homecoming run. Now, the stunning complement arrives, August 20, 1984, final night of the Brendan Byrne stand.

Featuring memorable guest appearances by Stevie Van Zandt and the Miami Horns, 8/20/84 is justifiably regarded as one of the best shows of the tour and earns a place on the short list of Bruce’s most celebrated shows of all time as much because of what it represented as the music performed. To understand why requires a bit of mental time travel.

For Springsteen fans, the wait between the final show of the River tour in September 1981 and the start of the Born In The U.S.A. tour in June 1984 felt like eternity. In 1982, we got Nebraska, though no tour, as well as Van Zandt’s Men Without Women, released that October. Stevie’s solo debut planted the seed that his future in the E Street Band was in doubt. With his second album, Voice of America (released but a month before Born in the U.S.A.), the question was answered; soon thereafter Nils Lofgren was announced as his replacement.

Today,18 years beyond the Reunion tour and Stevie’s full return to the band, one can forget how devastating his departure felt back then. Springsteen bid him an emotional farewell in song with “Bobby Jean,” as well as in the album credits to Born In The U.S.A. where he wrote, “Buon viaggio, mio fratello, Little Steven,” which translates roughly to, “Have a good trip, my brother.” Kleenex, please.

All of which leads us to the Meadowlands, summer 1984. Nils had earned his stripes over the tour’s first several weeks, gracefully and capably stepping into Stevie’s shoes Born in the U.S.A. occupied the No. 1 slot on the Billboard Top 200 album chart for the entire month of July. And Bruce and the band were rolling into New Jersey for an unprecedented ten shows. In a career of peaks, the summer of ‘84 was one of the highest.

The previously released first night, August 5, is an excellent show in its own right. But as Bruce acknowledges to start August 20, “Well, tonight’s the night.” He knew it. The audience knew it, too. From there, an alchemy of anticipation, occasion and celebration combine to yield an inspirational performance that showcases the best of the Born In The U.S.A. tour arena era, plus singular moments that still resonate to this day.

The first set, heard here in a muscular, guitar-forward mix from multi-tracks by Jon Altschiller, plays out with the confidence of a new line-up hitting its stride (like Nils, Patti was but a few weeks into the band as well). The powerful, electric version of Atlantic City” might well be definitive, with Max’s gut-punch kick drum leading the way. Also from Nebraska comes “Highway Patrolman”; listen for a rare turn on harmonica by Clarence Clemons. We also gain two BIUSA album tracks not featured on 8/5/84, “I’m Goin’ Down” and “Darlington County” (“Cover Me,” in the second set, is a third), plus two other set changes for the regulars: “Spirit In The Night,” setting a proper Jersey backdrop to the evening, and a powerful “Darkness On The Edge Of Town.” “I know a lot of you guys been here for more than one night,” Bruce concedes later in the show, “almost everybody.”

Springsteen begins the second set with a crowd-pleasing trio of “Hungry Heart,” “Dancing in the Dark” and “Cadillac Ranch” before dropping his first surprise of the evening. I can only imagine the anticipation people felt as microphone stands were set up behind Roy Bittan.  It is genuinely thrilling to hear the Miami Horns (appearing with Bruce first time since 1977) once again blast the opening refrain of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” From that delirious high point, we slide to one of the tour’s poignant highlights, the solo acoustic “No Surrender.”  

As evidenced by that transition, the show’s pacing–faithful to the core tour setlist, but brilliantly sprinkled with gems–is part of its charm. One senses both the confidence the band had gained playing new album songs over ten nights for hometown fans and Bruce’s desire to make it a night all of them would never forget by closing a very important loop.

The remainder of the second set finishes as strong as the first, with classic stories teeing up “Pink Cadillac” and “Growin’ Up,” along with a charged “Prove It All Night” before wrapping with “Rosalita.” The encore opens in fine fashion with “Jungleland” and then, the moment arrives. “Tonight’s a special night. Little Steven is gonna come up and play with us tonight.” As captured on tape, those words are met with a roar of pure audience elation.

Springsteen’s song choices for the occasion are spot-on. From his own canon, it could only be “Two Hearts,” performed for the first time on the tour. You can hear Stevie’s guitar join the mix as the song takes a few extra bars before locking in. When the pair share the mic at the start of the second verse, the cheer from the crowd bleeds through behind them. But “Two Hearts” merely set the table.

What follows is one of the best live moments in Springsteen’s entire career. The decision to cover “Drift Away” (written by Mentor Williams and made famous by Dobie Gray) is a masterstroke. “[We] learned something special for you tonight,” Bruce says, and shortly thereafter the song’s stately horn line begins and magic fills the arena.

Williams’ heartfelt lyrics, about seeking solace in music when you feel vulnerable, have always struck a chord, which is part of the song’s inherent greatness. Yet in the context of this night, with Van Zandt rejoining Springsteen on stage for the first time since leaving the band, “Drift Away” feels purpose written for these blood brothers, as they trade fitting line after fitting line.

Bruce takes the first verse, Stevie the second (the last line of which is particularly apropos, “Countin’ on you, to see me through”), and they share a memorable bridge:

Bruce:

And when my mind is free, just a melody can soothe me

Stevie:

Listen Brucie. When I’m feelin’ blue, guitars comin’ through to soothe me

Both:

Thanks for the joy, the 20 years you’ve given me/ I believe in your song/ Rhythm and the rhyme and the harmony/ You help me along, making me strong

The emotion in their voices unmistakable. The arrangement then moves compellingly to the song’s denouement, as Bruce brings the band down and lets voices carry an extended chorus. The Big Man’s rich baritone, Patti’s harmonies, even La Bamba’s piercing falsetto all join in to bring the song to magnificent conclusion. The bond described in “Bobby Jean” comes full circle with this performance of “Drift Away.”

