Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Bruce Springsteen High Hopes (2014)


Bruce Springsteen’s 18th studio album is a portrait of the artist at the top of his 21st-century game: rock-soul dynamite and finely drawn pathos bound by familiar, urgent themes (national crisis, private struggle, the daily striving for more perfect union) and the certain-victor’s force in Springsteen’s singing.

High Hopes is also a deep look back over Springsteen’s past decade, his best onstage and record since the first, with a keen eye turned forward. The cumulative effect of this mass of old, borrowed, blue and renewed – covers, recent outtakes and redefining takes on two classics – is retrospect with a cutting edge, running like one of the singer’s epic look-ma-no-set-list gigs: full of surprises, all with a reason for being there.

Much of High Hopes comes from the what-was-he-thinking shelf: unreleased songs cut for albums going back to 2002’s The Rising, revived with freshening parts. It’s hard to see how “Frankie Fell in Love,” a frat-rock riot, and the letter from rock bottom “Down in the Hole” (“My Hometown” with less light) ever got the chop. But Springsteen effectively recasts this material with the folk-soul-gospel-army might of his current E Street big band.

The background-vocal choir puts a literal finishing touch on the warrior-hymn charge of “Heaven’s Wall.” In the gangsters convention “Harry’s Place,” recent E Street recruit Tom Morello fires chain-saw bursts of guitar across meaty peals of sax originally laid down by the late Clarence Clemons. And that’s Danny Federici, who died in 2008, playing organ on “The Wall,” a requiem for one of Springsteen’s Jersey-bar-band mentors, underscoring the singer’s belief in the unbroken chains running through his band.

Springsteen revisits two older songs with dramatic results: the acoustic title track from 1995’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, and “American Skin (41 Shots),” his response to the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo by New York City police. Morello previously electrified “Tom Joad” with Rage Against the Machine; he is a key trigger in this heaving-Phil Spector detonation as well. Springsteen gives him a verse to sing, adding a younger, strident tension to his own fury, while Morello’s soloing – scouring and elegiac – puts a new exclamation point on the pledge of righteous vengeance, the way Jimi Hendrix forever altered the Armageddon in “All Along the Watchtower.” Morello is on “American Skin” too, but this version is Springsteen’s triumph as a bandleader – sculpting that live force with rich studio textures – and a topical lyricist, mining new headlines (Trayvon Martin, NSA surveillance, the numbing cycle of school shootings) reverberating in there now.

High Hopes starts and ends with covers, a first on a Springsteen studio album. But the title song, a 1990 rebel-folk gallop by the Havalinas, and Suicide’s closing mantra, “Dream Baby Dream,” are fighters’ promises, and they fit Springsteen and this record like weathered boxing gloves. “Give me help/Give me strength/Give a soul a night of fearless sleep,” he demands in the former, in a crusty, arcing howl, like a guy who’s been doing this for a long time and is real tired of asking nice.

January 11, 2014 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen High Hopes | | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen Piece De Resistance (Passaic, NJ, September 1978)


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live at the Capitol Theater, Passaic, New Jersey on Tues. 19th September 1978.

Bruce and the band were 5-months into their long USA Darkness On The Edge Of Town tour when they hit the Capitol Theater for 3-sold out shows (19th, 20th and the Boss’s birthday show on 21st). Playing in the Capitol Theater’s 3,000 seat hall, it was quite a show that night.

Tooled to the pitch of perfection from 5-months of touring and playing nearly every night, the band were as tight as they would ever be. The shows on this tour were to become legendary, but this show is a standout that is head and shoulders above all the rest. Absolutely superb, with Bruce and the band at their finest. The shows didn’t get any better than this.

The E. Street Band at this time was: Max Weinberg-drums, Garry Tallent-bass, Danny Federici-organ, Roy Bittan-piano, Steve Van Zant-guitars, Clarence Clemons-sax, and the Boss himself. A killer set-list with every song performed flawlessly. The tour began in Buffalo at Shea’s Theater on 23rd May, and ended with a show on New Years Day 1979 at the Richfield Coliseum in Cleveland. Over 120 shows had been booked, and Bruce and the band ended up playing 117 full shows. There were a couple of shows that had to be cancelled and some had to be re-booked because of various band members getting sick on the road during the long tour.

However, 117 shows was an absolute marathon tour, and Bruce and the band were thoroughly exhausted after the last show, taking a well-deserved year off to rest and record. Considering each show was some 2+1/2 to 3-hours long, no wonder the band was exhausted by the end of the tour. Check out the cover shot of Bruce with his well-worn Fender Telecaster on the cover…..months of hard touring were wearing the finish off his guitar.

This was, at the time, the most financially successful rock tour in history…..every show sold-out. This was the tour that made the Boss and his band millionaires…..and they gave million dollar performances… ! Writers at the time reviewed the tour, reporting that with this tour, the Boss insisted on military precision for all shows and conduct. Bruce insisted there was to be no drinking, drugs or bad behaviour from his band and crew.

To be sure, there were a few after-show celebration parties, however drinking and behavour was tightly controlled, with all aspects and band and staff being dedicated to the tour professionally. The discipline paid off, they all became millionares, and the shows were some of the best the E. Street Band ever gave. This is the entire, uncut concert from the first night on 19th Sept. 1978. The show was broadcast on the eastern USA seaboard FM radio live, so this accounts for the exquisite sound fidelity. Sound is superb, professionally recorded and mixed.

Bruce seriously considered releasing this show as an “official” live album way back in 1979, but for some reason shelved the project. Too bad….the show performances from this are better than the ones on the official Live 75-85 release. Springsteen at his finest, a dynamic performance… ! Long considered a “classic” bootleg, this show on Great Dane CD’s was produced from the master tapes in Italy in 1990.

