History Is Made At Night: Madison Square Garden 1978 (Godfatherecords G.R. BOX 03)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, USA – 21-23 August, 1978
In 1973 the band Chicago played a string of dates culminating in two nights at New York’s Madison Square Garden on 14 and 15 June. The support act was Bruce Springsteen, and the tour was, to say the least, not a happy experience for him, as Christopher Sandford relates in Springsteen: Point Blank: “Things soured in Philadelphia…’Kids were throwing rolls of toilet paper,’ says [manager, Mike] Appel. A fan bounced a basket ball off Springsteen’s piano. ‘They’re not paying attention to me,’ was his wild understatement to his manager. Something similar, or worse, happened at Madison Square Garden…Springsteen ran off stage in New York, announced he was quitting, ‘shrieked like a beast’ at Appel and burst into tears. After the recriminations had died down, he vowed he’d never play another ‘shed’ and ‘never as someone’s butt-fuck.’ ‘I told Bruce, okay, no more big venues,’ says Appel.”
However, shows at “big venues” became inevitable as Springsteen’s popularity grew over the next few years. As Robert Santelli writes in Greetings From E Street, “The Darkness Tour saw Springsteen and the E Street Band graduate from clubs and theaters to arenas wherever their popularity was solid enough to sell twelve or fourteen thousand tickets in one night…The push was on to reach as many people as possible with the new album.” “It was a triumphal tour,” writes Dave Marsh in Born To Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, “selling out even in some places where Bruce had never played before; the best shows came in the biggest halls, too, proving that Springsteen had broken through that final barrier, on his own terms…Certainly, by playing sports arenas so successfully, Springsteen proved that he could have both quality and quantity; in fact, he got a clearer, more powerful sound in Madison Square Garden than many acts have at the Palladium or the Bottom Line.” As this boxed set of the Madison Square Garden shows clearly demontrates, Springsteen laid the ghost of the Chicago experience to rest. Chris Hunt, in Springsteen: Blinded By The Light, states: “Bruce returns triumphantly to the venue he had last played as support to Chicago in 1973.”
The three shows contained in Godfather’s second Springsteen boxed set have had a very limited exposure on disc. As far as I am aware nothing from these shows has appeared before on CD, and no songs from the first show made it onto vinyl. The single LP Prove It Every Night (Retro) featured Good Rockin’ Tonight from the second night. This release was copied several times, usually under the same title, though the Classic Fall label’s version was titled October Stories. A little more of the final show emerged on LP, with Fire, Sherry Darling and Not Fade Away/Gloria/She’s The One constituting side one of The Boss Of E Street (“A Jon Row Production”). The complete shows have, however, been torrented and the Fanatic Records Original Master Series versions (entitled Summertime Blues, Good Rockin’ Tonight and High School Confidential) present all three shows from the master cassettes of “Mr. Anonymous,” who is described by Rob of Fanatic Records as “one of the pioneers of all Springsteen tapers.” Big Time Rock And Roll, Ev2’s more recent version of the first show, is also sourced from the Mr. Anonymous master. According to Brucebase it comes “in great quality” and SoulBoogieAlex, on the Boss tracks website, concurs, stating that, “the re-master of that source now sounds like an soundboard or FM sourced boot.”
Night 1 (G.R. BOX 03 A/B)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, USA – 21 August, 1978
Disc 1: Summertime Blues, Badlands, Spirit In The Night, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Heartbreak Hotel, Factory, The Promised Land, Prove It All Night, Racing In The Street, Thunder Road, Jungleland
Disc 2: Paradise By The C, The Fever, Sherry Darling, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Sweet Little Sixteen, Not Fade Away/Gloria/She’s The One, Growin’ Up
Disc 3: Backstreets/Sad Eyes, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Born To Run, Because The Night, Quarter To Three
Bonus track: Pre-show interview on WABC TV with J. Siegal
The first show gets off to a cracking start with a boisterous rendition of Eddie Cochran’s 1958 classic, Summertime Blues, which had already opened several other shows during August. As usual, Clarence Clemons voices the lines of the song’s authority figures. Springsteen made a habit of starting shows at this time with either Badlands or, as here, with classic numbers from the past. The effect of the opening of a Darkness Tour show is conveyed by second night attendee, Anthony Fischetti, on the The Light In Darkness website: “The best way to describe what you felt when the band walked out onto the boards and ripped into the opening number (whether it was ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight,’ ‘Summertime Blues,’ ‘High School Confidential,’ or ‘Badlands’) is to harken back to the old Maxell tape ads, where a guy puts a Maxell tape into his stereo and the sound that come out of the speakers blows his hair and his scarf back, and sends his drink skidding across the table through the sheer force and power of its volume and energy.” The almost tangible sense of energy is continued with a spirited Badlands, offering its defiant response to the inevitable hardship and mundanity of human existence, which ends amid a level of cheering and applause from the audience that renders redundant Springsteen’s question, “What do you say? We doing OK so far?” Next up is a vibrant Spirit In The Night, enjoyable but, like other versions from the Darkness Tour, somehow less sinuous and earthy than performances from earlier years.