After Van Zandt exits, the encore rolls on in high spirits, and the horns come back one last time to enliven “Detroit Medley” and “Twist and Shout – Do You Love Me,” closing out an unforgettable night of rebirth and reunion. Reliving it in high-quality audio today is what the archival download series is all about.

Any Given Wednesday: Bruce Springsteen Devils & Dust Tour 8/3/05


Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI

August 3, 2005

By Erik Flannigan

 

There’s one clear common thread connecting the rock artists whose live recordings are most highly collected. From the Grateful Dead to Phish to Pearl Jam to Bruce Springsteen, when these artists play live, every show is distinct. The setlists they perform change night after night to collectively encompass not only the widest possible swath of their own catalogs, but through covers, the music of other songwriters, too.

That’s admirable in its own right, and it makes seeing multiple nights on a tour all the more rewarding as a fan. But even if one were to see but a single concert by the aforementioned musicians, playing something fresh and different creates palpable presence. Each singular performance benefits from an artist consciously choosing to be in the moment.

I have often said, and nearly as frequently experienced, that part of the seductive appeal of seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert is never knowing what song you might get to hear. This has been true for most of his career, but since the Reunion tour, it is more like an official tenent of his platform. For stretches of the Magic, Working on a Dream and Wrecking Ball tours, audience sign requests and other attempts to “stump the band” evolved to become overt centerpieces of the show.

For me, Springsteen’s ultimate high-wire act in this regard was the 2005 Devils & Dust tour. A solo show, without the collective safety net of the E Street Band, found Springsteen at his most spontaneous and fearless, not merely adding unusual songs to set lists, but often performing them in a one-of-a-kind manner. In fact, over the course of the tour’s 72 shows, Bruce assayed a whopping 139 different songs, 42 of which were played but once or twice. One could say the tour’s unspoken motto was: I do not play these songs often. I have not played them on this instrument. I may not play them this way again.

Case in point, the sublime version of “Tunnel of Love” that opens Grand Rapids. “I’m gonna start with something I haven’t played before,” says Bruce, just before his hands come down on the electric piano and the marvelously muted, swirling chords that only that instrument can make pour forth. Past a tentative first few notes, the confidence in his own playing swells, and the clarion vocal and wistful keyboard begin to interplay, as one lingers and punctuates the other right up to the last 12 resonant chords that end the song so beautifully. We didn’t hear “Tunnel of Love” live, we witnessed a new “Tunnel of Love” being born.

It doesn’t get any more magical than that, and yet, he has never played the song solo again.

What Grand Rapids captures so effectively is Springsteen’s version of this magical alchemy, that on any given Wednesday–not in New Jersey or Los Angeles, not in Milan or Gothenburg, but in his one and only concert ever in Grand Rapids–an unrepeatable performance could be created. And through the magic of the live download series, those of us who weren’t sitting at Van Andel Arena get to hear what what those lucky folks experienced.

While only three days separate Grand Rapids from Columbus, the other archive release from the Devils & Dust tour, to the points above the two shows are as distinct as they are kindred. Around a spine of songs from the album (including a rare outing for one of its least performed tracks, “Black Cowboys”) Springsteen puts his keyboard playing to the fore and the song selections are inspired. The choice of electric piano reinterprets “Sherry Darling,” now as much a melancholy remembrance as a summer party song, and the instrument applies a dreamlike filter to “Nothing Man,” bringing even deeper intimacy to its narrative.

Sequencing “I Wish I Were Blind” on piano to follow suggests an earlier chapter from the life of the same narrator; recontextualized, songs that never felt connected suddenly feel part of a whole. Staying with piano, Bruce delivers a fine rendition of “Racing in the Street,” his playing as majestic as the song warrants, especially the long outro. Later in the night, his final performance on piano, “Jesus Was an Only Son,” is another highlight, set up with a wonderful story of his family and sung with conviction and tenderness.

There are surprises on guitar as well, as Springsteen resurrects “Part Man, Part Monkey,” the amusing evolution tale from the Tunnel of Love tour. That album’s “Ain’t Got You” is delivered in fine form in the encore, as is the tour premiere of “(It’s Hard to Be A) Saint in the City,” sounding as fresh as the John Hammond audition.

Across the night Bruce is chatty, personable, occasionally profane and quite funny, revealing himself as much through his looseness as he does on Broadway with his marvelously crafted storytelling. That in-the-moment candor, a set filled with outstanding performances and an audio mix even more up-close than Columbus makes Grand Rapids a thrillingly unexpected gem.

Down Along The River’s Silent Edge I Soar

Bruce Springsteen
Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ, June 24, 1993

By Erik Flannigan

In contrast to the periods that preceded it, the Human Touch/Lucky Town era has never established the same kind of collective characterization within Bruce Springsteen’s career narrative. We, the fans, have a consensus of opinion on, say, the Darkness tour or Europe ‘81, but 1992-93 remains more unsettled.

By definition it was an aberration, in that it broke from the norm of always touring with the E Street Band. But in hindsight, the greater aberration would have been if Bruce had never toured with other musicians.

For he was hardly alone in choosing to work without his most familiar and beloved bandmates. Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello, each to varying degrees, changed up who they recorded and toured with more than Springsteen. And like Dylan had done many times before, the 1992-93 line-up was assembled specifically as a touring band that would have to learn both old and new songs. In fact, it was Dylan’s friend and unofficial musical adviser, the late Debbie Gold who Springsteen turned to for help finding new musicians to fill some very big shoes.

