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Bruce Springsteen – Frankfurt Dream Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 945-48)

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Frankfurt Dream Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 945-48) 

Commerzbank Arena, Frankfurt, Germany – 3 July, 2009

Disc 1: Muss I Denn Zum Stadtele Hinaus (Wooden Heart), Badlands, Adam Raised A Cain, The Ties That Bind, My Lucky Day, Outlaw Pete, Hungry Heart, Working On A Dream, Seeds, Johnny 99, Factory, Something in the Night, Raise Your Hand, I’m Goin’ Down, Ramrod

Disc 2: Trapped, Because The Night, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Promised Land, Point Blank, Kingdom Of Days, Lonesome Day, The Rising, Born To Run, Hard Times Come Again No More, Jungleland, American Land, Bobby Jean

Disc 3: Dancing In The Dark, Twist And Shout

Bonus tracks: Olympiastadion, Munich, Germany – 2 July, 2009: No Surrender, Spirit In The Night, Atlantic City, Raise Your Hand, Seven Nights To Rock, This Hard Land, [Oh,] Pretty Woman, The River, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Detroit Medley, Glory Days

Free Bonus Disc: Commerzbank Arena, Frankfurt, Germany – 3 July, 2009 (Sirius Satellite Radio broadcast): Outlaw Pete, Seeds, Ramrod, Point Blank, Lonesome Day, Hard Times (Come Again No More), Dancing In The Dark; Carhaix, France – 16 July, 2009 (France Inter Radio broadcast): Outlaw Pete, Out In The Street, Working On A Dream, Seeds, Johnny 99

“Frankfurt had one of the most fabulous set lists of this tour,” writes Karl Birthistle on the Backstreets website, “a night of true beauty.”  The writer on the Point Blank website was also impressed, stating, “the best euro show of the tour so far?  Most probably.”  The night began, as with several other European shows, with an accordion solo from Nils Lofgren.  Here it was Muss I Den Zum Stadtele Hinaus, a traditional German folk song with words in the Swabian dialect.  Most people will know it better as Wooden Heart, from the Elvis Presley film G.I. Blues.  As can be heard on this recording, the song, in the words of Joerg Hanoldt, on Springsteen’s official website, “brought a big laugh and cheer to the audience.”

The audience is also a very audible presence on the set opener proper, a stunningly visceral Badlands, and some listeners may find that this adds to the excitement of this performance.  The excitement continues throughthe next three songs, beginning with a blistering Adam Raised A Cain.  As Birthistle writes, “the show opened with a thundering powerhouse, the first four tracks pulsating with drive and passion, careering from ‘Badlands’ into ‘Adam Raised A Cain’ into ‘The Ties That Bind’ and then ‘My Lucky Day’ without a moment to pause for breath.”

Outlaw Pete receives another fine live performance, much appreciated by the audience, and it features a brief snippet of The Shadows’ Apache at the beginning.  Hungry Heart, another crowd-pleaser, then leads into the infectiously cheerful Working On A Dream, featuring the usual monologue.  Seeds is as powerful as ever.  “It shimmered and soared,” according to Birthistle, “with another blistering solo from Bruce.”  The usual multi-solo, train-oriented Johnny 99 follows, and this then leads to an unexpected end to the hard times trilogy in the shape of moving tour premiere Factory, with a harmonica opening and ending, discreet backing vocals and appropriately subdued piano and organ contributions from Roy Bittan and Charlie Giordano respectively.  The last song before the request section also comes from Darkness On The Edge Of Town, in the shape of a sublime performance of Something In The Night, a song making only its second appearance on the Working On A Dream Tour.  “A knockout,” is Hanoldt’s verdict on this performance. After this it is request time and Raise Your Hand, the sign collection number, is played in an instrumental arrangement here.  The first request is, in Birthistle’s words, a “very uplifting” I’m Goin’ Down, which emerges suddenly as Raise Your Hand comes to a sudden and unexpected stop.  This is followed by Ramrod, agreed to by a hesitant Springsteen at the insistence of Steve Van Zandt.  The song recives a rather staid performance which may refect Springsteen’s reluctance to play it.

