4th Of July (Godfatherecords G.R. 304)
Ullevi Stadium, Gothenburg, Sweden – 4 July 2008
4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Atlantic City, Because The Night, Cadillac Ranch, Independence Day, Seven Nights To Rock, Born To Run, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Dancing In The Dark, American Land
Bonus Tracks: Emirates Stadium, London, UK – 31 May 2008: Growin’ Up, Downbound Train, Backstreets
This CD is one of five new Godfather releases devoted to recent Magic Tour concerts. The songs are taken from a broadcast on Sirius Satellite Radio’s E Street Radio channel which actually gave more time to host Dave Marsh talking to phone callers than it did to the music. As far as I am aware this is the first unofficial release of Magic Tour material from a non-audience source.
After some years of stylistic diversity, Springsteen himself made it clear that the Magic Tour would be a return to undiluted rock music. As he said, “Yeah – I’ll be playing rock music this time.” This, together with the advancing age of Springsteen and his band members, has prompted frequent references to a show probably being the last one at that particular venue. For example, the notes to Godfather’s release of the Milan concert of 25 June 2008 state, “someone is already saying that this will be the last show here with the E street Band.” Springsteeen has, however, vehemently denied this, saying, “I envision the band carrying on for many, many, many years. There ain’t gonna be any farewell tour… I’ll never do that, man – you’re only gonna know that when you don’t see me no more.”
Certainly, there has been no sign at all of a band going through the motions or becoming a parody of itself. Springsteen has performed with the commitment and energy of a man half his age and, although many songs have been old favourites and audience requests, the performances have escaped any sense of misplaced nostalgia. In his New York Times Review of a Madison Square Garden show of October 2007, Jon Pareles, in a comment that is pertinent to the Magic tour as a whole, wrote:
“The sheer vitality of Mr. Springsteen, 58, belting an entire set of showstoppers straight from the gut and working the stage with his longtime band provides all the hope the lyrics struggle to find. He’s as serious as any public figure alive, but he leaves audiences euphoric – a paradox that only grows more profound as he endures.”
The Swedish audience clearly expected an occasion as special as Pareles describes and there was massive media coverage. According to a review of the concert by Jos Westenberg that appears on Springsteen’s official website, “for days the town had Bruce fever.” Bearing in mind the date, Springsteen unsurprsingly made frequent references to the occasion throughout the show and the CD begins appropriately with 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), described as “one of our 4th Of July specials.” The song is dedicated to the memory of Danny Federici (“We always send this one out to Danny.”) It is played in a superbly atmospheric version, with accordion to the fore but also enhanced by several instances of instrumental augmentation, allowing the members of a large band to contribute to the song in a live scenario. The quality of both the performance and the sound make this the most effective and moving Magic Tour version of what I (and I am sure many others) have always thought of as “Danny’s song.” This night, however, the number had a second dedicatee, the Asbury Park boardwalk fortune teller Madam Marie, who features in the song. Announcing her death at the grand old age of 98 (although Westenberg alleges that she was in fact 93), Springsteen laments that, “there’s enough mystery lost in the world. We need all the fortune tellers we can get.” (Incidentally, a phograph of the sign outside Madam Marie’s booth can be found on page 7 of Robert Santelli’s Greetings From E Street.)
Beginning with portentious drumming from Max Weinberg, there follows a full-band version of Atlantic City, slower and heavier than the solo version from Nebraska and featuring the mandolin of Steve Van Zandt and the violin of Soozie Tyrell. An excellent rendition of Because The Night follows, a little slower than some of the manic versions of past years (such as during the Darkness On The Edge Of Town tour of 1978) and featuring a distinctive guitar solo from Nils Lofgren in his inimitable style.
Because The Night ends with a mighty climax and then the band immediately rip into Cadillac Ranch. I am not overly enamoured with The River, partly due to the number of essentially vapid stabs at “good-time rock.” However, I have always considered Cadillac Ranch to be the best of these and it works well as the kind of number that gets a stadium audience moving. Here it is augmented by Tyrell’s violin which adds to the sense of fun. The mood then shifts with a compelling version of Independence Day, the opening bars of which sent shivers down my spine in anticipation of the poignant tale of conflict between a father and son who, despite their differences, are also “too much of the same kind.” A Magic Tour rarity (Westenberg points out that it had been played only once before), the song benefits from the addition of Lofgren’s pedal steel guitar.
After this, we are treated to a run of Pareles’ “showstoppers from the gut” (the final five songs from the show) beginning with a euphoric rendition of Moon Mullican’s 1956 number Seven Nights To Rock and continuing with rousing versions of Born To Run and Rosalita. Springsteen’s self-confessed attempt to write a pop song, Dancing In The Dark, follows and keeps the exuberant mood going. The selection of songs ends, as did the concert, with a barnstorming American Land, propelled by Tyrell’s violin and featuring the band introductions. It is, quite simply, enormous fun and the audience reacts with delight when Springsteen adds the Swedes to the list of immigrants into America.
The bonus tracks come from the Emirates Stadium concert of 31st May 2008. I was most pleasantly surprised by the sound quality of the three tracks here. This recording is far superior to any other Magic Tour audience tape I have heard. The Brucebase website rightly refers to it as a “contender for the best of the tour so far.” Fine versions of Growin’ Up, Darlington County and Backstreets (the latter one of the highlights of the show) comprise a worthy bonus. Godfather make one gaffe, however, by omitting the spoken introduction to Growin’ Up. This would perhaps be less serious in other circumstances, but in this case the story begun before the song continues in a spoken interlude. The story concerns Danny Federici, whose bad luck in having his car towed away by the police for being illegally parked was compounded by the presence on one of the seats of a marijuana plant which could not fail to be noticed. It was certainly noticed but seemingly not identified for, as Springsteen relates during the song, “my neighbour was a cop and he was a gardener on the side. And there, in amongst the tomatoes and the lettuce was a huge marijuana plant!”
This Godfather release comes in the usual tri-fold sleeve with some superb photographs from the show. Unusually, there is no booklet and there are no sleeve notes. I understand that this was partially because this title does not feature a complete concert and partially due to the desire to release the CD as quickly as posssible. There is an alternative version on the Project Zip label but this is a CD-R release and it has no bonus tracks so Godfather’s is clearly the version to have. Superb performances in excellent sound make this an essential supplement to those complete Magic Tour shows which may already be in the collections of Springsteen afficionadoes.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)