The result was a diverse, multi-generational, big-band line-up that, with its five gospel-trained back-up singers, wouldn’t have looked out of place on stage with Dylan circa 1978-81. In fact, Carol Dennis had toured (and more) with Dylan and Bobby King has recorded with him. Elsewhere, Lone Justice veteran Shane Fontayne stepped in on guitar, while session musicians Tommy Sims (bass) and Zack Alford (drums) formed the rhythm section. They were augmented by multi-instrumentalist Crystal Taliefero and familiar face Roy Bittan on piano and keyboards. Gia Ciambotti, Cleopatra Kennedy and Angel Rogers rounded out the back-up singers. This was the 11-piece new band.

We can only imagine the pressure these musicians felt at the start, with the shadow of E Street looming over them, and, to be fair, when the tour kicked off in June 1992, the cohesion of a band wasn’t there yet. An 11-night run in New Jersey later that summer (not coincidentally one more than the famed 10-night stand in 1984) was a bold statement of commitment to the new, but at times the striving was palpable.

One year later, back at Brendan Byrne Arena for a benefit concert to fight hunger and kick off a two-show wrap-up to the tour, things felt decidedly different. After touring Europe a second time and having not played a stateside show in six months, Springsteen and the his band returned with newfound ease, cohesion and quiet confidence.

The June 24, 1993 show, captured on multi-tracks by Toby Scott and newly mixed by Jon Altschiller, is a fascinating listen and offers a chance to reassess the 1992-93 band at their best. It also documents the blending of past and present, as guests from E Street and adjacent neighborhoods also share the stage on this genuinely special night.

As he had begun doing so effectively in Europe, the show starts with a strong mini-acoustic set. Bruce and Joe Ely had shared each other’s stages in Dublin a month earlier, and Ely makes his first guest appearance of the night dueting on Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home.” Springsteen then plays sharp solo acoustic versions of “Seeds,” “Adam Raised a Cain” and “This Hard Land” that point the way forward to The Ghost of Tom Joad two years on.

The rest of the first set (this was the last band tour with an intermission) serves as a fine showcase of new and old material and the strengths of the musicians. Soul and gospel flavors run rich in these versions of “Better Days,” “Leap of Faith,” “Roll of the Dice” (with its “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” Solomon Burke coda) and especially the vocal exchange with Bobby King on the in hindsight quite charming “Man’s Job.” The traditional “Satan’s Jewel Crown” is a particular high point and something clearly born from the singers’ gospel heritage. The rock edge is there, too. “Atlantic City” and “Lucky Town” pack the right punch, and though “Badlands” without a saxophone solo still takes some getting used to, it is well played.

The outstanding second set is sharper still, opening with an acoustic guitar and piano version of “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” that is worth the price of the download alone. Bruce and Roy intertwine magnificently and it is but one of many moments of Bittan’s masterful playing this night. You’ll hear keyboard and piano parts throughout the show that you’ve likely never noticed before as on many songs Roy leads the way.

Elsewhere in the second set, the strength of the gospel chorus is brought to bear powerfully in compelling arrangements of “Because the Night,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and “Light of Day.” Patti Scialfa joins her husband for “Brilliant Disguise” and a terrific, long version of “Human Touch.” But the heart of the set lies in the three-song sequence of “Souls of the Departed,” “Living Proof” and “Born in the U.S.A.”

“Souls of the Departed” is a sober elegy, accented with audio from newscasts about the Iraq war that make its sentiments crystal clear (similar audio augmentation of “57 Channels [And Nothing On] in the first set isn’t quite as effective). It flows straight into “Living Proof,” a song of rebirth and arguably some of Bruce’s finest writing of the period. From that point of hope and renewal, the light darkens again with a Hendrix-flavored “Star-Spangled Banner” preface and “Born in the U.S.A.,” in which Bruce emotionally pleads, in manner not heard on other tours, “I got nowhere to go. I got nowhere to go. I got nowhere to run.”

The legendary encore that would see old friends like Stevie Van Zandt, Southside Johnny, Max Weinberg, the Miami Horns and Clarence Clemons take the stage largely speaks for itself. It sounds just as fun now as it surely was then. To their credit, the new band plays songs like “Glory Days” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” capably, and the performance of Joe Ely’s “Settle for Love” is a surprise highlight. A Springsteen cover of the song wouldn’t have been out of place on High Hopes.

Beyond the undeniable fun of “It’s Been a Long Time,” “Having a Party” and “It’s All Right,” two other encore songs merit attention. Like “Does This Bus Stop,” “Thunder Road” is another Bruce and Roy showcase, this time with Bittan adding sweet organ fills to Springsteen’s acoustic strumming. Finally, if a single song captures the spirit of this era, it the spiritual dream of “My Beautiful Reward,” played here with sparse beauty.

The 1992-93 tour was a shock to the system for fans at the time. But viewed through the lens of nearly two decades of a reunited E Street Band, the expanded Wrecking Ball line-up and the Seeger Sessions Band, this particular period of musical exploration now feels kindred. Meadowlands ‘93 provides a fine snapshot of a hot, soulful summer night when Springsteen’s past and present united.

It’s Just Me and You Tonight


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Capitol Theater, Passaic, New Jersey, September 20, 1978

By Erik Flannigan

It was a homecoming when Bruce and the E Street Band returned to the Capitol Theater for a three-night run in September 1978. The Passaic shows were the band’s first New Jersey appearances on the Darkness tour, coming at the end of a run that saw Springsteen play 22 shows in 32 nights, nine of which took place within the 14-mile radius encompassing Madison Square Garden (three sold-out nights), the Palladium (another three sold-out nights) and the Capitol Theater. If you’re looking for the heart of the Darkness tour, look no further than the Passaic stand.

