Hyde Park Dream Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 942-44)
Hard Rock Calling, Hyde Park, London, UK – 28 June, 2009
Disc 1: Intro, London Calling, Badlands, Night, She’s The One, Outlaw Pete, Out In The Street, Working On A Dream, Seeds, Johnny 99
Disc2: Youngstown, Intro: Good Lovin’, Good Lovin’, Booby Jean, Trapped, No Surrender, Waitin’ On a Sunny Day, The Promised Land, Racing In the Streeet, Radio Nowhere, Lonesome Day, The Rising
Disc 3: Born To Run, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Hard Times Come Again No More, Jungleland, American Land, Glory Days, Dancing In the Dark
Bonus Tracks: Glastonbury Festival, Worthy Farm, Pilton, UK – 27 June,2009:Coma Girl; Hard Rock Calling, Hyde Park, London, UK – 28 June, 2009 – The ’59 Sound, London Calling
The day after his appearance at Glastonbury, Springsteen made another festival performance in Central London’s Hyde Park. This Hard Rock Calling performance has appeared on the Apocalypse Sound DVD Hard Rock Calling (see my earlier review). However, this release featured a mere six songs from Springsteen’s set plus his guest spot with The Gaslight Anthem. Crystal Cat’s 3-CD set brings us the entire performance, together with three bonus tracks.
The show kicks of with the classic Clash number London Calling, a performance which Sunday Times writer Dan Cairns calls, “poignant, redemptive, overwhelming and slightly cheesy, a set of adjectives that pretty much sums up Springsteen.” He shares vocal duties with the rasping voice of Steve Van Zandt and the energetic performance, witnessed from the side of the stage by former Clash member Mick Jones, “immediately had the crowd jumping,” according to Neil Lockwood on the Backstreets website. It begins a string of songs which constitute a high-energy start to the show. “From the outset…he awed the 50,000-strong crowd,” writes Jamie Merrill in The Independent, “Springsteen’s intensity was staggering from the first powerful vocal to final thrashed-out chord.” A stirring rendition of Badlands follows and the pace is maintained by the up-tempo Born To Run song, Night. A robust rendition of another number from Born To Run, She’s The One, with prominent input from Springsteen’s harmonica, is a clear highlight of the first section of the show. Also noteworthy is what Merrill refers to as a “passionate” version of Outlaw Pete, featuring a snippet of The Shadows’ Apache at the start. Strangely, after this energetic beginning, the good-time crowd-pleaser Out In The Street comes across as a little pedestrian, only really firing up towards the end when the audience comes in with its vocal contribution. At the end of the song, having descended the steps at the front of the stage to work the audience, Springsteen notices (or purports to notice) for the first time that the steps are steep enough to make a return to the stage somewhat challenging. “Are you fuckin’ nuts? Somebody get me a fuckin’ elevator…I’m fuckin’ sixty!,” he complains, to the amusement of the audience. Things then relax somewhat with Working On A Dream, the song as charming as ever and the house building spiel as tedious.
Then it is time for the hard times trilogy. First up, of course, is Seeds, effectively grinding out the tale of a family affected by a harsh economic downturn and its brief, dissonant climax leads directly into a wonderfully raucous Johnny 99, complete, as is now customary, with train-whistle vocals and false ending. This brings the first disc to a close. Inexplicably, Crystal Cat has split the trilogy by placing its third element, a vibrant Youngstown, featuring a fine, flowing guitar solo from Nils Lofgren, at the start of the second disc. With the first disc clocking in at just under 56 minutes, there was clearly room on it for Youngstown, and the intensity of the trilogy is unnecessarily diluted.
The second disc continues with the sign collection song, Good Lovin’, a number performed five times during the Working On A Dream Tour. Originally released in 1965 by The Olympics, the influential version by The Young Rascals was a number one hit in America the following year. Included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and making number 325 in the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Song of All Time, the song is described by Dave Marsh (who placed it at number 108 in his 1989 book The Heart Of Rock And Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made) as, “the greatest example ever of a remake surpassing the quality of an original without changing a thing about the arrangement.” The tune of Good Lovin’ is similar to that of La Bamba, the Mexican folk song turned into a rock and roll classic by Richie Valens in 1958, and that similarity is even more marked when the E Street Band play it initially as an intstrumental while Springsteen collects signs. Indeed, by the time Springsteen joins in on vocals to commence the song proper, some audience members can be heard singing along to what they clearly believe is La Bamba. This vivacious number, with its call-and-response vocals and farfisa-style organ, has a summery feel which makes for perfect listening on a day, as Neil Lockwood writes on the Backstreets website, of “searing sunshine (for England!).”
