Greetings From Liberty Hall TX. (Wonderland Records WLR-2100)
Liberty Hall, Houston, TX, USA – 9 March, 1974 (discs 1 and 2) and 10 March, 1974 (discs 3 and 4)
Disc 1: Wild Billy’s Circus Story, New York City Serenade, Spirit In The Night, Walking The Dog, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, The E Street Shuffle, Blinded By The Light
Disc 2: For You, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Bonus tracks: The Bottom Line, New York, NY, USA – 14 July, 1974: Jungleland, Kitty’s Back; Muther’s Music Emporium, Nashville, TN, USA – 29 January, 1974: Incident On 57th Street, Thundercrack, You Mean So Much To Me
Disc 3: Mary Queen Of Arkansas, The Fever, Spirit In The Night, Gimme That Wine, The E Street Shuffle, Something You Got, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, Kitty’s Back, Angel Blues, Thundercrack
Disc 4: For You, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Bonus tracks: Joe’s Place, Cambridge, MA, USA – 6 January, 1974: Blinded by The Light, Zero And Blind Terry, Let The Four Winds Blow, Twist And Shout; Muther’s Music Emporium, Nashville, TN, USA – 29 January, 1974: Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, Walkin’ The Dog, Growin’ Up, Let The Four Winds Blow, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
1974 was a year of turmoil for Bruce Springsteen. His second album, The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, released in September 1973, had sold few copies and had received little airplay (there were no singles from the album) and CBS apparently considered dropping him. As Dave Marsh puts it in Born To Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, “radio was not interested. The record company had virtually given up hope.” Jim Cretecos, Mike Appel’s partner in Springsteen’s management, jumped ship and Appel himself came close to following him, later recalling, “I seriously considered, in January of 1974, turning all my contracts over to Bruce and saying, ‘…Good luck…I’m going back to writing commercials.'” Jon Landau arrived on the scene, engendering a critical backlash with his notorious “rock and roll future” remark and beginning the conflict that would eventually result in the ousting of Appel. Band membership entered a period of remarkable instability. Drummer Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez was sacked in February. David Sancious, whose accomplished pianism was such an asset, left in August to form his own band, Tone, taking with him the superior talent of Lopez’s short-lived successor, Ernest “Boom” Carter. It is unsurprising that, contemplating the making of his third album, and by implication his entire future career, Springsteen told his then-girlfriend, Karen Darvin, that, “if I fuck up now, it’s over.”
It is remarkable, therefore, that Springsteen and the E Street Band were able to play some excellent live shows during this period. It is possible that throwing themselves into live performance was their way of escaping the turmoil. As Christopher Sandford writes in Springsteen: Point Blank, “despite, or because of the crisis, Springsteen’s show continued to operate at full throttle.” Five concerts are showcased here. The two main performances were part of a four-night, seven-show stand at Houston’s Liberty Hall on 7-10 March, with singer-songwriter Jimmy Spheeris as support. In addition to these concerts, Springsteen went into the studio of KLOL-FM on 8 March to be interviewed by DJ Ed Beauchamp and returned with the band the next day to play an acoustic set which lasted nearly an hour.
The two concerts featured here are the late shows from 9 and 10 March. There are no circulating tapes from the early shows or from either show played on 8 March and none of these shows was broadcast. The single show from 7 March was broadcast (possibly in its entirety) by KPFT-FM, who regularly aired live performances from the 300-seat venue on Thusday evenings. “As incredible and unlikely as it may seem,” according to the Brucebase website, “there is no circulating audio from this night’s show, making this the only verified radio broadcast that has yet to surface.”