To mark the occasion, a special marquee was commissioned for the theater, and, most famously, it was decided that opening night at the Capitol, September 19th, would be broadcast live on FM stations from Maine to Virginia including WNEW-FM in New York City. The Passaic broadcast was a culmination of much of the success that had been earned on the Darkness tour, and, thanks to tapes and bootlegs of the broadcast, it was helped seal the legend of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live in concert.

But the next night the pressure was off, and that’s what makes the Capitol Theater, September 20, 1978 such an exceptional performance and an essential addition to the archival download series. “It’s just me and you tonight,” says Bruce before launching into the show-opening cover of “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” If night one in Passaic was playing to Bruce’s entire east-coast fanbase listening on the radio, night two was playing for himself and many of his longtime Jersey fans.

What follows is an electric, 22-song performance that delivers much of the core ‘78 tour set along with special selections for those stalwart local supporters, including a long, band-showcasing “Kitty’s Back”; the galvanizing cover of the Animals’ “It’s My Life” (frequently played at 1976-77 shows but uncommon in ‘78); and a very rare live coupling a la the album of “Incident on 57th Street” into “Rosalita” which justifiably brings the house down. Smashing stuff.

As great as those special additions are, Darkness on the Edge of Town material is performed here at its peak, so the versions of “Badlands,” “The Promised Land,” “Prove It All Night” (with its long instrumental intro), “Candy’s Room” and the title track capture Bruce and the band at the height of their powers, augmented by the album outtakes “Fire” and “Because the Night” in equally fine form. If you’re looking for “Racing in the Street,” Bruce subs “It’s My Life” in its place, seemingly to honor an audience request you can make out clearly in the recording.

Add in future River songs “Independence Day” and “Point Blank” and there is no denying the intensity of the September 20 performance and the total commitment of the musicians. Even on tape, you can feel it as much as you hear it.

Yet the magic of a Springsteen concert is the balance of darkness and light. Here, with only 102 shopping days left until Christmas, the playfulness comes as Bruce performs “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” for the first time since 1975. Likewise, the encore is pure release, first firing a turbo-charged “Born to Run,” followed by an ebullient “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out,” “Detroit Medley” and finally, what else but “Twist and Shout.” As the latter comes to an end, a sweat-drenched Springsteen takes off his coat, throws it over his shoulder and shouts triumphantly, “I’m goin’ home!” He was already there.

Line recordings of the September 20 show have circulated for many years, initially in mono (pulled from an in-house video recording) and later in stereo from soundboard tapes. For the first time, this release comes from multi-track reels captured by the Record Plant’s mobile recording unit and mixed by Bob Clearmountain, after restoration by Jamie Howarth at Plangent Processes.

Compared to even the best of the bootlegs, Clearmountain’s mix is next level, fixing instrumental and vocal balance, while adding dimensionality, depth and a polish that this sparkling performance fully deserves. The Darkness tour has never sounded better than this.

Brothers and Sisters Don’t You Cry, There’ll Be Better Times By and By


Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, New Orleans, LA
April 30, 2006

By Erik Flannigan

Some things are meant to be. That Bruce Springsteen’s immersion into roots music, The Seeger Sessions, was released just six days before he and the band of the same name appeared at the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival post-Hurricane Katrina had to be an act of benevolent fate. Rarely has the subject matter and style of a particular set of music felt so apropos to a moment.

Often it is the confluence of occasion and performance that distinguishes a great show from an all-timer and on those grounds, Jazz Fest 2006 has come to be considered one for the ages. “This…felt even above and beyond Springsteen’s high performance standards,” wrote LA Times critic Randy Lewis in his contemporary review, “a concert infused with the shout-out jubilation of an unfettered hootenanny.”

Reverent reflections on Bruce’s Jazz Fest performance have continued ever since. “I am not alone in ranking that show as quite likely the best, and certainly most emotional, musical experience of my life,” wrote New Orleans Times-Picyune critic Keith Spera in 2012.

Spera’s opinion is shared by none other than Springsteen himself, who wrote in Born to Run, “There was one show in America that stood out as not only one of the finest but one of the most meaningful of my work life: New Orleans.”

With such heady endorsements, Jazz Fest 2006 fully merits inclusion as the latest release in the archival download series. For those not lucky enough to witness the show in person, the official recording also represents a fresh opportunity to re-experience the performance, previously only available via audience recording.

The sound here, mixed from multi-tracks by Jon Altschiller, is full-bodied and warm, with a wide-stereo mix that gives space to all 20 or so players and singers on stage, and just the right amount of crowd response to capture the full bilateral experience.

“Alright, this is our first gig, let’s hope it goes well,” Bruce says at the top, summing up a spirit that’s equal parts purpose and looseness.

The former comes from being in New Orleans, post Katrina, a subject Bruce addresses head-on, notably in his intro to “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?,” reflecting on the devastation he witnessed while touring the city the day before the show and calling out the failure of government officials, from then President Bush on down, to address the situation. He goes so far as to dedicate the song to “President Bystander.”

The looseness is there by design in the very act of assembling and bringing this seemingly unwieldy number of accomplished players to the stage to play timeless folk and protest music (save for a few reworkings of Bruce’s own songs) for the first time on the road, as Jazz Fest also doubled as opening night of the Seeger Sessions tour.

The result is a Springsteen performance that’s fully in the moment and delightfully off the cuff. One minute he’s solemnly addressing the difficult times many in the Jazz Fest audience were experiencing, the next he’s mocking his own inability to tune a guitar or having an amusing wardrobe malfunction with his belt.