One of the best Great Dane CD packages, it has superb packaging and presentation with original photographs from the actual show. This show was also professionally filmed by Bruce, and remains unreleased, however bootleg copies exist….again outstanding show performances….. Max Weinberg-drummer for the E. Street band once stated that the show from this tour at the Agora Club in Cleveland on 09th Aug.-1978 was the finest show the band ever did………I dunno… would be hard pressed to find a better show than this one at the Capitol Theater.

It’s a matter of personal taste, but both show’s are the best, probably rate a tie for #1 in the top ten shows of the Boss’s career. Set lists are slightly different, as the Boss changed the set list almost nightly, and each has their own respectively great songs. A superb show performance and outstanding stereo sound fidelity….the complete show with encores. Another benchmark in Bruce’s already legendary career….and he was only 28-years old.

They don’t get any better than this…. Seek it out at all costs… Highly Recommended.

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen Piece De Resistance | , | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen The Ghost Of Tom Joad (1995)

download (18)From Rolling Stone

Bruce Springsteen’s best music has always been about the refusal to accept life’s meanest fates or most painful limitations. Springsteen charges his audience to remain brave, despite all the disillusion, defeat, injustice and fear that invariably dog the pursuit of ones hopes. For more than twenty years now, Springsteen’s music has worked as a cry of courage, an emboldening reassurance that life, no matter how closefisted it many seem, is worth keeping faith in. The Ghost of Tom Joad tells a different story — or at least it looks at the story through different eyes. It’s a record about people who do not abide by life’s ruins; it’s a collection of dark tales about dark men who are cut off from the purposes of their own hearts and the prospects of their own lives. On this album almost none of the characters get out with both their bodies and spirits intact, and the few who do are usually left with only frightful desolate prayers as their solace.

Plaintive, bitter epiphanies, like these are far removed from the sort anthemic cries that once filled Springsteen’s music, but then these are not times for anthems. These are times for lamentations, for measuring how much of the American promise has been broken or abandoned and how much of our future is transfigured into a vista of ruin. These are pitiless times.

The Ghost of Tom Joad is Springsteen’s response to this state of affairs. Maybe even his return to arms. In any event, this is his first overtly social statement since Born in the U.S.A.. The atmosphere created is as merciless in its own way as the world the lyrics describe, and you will have to meet or reject that atmosphere on your own terms. I’m convinced it’s Springsteen’s best album in ten years, and I also think it’s among the bravest work that anyone has given us this decade. Tom Joad bears an obvious kinship with Spingsteen’s 1982 masterwork, Nebraska. The musical backing is largely acoustic, and the sense of language and storytelling owes much to the Depression-era sensibility of Woody Guthrie. The stories are told bluntly and sparsely, and the poetry is broken and colloquial — like the speech of a man telling the stories he feels compelled to tell if only to try to be free of them. On Tom Joad, there are few escapes and almost no musical relief from the numbing circumstances of the characters’ lives. You could almost say that the music gets caught in meandering motions or drifts into circles that never break. The effect is brilliant and lovely; there’s something almost lulling in the music’s blend of acoustic arpeggios and moody keyboard textures, something that lures you into the melodies’ dark dreaminess and loose mellifluence. But makes no mistake — what you are being drawn into are scenarios of hell. American hell.

On the title track, a man sits by a campfire under a bridge, not far from the endless railroad tracks. He is waiting on the ghost of Tom Joad, the hero of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. But hopes of salvation in the mid-1990s aren’t really much more palpable that ghosts, and you understand that the man sitting and praying by the fire will wait a long time before his deliverance comes. On “Straight Times,” an ex-con takes a job, marries and tries to live the sanctioned life. But the world’s judgements are never far off (even his wife watches him carefully with their children) and he waits for the time when he will slip back into the violent breach that he sees as his destiny and only hope.

The most affecting stories here, though, are the ones that Springsteen tells about a handful of undocumented immigrants and their passage into Southern California’s promised land. On “The Line” (an achingly beautiful song with a melody reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/No Limit), “Sinaloa Cowboys” and “Balboa Park,” Springsteen creates characters who come to their fates quickly without warning or drama. In one moment their “undocumented” lives are over, and the world takes no note of their passing or shot hopes.

By climbing into their hearts and minds, Springsteen has given voice to people who rarely have one in this culture. And giving voice to people who are typically denied expression in our other arts and media has always been one of rock & roll’s most important virtues. As we move into the rough times and badlands that lie ahead, such acts will count for more than ever before.

February 20, 2013 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen The Ghost Of Tom Joad | | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen Nebraska (1982)

download (17)From Rolling Stone

After ten years of forging his own brand of fiery, expansive rock & roll, Bruce Springsteen has decided that some stories are best told by one man, one guitar. Flying in the face of a sagging record industry with an intensely personal project that could easily alienate radio, rock’s gutsiest mainstream performer has dramatically reclaimed his right to make the records he wants to make, and damn the consequences. This is the bravest of Springsteen’s six records; it’s also his most startling, direct and chilling. And if it’s a risky move commercially, Nebraska is also a tactical masterstroke, an inspired way out of the high-stakes rock & roll game that requires each new record to be bigger and grander than the last.

Until now, it looked as if 1973’s dizzying The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle would be the last Springsteen album to surprise people. Ensuing records simply refined, expanded and deepened his artistry. But Nebraska comes as a shock, a violent, acid-etched portrait of a wounded America that fuels its machinery by consuming its people’s dreams. It is a portrait painted with old tools: a few acoustic guitars, a four-track cassette deck, a vocabulary derived from the plain-spoken folk music of Woody Guthrie and the dark hillbilly laments of Hank Williams. The style is steadfastly, defiantly out-of-date, the singing flat and honest, the music stark, deliberate and unadorned.