The two shows presented here are believed to be complete and in the correct running order, though this is by no means certain. There have been claims that 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) and Let The Four Winds Blow were also played on 10th March. It is believed that neither show was broadcast live. Brucebase contends that songs from the shows were played piecemeal in November 1974 in order to promote a later tour. The songs from the 9 March are stated to have been broadcast on KLOL-FM; the station which broadcast the show of 10 March is not specified. The Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen website maintains that “the show [of 10 March] was recorded by KPTF-FM radio station for future broadcasting in Sep and Nov of that year.” Springsteen played five shows in Texas in November 1974, so a broadcast at that time is perfectly logical. The fact that there are breaks between the songs on these CDs would seem to support the contention that the songs were broadcast piecemeal. The source for this release is home tapings of the radio broadcasts. As Brucebase points out, “the original taper/s utilized modest recording equipment, so the sound quality is good but not outstanding.”
Three songs from the 9th March (Wild Billy’s Circus Story, Walking The Dog and New York City Serenade) emerged on the LP Live At The Houston Liberty Hall, Texas, part of a 10-LP set on Bandido Records and it was copied by Black Cat Records under the title The Lone Star Comes Back To Texas. Another LP with the same title as the Black Cat release was issued by Junkman Records and this contained Wild Billy’s Circus Story, New York City Serenade, Spirit In The Night, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, The E Street Shuffle and Walking The Dog. The whole show finally appeared on the CD Liberty Hall (Mistral Music), together with six songs from the following night (The Fever, Mary, Queen Of Arkansas, Gimme That Wine, Something You Got, “She’s So Fine” [Angel Blues] and Thundercrack). There is also a CD-R release entitled Lost Radio Show Vol 2 (no label) which contains all the songs apart from Rosalita.
Songs from 10th March first appeared on the 10-LP set All Those Years (Heart And Soul), a superb retrospective of Springsteen’s career from 1971 to 1982. The songs were virtually the same as those which appeared on Mistral’s Liberty Hall CD, though substituting The E Street Shuffle for Something You Got. A 5-CD version of All Those Years appeared on Templar Records and Seagull Records copied the bulk of it as the 4-CD set Live And Unreleased 1971/1979. The Fever also appeared on an interesting CD release Live To Run, which came with issue number 7 of the Italian magazine Los Grandes Del Rock (which also appeared in a Spanish version).
Recently, Vintage Masters has released both shows in their entirety on two double CD-R sets, entitled The Liberty Tapes Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, thus committing the complete 10 March performance to disc for the first time. With the release of the set reviewed here, Wonderland Records has provided collectors with both shows complete on silver disc for the first time.
The concert from 9th March opens with Wild Billy’s Circus Story. It begins with Springsteen telling the audience of the characteristic late night smell of Bourbon Street in New Orleans (where he had previously played). He tells the audience that this smell of garbage, humidity and sweat is reminiscent of the circus and he then introduces the opening number, rather curiously, by its original title, Circus Song. Two things are immediately evident. Firstly, there is prominent tape hiss which continues throughout this recording (additionally the sound changes part way through Springsteen’s spoken introduction, becoming louder and somewhat coarser). Secondly, one notices the slow and rather laid back manner of Springsteen’s speech, which is typical of the era and carries on into the song itself. The song is similar to the album version, opening with the unusual combination of Danny Federici’s organ and Garry Tallent’s tuba, though in this performance the tuba is less prominent.
Springsteen again tells a story before the next song, New York City Serenade, which concerns the first show featuring new drummer Carter, played at the Satellite Lounge in Cookstown, NJ, on 23 February. Springsteen attempted to cancel the show, as Carter had joined the band only four days before and had participated in only one brief rehearsal, but he claims that the club’s owner Carlo Rossi had threatened to kill him if the show didn’t go ahead. Consequently, the concert was played but, as the Brucebase website points out, featured a high proportion of “classic rock standards – material that Carter already knew.” According to manager Mike Appel, it was “one of those amazing nights where everything worked, where the show was fantastic. Not a soul knew that Carter was a new drummer.”