The music follows the same recipe for catharsis. “We Shall Overcome” is majestic and poignant, “Eyes On the Prize” elegiac and “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” triumphant, each brilliantly arranged to showcase the capabilities of the band. Elsewhere singalong songs like “Buffalo Gals” and “Pay Me My Money Down” offer rollicking fun and feel right at home on the Jazz Fest stage. As Springsteen himself wrote in Born to Run: “I finally had a band that I felt would contextually fit Jazz Fest and might be able to pull the weight of that position.”

Of the Seeger-ized originals played here, “Open All Night,” reimagined as a big-band rave-up, is the standout, but another of Bruce’s own compositions, written with this kind of band already in mind, provided the night’s emotional crescendo.

“This is a song I originally wrote for my adopted hometown, Asbury Park,” Springsteen says introducing “My City of Ruins.” “Parts of it look a lot like parts of New Orleans right now….so I wanna sing this and dedicate it to the people and the city of New Orleans tonight.”

The fitting question the song asks, “How will I begin again?”, and the empowering answer, “Come on, rise up,” struck a deep chord with many in attendance. Wrote Spera in his original Times-Picyune review, “Thousands lifted their hands to the sky. I wept, my wife wept. And we were not alone.”

Throughout the set, lyric after lyric from the Seeger Sessions material feels penned for the New Orleans audience. “What happened to you poor folks just ain’t fair,” Springsteen declares in “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?,” while “O Mary Don’t You Weep” prophesies, “Brothers and sisters don’t you cry, there’ll be good times by and by.” Hearing such words of acknowledgement and hope sung out in such a musically engaging performance translates wonderfully in the Jazz Fest 2006 recording.

Perhaps the LA Times’ Randy Lewis summed it up best: “One concert, of course, cannot even begin to undo such monumental destruction as Katrina left, but Springsteen seemed to understand that even a moment of renewal can make a huge difference.” Amen to that.

The Tunnel of Love Is Open To Everyone


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Stockholm Stadion, Stockholm, Sweden, July 3, 1988

By Erik Flannigan

Tracing Bruce Springsteen’s career arc from cult artist to superstar, theater to arena headliner, there’s a case to be made that a series of radio broadcasts on the 1978 Darkness On the Edge of Town tour played a significant role. The five home-recorded, fan-traded and oft-bootlegged concerts from The Roxy, The Agora, The Capitol Theater, The Fox and Winterland captured and ultimately spread the magic of Bruce and the E Street Band’s live show, and seemingly converted thousands to fill arenas two years later on the River tour.

Despite that rich history, there were no live broadcasts from the River tour, the Born in the U.S.A. tour or the U.S. leg of the Tunnel of Love tour. Which is why in 1988, after ten years of radio silence, the announcement that a portion of Springsteen’s July 3rd show in Stockholm would be broadcast live via satellite to the U.S. and the world was huge news for fans.

Like many among us, I tuned in that Fourth of July weekend and heard a potent 90-minute first set that wrapped with Bruce announcing plans to join the Amnesty International tour before wrapping the broadcast portion with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Chimes Of Freedom” (later released on the EP of the same name). It was the first of hundreds of listens to follow.

Conveniently apportioned to fill a 90-minute cassette tape, the Stockholm broadcast joined the five ‘78 b-casts as the most played live Springsteen recordings most of us had. There was just one problem: as great as those 14 songs were, 20 other songs were played in Stockholm after the satellite feed came down, and short of a crummy audience tape, few of us have had a chance to hear the full show, until now.

Happily, this complete, multi-track recording validates what we all presumed: the Stockholm show was one of the best on the Tunnel tour, offering a passionate, hyper-focused first-set and–freed from the pressure of a global listening audience–a rollicking, playful second set and encore. Looking for a sign of Springsteen’s mood after the transmission ended? How about the inclusion of Gary U.S. Bonds’ ultimate party track “Quarter to Three” for the first time since 1981.

Fondness for the familiar first set is richly deserved. It starts with Bruce inviting the audience in the stadium and at home to come aboard with a wonderful “Tunnel of Love,” now followed by a horn-blasting “Boom Boom’ (with its unabashed sentiment of “I need you right now” replacing “Be True,” performed in this slot for most of the US leg). The brazen John Lee Hooker cover forms a bond of emancipation with what follows, “Adam Raised a Cain,” again propelled by the five-piece Horns of Love. Bruce hadn’t toured with a horn section since ‘77 and their presence is a critical component in the distinct sound and theatrics of ‘88 shows.

Because the broadcast was limited to 90 minutes, the first set showcased key Tunnel tracks, including a majestic “Tougher Than the Rest,” “Spare Parts,” “Brilliant Disguise” and “All That Heaven Will Allow.” Bruce also featured two killer non-album tracks: “Roulette,” unforgivably left off The River, but resuscitated to sound an alarm on the Tunnel tour; and “Seeds,” another take on the plight of working-class Americans and this time they’re pissed.

Perhaps the surprise highlight of the first set is “Born in the U.S.A.” Separated from its namesake tour and attendant misinterpretations, the song’s deep-seated anger is rekindled. Listen to Bruce’s shrieks of angst before Max’s drum crescendo, echoed later his own impassioned guitar solo. The story has grown more personal, too, as Springsteen adds new flashback lyrics after the final verse: “I just want your arms around me/I see the fire from the sky/I need your arms around me.” A stunning performance.

Set two is a totally different animal, but no less satisfying. I have often wondered how a seemingly long-forgotten song returns to the set, and there is no better example of this than the sudden reappearance of the instrumental “Paradise By the ‘C’” which opens the second set, after premiering four nights earlier in Rotterdam. What prompted its resurrection, after going unplayed since the Darkness tour? Sure, it suits the horns, but then again, there was no horn section in ‘78.