Nebraska is an acoustic triumph, a basic folk album on which Springsteen has stripped his art down to the core. It’s as harrowing as Darkness on the Edge of Town, but more measured. Every small touch speaks volumes: the delicacy of the acoustic guitars, the blurred sting of the electric guitars, the spare, grim images. He’s now telling simple stories in the language of a deferential common man, peppering his sentences with “sir’s.” “My name is Joe Roberts,” he sings. “I work for the state.”

As The River closed, Springsteen found himself haunted by a highway death. On Nebraska, violent death is his starting point. The title track is an audacious, scary beginning. Singing in a voice borrowed from Guthrie and early Bob Dylan, he takes the part of mass murderer Charlie Starkweather to quietly sing, “I can’t say that I’m sorry for the things that we done/At least for a little while, sir, me and her we had us some fun.” The music is gentle and soothing, but this is no romanticized outlaw tale à la Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd.” The casual coldbloodedness, the singer’s willingness to undertake the role and the music’s pastoral calm make Starkweather all the more horrific.

Springsteen follows with another tale of real-life murder, this one involving mob wars in Atlantic City. With “Nebraska” and “Atlantic City,” his landscape has taken on new, broader boundaries, and when he begins “Mansion on the Hill” with a reference to “the edge of town,” it’s clear that his usual New Jersey turf has opened its borders to include Nebraska and Wyoming and forty-seven other states. Crowds on the final leg of his last tour saw hints that Springsteen was heading toward this territory when he talked of Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager’s history of the United States and Joe Klein’s Woody Guthrie: a Life, and when he sang the songs of Guthrie, John Fogerty and Elvis Presley, all uniquely American stories.

The keynote lines on Nebraska — “Deliver me from nowhere” and “I got debts that no honest man can pay” — each surface in two songs. The former ends both “State Trooper” and “Open All Night,” while the latter turns up in “Atlantic City” and “Johnny 99.” The album’s honest men — and they outnumber its criminals, though side one’s string of bloodletters suggests otherwise — are all paying debts and looking for deliverance that never comes. The compassion with which Springsteen sings every line can’t hide the fact that there’s no peace to be found in the darkness, no cleansing river running through town.

As on The River, the most outwardly optimistic songs on the new album are sung by a man who knows full well that his dreams of easy deliverance are empty. In “Used Cars,” the singer watches his father buy another clunker and makes a vow as heartfelt as it is heartbreakingly hollow: “Mister, the day the lottery I win/I ain’t ever gonna ride in no used car again.” And the LP’s one seeming refuge turns out to be illusion: in “My Father’s House,” a devastating capper to Springsteen’s cycle of “father” songs, the house is a sanctuary only in the singer’s dreams. When he awakens, he finds that his father is gone, that the house sits at the end of a highway “where our sins lie unatoned.” By this point, the convicted murderer of “Johnny 99” is one of the few characters who’s seemingly figured out how to retain his dignity. He asks to be executed.

If this record is as deep and unsettling as anything Springsteen has recorded, it is also his narrowest and most single-minded work. He is not extending or advancing his own style so much as he is temporarily adopting a style codified by others. But in that decision are multiple strengths: Springsteen’s clear, sharp focus, his insistence on painting small details so clearly and his determination to make a folk album firmly in the tradition. “My Father’s House” may be the only cut on side two that can stand up to the string of songs that open the record, but inconsistency is perhaps inevitable after that astonishing initial stretch: the title track; “Altantic City”; and “Highway Patrolman,” an indelible tale of the ties that bind and the toll familial love exacts, with one of Springsteen’s most delicious, delirious reveries — “Me and Frankie laughin’ and drinkin’/Nothing feels better than blood on blood/Takin’ turns dancin’ with Maria/As the band played ‘Night of the Johnstown Flood.'”

By the end of the record, paradoxically, the choking dust that hangs over Springsteen’s landscape makes its occasional rays of sunlight shine brighter. In “Atlantic City,” for example, a rueful chorus makes the song sound nearly as triumphant as “Promised Land”: “Everything dies, baby that’s a fact/But maybe everything that dies some day comes back/Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty/And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.”

Finally, it comes down to that: an old dress and a meeting across from the casino is sometimes all it takes. “Reason to Believe” adds the final brush strokes, by turns blackly humorous and haunting. One man stands alongside a highway, poking a dead dog as if to revive it; another heads down to the river to wed. The bride never shows, the groom stands waiting, the river flows on, and people, Bruce sings with faintly befuddled respect, still find their reasons to believe. Naive, simple and telling, it is the caption beneath Bruce Springsteen’s abrasive, clouded and ultimately glorious portrait of America.

February 20, 2013 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen Nebraska | | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen: Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75


Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 is the disc for those fans who didn’t want to pony up the big money for the 30th anniversary edition of Born to Run and its two DVDs.