The next song is the anthemic Bobby Jean, and, as with Out In The Street, it sounds just a trifle leaden. Things perk up again with a tautly-sprung Trapped, which never fails to be a highlight when it is performed, and which is described by Classic Rock writer High Fielding as an “unexpected treat.” This is followed by No Surrender, for which the E Street Band is joined by The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon. He shares the vocals with Springsteen, but unfortunately his gruff and obviously strained vocals detract from, rather than enhance, the performance and Merrill rates this as, “the only low point in the show.” Waiting On A Sunny Day is as genial as ever, and rather than the usual, clearly-heard child, we get some vocal paricipation from the audience as a whole (although a seemingly quite timid young boy can be briefly heard). The Promised Land is a generally solid performance, though Clarence Clemons stumbles over the opening of his saxophone solo. Then we get a fine version of Racing In The Street, described by Stephen Dalton of The Times as “mournful,” by Karl Birthistle on Springsteen’s website as “riveting” and by Merrill as “soulful.” Roy Bittan’s beautifully restrained piano playing is, as so often, the outstanding feature of the song. The lively and highly enjoyable Radio Nowhere is followed by a solid rendition of Lonesome Day, which in turn gives way to what Dalton describes as a “stirring” performance of The Rising. The main set concludes with a hammed-up, though still exhilarating, Born To Run, described as a “heady” performance by John Aizlewood of the Evening Standard. Once again the disc break is problematic, as Born To Run begins disc three, whereas, as the set closer, it’s logical place is surely at the end of disc two.
As is the case with other shows from the tour, the band launches straight into the encore without leaving the stage. “Bruce skipped the encore break and blew right through ‘Rosalita’ and ‘Hard Times,'” writes Mark Warham on the Backstreets website, “They never left the stage, and it was clear he was really enjoying himself now!” A superb performance of Jungleland, played in response to an audience sign, is described by Paul Cole of the Sunday Mercury as the “most moving Jungleland yet, the show-stealing moment of a memorable gig.” This is followed by American Land, high-spirited as ever, with Springsteen calling out, “Steve! Come back, brother!” as Vandt Zandt undertakes a premature change of guitar. After this comes what Aizlewood calls a “joyous” rendition of Glory Days and the show concludes with, as Merrill puts it, “a stadium-stopping performance” of Dancing In The Dark.
The sound quality of the show is full and detailed, with a pleasing dynamic. Posting on the Jungleland website, EStreetBoss, who was decidedly unimpressed by the sound of Crystal Cat’s Frankfurt Dream Night (already reviewed), comments that this release “sounds way better than Frankfurt.” Posting on the Stone Pony London message board, Little Siv maintains that the Crystal Cat release constitutes “a fantastic audience recording.” Crystal Cat seems to have utilized an internet source for their release. According to a post on the Jungleland website by Spanishjonny, Crystal Cat has utilized “the tailschao remaster of essexboys version.” Tailschao himself writes of his remastering endeavours: “The original was extremely bass heavy with everything else ovepowerered by it. I reduced the low end and boosted the high end and compressed the dynamic range of everyting else to balance it all out. The bass is still very well defined and present, but it just doesn’t overpower everything else anymore.” (He goes on to say that the essexboy version subject to his remastering “is the only version circulating,” which also suggests that his remaster is Crystal Cat’s source.) Whether Crystal Cat has done any further remastering I cannot say, but, overall, I was impressed by the way the sound of the band is captured. However, as with the Frankfurt show, the audience is also rather prominent at many points. A post on the Jungleland site by cHRISFGEE, referring to the tailschao remaster, contends that, “there is a tremendous amount of chatter.” Little Siv, conversely, maintains that there is, “a little bit of audience chatter but it’s not intrusive.” This may be merely a difference of opinion, although it it possible that Crystal Cat has been able to reduce the audience noise. Of course, the level of audience noise fluctuates, but, in my opinion, it always remains on the right side of tolerable (though occasionally marginally), whereas on the Frankfurt release it sometimes crosses the boundary. Certainly, there is nothing here as unpleasant as the flurry of audience noise which marred Badlands, the opening song of the Frankfurt show.
