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Bruce Springsteen – Late Night Special (Godfatherecords G.R. 419/420/421)

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Late Night Special (Godfatherecords 419/420/421)

Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy – 19 July, 2009

Disc 1: Intro: Once Upon A Time In The West, Badlands, Out In The Street, Outlaw Pete, No Surrender, She’s The One, Working On A Dream, Seeds, Johnny 99, Atlantic City, Raise Your Hand, Hungry Heart, Pink Cadillac

Disc 2: I’m On Fire, Surprise Surprise, Prove It All Night, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Promised Land, American Skin (41 Shots), Lonesone Day, The Rising, Born To Run, My City Of Ruins

Disc 3: Thunder Road, You Can’t Sit Down, American Land, Bobby Jean, Dancing In The Dark, Twist And Shout [/La Bamba]

Bonus tracks: RDS Arena, Dublin, Ireland – 12 July, 2009: Night, My Lucky Day, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Spirit In The Night, Trapped, Jungleland

With this release Godfather presents Springsteen’s first concert at Rome’s largest stadium, and his first concert at any venue in the city since 1988.  The show was delayed by the local authorities in order to avoid a clash with the swimming world championships.  The starting time was therefore the unusual hour of 10:30pm, hence the title of Late Night Special.

We first hear the ethereal strains of Ennio Morricone’s theme from the film Once Upon A Time in The West.  Played with the lights down as the band took the stage, it is greeted with appreciative applause.  As Guglielmo Latini writes on Springsteen’s official website, ”this mix of melancholy and epic really moved the crowd.”  Leonardo Colombarti, writing on the Backstreets website, claims the credit for this.  Interviewing Springsteen a month previously, Columbarti told him that he would love to hear the tune playing at the start of the show and Springsteen “kept his word.”  How much it was really down to this is, however, debatable.  As it has been used by Springsteen on previous occasions to open Italian shows, it seems a natural thing for him to do in Rome, where Morrricone is from.  Moreover, the tune had acted as an introduction to Badlands during the River Tour and it fulfils that function here. 

Badlands is perhaps a little lacking in impact at first, and begins with Springsteen’s voice being rather prominent.  The song features the now-customary “whoh-oh-oh-oh-oh” vocals from the enthusiastic audience and Clarence Clemons nails his saxophone part after the short guitar solo.  The song catches fire after the false ending and Springsteen, as always, asks “is there anybody alive out there?”  Out In The Street, vapid as it is, works effectively to continue the ebullient mood, though Clemons seems to have momentary difficulty in getting his sax solo going.  The song’s coda features brief vocal contributions from Steve Van Zandt, Nils  Lofgren, Soozie Tyrell and the deep bass of Clemons.  Outlaw Pete follows and it is given an urgent rendition.  This song seems to get better as the tour progresses and here it features a really effective piano part from Roy Bittan during the slow section at the end.  Godfather’s booklet notes refer to it as, “sounding like a Western saga: the duel under the moon between Bruce and the crowd ended up with 45,000 people shouting ‘Can you hear me?’ and yes, he surely could.”

After the anthemic No Surrender comes one of the show’s highlights, a vibrant performance of She’s The One.  Very reminiscent of the version from Born To Run, this rendition features some effectively moody vocals and appropriately rough-edged harmonica from Springsteen.  After this the performance of Working on A Dream comes across as a little pedestrian, though it is noteworthy for Springsteen’s wholly Italian-language version of the lengthy, metaphorical house-building speech.

The story of economic hardship that is Seeds unfolds as relentlessly as ever, enhanced by the effective organ contribution of Charlie Giordano and, in Latini’s words, “very, very strong guitar work from Bruce himself.”  Johnny 99, which follows, is again the full-band version with train whistle backing vocals and a false ending that is followed by a guitar and drum based impersonation of a steam locomotive.  Max Weinberg’s drums then introduce Atlantic City, characterized by a restrained guitar part which nicely complements the vocals, and which features the mandolin of Steve Van Zandt and backing vocals from several band members.

