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Bruce Springsteen – Darkness On The Edge Of London Town (Godfatherecords G.R. 899/900/901)

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Gr899

 (Godfatherecords G.R. 899/900/901)

Wembley Stadium, London, UK – 15 June, 2013

Disc 1: Introduction, Land Of Hope And Dreams[/People Get Ready], Jackson Cage, Radio Nowhere, Save My Love, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), This Hard Land, Lost In The Flood, Wrecking Ball, Death To My Hometown, Hungry Heart

Disc 2 Badlands,  Adam Raised  A Cain, Something In The Night, Candy’s Room, Racing In The Street, The Promised Land, Factory, Streets Of Fire, Prove It All Night, Darkness On The Edge Of Town

Disc 3: Shackled And Drawn, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Rising, Light Of Day[/Land Of A Thousand Dances], Pay Me My Money Down, Born To Run, Bobby Jean, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Twist And Shout, Thunder Road

Godfather’s Darkness On The Edge Of London Town presents us with a recording of Springsteen and the E Street Band’s first show at Wembley Stadium since 1988.  As has been the case at some other recent shows, customary set closer Land Of Hope And Dreams is used to open the show and it does so most effectively.  Daniel Paton, writing on the Music OMH website, notes that, “the E Street Band launch straight into Land Of Hope And Dreams, a longstanding live favourite reimagined for the Wrecking Ball album, and a song more familiar from the home stretch of their sets.  It sounds terrific, full blooded, rousing and relentlessly intense.”

Then come the fleet and melodic pairing of Jackson Cage (making its second appearance of 2013) and Radio Nowhere, which are followed by the first sign requests of the evening.  The first request to be played is Save My Love, a song dating from 1976 (rehearsal footage from autumn of that year can be seen on the Thrill Hill Vault 1976-1978 DVD) and finally recorded and released officially on The Promise.  Paton calls it “lovely” and an “inspired choice,” and Terry Hearn, on whatculture.com, calls it “an unexpected treat,” though I must say that I find the song lightweight and rather inconsequential.  Far superior is the second sign request, Rosalita, played unusually early in the show.  The performance is described by Michael Hann, reviewing the show for The Guardian, as, “as explosive an expression of unbridled joy as you can imagine,” and Paton rightly calls it “fantastically uplifting.”  After  what Paton calls “a compelling reading” of This Hard Land comes another sign request, Lost In The Flood, a song last played in London in the far off days of 1975 at the Hammersmith Odeon.  It is an undoubted highlight of the show.  Sarfraz Manzoor, reviewing the show for The Telegraph, refers to, “a stupendous Lost in the Flood featuring Roy Bittan’s gothic piano playing and searing guitar from Springsteen.”  Paton calls the performance “intensified,” and Hearn regards it as “devastating.”

We then get Springsteen’s first foray into Wrecking Ball territory with the usual combination of the title track and Death To My Hometown.  Leanne Neale, reviewing the show on the gigslutz websites contends that, “after 130 dates ‘Wrecking Ball,’ the powerful lead track of the newest album sounded like an early classic.”  Then the audience gets its customary invitation to sing during Hungry Heart.  Initially brandishing a sign emblazoned with a large red heart, Springsteen, after the initial mass singalong,  goes into the audience and, as we clearly hear, offers the microphone to a couple of individual audience members. This song brings the first disc to a close.

Despite excellent renditions of individual songs, notably Lost In The Flood, the most stunning aspect of the show is, of course, the compete performance of Springsteen’s masterpiece, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, which takes up the entirety of disc two.  “We can, er, keep taking requests,” we hear Springsteen say to the audience, “or we can play  Darkness on the Edge of Town from start to finish.”  “A simple proposition,” writes Michael Stutts on the Backstreets website, “but one that defined this show.” 

Reviewers and commentators were clearly overwhelmed by the performance of Darkness.  Hann writes:

“The centrepiece of tonight’s show is a complete performance of the 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town, an album Springsteen describes as being ‘at the heart of what we do,’ which deals with themes barely suited to this mass act of communion: doubt and identity, and lives being torn apart.  It’s undoubtedly one of rock’s most profound and ambiguous albums, and its performance is a triumph.  As the coda of Racing In The Street ebbs and flows across the 71,000 people in the stadium, the silence is absolute, as if everyone has their own shattered dream to remember.  Only Candy’s Room, so dependent on precision for its build and release of tension, suffers a little with stadium sound, but it’s a tiny gripe.”

