Grande Finale (Godfather Records GR537/538/539)
Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA, USA – 2 October, 1985
Disc 1: Born In The USA, Badlands, Out In The Street, Johnny 99, Seeds, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Introduction, The River, War, Working On The Highway, Trapped, I’m Goin’ Down, Prove It All Night, The Promised Land
Disc 2: Introduction, My Hometown, Thunder Road, “A Short Break!”, Cover Me, Dancing In The Dark, Hungry Heart, Cadillac Ranch, “Close Enough For Rock & Roll”, No Surrender, I’m On Fire, Growin’ Up, Rosalita (Come Out (Tonight)
Disc3: Introduction/Thanks, This Land Is Your Land, Bobby Jean, Ramrod, Twist And Shout/Do You Love Me?, Stand On It, Travelin’ Band, Rockin’ All Over The World, Glory Days
Bonus Tracks: Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA, USA – 30 September, 1985: Darlington County, Pink Cadillac, Stand On It
As is well known, the Born In The U.S.A. album and the subsequent tour made Springsteen, in the words of Peter Basham, in his book Bruce Springsteen, “one of the very biggest popular music stars on the planet…This was a height of stardom the Bruce of 1975, despite riding high on the covers of major national magazines, could not have imagined.” This happened in a relatively short time: as Christopher Sandford points out in Springsteen: Point Blank, “within eighteen months, Springsteen would pass from stardom into one of the major global brands of the decade.”
This popularity, which led Springsteen into a lengthy foray into stadium gigs, was a potential pitfall. Rolling Stone announced Born In The U.S.A. as a “fun” record, and in Runaway American Dream: Listening To Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Guterman calls the album one of Springsteen’s “more frankly commercial enterprises.” Springsteen found that he had to fashion a relationship with audiences who knew little of his recording or performing history, many of whom probably missed the dichotomy between the upbeat music and the downbeat lyrics. As Dave Marsh points out in Bruce Springsteen: On Tour 1968-2005, “he now played to crowds in which almost no one knew about his early songs.” Springsteen himself later remarked that the audiences contained, “a lot of people who weren’t interested in my music before and haven’t been interested since.” In addition to playing vast outdoor venues to new and perhaps less discerning fans, he was also effectively touring two albums, attempting to fit the songs from the solo acoustic Nebraska into full-band shows, as well as playing the first concerts with the two new band members, Nils Lofgren and Patti Scialfa.
It is therefore unsurprising that Springsteen’s performances on this tour were criticized by some observers. Inevitably, Springsteen’s huge appeal and the sheer size of the venues meant a loss of contact between performers and audience. “Fans weren’t watching him anymore,” contends Sandford, “they were adoring a god, simulating himself against a vast diorama. Springsteen’s success was beyond doubt, as was his failure to recoup the sponteneity and edge of old.” As to lack of sponteneity, photographer Joel Bernstein comments that, “the shows were so formulaic that, if I missed a particular pose, I knew I’d get it again next time.”
There have been other criticisms. Guterman seems to suggest that Springsteen and the E Street Band were simply not ready to make the transition to such large venues. “The concerts were strong,” he maintains, “but not different enough from ’80-’81…the ’84 tour felt an awful lot like its predecessor or, more specifically, like its predecessor on steroids…it often seemed like the band was a step behind the new image…they weren’t going many new places, at least not musically.” (Unsurprisingly, he also cites the problems of sheer scale, stating that, “the band were doing what they did bigger and maybe better some nights, but most of the crowd was so far away that they were looking at video screens, not the stage.”) According to Guterman, the band did eventually transcend the difficulties inherent in stadium shows, referring to, “the E Street Band’s tremendous run of stadium shows at the end of the Rising tour in the fall of ’03.” There is also ample evidence to support this when one considers the numerous excellent shows during the 2008 legs of the Magic Tour or the full-album performances during the Working On A Dream Tour.
This is not to say, however, that there were no fine shows in 1984-85, as attested by some of the European concerts in 1985. The Milan concert of June 21, for example, is a superb example of Springsteen’s performing abilities. He always seems to provide something special for the appreciative Milan audience and this show was no exception. By the time of the Wembley concerts in early July, even Sandford was impressed: “Those Wembley shows were high-tension, scenic orgies…classic…As stadium rock, they were perfect.”