Raise Your Hand again functions as the sign collection number.  This version begins as a soulful instrumental which lasts for four minutes, and then Springsteen unexpectedly comes in on vocals, extending the song to over eight minutes.  The first request is a jaunty rendition of Hungry Heart, and, as usual, the audience is given the opportunity to sing the first verse.  Pink Cadillac follows and, despite the inconsequential lyrics, the performance possesses a rhythmic intensity that brings disc one to a satisfying close.

Disc two opens with I’m On Fire in a nicely understated performance featuring a lengthy instrumental coda.  Following this is the inconsequential Surprise Surprise, played for “the birthday girl all the way from…New Jersey!”  Springsteen’s astonishment at finding someone from his home state in the audience is clearly apparent in his voice, which becomes very high pitched as he says “New Jersey.”  Next up is another highlight of the show, an extraordinary six minute Prove It All Night, noteworthy for a long and quite superb guitar solo from Nils Lofgren.

The infectiously jolly Waitin’ On A Sunny Day has the audience singing along from the start.  Springsteen invites some junior members of the audience to sing, but with little success due to, as Latini puts it, “a funny child trying to sing it without knowing any of the lyrics!”  The Promised Land is next up, fortunately not overwhelmed by the additional backing vocals, with a splendid sax solo from Clarence Clemons.  The song winds up with an uncharacteristically quiet ending, doubtless due to the nature of the song which follows.

The ensuing number is, unexpectedly, American Skin (41 Shots).  The song concerns the shooting on 4 February 1999 in New York of Amadou Diallo, a black immigrant from Guinea, by four white plainclothes police officers.  The officers, who were later tried for murder but acquitted, stated that they believed him to be reaching for a gun (it was his wallet) and they fired forty-one shots, nineteen of which hit Diallo.

The song does not mention Diallo by name, nor does it overtly discuss race; instead it is more subtle, relying on what is left unsaid to make its emotional impact.  Springsteen said that the song addresses the issue of, “what systematic racial injustice, fear and paranoia do to our children, our loved ones, ourselves,” so that, as the lyrics state, “You can get killed just for living/In your American skin.”  Despite some accusations that the song has an anti-police stance, Springsteen imagines the regret felt by one of the officers (“You’re kneeling over the body in the vestibule/Praying for his life”) and shows awareness of the fear they face in uncertain situations (Is it a gun, is it a knife/Is it a wallet, this is your life”).

The performance is immaculate.  The slow and quiet beginning is most affecting and after this prefaces an intense and passionate performance with a simple but striking guitar solo.  The end of the song features a marvellously restrained and moving sax part from Clarence Clemons.  Colombati rightly refers to this performance as, “the highlight of the show, a stunning rendition.”  I was in tears long before the end.

Fine versions of Lonesome Day and The Rising then lead to a tumultuous Born To Run, which builds to a furious and somewhat dissonant mid-song climax before Springsteen counts the band back in for the latter section of the number.  A second, less massive climax then brings the song and the main set to a close.  The encore begins without the band leaving the stage, opening with the tour premiere of My City Of Ruins.  Colombati relates how he played a part in this: 

“The day before the show, I was on the radio with Steve Van Zandt, and I gave him a letter for Bruce that I received from ‘Vittorio and the fans from L’Aquila.’  The letter says, ‘Dear Bruce, for long time I have dreamed to have a chance to ask you a song that is special to me.  Today I want to ask you a song that has unfortunately acquired a new and stronger meaning to me and many of my friends since last April, 6. That day, our area was struck by a terrible earthquake.  About 300 people died, thousands were injured, tens of thousands are now homeless and they do not know  when they will be able to have their homes rebuilt.  Most of the people are still living in tents; factories, offices, schools, the university, everything is gone now, and it is difficult to think about tomorrow.  Our city is in ruins, Bruce, so some days ago I found myself thinking that I would love to listen to “My City Of Ruins” in the show in Rome, and so would my friends from L’Aquila and all the area as many of us will be there for you.’”

After asking for quiet, Springsteen says to the audience (in Italian), “We don’t play this one often.  We want to dedicate this song to the people of L’Aquila.”  As with quieter section of American Skin(41 Shots), the song is characterized by the dignified refinement of the performance and it is intensely moving.  “I found my heart broken,” writes Colombarti, “and my eyes in tears.” I could not help but contrast the dignity of Springsteen’s performance with the oafish comment of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, that the 17,000 homeless survivors, most of whom had been provided with tents, should see their predicament “like a weekend of camping.”