Like Hann, Hearn found Racing In The Street particularly affecting, writing:

“The standout was a heartbreaking ‘Racing in the Street.’  Everybody stood around  me was in tears.  Each time Bruce extended the instrumental outro he seemed to be  getting more and more emotional himself.  Moments like that don’t come very often  and it is something I will never forget.”

Manzoor comments:

“It was the first time a British audience has been treated to Springsteen performing an entire album and from the fiery intensity of Adam Raised a Cain to Max Weinberg’s menacing drums on Something in the Night to Nils Lofgren spinning
on one foot while playing the guitar solo during Prove it all Night with his teeth it was breathtaking.

The audience were about as jubilant as it was possible to be considering they were hearing 10 songs streaked with anger, despair and desperation.”

Enjoli Liston, reviewing the show for The Independent, states:

“From ‘Badlands’ to the album’s final track and namesake, the performance is a thing of real and rare brilliance, leaving the crowd silently awed and euphoric in equal measure throughout it.”

At greater length, Daniel Paton, gives the following view on the music OMH website:

“Tonight, London is lucky enough to get Darkness On The Edge Of Town, perhaps Springsteen’s greatest long form achievement, an album on which he drew deep from the well of human experience and sadness.  It’s not exactly the obvious choice for a stadium show…but Springsteen’s return to his back catalogue is never about mere nostalgia.  It is more a celebration of the timelessness and undiminished authority of these songs – and these songs of darkness and defiance are among his very best.

Tonight, the band perform these songs with a sense of dignity and responsibility.  Badlands remains an audience participation favourite, in spite of its rather different context in this show, but Adam Raised A Cain raises the intensity levels to fever point, with Bruce taking an explosive guitar solo and singing in impressively gutsy style.  Something In The Night is beautiful and greatly enhanced by the presence of the E Street Horns…whilst Candy’s Room retains all of its lusty drive.  A moment of genuine poignance [sic] comes with Racing In The Streets [sic], its glorious extended coda (on which Roy Bittan stretches out brilliantly on piano) perfectly encapsulating the E Street sound…

…Factory is melancholy and controlled, whilst Streets Of Fire has an urgency and power. Then there is the inevitable double whammy of two of his best songs – a typically storming Prove It All Night (sadly played without the ’78 intro), on which Nils Lofgren is allowed his one moment of show-stopping virtuosity, an excoriating solo complete with teeth and 360 degree spins. The album’s brilliant title track concludes things with convincing soul and fire.”

These accounts might be hyperbolic, with a certain amount of artistic license (a couple of posters commenting on Hann’s review point out that people could clearly be heard chatting during the coda of Racing In The Street, for example), but, overall, they convey the thorough-going excellence of the performance.

The third disc kicks off with an infectiously enjoyable Shackled And Drawn, with a splendid vocal contribution from Cindy Mizelle.  Hannah, writing on burgersandbruce.com (The Guardian newspaper’s blog of the week during June 2013) rates the performance as, “one of the liveliest versions of Shackled and Drawn I’ve seen,” and the performance saw the majority of the band dancing across the front of the stage.  Waitin’ On A Sunny Day features the customary junior vocal slot and it is followed by the usual solid performance of The Rising.  This is followed by the set closer, a furious Light Of Day which features  a splendid guitar solo from Steve Van Zandt.  It also includes an extract from Land Of A Thousand Dances.  The song was originally recorded by Chris Kenner in 1962, though the well known “na, na, na” hook we hear sung by Springsteen and the audience here was added on the 1965 version by Cannibal & The Headhunters.

The encore begins in Seeger Sessions territory with a joyous rendition of Pay Me My Money Down. “Thirty seconds from now,” says Springsteen, introducing the song, “everybody in this place is gonna be dancing,” and the performance suggests he was right.  The high spirits continue with a superb Born To Run and a suitably anthemic Boby Jean.  During the next song, Dancing In The Dark, two women took the stage to dance, one with Van Zandt and one with Springsteen, the former staying longer in order to play along on acoustic guitar, a recent addition to Springsteen’s shows.  The first, younger woman had a sign reading, “from Sondrio [Italy] to Wembley to dance with Steve.”  The second, older woman was invited on to the stage in response to a sign reading “1 dollar to ‘dance’ with my mum,” complete with dollar bill – which Springsteen ripped off and pocketed!  Hann refers to her, “giving Springsteen a come-hither gesture that suggests that if playing for 200 minutes at the age of 63 doesn’t give him a heart attack, her attentions surely will.”