Regardless, it is a welcome showcase for Clarence and the Horns of Love, and sets the tone for a highly entertaining second set that milks the expanded band lineup and staging dynamics for all they are worth on songs like “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” (which begins with a long, bit of musical teasing and showmanship often referred to as “Don’t You Touch That Thing”), “I’m A Coward” (Springsteen’s comic rewrite of Gino Washington’s ‘60s original) and a chock full o’ horns encore sequence of “Sweet Soul Music,” “Raise Your Hand,” the aforementioned “Quarter to Three,” and the inevitable last song for a show this joyous, “Twist and Shout.”

There are a few serious moments in the back half, among them the fine ‘88 arrangement of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” into “She’s the One,” the first “Downbound Train” of the tour, and an unflinchingly earnest reading of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Interestingly, Stockholm ‘88 has a connection to Springsteen on Broadway in that the solo acoustic version of “Born to Run” that Bruce is currently performing was first played in that arrangement on the Tunnel tour, a fine take of which is captured here.

Stockholm ‘88 has always been a fan-favorite because of the simulcast. Now restored to full length and remixed from the master tapes, it rightly joins Springsteen’s other legendary radio broadcasts as one of the best concert recordings of his career and a great representation of the Tunnel of Love tour’s European edition.

Blood Brothers Reunited: MSG 7/1/2000


Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

Madison Square Garden, New York City, July 1, 2000

By Erik Flannigan

Given the hundreds of shows performed since 2000, today one can overlook how momentous the Reunion tour was for fans who had been hoping, waiting and questioning for more than decade if Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would ever hit the road again.

Eleven years had passed since the last full tour supporting Tunnel of Love and then Amnesty International in 1988. There was a smattering band activity around the release of Greatest Hits in 1995 (for which they recorded a few new songs), but it would take four more years for Bruce to officially summon the E Streeters back (including, for the first time since 1981, Steve Van Zandt) following the release of Tracks.

Even those directly involved would likely concede a tentativeness at the start of the tour in April 1999 and fans felt it, too. Was the Reunion tour a one-off or was the E Street Band back for good? Was it a nostalgic celebration of the past or the beginning of a new chapter?

By the start of the unforgettable ten-night, tour-closing stand at Madison Square Garden in June and July 2000, those questions had been answered. The bond between Bruce and the E Street Band was not only restored, but their status as an on-going concern now felt undeniable. On top of that, over the course of the MSG run, Springsteen performed several brand-new songs that pointed the way forward while changing up setlists to include welcome rarities from the past, playing with a supreme confidence earned through over a year of touring.

All of which raised the stakes for the tour’s final performance on July 1. The show wasn’t merely the culmination of the MSG run or the Reunion tour, but of the spiritual rebirth of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band itself. As such, expectations for the night were sky high, boosted even higher by the outstanding sets at MSG which led up to it. What would Springsteen do for such a special night? Could he top the brilliance of shows 8 and 9 just days before? In the end, he didn’t have to.

The July 1 show stands as a powerful, majestic performance sprinkled with moments of transcendence. Rather than deviate far from script on the last night, Springsteen stuck to the core songs that formed the spine of Reunion tour set: “My Love Won’t Let You Down” and “Murder Incorporated,” the superb Born in the U.S.A. outtakes mercifully liberated on Tracks; “Two Hearts,” Steve Van Zandt’s spotlight number, to which Bruce appropriately adds a few bars of Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston’s “It Takes Two”; “Youngtown,” recast from its acoustic roots into an electrified, Nils Lofgren-powered furnace blast; “Born In the U.S.A.,” which went the other direction, from electric to acoustic, while still packing a wallop; “The River,” more pensive and lonesome than ever; and supercharged crowd-pleasers “Badlands,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “Light of Day.” This is the material upon which the Reunion tour was built.

To these Springsteen added new songs, opening the show with the urgent rocker “Code of Silence” and bringing “Further On Up The Road” to the encore, where it joined “Land Of Hope And Dreams,” the Reunion tour theme song, which debuted all the way back at the tour rehearsals and was played at every show. But the new song generating the most heat was “American Skin (41 Shots),” written about the shooting of Amadou Diallo the year prior. You can read about the controversy it stoked during the MSG run elsewhere, but suffice it to say that this beautifully arranged and lyrically poetic song is as relevant today as it was at the time of this moving performance.

Of course, there were songs for the occasion, too. In celebration of the band, “E Street Shuffle” is perfectly appropriate, as is Bruce’s solo piano performance of “The Promise” to start the encore, another one of the great, lost songs restored to performance on the Reunion tour. And one can only stand in awe at the ballsy inclusion of “Lost In the Flood,” the musically complex epic not played since the Darkness tour until this night and absolutely nailed by the band, especially pianist Roy Bittan.

The peak of the aforementioned transcendence came at the end of the night, when, for the first time on the tour, Springsteen performed “Blood Brothers,” one of the new songs he recorded for Greatest Hits and something fans thought might be played every show before the tour had started. The sentiment of “Blood Brothers” reflects that spirit of rebirth between Bruce and the band, and on this night, he added a newly penned final verse that appended a touching coda to the entire performance. It was a sublime musical moment and a real-time catharsis for Bruce, the band and the fans, signaling that those lyrics, this night and the entire tour had reformed the bonds between them all.

“I was hoping that our tour would be the rebirth and the renewal of our band and of our commitment to serve you,” Springsteen said, introducing “Land of Hope and Dreams.” “I hope we’ve done that well this year and we´ll continue to try and do so….”