Trapped opens disc 2 and it is, as always in live performance, superbly taut.  It is followed by Because The Night which contains, as has become customary, an outstanding and wonderfully fluid guitar solo from Nils Lofgren.  The light-hearted Waitin’ On A Sunny Day features a vocal contribution from two young boys in the audience and it is succeeded by The Promised Land in a driving version with additional vocals from Curtis King and Cindy Mizelle.  Like Trapped and Because The Night, the next song, Point Blank, is another highlight of this tremendous show.  “The boundless beauty of ‘Point Blank’ seeped gloriously into the night air, revealing all the brilliance of the man who wrote it,” writes Birthistle, “as Bruce sang this song as if he meant and felt every word of it.”  The gorgeous Kingdom Of Days, dedicated to the absent Patti Scialfa, then gets a relatively rare live workout before Lonesome Day and a fine The Rising lead to the thunderous set closer, Born To Run.

Without leaving the stage the band launches into the encore with the Steven Foster song Hard Times (Come Again No More), which gives King and Mizelle a chance to shine.  The next song is another request, played in response to a sign reading, “Play Jungleland – many concerts, never Jungleland.”  It is invariably magical to experience this epic song performed live and here, as Hanoldt writes, Springsteen “granted this request magnificently.”   Birthistle states that, “the beauty began again, and Clarence’s solo pierced into the night, awesomely perfect, uniting 50,000 folk as time seemed to temporarily stand still.” The overall effect of the song is indeed wonderful, though it must be said that Clemons’ solo is far from “perfect.”  A spirited American Land contains the customary band introductions and joyous versions of Bobby Jean and Dancing In The Dark then close disc 2 and open disc 3 respectively.  A loose Twist And Shout finally, in Humboldt’s words, “closed tonight’s party on a hot summer night.”

With only two songs from the show on the third disc, Crystal Cat has the space to treat us to eleven bonus tracks from the previous evening’s concert in Munich, only one of which was also played in Frankfurt.  By all accounts this was also a terrific show.  The Point Blank writer comments that, “Roy Bittan’s 60th birthday was celebrated in Munich with a splendid show,” and Birthistle contends that, “those of us there were very lucky indeed – this was a standout show.”  On Springsteen’s official website, Flo Spintler writes that this show “is a contender for one of the top five shows of the tour.”

First up is a vibrant performance of the anthemic No Surrender and this is followed by a version of Spirit In The Night which bears out Birthistle’s contention that, “from the outset Bruce was exceedingly loose.”  Two things make this a notable performance.  Firstly, Springsteen allows a young boy to sing on part of the song. Birthistle credits him with “fabulous singing,” although it is hard to distinguish his voice a so many other people are also singing along.  (The same boy gets to sing later in the more usual place on Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, though that is not included here.)  Secondly, Springsteen stops the song during the slow section as a large, inflatable birthday cake is passed on to the stage.  He initially makes a big show of pretending not to know whose birthday it is, before eventually placing it on Bittan’s piano.  Atlantic City then receives a highly effective performance enhanced by Steve Van zandt’s mandolin.

Raise Your hand is again a purely instrumental version, presumably included because it leads suddenly and without a break into a most enjoyable Seven Nights To Rock.  The next song is the tour premiere of This Hard Land.  The fine performace features short solos from practically the entire band.  “Dare we?  Dare we?” says Springsteen before the next song, “we do not know  it…I hope we do it right.”  We are then treated to Springsteen’s first performance with the E Street Band of Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman.  The seemingly genuine trepidation seems misplaced when the song begins with idiomatically twangy guitar.  Admittedly the band does go wrong at one point but the E streeters nail the spirit of the song and it is tremendous fun.  Things take a more serious turn with an affecting performance of The River, which gives way to the exuberant set-closer, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.  From the encore we then get a furious Devil With the Blue Dress Medley, which, Birthistle reports, “had the whole place dancing like loons,” and a triumphant Glory Days featuring the “It’s Boss time!” dialogue with Steve Van Zandt.

As if eleven bonus tracks were not enough, Crystal Cat includes a free bonus disc featuring two radio broadcasts.  Firstly, there is the Sirius broadcast of seven of the songs from the Fankfurt show.  Although this is not its first appearance, the broadcast having provided the bonus tracks for Godfather’s release of the Turin show of 21 July, Gran Torino, it is entirely appropriate that it should be added to this release.  Outlaw Pete, Point Blank and Hard Times (Come Again No More) in particular benefit from the broadcast sound quality.