This is the soundtrack for one of them, the Hammersmith Odeon concert, from beginning to end captured in vibrant sound. This show has been revered by tape traders and bootleggers for decades and never has it been presented better, thanks to Bob Clearmountain’s fantastic mix. What makes this show so historically important is that it was the first time the band was able to travel overseas to play. (They were barred from doing so in the United States because of a legal battle with Springsteen’s former manager.) In any case, well in advance of the gig the notorious British music weeklies began to create a pick-and-pan hype to build and topple a potential new rock messiah as they did all the time. Or, as Springsteen in his liner notes writes, “…this week’s Next…Big…Thing.” The band was terrified yet geeked to play the hallowed hall. These guys were scared; it fueled the gig, and they pulled it off in spades. They have everything to prove, and plenty to stare down. (Hell, the media hype almost made them the standard-bearers for the entire history of American rock, whether they wanted to be or not — and they may not have believed it themselves, but they played like they felt the responsibility for it, overtly referencing Sam Cooke, Isaac Hayes, and even Boyce & Hart by including pieces of their tunes in Springsteen originals, showing where it all came from. And then, by using a portion of Celtic soulman Van Morrison’s “Moondance” — who was taking his own bit from David “Fathead” Newman’s read of his former boss Ray Charles — in “Kitty’s Back,” they reveal clearly that the Beatles, the Stones, and the Who were nowhere to be found on this night.) Most of all, the E Street Band had the quivering guts and naïveté to pull it off. These guys play their asses off; it’s as if tomorrow they’ll die, so what the hell. The tape proves this show to be adrenaline-filled and fear-drenched. This is a mind-blowing gig. It was filmed for preservation and forgotten about until being resurrected by Springsteen.

The highlights? Hell, everything here. It begins with a tenderly desperate, under-orchestrated “Thunder Road,” sprints head on into a burning “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” before whispering into a free jazz intro to a dramatic, swaggering “Spirit in the Night” that oozes street-smart Jersey soul. And the train never stops; it only slows a bit for moments at a time. And it’s not for the band to catch its breath; it’s for the crowd, whether it’s the frighteningly intense “Lost in the Flood,” the shuffling country roots rock that introduces the rollicking “She’s the One,” or the swaggering anthem of “Born to Run,” which only take listeners through a little over half of the first disc! They had the audience after “Spirit,” but they were into something deeper, wilder — check the spit and vinegar in “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” — so they kept pushing harder. This was a young band that musically was as good as anybody on that night. They were rehearsed, confident, and armed with a collection of songs that virtually any musician worth his or her salt would kill to have written even one of. Disc two offers no letdown. There’s arguably the single most intense read of “Jungleland” on tape, and a riotously joyful version of “Rosalita” to counter the theater of darkness just visited upon the crowd in the previous song. This version of “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” is pure street urchin romance taken to the nth level. The E Streeters’ read of the “Detroit Medley” is an homage to Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, whose scorching takes on Little Richard’s “Jenny Take a Ride,” “Devil with a Blue Dress,” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” offer spiritual inspiration. They stay on full stun with “For You” and cap it all with “Quarter to Three,” leaving the crowd to fall back into the night, wondering if they could believe what they’d just witnessed. Springsteen himself says the night was a blur to him and he never looked back for 30 years at the film or even listened to the show.

While the soundtrack is only half the experience of the Hammersmith Odeon 1975 document, it’s a worthy half and a necessary set to add to any Springsteen live shelf.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen Hammersmith '75 | | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska (1982)


There is an adage in the record business that a recording artist’s demos of new songs often come off better than the more polished versions later worked up in a studio. But Bruce Springsteen was the first person to act on that theory, when he opted to release the demo versions of his latest songs, recorded with only acoustic or electric guitar, harmonica, and vocals, as his sixth album, Nebraska.

It was really the content that dictated the approach, however. Nebraska’s ten songs marked a departure for Springsteen, even as they took him farther down a road he had been traveling previously. Gradually, his songs had become darker and more pessimistic, and those on Nebraska marked a new low. They also found him branching out into better developed stories. The title track was a first-person account of the killing spree of mass murderer Charlie Starkweather. (It can’t have been coincidental that the same story was told in director Terrence Malick’s 1973 film Badlands, also used as a Springsteen song title.)

That song set the tone for a series of portraits of small-time criminals, desperate people, and those who loved them. Just as the recordings were unpolished, the songs themselves didn’t seem quite finished; sometimes the same line turned up in two songs. But that only served to unify the album. Within the difficult times, however, there was hope, especially as the album went on. “Open All Night” was a Chuck Berry-style rocker, and the album closed with “Reason to Believe,” a song whose hard-luck verses were belied by the chorus — even if the singer couldn’t understand what it was, “people find some reason to believe.”

Still, Nebraska was one of the most challenging albums ever released by a major star on a major record label.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen Nebraska | | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen – The Rising (2002)


“Yes, life is very confusing, we’re just trying to get on with it.” — Art Carney as Harry Coomes in Harry and Tonto.

The many voices that come out of the ether on Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising all seem to have two things in common: the first is that they are writing from the other side, from the day after September 11, 2001, the day when life began anew, more uncertain than ever before. The other commonality that these voices share is the determination that life, however fraught with tragedy and confusion, is precious and should be lived as such. This is a lot for a rock album by a popular artist to claim, but perhaps it’s the only thing there is worth anything.

On this reunion with the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen offers 15 meditations — in grand rock & roll style — on his own way of making sense of the senseless. The band is in fine form, though with Brendan O’Brien’s uncanny production, they play with an urgency and rawness they’ve seldom shown. This may not have been the ideal occasion for a reunion after 15 years, but it’s one they got, and they go for broke. The individual tracks offer various glimpses of loss, confusion, hope, faith, resolve, and a good will that can only be shown by those who have been tested by fire. The music and production is messy, greasy; a lot of the mixes bleed tracks onto one another, giving it a more homemade feel than any previous E Street Band outing. And yes, that’s a very good thing.

The set opens with “Lonesome Day,” a midtempo rocker with country-ish roots. Springsteen’s protagonist admits to his or her shortcomings in caring for the now-absent beloved. But despite the grief and emptiness, there is a wisdom that emerges in questioning what remains: “Better ask questions before you shoot/Deceit and betrayal’s bitter fruit/It’s hard to swallow come time to pay/That taste on your tongue don’t easily slip away/Let kingdom come/I’m gonna find my way/ Through this lonesome day.” Brendan O’Brien’s hurdy-gurdy cuts through the mix like a ghost, offering a view of an innocent past that has been forever canceled because it never was anyway; the instrument, like the glockenspiels that trim Bruce Springsteen’s songs, offers not only texture, but a kind of formalist hint that possibilities don’t always lie in the future.