While parts of this show, along with some songs from June 29, were culled for the two-CD set Live In New York City released in March 2001, hearing the July 1 show from beginning to end, as it happened, with all key songs restored is a new and wholly rewarding experience.

Bruce Springsteen: You Can’t Sit Down — The Other Great Shows of the Darkness Tour


Hurricane Relief: Houston, Texas, 12/8/78
A Benefit for MusiCares® Hurricane Relief Fund

By Erik Flannigan

It is nearly impossible to find a Springsteen fan who doesn’t revere the Darkness tour. Those who witnessed one of its 111 shows in person speak of it in language typically reserved for religious conversion. Happily for the the rest of us, either born or converted after January 1, 1979, the palpable sense that Bruce and the E Street Band were laying it all on the line every-single-night is remarkably well preserved in the live recordings, from the official download of the Agora in Cleveland, August 9, 1978, on through the various audience tapes, radio broadcasts and soundboards in circulation among fans ever since.

Our insatiable appetite for the Darkness tour and a truly worthy cause make the audio release of Houston, December 8, 1978 most welcome. Many will be familiar with the show from its inclusion as the live DVD in the 2010 Darkness box set, but this download marks its first release in a more user friendly, audio-only edition. And the show warrants re-appreciation.

A big source of that deep and widely held love of the ‘78 tour stems from the fact that five incredible concerts were broadcast on the radio regionally: The Roxy in Los Angeles, the aforementioned Agora in Cleveland, the Capitol Theater in Passaic, the Fox Theater in Atlanta and Winterland in San Francisco. Hundreds of thousands of fans have been listening to recordings and bootlegs of the ‘78 broadcasts for nearly 40 years, to the point where they are as familiar with those performances as they are with the Darkness album itself. Myself, maybe more so.

Justifiably, all five are held in extremely high regard as some of the best shows Bruce and the band ever played. The Houston show was never available as anything but an incomplete, mediocre audience recording until the DVD. As such, it lacks the kind of decades-long familiarity that makes the five radio-broadcast shows so legendary.

But Houston stands strong on its own merits as a fantastic and vital show representative of the tour’s final leg and boasts an outstanding setlist and performance to match. The city has had a long relationship with Springsteen, as one of the first markets outside of the east coast where he found a following before Born to Run. Bruce is well aware of that history during the show, name-checking Liberty Hall, site of a mini band residency in March 1974, before a scorching “Saint in the City,” and adding the unreleased early burner “The Fever” to the second set.

Those are but two of the highlights in a 27-song setlist packed with them. A look back to ‘74 is complemented by a peek into the future as Springsteen plays what at the time were three unreleased songs from his next album, The River, opening the second set with “The Ties That Bind,” after playing “Independence Day” in the first, and adding an unsettling “Point Blank” later in the show.

If you’re counting, that’s four unreleased songs so far, to which he adds the Darkness outtakes “Fire” and “Because the Night,” for a total of six, seven if you count the snippet of “Preachers Daughter” in the mesmerizing intro to a long “She’s the One” that also contains an unusual mid-song breakdown often referred to as “I Get Mad.”

From the album Darkness we draw another seven tracks to the set, notably “Prove It All Night” with its long, piano-and-guitar intro, a scorching “Streets of Fire” and a fine “Candy’s Room.” The bounty continues with cover songs, first “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town,” as the season demands, and an encore which pays homage to Mitch Ryder with the “Detroit Medley,” Philly’s own Dovells with “You Can’t Sit Down,” and Springsteen hero Gary U.S. Bonds for the show-closing “Quarter to Three.”

You’ve watched the Houston show before. But have you listened? This release gives us all a chance to do so again with fresh ears and revel at Bruce and the E Street Band at the peak of their powers in 1978.

Bruce Springsteen Going It Alone: The Ghost of Tom Joad Revisited


Belfast, Northern Ireland, 3/19/96

Bruce Springsteen. Solo Acoustic Tour.

By Erik Flannigan

Some fans dreamt about that phrase for the better part of two decades, even as they cherished the many band tours therein. Back in 1971-72, before there was an E Street Band, Springsteen dabbled as an acoustic singer-songwriter, gigging around Greenwich Village at tiny venues like Max’s Kansas City. So the solo performer had always been there, it just took some time to resurface.

The first sign came in 1986, when Bruce played Neil Young’s annual Bridge School benefit concert. While he was augmented for much of the show by Nils Lofgren and Danny Federici, the second song of the set was the powerful Nebraska-era arrangement of “Born In The U.S.A.,” and that singular performance showed the power Bruce could harness alone on stage.

Four years later in 1990, Springsteen gave two solo acoustic concerts in Los Angeles to benefit the Christic Institute (both of these truly astonishing sets were released in 2016 as part of the live download series). In hindsight, the Christic shows planted the seeds for the solo Joad tour five years later, blending fresh arrangements of familiar songs, material originally recorded solo and brand new music.

The March 19, 1996 Belfast show at King’s Hall was Bruce’s first ever in Northern Ireland and its recording captures the spirit and soul of the Joad tour brilliantly. We’re around 50 shows in at this point, with Springsteen performing at the most intimate venues he had played since Europe ‘81 and setting the tone that this was no arena concert.

“Just about all the music tonight is real quiet,” Bruce tells his Belfast audience as he did each night of the tour. “So I really need your help in getting that kind of silence.” And if someone fails to heed his simple request? “Politely, with a smile on your face, ask them to…shut the fuck up,” he suggests.