Things take a sombre turn with a searingly intense Darkness On The Edge Of Town, but this mood, which one might expect to continue into another Darkness song, is immediately interrupted with a performance of Evis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, with Springsteen attempting a distinctly Presleyan vocal turn. He then creates a rather tenuous link with the next song, informing the audience that, “across the street from that hotel they…they built a factory.” During the atmospheric opening he goes on to tell the now-familiar tale of listening to his father attempting to start one of his “hundred dollar junk cars” so that he could go to work. As Joanne Hoffman Garroway recalls in The Light In Darkness, Springsteen “peppered the show with stories – some funny, some poignant – and made that huge arena seem like his family living room.”
Like Badlands, The Promised Land offers a sprited defiance of life’s vicissitudes. Like much of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, the song discusses the effect of a mundane and dispiriting working life (“I’ve done my best to live the right way/I get up every morning and go to work each day/But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold/Sometimes I fell So weak I want to explode”). As Vike Savoth argues in the foreword to The Light In Darkness, performances such as this are “riveting” because they “ask us [not] to escape but to confront” the dispiriting nature of “our working lives.” Prove It All Night, of course, gains the then-usual piano and guitar intro, together with an additional guitar part at the end. The intro tended to get longer as the tour progressed, and Brucebase times this one at 4.06 minutes (with the stunning guitar solo at 2.32 minutes). When I bought my first vinyl bootleg, Live In The Promised Land (the classic Winterland show of 15 December 1978), of the many live flourishes that impressed me, the expanded Prove It All Night made the biggest impression. Fischetti sums this up splendidly: “The opening set was heavy on ‘Darkness’ album material, and the songs were augmented, enhanced, and accessorized in a way that doesn’t happen these days. The organ/piano intro to the title track, the extended harmonica/piano intro to ‘Promised Land,’ the now-legendary piano/guitar intro to ‘Prove It All Night,’ the extended piano coda to ‘Racing In The Street,’ the ‘Not Fade Away’/’Mona’/’Gloria’ lead-in to ‘She’s the One,’ along with the instrumental break in the middle of it – these flourishes made the songs even more special, and are not seen much anymore.”
Roy Bittan, whose piano playing enhanced the ’78 shows so beautifully, then brings his considerable skills to bear on a superb Racing In The Street, which Spingsteen dedicates to his sister Pam, who was in the audience. Bittan’s gorgeous piano provides the bridge to a vivacious full-band Thunder Road, which is prefaced by the story of encountering a house in the Nevada desert built by a Native American from scavaged remnants and the accompanying sign pointing down an “old road” called Thunder Road, reading, “this is the land of peace, love, justice and no mercy.” Has there ever been a better distillation of what the song is all about than that? Disc one and the first set then ends with Jungleland, always most satisfying in live performance.
Disc two and the second set open with Clarence Clemons’ sax leading a high-spirited rendition of the instrumental Paradise By The C, which is a contender for best live version. This is succeeded by what Hoffman Garroway calls “the slow burn” of The Fever, with its sultry sax solo, before more high jinks with the then-new song, Sherry Darling. As was often the case, Springsteen provides a brief introduction to the phenomenon that was fraternity rock before asking the audience to provide the “party noises” to kick start the song.
4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), with its nostalgic, almost melancholy overtones, is a beautifully executed highlight of the second set and the mood is then immediately lightened by the performance of a second classic ’50s number, Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen, another song which Springsteen dedicates to his sister. Next comes a wonderfully vibrant She’s The One, prefaced by Not Fade Away, which begins with the usual animalistic calls, but also including a snippet of Gloria. As with the version played in Atlanta on 30 September (which can be heard on Godfather’s Everybody’s Rockin’ Tonight, already reviewed), we only hear the lyrics, sung over the music of She’s The One. Concluding the second disc is a sparkling version of Growin’ Up, which usually at this time featured a story of the funny rather than poignant kind. Here, Springsteen tells the audience of how he discovered that he was a teenage werewolf (“I started acting strange. I went to school, sat down, ate my arithmetic book. I pissed in my desk.” Unlike other lycanthropes, however, Springsteen’s transformation additionally involves a gold guitar growing out of his side and the tale culminates in Spingsteen speeding down the New Jersey Turnpike in a car driven by a certain bulky saxophonist pursued by various police forces, the army, the navy and the marines – “and all I could hear was the chief of Asbury Park police leaning out the window with a megaphone screaming, “stop that son-of-a-bitch with the gold guitar!'”