In contrast, “Into the Fire” seems to be sung from the perspective of a deceased firefighter’s remaining partner who, despite her/his unfathomable loss, offers a prayer of affirmation, and the request to embody the same qualities he or she displayed in paying the ultimate price for selflessness. A Dobro and acoustic guitar bring in the ghost of a mountain melody, and Max Weinberg’s muted snare and tom-tom rhythm offer the solemnity of the lyric before Roy Bittan and Danny Federici shift the gears and offer a nearly symphonic crescendo on the refrain: “May your strength bring us strength/may your faith give us faith/May your hope give us hope/May your love give us love.” The second time through, the last line subtly changes to “May your love bring us love.” While the band is in full flower, the keys are muted under sonic ambience and the snaky lone acoustic guitar and Weinberg’s thundering processional drumming.

Likewise, the revelatory rock & roll on “Worlds Apart,” complete with a knife-edged wail of a guitar solo by Springsteen that soars around a Sufi choir is not only a manner of adding exotica to the mix, but another way of saying that all cultures are in this together, and it unwittingly reveals that great rock can be made with virtually any combination of musicians. It’s a true scorcher. “Further On (Up the Road)” is a straight-ahead rocker complete with knotty riffs and plenty of rootsed-out, greasy guitar overdrive — most of the album does, but that’s one of O’Brien’s strengths as a producer — that are evocative of Mike Ness and Social Distortion’s late efforts.

Lest anyone mistakenly perceive this recording as a somber evocation of loss and despair, it should also be stated that this is very much an E Street Band recording. Clarence Clemons is everywhere, and the R&B swing and slip of the days of yore is in the house — especially on “Waitin’ for a Sunny Day,” “Countin’ on a Miracle,” “Mary’s Place” (with a full horn section), and the souled-out “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin).” These tracks echo the past with their loose good-time feel, but “echo” is the key word. Brendan O’Brien’s guitar-accented production offers us an E Street Band coming out of the ether and stepping in to fill a void. The songs themselves are, without exception, rooted in loss, but flower with the possibility of moving into what comes next, with a hard-won swagger and busted-up grace. They offer balance and a shifting perspective, as well as a depth that is often deceptive.

The last of these is a bona fide love song, without which, in rock & roll anyway, no real social commentary is possible. The title track is one of Mr. Springsteen’s greatest songs. It is an anthem, but not in the sense you usually reference in regard to his work. This anthem is an invitation to share everything, to accept everything, to move through everything individually and together. Power-chorded guitars and pianos entwine in the choruses with a choir, and Clemons wails on a part with a stinging solo. Here too, the chantlike chorus is nearly in symphonic contrast to the country-ish verse, but it hardly matters, as everything inside and outside the track gets swept into this “dream of life.” The album closes with “Paradise,” a haunting and haunted narrative offered from the point of view of a suicide bomber and a studio version of “My City of Ruins.” These songs will no doubt confuse some as they stand in seemingly sharp contrast to one another, but in “My City of Ruins,” all contradictions cease to matter. With acoustic pianos and subtley shimmering Memphis soul-style guitars that give way to a Hammond B-3 and a gospel choir, Springsteen sings “rise up” without artifice. In this “churchlike” confessional of equanimity, Springsteen reaches out to embrace not only his listeners, but all of the protagonists in the aforementioned songs and their circles of families and friends. The album ends with an acknowledgement of grace and an exhortation to action.

With The Rising, Springsteen has found a way to be inclusive and instructive without giving up his particular vision as a songwriter, nor his considerable strength as a rock & roll artist. In fact, if anything, The Rising is one of the very best examples in recent history of how popular art can evoke a time period and all of its confusing and often contradictory notions, feelings, and impulses. There are tales of great suffering in The Rising to be sure, but there is joy, hope, and possibility, too. Above all, there is a celebration and reverence for everyday life. And if we need anything from rock & roll, it’s that. It would be unfair to lay on Bruce Springsteen the responsibility of guiding people through the aftermath of a tragedy and getting on with the business of living, but rock & roll as impure, messy, and edifying as this helps.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen The Rising | | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen – Born In The Studio (1975)


The 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s found bootleggers putting out quite a few collections of Bruce Springsteen’s demos and alternate takes.

One such collection is Born in the Studio, a CD that spans 1973-75 and focuses on rare, unreleased versions of songs that ended up on The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle and Born to Run. How did “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” and other classics sound before they were given a lot of production gloss, finalized, and released commercially? This bootleg gives listeners a chance to find out.

The sound quality is good to excellent by 1970s standards, and the vitality of Springsteen’s singing is impossible to miss — however, no one should purchase Born in the Studio expecting the amount of big, glossy, shiny production that characterized Springsteen’s official Columbia releases of the 1970s. Remember: The material had yet to be finalized. Highlights of this CD range from an acoustic version of “Thunder Road” and alternates of “Kitty’s Back” and “She’s the One” to no less than four takes of “Born to Run.”

It’s also quite interesting to hear the E Street Band do their thing on instrumental tracks for “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” — minus Springsteen’s vocals, these gems have a somewhat Booker T and the MGs-like appeal. Born in the Studio isn’t recommended to casual listeners, but for hardcore Springsteen lovers, it’s a fascinating listen and is well worth hunting for.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen Born In The Studio | | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost Of Tom Joad (1995)


In 1982, with Ronald Reagan in the White House and much of America torn between a newly fierce patriotism and the dispassionate conservatism of the dawning “Greed Is Good” era, a number of roots-oriented rock musicians began examining the State of the Union in song, and one of the most powerful albums to come out of this movement was Bruce Springsteen’s stark, home-recorded masterpiece Nebraska.