Marsh states of pianist David Sancious that he “had studied classical music, and jazz as well. His playing added an exotic dimension to the band: He would drop in quotes from Monk during his breaks, or open a set with a selection from Mozart.” Sancious brings these qualities to bear on his piano opening to New York City Serenade, and the wonderful classical- and jazz-tinged opening lasts for minutes and receives well-deserved applause from the audience. It is clear before Springsteen himself sings or plays a note that this is going to be a highlight of the show. Springsteen’s vocals are a little less refined than on the album version, but overall the performance is marvellous with a dreamy atmosphere courtesy of Sancious’ continuing input and Clarence Clemons’ soulful saxophone part near the end of the song.
Clemons’ saxophone also dominates the brief swirling instrumental opening of Spirit In The Night. As the song itself begins Springsteen also adds a harmonica part. The performance is a good one but the sound is rather coarse and poorly balanced. Rufus Thomas’ Walking The Dog follows, and it begins with a long and languid but nonetheless funky instrumental section that lasts for nearly six minutes. Springsteen’s vocal delivery is extremely laid back and the song features extensive soloing from Danny Federici, Sancious, Clemons and Springsteen himself, which takes the song to fifteen-and-a-half minutes. Despite some audible hiss, the sound is much better here than on Spirit In the Night.
The performance of It’s Hard To be a Saint In the City somehow fails to take flight and it lacks the energy and spirit of the best live versions. The E Street Shuffle, however, moves along rhythmically in the uptempo version. In this incarnation it is wonderfully vibrant and it is good to hear it complete with the instrumental coda. At the start Springsteen points out that the song is “named sfter the street where my piano player lives.” The first disc then concludes with Blinded By The Light, which here gains a lively and decidedly funky instrumental introduction stretching to nearly five minutes. At the end of this Springsteen informs the audience that this was his first single and that it “went straight to the bottom of the charts.” The instrumentation here is dominated by keyboards and saxophone, giving it a somewhat different flavour from the album version, and the delivery is also not quite so hectic.
Disc 2 opens with For You, and Springsteen’s spoken introduction sounds a little muffled at first but then becomes louder and clearer but also coarser. During the introduction he thanks the audience for the “fine reception,” accorded the band which he says is “better than home.” The song receives an effective performance in its slow incarnation with piano accompaniment. Springsteen’s vocals become notably more impassioned as the song reaches its climax, and the end of the song is stretched out and played in a muted fashion clearly intended to bring some calm after the preceding anguish. Someone in the audience then requests The Fever, and Springsteen mentions that a demo tape of the song was sent to KLOL. Springsteen and the band also played several songs, including The Fever in the studios of KLOL, and their performance had been broadcast during the afternoon prior to the show. He then says, “I promise if we come back we’ll work it up for you.” The show then concludes with an ebullient Rosalita which includes a furious drum solo from Carter which leads into the band introductions. Interestingly, the introductions include Federici on piano and Sancious on organ, indicating that they had exchanged instruments at some point.
The concert from 10th March, which begins on disc 3, opens with Mary Queen Of Arkansas. Only Springsteen and Danny Federici are on stage for this number, with Federici’s accordion adding texture to Springsteen’s voice and acoustic guitar. There is some hiss and a noticeable drop in volume part way through the song and a restoration of the volume level later. The cut after the song is abrupt, occuring immediately after Springsteen says, “thank you. Thank you so much.” The remaining members of the band then take the stage for The Fever. As quoted above, Springsteen had told the previous night’s audience that, “I promise if we come back we’ll work it up for you,” suggesting a date some time in the future, so its appearance the very next night is something of a surprise. Bearing in mind the songs’s performance at KLOL studios the previous afternoon, however, it presumably needed little “working up.” Interestingly, when Springsteen again mentions that the demo tape had been sent to KLOL, a member of the audience insists that he has misidentified the station. The basis of the performance is again Springsteen’s voice and acoustic guitar and this splendid eight-minute version is slow and sultry, with Clemons adding an atmospheric sax part. The band members supply effective backing backing vocals and Clemons sings a couple of lines in a voice higher than he normally employs, prompting Springsteen to credit his “silky voice.” The sound here is full and clear but it is affected by a higher level of hiss/hum (which remains for the remainder of the show) and there is also a split-second cut at one point. This song is one of the highlights of the second show and the audience members show their warm appreciation at its conclusion.