Stutts sums up the end of this wonderful show as follows:

“The  last three songs were particularly meaningful, all for different  reasons.  The new treatment of the ‘Tenth Avenue’ video (no more pause – it  plays during the last verse) rightfully connects the imagery of Danny  and Clarence with the ongoing spirit of the band.  ‘Twist and Shout’  recalled fond and crazy memories of the Hyde Park fiasco of 2012.  And  then there was ‘Thunder Road.’  The band leaves the stage, Bruce comes  back, says a few words, then leads a stadium-sized crowd in a bar room-style sing-along…it was a heck of a moment; I speak for  myself in saying it’s a top five experience in all of the shows I’ve  seen.”

One might have expected the lengthy rendition of Twist And Shout, which contains the band introductions, to be the end of the show.  However, along with the revival of the complete album performances and the appearance of the guitar-playing audience member, Springsteen returning alone to finish with an acoustic number has been another feature of recent shows and it is tremendously effective here.  How could it be otherwise when the song chosen is Thunder Road?  Liston refers to it as, “a magical stripped-back rendition of ‘Thunder Road,’ yet another delight for a crowd that already believed he just couldn’t get any better.”

The sound of the audience recording is, overall, full, clear and well-defined, making for a very enjoyable listening experience, though the sound is a little less good during the show’s earlier songs and there is a jarring change in volume during Hungry Heart.  It does seem as if the taper had to contend (largely successfully) with less than top-notch sound in the venue, as posters on various websites complain about the quality of the sound for at least part of the show.  Responding to Hann’s review, for example, charliesticks states that, “the sound was awful until about the final third,” resulting in, “no bass, no depth, everything channelled mid range so that although there are 10 odd sounds on stage it was just a muddy blur through the pa.”  Replying, Mann reckons that the sound was “sorted out” by the time of the Darkness performance,” and, to my ears, Godfather’s recording does sound more impressive from that point on.  LessGrumpyNow, commenting on Manzoor’s review, does mention the echo, which “is worse than the old Wembley,” and this can be heard at times on the recording.  Posters on Jungleland have largely been positive in comparing Godfather’s version with other extant tapes: “I think this version is a little bit better than the other 2″ (borobri); “This is the best I have heard so far” (simonuk) and “it lacks some punch, but instrument separation is better than the loftrasa source.  leads are clear, jake’s solo in radio nowhere sounds nice, as are bruce’s vocals.  overall the better of the circulating sources.” (hobbes4444). 

Some collectors may lament the absence of bonus tracks, for which there was room if the discs had been configured differently.  However, I must say that I approve of the decision to place the performance of Darkness On The Edge by itself on disc two, which allows us to hear the whole album uninterrupted and accords it an certain appropriate stature.  Unfortunately, Springsteen’s spoken introduction appears at the end of the first disc, thereby separating it from the performance itself (although his last few words are repeated on disc two.)

The three discs are housed in Godfather’s usual attractive tri-fold card sleeve, featuring numerous onstage photographs, together with the track listing and band personnel.  There is also a four page foldover insert, with the usual “Joe Roberts” notes, in which readers will recognize phrases taken from some of the reviews I have quoted above.

Clearly, this is a special performance, and it is awarded five stars out of five by Paton, Hann, Liston and Manzoor.  The latter calls it, “arguably the most astonishing Bruce Springsteen concert I have ever seen.” “All in all, a magnificent performance,” is the verdict of Hannah Coates on the god is in the tv website.  In other circumstances I would simply recommend Godfather’s splendid new release as a mandatory purchase for Springsteen collectors; however, it is about to face competition from the forthcoming Crystal Cat version, entitled  Wembley Wrecking Ball Night, which I hope to review in due course.

 

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Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On The Edge Of London Town (Godfatherecords G.R. 899/900/901), 3.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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