In 1995, Bill Clinton was president, America was congratulating itself for a new era of high-tech peace and prosperity, and Springsteen returned to the themes and approach of Nebraska with The Ghost of Tom Joad, an album that suggested little had changed in the past 13 years — except Americans had gotten better at ignoring the increasingly sharp divide between the rich and the poor, and that illegal aliens who had come to America looking for the fabled Land of Milk and Honey were being forced to shoulder a heavy and dangerous burden in America’s underground economy. With several of its songs drawn directly from news stories, The Ghost of Tom Joad is more explicitly political than Nebraska (more so than anything in Springsteen’s catalog, for that matter), and while the arrangements are more full-bodied than those on Nebraska (five cuts feature a full band), the production and the overall tone is, if anything, even starker and more low-key, with the lyrics all the more powerful for their spare backdrops.

While there’s an undertow of bitterness in this album’s tales of an America that has turned its back on the working class and the foreign-born, there’s also a tremendous compassion in songs like “The Line,” “Sinaloa Cowboys,” “Balboa Park,” and the title cut, which lend their subjects a dignity fate failed to give them. Individually, these songs, either angry or plaintive, are clean and expertly drawn tales of life along this nation’s margins, and their cumulative effect is nothing short of heartbreaking; anyone who pegged Springsteen as a zealously patriotic conservative in the wake of the widely misunderstood Born in the U.S.A. needs to hear this disc.

The Ghost of Tom Joad failed to find the same audience (or the same wealth of media attention) that embraced Nebraska, but on it’s own terms it’s a striking and powerful album, and certainly one of Springsteen’s most deeply personal works.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen The Ghost Of Tom Joad | | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen – Teardrops On The City (Stockholm May 1981)


Ice Stadium, Stockholm, Sweden – 8 May,1981

Disc 1: Run Through The Jungle, Prove It All Night, The Ties That Bind, 10th Avenue Freeze-Out, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Independence Day, Factory, Who’ll Stop The Rain, Two Hearts, Out In The Street, The Price You Pay, This Land Is Your Land, The River, The Promised Land, Badlands

Disc Two: Cadillac Ranch, Sherry Darling, Hungry Heart, Because The Night, You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch), Wreck On The Highway, Point Blank, Backstreets, Candy’s Room, Ramrod, Rosalita

Disc 3: Born To Run, Detroit Medley/High School Confidential, Can’t Help Falling In Love, Rockin’ All Over The World

Bonus Tracks: Festhalle, Frankfurt, West Germany – 14 April, 1981: The Promised Land, The River, Thunder Road, Fire, Racing In The Street, Born To Run, Detroit Medley/Shake, Rockin’ All Over The World

In October 1980 Springsteen released his fifth abum, The River, and began a lengthy tour which took him to Europe for the first time since the four shows in London, Stockholm and Amsterdam in November 1975. The two concerts in Stockholm on 7th and 8th May 1981 were the last on the European mainland, Springsteen then playing the delayed UK dates and thereafter returning to the USA to complete the tour. Springsteen had acquired a relatively substantial fan-base in Scandinavia, perhaps partly due to the Stockholm show of 1975, and Patrick Humphries, in the narrative section of Bruce Springsteen: Blinded By The Light, published in 1985, contends that, “the European and Scandinavian concerts impressed even his critics with their commitment and their length.” The Johanneshovs Isstadion show of 8th May was particularly remarkable, the Brucebase website stating that, “this show is considered by many to be the best of all the European shows.” Ed, in a review on the website The Promise, concurs, arguing that, “the two shows in Stockholm are considered by many to be the best of the European (if not the entire) tour,” and he also refers to the 8th May concert as a “terrific show.” An anonymous reader comment adds that, “in my opinion this is THE best show of the River tour.”

Both of the Stockholm concerts appeared as 3-LP sets, Follow That Dream (7 May) and Teardrops On The City (8 May). Teardrops (no label) was a spectacular production. Chris Hunt, in the “Bruce Files” section of Blinded By The Light, describes it thus: “Cover: Superb colour gatefold. Sound: Excellent. Remarks: Excellent all round production makes this possibly the best bootleg ever made.” The front and rear covers portrayed Springsteen on stage and the sleeve opened out to show numerous photographs of Springsteen in performance, laid out on a flat surface together with the setlist written on file paper, a ticket stub, a camera and a portable cassette recorder containing a tape. The implication seems to be that the whole production process, from recording and photographing the show, to issuing the LPs, was carried out by the same individuals. Whether or not this is the case, Teardrops On The City was a Swedish release.

The show soon appeared in several further vinyl incarnations, some complete and some partial, but all inferior to Teardrops. Live In Stockholm (no label), which came in a box with a black-and white insert, is described by the Killing Floor Database as “an inferior copy of TEARDROPS ON THE CITY.” The Stockholm Tapes (no label) was a 6-LP set which copied both Follow That Dream and Teardrops. The artwork featured a black-and-white copy of the Teardrops front cover and Killing Floor states that “the sound quality is much reduced from the original LPs,” though Hunt still rates it as “very good.”