As the title of this release indicates, it contains a recording of the final cocert of the 1984-85 tour, which culminated in four shows at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles (27, 29 and 30 September and 2 October). This last performance was intended to be the first of the four-night stand (26 September) but was postponed for a few days, a knock on effect of the rescheduling of an earlier show in Denver. Grande Finale initially appeared on LP in 1987 on the German label Not Guilty Records. This was a 6-LP boxed set, which is described in the Vinyl Vaults section of the Brucebase website as, “one of the nicest box sets ever produced.” The black box lid carried a photograph of Springsteen inside a white frame, together with artist name and title with red lettering, and, as can be seen above, Godfather reproduces this on the front cover of this new release. As well as the usual black, the records were pressed on coloured, multi-coloured and transparent vinyl. The first one hundred copies were numbered and some, but not all, copies of the set contained a booklet and other inserts. Discs 1-5 contained the complete concert, with disc 6 offering bonus tracks from other nights at the venue: Stand On It, Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart, Travelin’ Band, Atlantic City, Downbound train, I’m On Fire, Because The Night (all 27 September), and Pink Cadillac (29 September). (The Killing Floor Database appears unconvinced by these specific dates, showing “27/29/30-Sep-1985″ for Stand On It, Travelin’ Band and Stand On It, “27/29- Sep-1985″ for Atlantic City and Downbound Train and “29/30-Sep-1985″ for Pink Cadillac.) Remaining copies of discs 3-6 were very shoddily repackaged under the title Grand Slam (The Amazing Korneyfone Rebirth Label), which did actually contain four discs, despite claiming to be a three disc set on the packaging.
There has been a previous CD release, also entitled Grande Finale, on Winged Wheel, again contained in a box with the same cover design. Brucebase makes the following comment: “Released on CD ‘Grande Finale’ (WW) & from Mark Persic’s master recording. Big upgrade over any previous recording of the show, and this is the only source that has ‘Glory Days’ uncut. (‘Close Enough For Rock & Roll – Last Night On The Tour’, EV2).” The trading page of the Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen has further details of Close Enough For Rock & Roll – Last Night On The Tour, which seems to be a torrented version with downloadable artwork. Clicking on the cover artwork then reveals the existence of two previous versions, an earlier Ev2 version (Last Night Special) and a BTS version (It’s Too Late To Stop Now). Unlike Close Enough For Rock and Roll, which features the recently circulated Persic tape, these two editions, like the Winged Wheel CDs, feature the earlier, inferior tape source.
The show begins with a staggering version of Born In The U.S.A., fully justifying bassist Garry Tallent’s description of the song as, “two chords and total intensity.” Keyboard player Danny Federici also commented that it “just exploded musically. with shrapnel flying everywhere. If that song didn’t knock you out of your seat, nothing could.” As with Tallent, he is not referring to any specific performance of the song, though the version played here most certainly fits his description. Central to the song’s visceral impact is what Sandford calls Max Weinberg’s “stiff armed and meaty” drum sound. After Springsteen sings the final lyrics, Weinberg’s drums are instrumental in creating a furious, howling climax which in turn gives way to a lengthy instrumental play-out, taking the song to six minutes’ duration. It is an utterly breathtaking opening.
The pace and the mood are kept up by a robust rendition of Badlands, fully conveying the underlying optimism inherent in the song. Extended instrumental sections take the song over the five minute mark before Springsteen cries, “are you with me?” and the band lashes into a vibrant, crowd-pleasing version of Out In The Street. Springsteen’s harmonica then introduces the show’s only number from Nebraska, Johnny 99 and the song’s tale of despair and violence is given a suitably stark rendition, featuring, in addition to the harmonica, only voice and acoustic guitar. Things remain bleak with what Guterman calls the “electric Nebraka feel” of Seeds, the story of a family hard hit by economic crisis, which Springsteen introduces by saying that earlier on the tour he witnessed the plight of such families in Texas, jobless as a result of the fall in oil prices, “with nothing to do, no place to go – you’d see ’em sleeping in tents out on the side of the highway or in their cars at night, with nothing to do but move on.” After this comes a fine performance of Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
Springsteen then tells the extended story of his stormy relationship with his father that will be familiar to fans from the performance of 30 September included on Live, 1975-1985. The version here is practically identical, with conflict coalescing around that potent symbol of 1960s youth rebellion, long hair. Over the gentle instrumental backing Springsteen recounts how, when he was injured after a motorcycle accident, his father Douglas brought in a barber to forcibly, and humiliatingly, cut his hair: “I can remember telling him that I hated him. I told him that I hated him and that I would never, ever forget.” Douglas was seemingly looking forward to another forcible haircut: “Man, I can’t wait till the army gets you. Man, when the army gets you, they’re gonna make a man out out you. They’re gonna cut all that hair off and they’ll finally make a man outta you.” Of course, in 1968 military service would likely mean combat, and potentially death, in Vietnam. Springsteen tells of how he got his draft notice, and went with friends to take the physical examination – “when we got on the bus that morning we were so scared”. Returning home after three days to his parents, he told them where he had been and that he had failed the physical, to which Douglas responded, “that’s good.” These two simple words cut through the tempestuous nature of their relationship, to reveal the love that the father has for the son – it is an intensely moving conclusion to the monologue. As on the live album, the song which follows is The River. It is an excellent version, though its relevance to the preceding words is tenuous at best.