The second set continues on disc three with an emotionally affecting Backstreets, featuring the spoken “Sad Eyes” interlude, and then the main part of the show ends with a barnstorming Rosalita, which includes the band introductions. Springsteen and the E Street Band begin the encores with a positively hair-raising Born To Run and then treat us to what Hoffman Garroway calls “the sexual power” of a brilliantly played Because The Night. Finally, a wonderful show ends triumphantly with an ebullient performance of Gary US Bonds’ Quarter To Three. According to SoulBoogieAlex, the first night’s show, “can compete with the holy trinity of Winterland, Passaic or [sic] the Agora.”
Disc three concludes with a brief bonus in the shape of a brief pre-show television interview with WABC’s Joel Siegal, which includes snippets of music. It is not particularly illuminating and is in rather poor sound, so that it adds little appeal to the set. The interview itself was actually broadcast the next day, before the second show, and, despite it appearing on Night 1 and being dated 21 August by Brucebase, Springsteen’s comments would seem to suggest that it was also carried out on 22 August.
Night 2 (G.R. BOX 03 C/D)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, USA – 22 August, 1978
Disc 1: Good Rockin’ Tonight, Badlands, Streets Of Fire, Spirit In The Night, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Factory, The Promised Land, Prove It All Night, Racing In The Street, Thunder Road, Jungleland
Disc 2: Paradise By The C, For You, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Candy’s Room, Mona/She’s The One, Growin’ Up
Disc 3: Backstreets/Sad Eyes, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Born To Run, Because The Night, Quarter To Three
The second night again begins with an old classic, this time a hugely energetic version of Roy Brown’s 1947 jump blues number, Good Rocking Tonight (Godfather opts for the later Elvis Presley version of the title, Good Rockin’ Tonight). Once again the energy of the first song is carried over into Badlands and much of the rest of the first set. The other differences from the first night are the omission of Heartbreak Hotel, which allows Factory, much more appropriately, to follow Darkness On The Edge Of Town, and the inclusion of a dark, brooding and hugely effective Streets Of Fire. Spirit In The Night is rather more boisterous than on the first night and the intro to Prove It All Night is longer, with Brucebase’s timings of 5.10 and 2.51 minutes for the intro and the guitar solo respectively. On the second night Springsteen omits the spoken introductions to Factory and Thunder Road. The performance of Jungleland heard here is superb.
The second set, which opens with a version of Paradise By The C which rivals that of the opening night, is shorn of The Fever, Sherry Darling and Sweet Little Sixteen. Replacing them are a full-band version of For You, with its ironic juxtaposition of jaunty music and serious lyrical content, and a blistering Candy’s Room. She’s The One is also different, losing its Not Fade Away/Gloria intro in favour of Mona, while retaining the atmospheric animal cries. There is a long instrumental section between Mona and She’s The One itself and the song features a staggeringly furious ending. Backstreets retains the spoken “Sad Eyes” interlude and Rosalita the band introductions. Springsteen tells a different story before and after Growin’ Up. Sent to see a priest by his parents, who want him to stop “fooling around” and to gain respectable and lucrative employment as a lawyer or an author, Springsteen is instructed to discuss his dilemma directly with God (though he is categorically told not to mention “that goddamn guitar”). Accompanied by Clemons, who is just the man to know where the Almighty is to be found on a Friday night, Springsteen finally gets his answer: “So it was really quiet for a little while, and all of a sudden I heard this thunder and I saw this lightning and then just three words came out of these big dark clouds and they were, “let it rock!'”
The encore consists of the same riotous trio of Born To Run, Because The Night and Quarter To Three and during the latter song Springsteen brought his sister Pam out on to the stage, as can be seen from the front cover photograph of Night 2. Springsteen introduces Born To Run as, “my favourite song,” and Because The Night contains a superb guitar solo.
The quality of the second night’s performance is summed up by ATF on the Greasy Lake website: “Quite simply, I’d never seen anything like what played out on stage that night, which was 75 Springsteen shows ago for me, including 6 on the most recent ‘Magic’ tour…They’ve all been great, but ‘Darkness’ was different. And I’ll never, ever forget that night.”
Night 3 (G.R. BOX 03 E/F)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, USA – 23 August, 1978
Disc 1: High School Confidential, Badlands, Streets Of Fire, Spirit In The Night, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Heartbreak Hotel, Factory, The Promised Land, Prove It All Night, Racing In The Street, Thunder Road, Jungleland
Disc 2: For You, Candy’s Room, Adam Raised A Cain, Fire, Sherry Darling, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Not Fade Away/[Gloria]/She’s The One, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City
Disc 3: Backstreets/Sad Eyes, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Born To Run, Because The Night, Quarter To Three
On the last night Springsteen completes a trio of classic show openers with a of high-energy rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis’ 1958 hit High School Confidential. Streets Of Fire is retained from the second show, while Heartbreak Hotel returns to once more inappropriately split Darkness On The Edge Of Town and Factory, the latter of which is dedicated to Tex Vinyard, described by Sandford as, “cook, driver, banker and de facto manager” of Springsteen’s first band, The Castiles. Prove It All Night is absolutely superb, with the intro again somewhat longer (Brucebase’s timings for the intro and guitar solo are 5.24 and 3.01 minutes respectively). The guitar solo is a little different, approaching dissonance at one point. Roy Bittan is again excellent in Racing In The Street and the spoken introduction to Thunder Road is restored.