As stated above, there were also partial releases of the 8th May show, both with and without songs from the 7th. These were invariably shoddy productions. Eight songs from 8th May appeared on the 3-LP set Bruce Springsteen Live 1981, the majority coming from 7th May. This release was copied from Follow That Dream and Teardrops. If it was intended to showcase the highlights of the two concerts, it failed miserably. No fewer than six songs (Prove It All Night, 10th Avenue Freeze-Out, Backstreets, Candy’s Room, Ramrod and Rosalita) appear twice, in versions from both nights. Moreover, the performances of Candy’s Room and Ramrod from the 7th are duplicated, constituting the closing tracks on side 4 and the opening tracks on side 5!

Single-disc distillations of these shows were even shoddier. Truth O’ Trash (International Ltd) claimed merely to have been recorded “live in the 80’s.” Brucebase maintains that it contains songs from the 8th May, being a ”copy of sides 11/12 of The Stockholm Tapes – without Twist and Shout.” (The website neglects to mention that Can’t Help Falling In Love is also not included.) Hunt and the Killing Floor Database, however, both contend that this disc reproduces sides 5 and 6, and therefore contains performances from the 7th May. As Truth O’ Trash reproduces exactly the track listing of sides 5 and 6 of The Stockholm Tapes (and therefore also of Follow That Dream), the latter argument would seem to prevail. (Incidentally, International Ltd also copied sides 1 and 2 of The Stockholm Tapes, containing the opening songs from the 7th as Dead Trousers.)

Surplus copies of The Stockholm Tapes were recycled as the single LP The Gov’ner Strikes Back. The cover failed to mention Springsteen though collectors were presumably supposed to recognize the well-known cartoon reproduced from the cover of the noted early bootleg release The Jersey Devil (and gov’ner is, of course, a synonym for boss). As Brucebase points out, each sleeve “contains one of the LP’s from The Stockholm Tapes. You have no idea which one you will get – Matrix numbers struck out.” Bearing in mind that the discs had blank labels and the cover merely stated “live in your town,” it seems unlikely that prospective purchasers were even aware that the records had previously formed part of that set. The sleeve also claimed that “the first ten copies come with the extra bonus 12″, Kraftwerk: ‘Geisterfahrer,’” which must surely qualify as the most bizarre bonus disc in bootlegging history.

The CD history of this show is far less convoluted. Teardrops On The City (no label), which appeared in the eary 1990s, reproduced the packaging of the original LP. The front jewel case insert featured the same stage shot found on the LP cover and a single sheet foldover insert mimicked the design of the gatefold sleeve. The only other silver CD issue to feature a substantial amount of material from the 8th May show is Follow That Dream (Golden Stars). This release of the 7th May concert utilized the additional playing time of the CD medium to add nine bonus tracks from the 8th. The new Godfather set has brought the complete show back into circulation on silver discs for the first time in many years, although the Piggham label produced a CD-R version, Teardrops On The City Revisited.

The show begins, according Dave Marsh in Glory Days, with ”the wildest…new song rendition…a scarifying slowed down Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Run Through The Jungle’ with at least one original verse.” This intense performance is unfortunately imcomplete, the taper missing the beginning, so that we ony get two-and-a-half minutes of the song. This is followed by Prove It All Night. Shorn of the long piano and guitar introduction that had been so effective in 1978, the song more closely resembles, both in sound and performance, the official version from Darkness On The Edge Of Town. However, there is a longer coda with a short organ solo and a more extensive guitar part. The next number is The Ties That Bind which features, in Humphries’ words, “glorious Searchers-infuenced opening chords.” One of the songs from The River that had appeared in concerts during the 1978 tour, it is again given a reading close to the album version. An exuberant rendition of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, featuring a rather different sax solo from Clarence Clemons, is succeeded by a stark and powerful Darkness On The edge Of Town, which is marred by the fade-out that prevents the song reaching its conclusion.

Independence Day, one of the outstanding tracks from The River, was also premiered during the 1978 tour. Humphries refers to the song as “a white flag flying over the no man’s land that exists between parents and their errant children.” Springsteen prefaces the song with an account of his problematic relationship with his father. The first few notes of the understated instrumental backing are missing, though all the words are intact. With a focus on the mutual inability of parent and teenager to understand each other’s viewpoints, Springsteen points out that he needed to make peace with his father on order to make peace with himself. “It took us thirty years,” he points out, “just to be able to tell each other that we loved each other.” It is a moving preamble to an equally poignant rendition of the song. In the spoken introduction, Springsteen also states that, by the time of these confrontations, his father had been a factory worker for over ten years and that he had consequently suffered the humiliations that inevitably attend a life of low-paid menial employment. Appropriately, then, Independence Day is immediately followed by a haunting rendition of Factory, enhanced by Springsteen’s harmonica part.

The sombre mood created by these songs is dissipated by Springsteen’s version of another Creedence Clearwater Revival number, Who’ll Stop The Rain? This was first played at New York’s Madison Square Gardens on 19 December 1980, and thereafter featured in all but three River Tour concerts (those being two of the London shows and the performance in Largo, MD, on 5 August 1981). Things move further up-tempo with Two Hearts and Out In The Street, the latter’s “defiant” mood, according to Humphries, failing to disguise the fact that it “finds Springsteen at his most brash and feeble.” Despite Humphries’ derision, I would argue that this is more effective than most of the other rather vacuous “rockers” from The River, and it works well in a live setting. The Price You Pay, described by Humphries as “an epic song, in both ambition and achievement,” completes a trio of songs from The River. It receives a fine performance that is unfortunately marred by a small cut and some extraneous noises that sound as if the taper was having some problems with his machine.