After the two slow acoustic openers things enter up-tempo, full band territory with Spirit In The Night. Springsteen states that, “we have to do this song every time we play or we haven’t played.” The brisk and vibrant reading heard here begins in a similar fashion to the previous night’s performance, complete with harmonica, and, in deference to the location, Wild Billy shakes dust, not from his coonskin cap, but from his cowboy hat.
The show’s momemtum is then interrupted by Springsteen’s need to replace a broken guitar string. He tells the audience that he needs to perform “emergency surgery” on his guitar, which needs “a new intestinal tract.” There is then a cut, before he is heard to say, ” you folks are in for a treat while I’m changing this string.” This is what Brucebase refers to as, “the first-known rendition of Clemons’ time-filling comedy number,” Jon Hendricks’ Gimme That Wine. The song’s protagonist suffers numerous serious mishaps, including a house fire, a car accident and a mugging, but is able to withstand all of life’s vicissitudes as long as his wine is there to bolster his spirits. For example, he accepts the loss of his watch, his ring and his money to the thretening “bandit,” but when his assailant makes a grab for his bottle he can be heard “for blocks around” shouting, “beat my head out of shape, but leave my grape.” There is another abrupt cut after this song, immediately after Clemons says, “thank you all.” The song was also played at the Music Inn, Lenox, MA (the third show of the Born To Run Tour) when Springsteen again broke a string and at the Geneva Theater, Geneva, NY on 7 December, 1974, presumably for the same reason, although this is not clear. (Incidentally the Lenox show is notable for a completely different reason. As one audience member remembers, “Miami Steve [Van Zandt] performed the soundcheck and the first half of the show without anything on his head, don’t believe that’s happened since!”) Next up is The E Street Shuffle, again wonderfully vivacious, but suffering from some fluctuations in volume, notably during the instrumental coda when the sound suddenly becomes louder and coarser. Then we hear a song Springsteen describes as “an oldie.” This is Something You Got, released as a single by New Orleans R&B singer Chris Kenner in 1961 and later featuring on his 1966 album Land Of 1000 Dances. This rarely-performed song was first played by Springsteen at a Bruce Springsteen Band show in July 1972. The good-humoured, mid-paced song, which had been played at the previous day’s KLOL studio session, features a lengthy instrumental section. Again there is some fluctuation in volume, and some problems with balance, so that David Sancious’ solo is not very prominent, although the balance becomes more natural at the start of Clemon’s sax part.
The version of It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City from the 10th fares better than on the previous night, and it is followed by an equally lively rendition of Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? The mood is kept up by a long, loose and vibrant Kitty’s Back, unfortunately marred by some distortion to the sound near the start and a very noticeable cut. We are then, as Brucebase puts it, “treated to the only known live performance of ‘Angel Blues’ (known to most fans by the titles of ‘She So Fine’ or ‘Ride On Sweet William’) a rather unspectacular song that dates from mid 1973. The performance is very ragged, indicating it may not have been rehearsed much.” It is an enjoyable, if rather undistinguished, mid-paced song, heavily featuring Clemons’ sax. Wonderland’s track listing refers to it as Angel’s Blues and the Lebanese Tribute site maintains that Ride On Sweet William is the correct title. Again, there are shifts in volume during the song.
The set ends with the wonderful early crowd-pleaser Thundercrack. This version is tremendous fun and features the mid-song comedy interlude which contains a snippet of Tulips From Amsterdam. Springsteen also introduces the band members during this song. Again, there are some fluctuations in the sound. As on the previous night the encore numbers are For You and Rosalita. The former is once again performed in its slow piano incarnation and the latter again includes a drum solo by Carter. There is a sudden increase in volume and a brief cut, which excises three lines of the final verse, in For You and Rosalita, quickly fades out after the words “Rosie I’m coming on strong” in the last verse.