Springsteen again addresses the audience before the next song, and once more makes reference to Vietnam, cautioning the audience against “blind faith in…your leaders.” The band then explodes into War, the anti-Vietnam protest song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1968. It was subsequently a US number one hit for Edwin Starr, and, in the words of Wikipedia, “its power was reasserted” in Springsteen’s version. The song had only been introduced into the set list for the LA shows, so that Springsteen had to have the lyrics on his arm, but it was hugely effective. “The final week, in Los Angeles, contained a nugget,” writes Sandford, Springsteen “blazing into a brassy, bottom-heavy ‘War’…The all-too-real, if soapy, message was vividly brought by the music.”
Working On The Highway is given an extended drum and acoustic guitar introduction which adds to the sense of it being, in Basham’s words, “a rockabilly romp.” This is followed by a superbly taut and tightly sprung Trapped, which may just be the best performance of the song that I have heard from Springsteen, after which I’m Going Down, vibrant though the rendition is, comes across as rather inconsequential. A muscular version of Prove It All Night, featuring some splendidly effective extended guitar soloing, then gives way to a lively but fairly standard renditon of The Promised Land, which ends disc 1.
Disc 2 opens with another long spoken section, in which Springsteen promotes the endeavours of local food banks, who are “trying to make Los Angeles and the whole surrounding area a better and fairer place to live for all of its citizens.” This is followed by what Sandford calls the “moving and affecting elegy” that is My Hometown. Thunder Road receives a fairly routine, and at times rather plodding, full-band performance. At the end, however, there is another lenghthy drum-fuelled climax, which may have been appropriate to Born In The U.S.A., but here is utterly unidiomatic and frankly ugly. This concludes the first set and Springsteen announces a short break.
The second set begins with what is the least successful song on Born In The U.S.A., Cover Me, which Patrick Humpries, in Springsteen: Blinded By The Light, characterizes as, “a throwaway, a disco concession.” As with other performances from the tour, the song begins and ends slowly, with vocals from Patti Scialfa (“ghostly shrieks” according to Marsh in Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen In The 1980s) at the start and Springsteen at start and finish, with reverberent echo effects. This leads into Dancing In The Dark, which, like Thunder Road, comes across as a little lacking in momentum. The song features the fragile, wavering vocals of Nils lofgren before the section where Springsteen dances with a female fan (though here, rather than plucking someone from the audience, Springsteen brought out first wife Julianne Phillips.) A vivacious version of Hungry Heart follows, with the ritual of the audience singing the first verse. (“80,000 voices in unison are startling and powerful,” contends Marsh, “even when you know what’s coming.”) Next up is a breezy Cadillac Ranch featuring a long drum intro from Weinberg and some call-and-response involving Springsteen and the audience. The song also contains the then-usual drum interlude where Springsteen mimics trying to get his car started. A slow acoustic version of No Surrender is dedicated both to departed band member Steve Van Zandt and the current E Streeters. This is followed by a rendition of I’m On Fire, with an extended instumental introduction, over which Springsteen talks of his early life and his relationship with his parents, citing their financial difficulties and remembering listening to his father trying to get the car started so that he could go to work (a scene also evoked before some performances of Factory.) Amazingly, this leads into a performance of I’m On Fire, “a tale,” as Guterman says, “of lust, loneliness and maybe violence.” The spoken introduction has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject matter of the song, and acts to entirely dissipate the air of, in Sandford’s words, “sex…and menace.”
Growin’ Up, dedicated to the “old fans” in the audience, contains a “shaggy dog story” that rambles even more than usual, with Springsteen visiting a counsellor, contemplating suicide, meeting Clarence Clemons, visiting a “Gypsy lady” fortune teller, battling extreme weather conditions and car breakdowns, and encountering man-eating bears in the woods! For all that, the story fails to come to any logical or satisfying conclusion. Disc 2 and the second set end with the first U.S. stadium performance of Rosalita which, of course, contains the band introductions.
