Looking For The Temple Of Love: The Pilgrim Years 92/93 (Apocalypse Sound AS 198)
MTV Rockumentary 1992: Interviews and live footage; Saturday Night Live, NBC Studios, New York, NY, USA – 9 May, 1992: Lucky Town, 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On), Living Proof; MTV Special, “Tougher Than The Rest,” 1992: Interviews and live footage from various European locations, 1992; Vara TV Special, Dutch TV, 1992: Interviews and live footage from London, UK – 7 July, 1992; Notte Rock TV Special, Italian TV, 1992: Interview and live footage from Milan, Italy – 20-21 June, 1992; MTV outtakes from Red Bank rehearsals, Red Bank, NJ, USA – 23 March, 1993: Warm And Tender Love, [I Found A Love,] Human Touch, Because The Night, Brilliant Disguise, Soul Driver; Top Of The Pops live from the Scottish Exhibition And Conference Centre, Glasgow, UK – 31 March, 1993: Lucky Town; Late Night With David Letterman, NBC Studios, New York, NY, USA – 25 June, 1993: Glory Days
In the early 1990s I frequented a regularly-held record and CD fair in London, mostly patronizing a particular stall which had large quantities of Springsteen bootlegs. On one occasion, however, I bought a couple of items from another stallholder whom I had not seen before. I remember this encounter well, for he seemed as keen to solicit my opinion on Springsteen’s new albums as he was to sell me his wares. The albums in question were, of course, Lucky Town and Human Touch, and they were such a talking point due to the fact that they were widely regarded as the first Springsteen albums that were frankly substandard. My reply was to the effect that I thought I Wish I Were Blind was worthy of inclusion on Tunnel Of Love(an album I regard highly), whereas the rest was eminently forgettable; the stallholder’s opinion was similar. Although there were some positive reviews of the two albums at the time, later writers have been less kind, particularly about Human Touch, which is characterized by Jimmy Guterman in Runaway American Dream: Listening To Bruce Springsteen, as “a boring record.”
Springsteen’s errors, in the popular view, were compounded by his decision to ditch the E Street Band (with the exception of pianist Roy Bittan) and to construct an entirely new band consisting of, according to many critics, markedly inferior musicians. (Christopher Sandford, in Springsteen: Point Blank, refers to them as “hapless.”) The live In Concert/MTV [Un]Plugged CD and video, featuring what Dave Marsh in Bruce Springsteen: On Tour1968-2005, calls “the Other Band,” only served to support such views. “The performance is bombastic and clunky, with no subtlety” argues Guterman, “ruining perfectly good song after perfectly good song.” Bearing all this in mind, it could be seen as a bold, or possibly foolhardy, move by Apocalyse Sound to release material from this era of Springsteen’s career. Notwithstanding these views, I must confess that my own opinion of the MTV [Un]Plugged performance is more positive; in particular the Other Band transform the hitherto unremarkable Better Days and Lucky town into two of my favourite Springsteen songs.
The first, hour-long section of the DVD is the MTV Rockumentary from 1992 which covers the whole of Springsteen’s career. There are excerpts from interviews with Springsteen dating from 1985 and 1988 as well as 1992; also interviewed are E Streeters Steve Van Zandt, Danny Federici, Garry Tallent, Clarence Clemons and Max Weinberg, together with Jon Landau, John Hammond, Dave Marsh and Backstreets founder Charles Cross. There are also excerpts from live performances from Los Angeles in 1973 to East Rutherford, NJ and Stockholm in 1992. These range from the long-cherished (the performance of Rosalita which was shown in the UK on The Old Grey Whistle Test and is available on the Video Anthology) to the entirely unfamiliar (Born To Run from Widener College, Chester, PA in 1975). The earlier part of Springsteen’s career is illustrated by still photos and excerpts from the following songs: Baby I (The Castiles), Guilty (Steel Mill), Jubleliah (Roll Over) (Dr Zoom And The Sonic Boom), You Mean So Much To Me (The Bruce Springsteen Band) and It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City (solo). In addition to the interview with Springsteen carried out for the programme by Kurt Loder, there are excerpts from interviews from earlier programmes dating from 1985 and 1988. Unlike the 1992 interview, these excerpts feature only Springsteen’s responses; we neither see the interviewers nor hear their questions. The footage also includes the attempts by President Ronald Reagan and Vice-President Walter Mondale, both “despicable” (Van Zandt’s term) and embarrassing to watch, to “co-opt” Springsteen’s popularity for their own ends. The documentary is mildly diverting, but contains little, if anything, that will new to the knowledgeable Springsteen fan, and I suspect that it is not likely to be viewed repeatedly by many. As with many such documentaries, it left me wishing that the songs included had been complete performances, particularly Born to Run from Widener College.