As quoted above, the sound quality of the show is “good but not outstanding.” I have attempted to indicate above the specific sound problems as they appear. Aside from these specific issues, there is the fact that, although instruments and voices can be discerned clearly, the sound is often somewhat muffled, a problem which particularly affects the first of the two concerts. Nonetheless, it is sourced from FM broadcasts and should not prevent seasoned bootleg listeners from enjoying these shows. With regard to the show from the 10th, Brucebase contends that, “the audio quality of this CD is somewhat different to the old versions – it appears to be from a alternative source recording.” Comparison with the six songs from the shows on All Those Years reveals that the sound on the older release has considerably less hiss and hum and the changes in the volume and quality of sound are far less evident. All Those Years also lacks the small cut in The Fever. However, the sound is a little thin on the old release (something especially noticeable on the E Street Shuffle) and I did detect a slightly harsh edge to the sound.
The first two bonus tracks on disc two are believed to emanate from one of the shows at The Bottom Line on 14 July 1974 (not June as Wonderland states), though this is by no means certain. The Brucebase website states that, “two fine quality rogue soundboard recordings are circulating that are likely to be from this Bottom Line residency.” The two songs have already appeared as bonus tracks on three CDs: Jungleland on The Punk Meets The Godfather (Godfather); Kitty’s Back on Let The Four Winds Blow (Godfather); and both on The Roxy Theatre Night (Crystal Cat). In my review of the latter, I wrote of these two songs: “First up is an exciting performance of Jungleland, with some variation of lyrics from the later album version and a long instrumental section featuring a relatively fast saxophone solo, a slower guitar part and a jazzy, keyboard-dominated section. Then comes a superb Kitty’s Back, which is surely a contender for best-ever live version and features an exteded instrumental section with organ, piano, guitar and sax solos.”
The eight tracks from Nashville constitute the bulk of the well-known “Kent State University” show. Wonderland’s release is the first to attribute the songs to their correct date and venue. A recording was made so that copies could be given as mementoes to two hundred CBS sales and marketing people who were invited to the show by Springsteen’s manager, Mike Appel. Apparently, none turned up! The first release, in 1989, was on You Mean So Much to Me (Great Dane). “Probably the first Springsteen bootleg CD,” according to the Killing Floor Database, “and one of the best even now. Excellent sound quality and very interesting show.” (Lynn Elder’s bootleg CD guide Bruce Springsteen: You Better Not Touch claims unequivocably that it was “the first Springsteen bootleg CD.”) It has also appeared more recently on the Smokey Joe label CD, Kent State Radio, coupled with the performance from the KLOL-FM radio studio from 9 March. Additionally, Walking The Dog has appeared the 4-CD set Cover’s Story Vol. 1 (Finfagel) and Walking The Dog and Let The Four Winds Blow on The Boss Is Back (Never End). Kent State Radio will be reviewed in due course and the performance will be discussed in detail in that review.
Springsteen played three consecutive nights at Joe’s Place on 4-6 January, 1974, with Peter Johnson & The Manic Depressives as the support act. Each show had an intermission and the second part of the final show (eight songs) exists in a soundboard recording. Four songs (Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, Let The Four Winds Blow, Rosalita and Twist And Shout) appeared on appeared on the LP A Prisoner Of Rock’N’Roll (Bossrecords) which was copied as the no label Live In Milwaukee 1975 (a curious title as only two of six songs were from Milwaukee). The Killing Floor database states that the complete show was released on CD-R as Introducing Rosie (B Street Records) and The Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen site also lists this release. Brucebase notes that, “the source is an audience recording of only fair quality that contains CD Radio interference.” The site also states that although “the soundboard of the opening seven songs of this show (the entire first set) has not surfaced into the mainstream, it allegedly exists in the hands of only a few people.” Killing Floor also states that three of the above four songs (Rosalita lost out) appear on another CD-R, The Bruce Springsteen Collection Vol. 2 (no label). Rosalita makes the cut, together with Growin’ Up and Zero And Blind Terry, as a bonus track on Godfather’s Mountain Of Love (already reviewed). The same label also utilized Zero and Blind Terry as a bonus track on Does This Bus Stop At Max’s? The 4-CD miscellany The Genuine Tracks (Scorpio) also includes the latter song. Blinded By The Light appears on Deep Down In the Vaults (E. St. Records). Twist And Shout (incomplete and with venue and date wrongly attributed) appears on Play The Tuba & Run… (Copy Cat Records) and, according to Brucebase, Let The Four Winds Blow and Twist And Shout appear on a release entitled The Inner View.