The show’s third cover version is Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land. Springsteen’s interest in Guthrie had been kindled by his reading of Joe Klein’s Woody Guthrie: A Life and the song made its initial appearances at the three Nassau Coliseum shows at the end of December 1980. The song was composed as a riposte to Irving Berlin’s jingoistic God Bless America but ironically, as Dave Marsh points out, Guthrie “went to his grave immensely troubled that the most radical of his lyrics were forgotten as his finest song was adopted by the very jingoists and false patriots the song meant to attack.” Springsteen is well aware of Guthrie’s true intentions. He told the audience in Paris that, “it’s been misinterpreted a lot. It was written as a fighting song.” However, in a further irony, by performing the number in a version that is much slower and less obviously folk-based than the original, he creates, in Marsh’s uncharacteristically critical view, an “interpretation…smack dab in the middle between Woody Guthrie…and Irving Berlin.”

A short and simple, though rather beautiful, piano introduction leads into The River. Along with Independence Day, this is one of the two truly moving songs from the River album and it is one of the songs from the album which deals, as Paul Nelson stated in his Rolling Stone review, with “grim reality.” Humphries points out that the song was based on conversations Springsteen had with with his brother-in law. His sister married early in life and the couple suffered hard times when her husband, a construction worker, lost his job. Awareness of the circumstances which inspired the song makes this poignant rendition even more affecting. The River is followed by stirring renditions of The Promised Land and Badlands, which bring both the first set and the first disc to a close.

The second set opens with songs intended to get the audience moving and they clearly have the desired effect. Disc 2 begins with Cadillac Ranch, a number described by Humphries as “throw-away,” but which (as is the case with Out In The Street) is effective in live performance. The party atmosphere is then enhanced by an exuberent Sherry Darling and a crowd-pleasing rendition of Hungry Heart. Springsteen stated that the song was an evocation of the effects the Beach Boys and Frankie Lymon had on him. Christopher Sandford, in Springsteen: Point Blank, calls the song “audaciously commercial, singalong pop,” and the ecstatic audience gleefully sing the first verse, a ritual dating from the show in Chicago a week into the tour. A hectic version of Because The Night follows without the longer guitar introduction that was a feature of the song in 1978, though there is a fairly lengthy solo later in the song and this is succeeded by a furiously-paced rendition of the slight You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).

After all this activity the pace slows and the volume abates for the reflective Wreck On The Highway. A song which Humphries refers to as “stripped down to the bone musically and lyrically,” it provides a haunting conclusion to the River album and it is equally atmospheric here. The serious mood continues with Point Blank which, along with The Ties That Bind, Sherry Daring and Independence Day, had been performed during the 1978 tour before apearing on The River. Described by Humphries as “chilling” and “bitterly resigned” the song lost its overt but not overstated drug abuse theme to concentrate on, as Springsteen tells the audience, “two people that once had [a] connection but got broken apart.” The change of emphasis came late, as Marsh points out when he states that it was “the last song completed for the new album – Bruce added he central monologue only in the final days of recording.” Marsh goes on to say that “in Stockholm he nearly rewrote it again,” adding some extra lyrics in an impassioned vocal performance.

Some wordless vocalising by Springsteen then introduces Backstreets, impressive here as it invariably is in concert, and this is followed by the searing guitar work of Candy’s Room. A driven version of the rather vacuous Ramrod then gives way to the second set’s closer, a barnstorming performance of Rosalita, complete with band introductions.

Disc 3 begins with the encores. A fine performance of Born To Run is missing its beginning, the taper seemingly caught out by the start of the encore as he was with the start of the show. A frenzied performance of the Devil With The Blue Dress Medley, which incorporates Jerry Lee Lewis’ High School Confidential, provides the highlight among the encores. Perhaps surprisingly at such a stage in the show, Springsteen inserts a slow and quiet number in the shape of his “favourite Elvis Presley song” Can’t Help Falling In Love, from the 1961 film Blue Hawaii. Normal service is resumed in the shape of John Fogerty’s Rockin’ All Over The World and Twist And Shout, entirely appropriate show closers which leave the audience ecstatic.

Godfather provides a bonus in the shape of eight songs from the Frankfurt concert of three weeks earlier, of which Thunder Road, Fire, Racing In The Street and Shake (included in the medley) are unrepresented in the Stockholm show. They are all fine performances, with a superb Racing In The Street, featuring Roy Bittan’s gorgeous piano playing, providing the highight.

Although, as stated earlier, Chris Hunt rates the sound quality of the original LP as “excellent,” other commentators have been less impressed. Ed’s review on the website The Promise refers to the first CD incarnation as being “in sound quality that isn’t too bad” and a reader comment adds that “the sound of the recording doesn’t live up to the show itself.” Ed states that the Piggham CD-R is “remastered” and a further reader comment contends that it is “improved sound quality.” All LP and CD reissues of this show derive, directly or indirectly, from the original vinyl release, which presumably limits the extent to which the sound can be improved. The sound is mono, and despite lacking a little depth and sounding rather “flat” at times it is generally quite clear and detailed. The slower, quieter songs fare better and listening to these, one can understand why Hunt felt able to describe the sound as excellent. The sound on the louder and faster songs sometimes gets congested, as on You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch). However, this is not invariable, and some more raucous numbers, such as the medley and Rockin All Over The World, sound remarkably fine. Overall, although the difference is minimal, Godfather’s new release does have a little more presence than the original CD issue. The sound quality of the bonus tracks is slightly less good than that of the main show, though still very listenable.

This release comes in Godfather’s usual impressive packaging. The customary tri-fold sleeve reproduces the front and back covers of the original LP, though the black-and-white photgraphs from the inner side of the gatefold sleeve are nowhere to be found. Instead there are colour onstage photos, some of which show Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, Steve Van Zandt and Garry Tallent hamming it up during a show. There is also a booklet with further photographs and notes. This was a notable LP release of an important show and the original CD issue has been unavailable for many years; Godfather deserves the gratitude of collectors for restoring it to circulation.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen Teardrops On The City | , | Leave a comment