The second section of this release contains three songs from Saturday Night Live with Tom Hanks presenting. The band at this point consisted of, in addition to Springsteen and Bittan, Shane Fontayne (guitar), Zach Alford (drums) and Tommy Sims (bass). “All had plenty of experience as session men,” states Guterman, “and on SNL they performed sturdy, close-to-the-ground music…the results weren’t outstanding and you could see and hear that this was not a band with a 20-year history.” Sandford is a little more complimentary, writing that, “Springsteen’s group made a brisk, searing and engagingly sloppy debut on Saturday Night Live.” The first song is an energetic rendition of Lucky Town, which, while not the equal of the [Un]Plugged version is certainly superior to the album version. The band members are clearly enjoying themselves, as evidenced by Springsteen’s broad grin, and the performance is suffused with a positive feeling. “For the Human Touch/Lucky Town tour,” writes Marsh, “Bruce had tape cutting genius Peter Bochan work the sounds of the 1992 Los Angeles riots into a very hip-hop audio montage that introduced “57 Channels.” A brief section of these sounds introduces 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On) here, though the chants of “no justice, no peace” that later appeared on live versions (and the recorded remixes) are absent. The song is played in a short, terse and most stiking version, which ends suddenly and which features some remarkably dissonant guitar work. Finally, there is a vigorous and robust performance of, in Guterman’s words, the “tough rocker” from Lucky Town, Living Proof. Shortly after this, Springsteen expanded the band to include multi-intrumentalist Crystal Taliefero and backing singers Cleo Kennedy, Gia Ciambotti, Angel Rogers, Carol Dennis and Bobby King, so this is the only footage to feature the original five-man line-up and, as such, is most welcome.
Thirdly, we have a European MTV documentary, which features excerpts from songs played at concerts in Stockholm (where the tour opened), Wembley and East Rutherford, NJ. Mostly, these are songs from the two new albums, but we also get three older numbers, all, curiously, from Born In The USA: the title track, Glory Days and a slow solo version of Dancing In The Dark, which closes the programme. During the interview segments, Springsteen talks up his new musicians, stating that he is “really excited” to be working with such “a great band.” He also refers to his need to “step away from [my past]” and his desire for people to see him “in the context of my newer material.” He also seems to suggest that his recent domesticity may have contributed to his decision to dispense with the services of the E Street Band by stating that, when you have a partner and a family, you are likely to want to, “leave the boys’ club of the rock band behind.” One noteworthy factor of the programme is the positive reactions of fans, questioned after the New Jersey show, to the new band.
Next comes documentary from the Dutch broadcaster VARA, which also features footage from Wembley, including some of the same songs as the previous programme. The interviewer traveled to meet Springsteen at the time of his Wembley shows as the 1992-93 tour failed to take in Holland. Musically, this programme concentrates entirely on the two new albums, with excerpts from live performances of Roll Of The Dice, Local Hero, 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On) and Leap Of Faith, plus a soundcheck rendition of Better Days. During the soundcheck we also hear Bobby King and the other backing vocalists sing part of Wilson Pickett’s Ninety-nine And A Half (Won’t Do). The interview contains little that is illuminating, though Springsteen is obliged to defend Lucky Town and Human Touchwhen the interviewer asks him how it feels to be “the father of two not-so-well selling albums.” The fact that the programme is presented in Dutch will obviously be problematic for those who do not understand the language. However, the interview is conducted entirely in English, with Dutch subtitles. The songs sre also subtitled in Dutch, which some people may find intrusive. The programme closes with Leap Of Faith, during which the end credits appear. Though this cuts in, not too much is lost and, as it continues to the end, it is the nearest we yet come to a complete song in the documentaries presented here.
The Italian Notte Rock programme which follows again alternates interview segments with live footage from Milan’s Forum Assago, which hosted the third and fourth shows of the tour. The programme begins with a studio track, 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On) (Little Steven Mix Version 1), accompanied by alternating footage of Springsteen and a variety of other images which heavily feature distressing or violent footage from various locations around the world. The album version of Human Touch also appears, with footage of Springsteen and concert-goers. The programme is in Italian, and we hear the interviewer’s questions in that language only; Springsteen’s replies are in English with Italian subtitles running in a continuous band across the bottom of the screen. During the interview, Springsteen states of his new direction that, “I…wanted to create music that I felt contained within it the seeds and inspiration of my new life,” and he also presumably endears himself to viewers by contending that, “the Italian audiences have always been the most passionate.” There are live performances of Better Days, Roll Of The Dice, Born In The USA, Local Hero and Glory Days. All but the last are complete, or virtually so, but we do not experience them fully. This is due to the fact that, at times, the interview cuts into the performance, relegating the music to a backing track. When this occurs the image alternates between Springsteen answering questions and the concert footage (retaining the subtitles).