Thunder Road then ensues, in the full-band version before another great surprise in the shape of You Can’t Sit Down.  Loose and fun, but solidly underpinned by Max Weinberg’s drumming, the song also features an effective organ solo from Charlie Giordano.  The next number also holds a surprise, not due to the song itself, which is the expected American Land, but for what happens on stage.  At one stage Springsteen seems to miss his cue and shortly after is heard to shout “Mamma!” as mother Adele and aunt Edie take the stage, “jigging,” so the booklet notes say, “like two young southern Italian dancers,”  and the evidence is there on the booklet cover. It is undeniable that Springsteen’s performances have their hammed-up elements, but, according to Latini’s account, this was a genuine surprise for him.  He does seem disconcerted, stumbling rather over the band introduction (which includes his mother and aunt!), and modifying the end in his reference to  the “motherfuckin’  legendary”  E Street Band (surely an unwise thing to do in the presence of your Italian mamma, even when you are nearly sixty!)  The party spirit is kept going with Bobby Jean, which the booklet notes claim is, “an Italian audience favourite,” and Dancing In The Dark, featuring farfisa-style organ from Giordano at the start and a long instrumental section near the end dominated by  the organ and Clemons’ fine saxophone part.  Godfather’s claim that, “Clemons didn’t miss a note the whole night,” is exaggerated, but his playing is certainly in better shape than at some other recent gigs.  The show ends with a riotous nine-and-a-half  minute Twist And Shout, with Springsteen once again leading the audience in singing an excerpt from La Bamba.

Godfather fills out the third disc with six songs from the Dublin concert held a week earlier.  First up is Night, referred to by Karl Birthistle on the Backstreets website as, “vibrant…an early high,” and this is followed by a spirited My Lucky Day and an appropriately sombre and emotional Darkness On The Edge Of Town.”  Spirit In The Night is a fine performance, simultaneously joyous and sleazy.  The stand-out songs here, however, are the last two, a superbly taut rendition of Trapped (which is always a highlight when played at Springsteen shows), and the epic Jungleland.  After some oddly off-key piano at the very beginning, we are treated to a fine performance.  Birthistle comments rather poetically that, “Steve’s solo was note-perfect, and Clarence just stunned the house…those clear sax notes nailing the night to the stars.”

Overall, the sound quality of the Rome show is very good indeed.  The sound is full and detailed and songs such as Outlaw Pete, American Skin (41 Shots) and My City Of Ruins come across superbly.  However, at times the sound suddenly becomes marginally louder and coarser.  Additionally, there are some balance problems, where the emphasis of the sound shifts from one speaker to the other.  It is a minor and untroubling problem when listening through speakers (although it does clearly affect Lofgren’s solo in Prove It All Night), but it is somewhat more noticeable when listening through headphones.  One impressive aspect of the tape used for this release is how the audience is caught in a way that is not at all intrusive.  Indeed, when thousands of audience members sing the first verse of Hungry Heart they sound slightly distant in a fashion that resembles a soundboard recording. This quality also allows the quieter songs, such as American Skin (41 Shots) and My City Of Ruins to shine.  As to the bonus tracks, Night and My Lucky Day are a little muddy, but the other songs sound very good indeed.

This set comes in Godfather’s usual tri-fold packaging.  The front cover combines on onstage shot with the night sky and sickle moon motif from the Working On A Dream album to pleasing effect, and this is repeated on the front cover of the booklet.  The packaging features assorted onstage shots and the booklet has the usual notes by “Joe Roberts.”  Overall, this is another fine performance, with some oustanding highs, principally American Skin(41 Shots) and My City Of Ruins.  This release would not be my first recommendation for the casual collector looking for one Working On A Dream Tour show (that honour goes, at present, to A Good Job In The City), but the more committed Springsteen collector will find a great deal to admire and enjoy in this excellent show from Rome.

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Bruce Springsteen - Late Night Special (Godfatherecords G.R. 419/420/421), 2.4 out of 5 based on 5 ratings

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