Paradise By The C is omitted on the last night so that For You opens the second set. Candy’s Room survives from the second show and Sherry Darling returns. Between them we get a ferocious Adam Raised A Cain, a song which Marsh maintains is, “the story of all sons, all fathers,” and which Santelli calls, “Springsteen’s grittiest guitar effort,” and a smoky, atmospheric Fire, dedicated to Robert Gordon, who recorded it for his second album, Fresh Fish Special. 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) completes a hat-trick of appearances and Not Fade Away and Gloria return as the introduction to She’s The One (though Gloria is unacknowledged in Godfather’s track listing). Growin’ Up is omitted, replaced by a spirited It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, which features a long instrumental coda. Backstreets retains the spoken “Sad Eyes” interlude and the band introductions once again appear in Rosalita.
Born To Run, Because The Night and Quarter To Three once more constitute a rip-roaring encore, and, instead of sister Pam, this time Springsteen’s mother appears on stage, ordering him to extend the performance of Quarter To Three when he claims to be too tired to go on.
Overall, the sound quality of these shows is, as suggested by comments quoted in the third paragraph of this review, remarkable. This has already been noted on CMR, with kads commenting the the News & New Releases section that, “these are definitely fine master tapes that grow on you each time you listen. It gives a true sense of being there. It’s more atmospheric than the radio and soundboard shows of that period.” The sound of the first show is particularly impressive, so that I found myself occasionally startled to hear talking near the taper, reminding me that it is, indeed, an audience recording. (Fortunately, such audience noise is relatively rare and not overly intrusive.) There are some flaws. The volume level fluctuates several times during Summertime Blues and there is also an instance of this on Spirit In The Night. There are also a couple of very minor glitches in Racing In The Street and Jungleland. Overall, however, this is a superb audience tape. The sound of the latter two shows is not quite comparable to that of the first night, but it is still extremely impressive and again audience noise is not intrusive. (There is one exception to this, with loud audience talking partially drowning out Springsteen’s spoken introduction to Born To Run on the second night.) There appears to be a minor cut near the end of Prove It All Night during the second show, and there is certainly one at the beginning of Backstreets. There is also a cut in Because The Night from the final show, together with some extraneous noise near the end of Quarter To Three.
One issue I have is with the layout of the discs, with each second disc ending either with Growin’ Up (first two nights) or with It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City (last night), thereby relegating the remainder of the second set to the third disc in the company of the encores. In all three cases there was room on the second disc for the entire second set and, although a first set/second set/encore breakdown would have made for brief third discs it would surely have resulted in a more satisfying listening experience.
As with the earlier Springsteen and Pink Floyd boxes, Godfather has pulled out all the stops with the packaging. The box itself is of identical construction, with the deep black tray and the white ribbon. The three 3-CD sets contained within are housed in the label’s trademark tri-fold sleeves. The box lid and sleeves feature numerous onstage photos including, as can be seen above, one of Springsteen with his sister. Track listings appear on the rear of the sleeves and also on the rear of the box (which reproduces the front of each sleeve in miniature). The sleeves also feature transcripts of all of Springsteen’s spoken words to the audience during the concerts, clearly reproduced from Johanna Pirttijarvi’s “Storyteller” section of Brucebase. Additionally there is a handsome thirty-two page booklet which features further photos, a long essay on the Darkness Tour taken from Backstreets magazine and some shorter notes on Springsteen’s shows at Madison Square Garden. If anything. the overall effect is even more impressive than that of the first Springsteen box.
Overall, this release is not as significant as Godfather’s first Springsteen boxed set, The Unbroken Promise, which is an essential compilation of material from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town sessions. Moreover, in my opinion, the first choice for Darkness Tour shows remains jointly with the Passaic concert of 19 September and the San Francisco show of 15 December (available on the Crystal Cat releases Passaic Night and Winterland Night, both already reviewed), though these exciting performances run those classics pretty close. In any event, the Darkness Tour represents Springsteen’s peak as a live performer and only the most casual collector is likely to be satisfied with those two sets and no more. This release presents three stunning performances in impressive sound, collects together three consecutive shows from the same venue to provide a satisfying theme, and constitutes a most handsome artefact with its splendid packaging. Consequently, this box is enthusiastically recommended to Springsteen devotees.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)