His hilarious admonishment reflects two of the most appealing elements of the Joad tour: first, the return of Springsteen as storyteller, a hallmark in the early years but less so in the ‘80s and ‘90s; second, a new level of candor from the artist that seemed squarely aimed at chipping away the myth and re-introducing us to Springsteen the man.

Some twenty years on, the Joad album and supporting tour performances play like a singular body of work, presented as much on Bruce’s own terms as any phase in his career, the exception being Joad’s kindred spirit, Nebraska. His artistic control is palpable as the Belfast show unfolds, eschewing beloved setlist staples in favor of nine beautifully rendered songs from Joad, many prefaced by self-deprecating stories or contextual background on his narrative subjects.

To the Joad material Bruce adds three at-the-time-unreleased songs played back to back: “The Wish,” a nostalgic ode to his mother’s love and support, introduced in humorous, unflinching language that might cause Adele to plug her ears; “The Little Things,” a chance encounter/hook-up tale, the intro to which challenges our notion of what is and what isn’t autobiographical in Bruce’s yarn-spinning; and “Brothers Under The Bridge,” a stunning addition to Springsteen’s canon of Vietnam Veterans songs, performed with understated, elegiac beauty all the way through its haunting final verse. “Brothers Under The Bridge” is a highlight of the show and stands with his finest songwriting on the subject or otherwise.

A riveting acoustic “Born In The U.S.A.” follows and continues the Vets narrative, and if that wasn’t sobering enough, “Reason to Believe” receives its most bleak reading ever, in a relentless, falsetto-dipped arrangement that pulls no punches, a far cry from the rave-up version heard on recent tours. Also rearranged to stunning effect are “Darkness On The Edge Of Town,” played with urgency and passion on 12-string acoustic, and “Bobby Jean,” recast as a mid-60s Bob Dylan number.

Like most shows on the tour, the main Belfast set closes with a four-song arc of Joad songs “set on the border between California and Mexico” exploring, as Bruce cites, what Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes described as something “more like a scar, than a border.” These tale and characters, observed and imagined during the years Springsteen lived in Los Angeles, form a kind of dark and dusty novella about what happens to those who dare to cross borders, both literal and figurative. The arc ends with “Across the Border,” a reflection on the inextinguishable hope that drives the dreams of those searching for a better life elsewhere.

Springsteen would open his musical aperture later in the tour at magical shows like the homecoming gigs in Freehold and Asbury Park. But Belfast, with its compelling contrast of stark music and challenging narratives offset by Bruce’s often funny, always candid storytelling, presents the Joad tour in pure form.

Action In The Streets 1977

Never Heard Before ’77 Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

2/7/77, Albany, NY and 2/8/77 Rochester, NY

By Erik Flannigan

Bruce Springsteen’s national breakthrough came in 1975 with the release of Born to Run. The album’s supporting tour commenced that July and continued in multiple phases through the spring of 1977 when, after playing some 170 shows, Bruce and the E Street Band finally returned to the studio to record Darkness On The Edge Of Town.

Springsteen’s performances in this transitional era represent some of the most fascinating and vital of his career, with evolving setlists that dug deep into his first three albums, embraced inspired cover songs and, by early 1976, began testing new material intended for Bruce’s next album.

The final stretch of the 21-month trek was an eight-week run in early 1977 that saw Bruce and the E Street Band again augmented by the Miami Horns, the four-piece horn section that first joined the tour in August 1976.

While Springsteen’s 1975 performances are captured brilliantly by the official Hammersmith Odeon DVD and live album along with the Philadelphia 12/31/75 download, the 1976-77 stretch of the Born to Run tour isn’t nearly as well documented. In fact, until now, no soundboard tape of the ‘77 tour has ever surfaced among collectors.

Which is what makes this pair of newly recovered and nearly complete soundboard recordings of the tour’s first two shows–Albany, NY, February 7 and Rochester, NY, February 8–such a significant addition to Springsteen’s live performance history. They provide the first high-quality tapes from a compelling period when no multi-track recordings were made. And in the case of opening night in Albany, not even an audience tape has ever circulated before among fans.

Across the two nights we are treated to a trove of significant performances, beginning with Albany’s audacious opener, a true work-in-progress version of “Something In The Night” featuring remarkable alternate lyrics. Another unreleased song, the freshly penned “Rendezvous,” pops up early in both sets, along with the epic cover of The Animals’ “It’s My Life” and the Miami Horns/Clarence Clemons spotlight number, “Action In The Streets.”

Amazingly, this download marks the first ever official release of “Action In The Streets.” The Springsteen original was performed nearly every night of the ‘77 tour, but would never be played again with the E Street Band. There is also no known studio recording of the delightful soul rave-up, making its inclusion on these tapes all the sweeter in a version so embryonic, the chorus does not yet feature the song’s eventual title!

The two shows do vary slightly, with Albany getting a wonderful and spirited “Growin’ Up,” while Rochester pays tribute to Eddie Floyd with a cover of “Raise Your Hand.”

But for many, the indisputable highlight of the ‘77 tour was its stunning performances of “Backstreets,” which featured an expanded mid-song narrative of betrayal that teems with raw emotion and reaches its crescendo, as captured gloriously on both recordings, when Springsteen shouts repeatedly with mesmerizing conviction, “You lied!”

Albany also includes a striking solo-piano led version of “The Promise” (moved to the encore and joined in progress the next night in Rochester), perhaps the greatest Springsteen original penned in the era and yet another gem uncovered on these remarkable Front of House mix tapes recorded by Chas Gerber. While there are a few cuts due to tape flips, between the two shows we get a complete version of every song performed.

Purchase both shows on CD or Download in MP3, Lossless, or Hi Res Formats at live.brucespringsteen.net.

Checkout these other great press clips around this release