The tremendous encore section begin with Springsteen thanking his crew, the audience and his fans in general, before playing what he calls, “the greatest song that’s ever been written about America,” Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, the third acoustic number of the night. It is a poignant version which includes the verse concerning the people queueing at the relief office. An exultant Born To Run is followed by a performance of Bobby Jean which reflects Sandford’s description of it as “sentimental, yet sharp,” and then comes a lengthy, effervescent Ramrod. As with other shows from the tour, The Contours’ 1962 hit Do You Love Me? is interpolated into long-time Springsteen cover favourite Twist And Shout, keeping the energy and fun levels appropriately high. With an audience participation section, the combined performance runs to nearly eighteen minutes and it is terrific from start to finish. This is followed by an energetic rendition of the fast-paced but essentially inconsequential (Marsh calls it a “little rocker”) Stand On It, a song from the Born In The U.S.A sessions which became the b-side of Glory Days before appearing on Tracks. The momentum is maintained with a brace of John Fogerty songs, a frenetic Travelin’ Band, into which Springsteen inserts a line from Mystery Train, and a spirited Rockin’ All Over The World with brief solos from Roy Bittan, Nils Logren, Danny Federici and, seemingly, manager Jon Landau, on guitar, before a riotous, almost seven-minute Glory Days closes the show. Most sources agree that Landau was present for Glory Days; Brucebase says that he also played on Rockin’ All Over The World, and Springsteen’s cry of “C’mon, Jonny!” before a distinctly sub-par guitar solo, would seem to confirm this. (Marsh contends that Landau played on Travelin’ Band, as he had done on 30 September.)
The Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen site’s notes on Close Enough For Rock And Roll, state the source for this show as, “downloaded from Dime…Edited from Mark Persic’s master recording.” It states that this is a “completely different source,” from that used for Last Night Special and It’s Too Late To Stop Now, and “really is better sounding.” However, the opening song, Born In The U.S.A., is stated to be from Late Night Special, as, “it was over recorded on this source.” Clearly, Godfather too utilizes the superior Persic tape. Born In The U.S.A. actually sounds fine on the Godfather release, though the sound picture is a trifle flat. The sound of the second song, Badlands, is a little unbalanced, especially at first, and there are a few seconds where the sound becomes very muffled. Thereafter, the sound is most impressive, with fine dynamics and a remarkable depth and clarity. I found that boosting the bass a little gave the sound a tremendous presence; it is also one of those recordings where increasing the volume seems to make the sound better rather than merely louder. Another advantage of the new release is the fact that audience noise, while very much present, is not overly intrusive, which is also an improvement over the Winged Wheel version. As Elder states of that release: “there are problems with the source (one girl and her talkative friends are well captured on the tape.)” Overall, the Persic tape is a very fine achievement when one considers that it was recorded twenty-five years ago in a large, open-air venue containing an audience of eighty thousand people.
Persic was also on hand to record the show of 30 September, and Godfather adds three songs from that performance as bonus tracks. First up is an exuberant rendition of Darlington County. Pink Cadillac follows, an ebullient performance shorn here of its lengthy spoken introduction. For some reason, Godfather ends the disc with a second performance of Stand On It, as fervent as, but essentially similar to, the version heard earlier.
This release comes in Godfather’s trademark tri-fold sleeve featuring several onstage shots from the era. The track listing is on the rear cover with band personnel inside. The eight-page booklet features further onstage photos on front and rear but contains a surprise when opened. Instead of further photos and notes, the booklet contains the full list of shows from the tour against a background of the American flag, the reproduction of which is very pale so that the printed list is clear. As this release celebrates the tour by presenting its finale, this is entirely appropriate. There is also a mini-poster depicting Springsteen and Clemons onstage and the usual Joe Roberts notes appear on the rear of this, again with the flag as background. Overall, it forms a very pleasing package.
Those in Springsteen’s camp were clearly pleased with the performance. Marsh, echoing Sandford’s comments on the Wembley shows, argues that, “the final four dates at the Los Angeles Coliseum were perfect.” Certainly the band members were left exhilarated at the end of the final performance. As Roy Bittan remembers:
“The most defining moment of the tour actually happened at the last show…As the show ended we all walked up those steps [behind the stage] and looked out at the eighty thousand people in front of us. You could not only hear the deafening roar of them clappping and screaming, but we could actually physically feel it from where we stood. Knowing at that particular moment that we had achieved everything we had hoped for, and done it in such an amazing way, brought chills to all of us. It was a moment in time that none of us will ever forget. I remember taking a last look at the crowd, smiling to myself, and feeling like I had never felt before.”
It is understandable that Bittan felt this way, though some more objective observers put the show in a more realistic context. As Lynn Elder writes in the 3rd edition of You Better Not Touch, “though it was a solid performance it lacked the fireworks of some previous tour-enders.” The truth, I think, lies somewhere in between: overall, this is an extremely fine show though not, perhaps, a great one. Nonetheless, this is a historic concert and one boasting a hugely energetic performance, a marathon thirty-three song setlist, and stunning encores. This would not be a first choice for a 1985 concert; that honour would go to the Milan concert, released (in superb sound quality) as A Love Affair by Godfather and Milano Night 1985 by Crystal Cat. Of the Godfather version, gsparaco wrote, “this is one of the most impressive titles to be released by this, or any label, and is essential.” However, Grande Finale provides a valuable supplement to that essential show and Springsteen collectors will surely want to acquire this splendid release.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)