The sixth section comes from the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ. The show was, as a local newspaper points out, “a surprise concert,” and it was both a warm up for the final, European leg of the 1992-93 and a benefit show for various good causes. As Springsteen announced during the show itself, “we’re here tonight for the Community Food Bank of Jersey…Monmouth Arts Council, Count Basie Theater…Institute for Children with Cancer and Blood Disorder.” The five songs come not from the show itself but from the soundcheck. Although there are a couple of cuts between numbers, we do get a great deal of inter-song talking, instruction-giving and vocal and instrumental noodling. First off is Springsteen’s take on Percy Sledge’s Warm And Tender Love, with modified and truncated lyrics. It is a gentle and affectionate performance which is quite lovely. After this we hear the backing vocalists sing an extended excerpt from Wilson Pickett’s I Found A Love. Human Touch comes across as a little laid-back and fails to spark. Roy Bittan starts Because The Night, stops and then starts again and Springsteen contributes some interesting guitar work, though the performance overall is somewhat pedestrian. Brilliant Disguise is more accomplished and flows nicely. Finally, Bittan’s restrained keyboards and a fine vocal performance from Springsteen make Soul Driver, in addition to Warm And Tender Love, the other highlight here. Obviously, as this is a soundcheck, we do not get the same intensity of performance we would expect from a live show.
The final leg of the tour for which the Red Bank show was a warm up began in Glasgow on 31 March 1993. It was Springsteen’s first Scottish performance for twelve years, and it garnered positive headlines from the press, such as, “the Boss is still the business” and “rocking the roof off.” The seventh section of this release consists of just one song, Lucky Town, which was filmed and broadcast on UK music show Top Of The Pops the following day, which Springsteen acknowledges by saying, “gonna be on Top of the Pops tomorrow night…flash your best smile.” It is a good, rocking performance with some effective guitar work from Shane Fontayne, though it is unfortunately marred by the presenter talking over the beginning, stating that, “for the first time on Top Of The Pops we go live to a concert.” (This is, strictly speaking, inaccurate as the concert was filmed on the previous day.)
Finally, we get Springsteen’s performance of Glory Days from David Letterman’s final Late Night show for NBC on 25 June 1993, backed by Letterman’s World’s Most Dangerous Band. (Letterman moved to CBS to front the Late Show, beginning in August.) Tom Hanks also appeared on the show. Letterman introduced Springsteen by saying, “there is, I think, really only one person who has not been on the show who I always really, really wanted as a guest.” Bruce and the house band rock out on a boisterous, good-humoured rendition of Glory Days, which sees Springsteen jump on to the piano during the lengthy instrumental coda. It is a hugely enjoyable performance.
The sound quality on this release is just fine. On the whole the picture quality is what you would expect from video material from this era – not pin sharp but entirely good enough to be enjoyable. The exception is the rather fuzzy Notte Rock, which is clearly from a higher generation source than the rest. There are a few problems with the opening MTV Rockumentary. We get part of an advertisement and momentary fast-forwarding during the first commercial break, though the other breaks here and elsewhere are handled cleanly. There are also momentary glitches during The Promised Land and Born In The USA. Finally, during the last two or three minutes of the programme, white lines travel repeatedly down the screen. The only other problem is the momentary appearance on two or three occasions of thinner white lines on the screen during the performance of Lucky Town from Top Of The Pops. There are also problems caused by the actual filming of the Count Basie Theatre footage. On a couple of occasions the camera, which is positioned in front of the stage among the seating, suddenly goes awry (in the same manner as often occurs during surreptitious audience recordings) and we get a close-up of the soundman on one occasion and a view of rows of seats and a second cameraman and soundman on the other side of the theatre on another. There is also a noticeable cut during Warm And Tender Love and another during Because The Night; the latter seems to excise a sizeable portion of the song. Overall, however, and given the amount of material on this DVD, these are not major drawbacks.
This release has Apocalypse Sound’s usual trifold packaging with a clear plastic tray to hold the disc. There are several photographs from the era mostly featuring Springsteen both on and off stage, though some members of the “Other Band” are shown in four small shots. There are notes by “Joe Roberts.” Where applicable, the menu allows access to individual songs as well as to sections. The rather cryptic title, which seems to reflect the idea that Springsteen is searching for a new direction, has obvious similarities with Pilgrim In The Temple Of Love, a song played on the succeeding Ghost Of Tom Joad Tour.
The appeal of this release is likely to be limited, due to widespread negative feelings about this period in Springsteen’s career. Even Apocalypse Sound’s notes recognize that replacing the E Streeters with the Other Band, “was not really appreciated by the fans base…When Bruce changed a good part of his audience wasn’t having it.” In addition to this, Looking For The Temple Of Love contains a large amount of documentary material, which is unlikely to bear repeated viewing. Moreover, some Springsteen collectors may feel that it is disadvantageous that only one song from the purely musical segments is from a concert performance, the rest being derived either from a soundcheck or from television shows. (As the notes state, “this DVD gathers all of [the TV performances], in order to give better justice to a period which could have been controversial but had nevertheless had something to say to who was willing to carefully listen.”) Despite these limitations, Apocalypse Sound should be congratulated for attempting to shed further light on this much-maligned aspect of Springsteen’s ouevre and Springsteen devotees who do enjoy the performances of the Other Band may, despite some reservations on my part, be grateful for the opportunity to acquire this release.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)