The first of the bonus tracks derives from the previous day’s show at Glastonbury, the solitary performance of Joe Strummer’s Coma Girl. As Dan French writes on the official Springsteen website, “Bruce and Clarence came out and played an acoustic ‘Coma Girl,’ the arrangement highlighting the lyrics which perfectly fitted the occasion, reflecting the late Strummer’s fondness for the ‘festival way out west,’ a great song from his Mescaleros phase.” We also seem to be indebted to essexboy for this, as a post by NB on the Stone Pony London site contends that his version is, “the only audience tape out there.” It is good to have this unique performance, although the audience noise here is undeniably intrusive, with numerous people chatting away throughout the song. The second bonus track, also most welcome, is Springsteen’s guest appearance earlier in the day at Hyde Park with The Gaslight Anthem. He joins the band for a spirited rendition of their best song, The ’59 Sound. Finally, we have an alternative source for the Hyde Park performance of London Calling. Curiously, Crystal Cat gives no indication of the origin of this. Victor666, posting on the Jungleland site, speculates that it may be, “the SBD version from the TV broadcast,” and listening to the song and to The ’59 Sound suggest that both could conceivably be from this source. If so, one wonders why Crystal Cat did not include further songs from this source – there is space on the discs to do so.
Crystal Cat’s packaging is, as usual, superbly done. This release comes in a thick jewel case with double-sided front and back inserts. The front cover shows Springsteen, shirt drenched in sweat, together with numerous audience members, some of whom have a banner reading “GREETINGS FROM HYDE PARK.” The rear has Springsteen singing close to the audience with his acoustic guitar slung on his back, together with the track listing. The inside of the front insert shows stall selling merchandise by the side of the stage and a ticket for the show; the inside of the rear insert shows Brian Fallon onstage with the band. There is a sixteen-page booklet with numerous onstage shots (several of which are screen shots), track listing, band personnel and Springsteen’s handwritten set list. The booklet also contains remarks on the show from Andrew Crombie, Jonathan Russell, Jonathan Phillips, Mark Warham and Neil Lockwood, all taken from the Backstreets website. There is also a tri-fold insert with two panoramic views, one of the venue and the audience and one of the band onstage. All are printed on Crystal Cat’s usual thick, glossy paper. Also as usual, the discs bear full colour photographs, two of Springsteen alone on stage and one of him with Steve Van Zandt holding up the aforementioned banner.
This performance has garnered many plaudits. Dalton writes that, “the London show proved even more epic than the triumphant Glastonbury debut, a revved-up three-hour power drive through Springsteen’s America.” In a comment on the website of New Musical Express, Vivienne Dixon states that, “Bruce Springsteen concerts are nothing new to me, however, the Hyde Park gig exceeded even my expectations.” A post by FriedEgg on Stone Pony London calls it “an awesome gig.” Birthistle maintains that it was, “a pulsating, energetic and eclectic show.” Not everyone is quite so enthusiastic, however. In his Stone Pony London post, mikegort writes that, “enjoyable as the ‘event’ was, with the lovely weather and relaxed atmosphere, it was a long way off being the best Springsteen performance I’ve ever been to.” The truth, in my opinion, lies somewhere in between. I do not think that anyone would claim that this performance is one of the best from the tour (the choice for most, I imagine, would lie with one of the later complete album performance shows). Nonetheless, this show has a certain spirited quality that makes listening to it most enjoyable. It it the second festival performance on consecutive days and there is a descernable “festival feel” about it. Bonner writes of the show’s “intensity” and Fielder of Springsteen’s display of “relentless energy.” Consequently, although I would not regard this as an essential acquisition, the enthusiasm that Springsteen and the band put into the performance, the very listenable sound and Crystal Cat’s usual splendid packaging certainly make this release worth having.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)