Blinded By The Light is an excellent performace, fast-paced and full of energy, though Springsteen adopts a curious affected vocal style at the start of the song. Unfortunately, as with Deep Down In The Vaults, much of the slow instrumental introduction is missing. In my review of Mountain Of Love I stated that Zero And Blind Terry is “an excellent rendition…superior to the now-familiar version that first appeared on the LP Fire On The Fingertips.” The boisterous performance of Roy Brown’s 1957 hit Let The Four Winds Blow (later recorded by co-writer Fats Domino) is also a delight, with an extended instrumental section which begins with a jaunty piano solo from David Sancious and takes in a none-too serious two-note piano solo from Springsteen before the rest of the band kicks in. Finally, we hear, at some length, club owner Joe Spadafora encouraging the audience to demand an encore, which is delivered in the form of a raucous Twist And Shout. The first two songs are in excellent soundboard quality; the latter two are from an audience tape marred by a persistent clicking sound, especially on Let The Four Winds Blow. Wonderland perpetuates the error of earlier releases by attributing the show to 5 January, the correct date being the 6th.
The bonus tracks are something of a mish-mash. The two tracks from from The Bottom Line are terrific, but many collectors will already have them on the indispensible Crystal Cat release. The Muther’s Music Emporium show is also a must-have and the inclusion of all ten songs could have been a major selling point here, especially as the Great Dane release is long out of print and the Smokey Joe becoming hard to find. However, Wonderland not only includes only eight of the songs but splits them, along with the other bonus tracks, over the two discs. The four songs from Joe’s Place are welcome, but their inclusion underlines the need for a full silver release of this show.
The discs are housed in a most attractive longbox, the design of which is based on the sleeve of Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ. The tracklisting is on the reverse, which has the same colour scheme as the front. Inside the box, a plain black sleeve contains a twelve-page booklet which replicates the box design. On the rear of the booklet is a photograph of the band on the steps of Liberty Hall, described by Brucebase as, “one of only a couple of known photographs of the entire Carter-Sancious lineup of The E Street Band.” Other than this the booklet is a disappointment, with some mostly well-known photographs and, despite the promise on the box of “detailed information,” nothing more than the tracklisting again. The two Bottom Line songs are shown in the wrong order in the tracklisting, both on the box and in the booklet. The discs themselves are printed with the title, in the same style as appears on the box and the booklet. A sticker on the front of the box proclaims a numbered limited edition of five hundred.
This release contains two fine principal shows, with relatively little overlap of material. It documents a brief period in the band’s history, the Sancious-Carter line-up, itself part of the short, early history of the band before firtstly the violin of Suki Lahav and then the additional guitar of Steve Van Zandt filled out the band’s sound. Therefore this release is historically significant as well as being very enjoyable. It is the only silver release to contain the complete show from 10 March and therefore, to feature both Liberty Hall shows in full. The only competition, Vintage Masters’ The Liberty Tapes is on CD-R with less attractive packaging. It is true that Wonderland could have compiled a more coherent and desirable collection of bonus tracks, but the Vintage Masters releases have no bonus tracks at all. The sound quality is not what it should be, though it is nonetheless quite listenable. Overall, despite substantial reservations which are likely to deter the more casual fan, I would still recommend this release enthusiastically to committed Springsteen collectors.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)