The second broadcast, from French radio, features five songs from Springsteen’s two-and-a-half hour set at France’s biggest rock festival at Carhaix in Brittany.  It begins with the fourth song in the set, Outlaw Pete, and concludes with the eighth, Johnny 99.  Outlaw Pete gets a fine performance with a definite sense of urgency and Out In The Street is suitably boisterous and good-natured.  Working On A Dream, which features the usual monologue in a mixture of English and French, also seems relatively sprightly.  It seems as if the band are driven by the limitations of the relatively short performance time allowed them.  Seeds then ploughs insistently through its tale of economic hardship before giving way to the country-tinged, train-oriented Johnny 99.  The French DJ intervenes regularly, mostly as each song gives way to the next, which is tolerable.  However, he seems genuinely unaware that Johnny 99 has a false ending and he jumps in at this point, assuming that the song is finished.  Unfortunately, when he realizes that this is not the case, he does not immediately stop, which rather detracts from one’s enjoyment of this set’s final song.

The sound quality of this release has been the subject of much debate.  Some comments on the Jungleland torrent site have been negative, such as smokeyjoe’s assertion that, “this is a pretty bad CC,” or EStreetBoss’ statement that, “I think the audio on this one holds a lower quality than what you are used to with CC.”  Conversely, moerie comments on the forum of the Stone Pony London website that the sound is, “damn fine, imo the best audience that surfaced so far,” an opinion that I consider unrealistically complimentary.  However, some comments, such as this one from bsfan50 on the Jungleland site, are rather more balanced and thoughtful: “I would say that it’s not high in CC standards, but I do think it’s better than many of the recordings (especially most of the recordings in Europe with the exception of Godfather’s Vienna recording and maybe their Rome recording).”  Overall, I would say that the sound is approaching, and at times is actually, very good, though some listeners may well find the audience noise rather overpowering.  Indeed, it is precisely when the audience is least apparent that the recording is at its most satisfying.

Despite the fact that the audience is again prominent, the sound quality of the bonus tracks from Munich is very fine indeed (although No Surrender is a little muddy, particularly near the start of the song.)  The songs from the free bonus disc, of course. benefit from broadcast quality sound, the Frankfurt selection perhaps having the edge over the Carhaix tracks in this regard.  However, as with Godfather’s Gran Torino, the endings of some songs merge into the beginnings of the next, a displeasing effect.  (I assume that this is how they were broadcast.)

Crystal Cat’s packaging for this release is truly outstanding.  The front and rear inserts are double-sided.  The front insert features shots of Springsteen sitting in a in a car and  fans gathering inside the stadium; the photos on the rear insert shows Springsteen posing with a guitar, seemingly in a corridor backstage,  and the outside of the stadium, together with a ticket for the show.  There is a twenty-page booklet with numerous photographs of Springsteen and the band on stage, plus one of fans gathering outside the venue.  the booklet also features a reproduction of Springsteen’s hand written setlist, band personnel and track listings and Birthistle’s and Hanoldt’s accounts of the show.  There is also a second, tri-fold insert with shots of the audience.  This opens out to reveal two panoramic shots of the audience and the inside of the stadium.  Everything is printed on Crystal Cat’s usual  glossy paper and the result is most impressive.  Additionally, the discs themselves have full colour artwork, three featuring Springsteen and band members on stage and one with Springsteen standing in front of a car, seemingly a promotional shot for Sirius.

Although the fact that the main concert comes in sound that numerous commentators feel does not meet Crystal Cat’s usual exacting standards may deter some collectors, there are rewards to be found here.  Firstly, there is the high quality of the Frankfurt performance; secondly, the songs presented here suggest that the Munich show was even better, and for me they form the collective highlight of this release; thirdly, there is the excellent sound quality of the tracks on the majority of disc 3 and the entirety of the free bonus disc; lastly, there is the superb packaging.  Had the sound of the main show matched these qualities, this would undoubtedly have been the outstanding document of the Working On A Dream Tour so far; as it stands, it still constitutes a most worthwhile release which will bring listeners a great deal of pleasure.

   

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Bruce Springsteen - Frankfurt Dream Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 945-48), 2.8 out of 5 based on 8 ratings

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