Man At The Top (Godfatherecords G.R. 927/928/929)
The Wrecking Ball Weekender, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, Ireland 28 July, 2013
Disc 1: Intro, This Little Light Of Mine, My Love Will Not Let You Down, Badlands, We Take Care of Our Own, Adam Raised a Cain, Death To My Hometown, American Skin (41 Shots), The Promised Land, Wrecking Ball, Spirit in the Night, The River, Wild Billy’s Circus Story
Disc 2: Man at the Top, When You Walk in the Room, Intro to Born to Run full Album, Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, Night, Backstreets, Born to Run, She’s the One, Meeting Across the River, Jungleland, The Rising, Land of Hope and Dreams[/People Get Ready]
Disc 3: Born in the U.S.A., Bobby Jean, Seven Nights to Rock, Dancing in the Dark, American Land, Shout, This Little Light of Mine, This Hard Land
Bonus Tracks: The Wrecking Ball Weekender, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, Ireland – 27 July, 2013: Shake, Sweet Soul Music, Long Time Comin’, Jack of All Trades, Drive All Night[/Here Comes The Night], Thunder Road
With Man At The Top, Godfather bring us a recording of the final European Wrecking Ball Tour show of 2013. It was the second day of the “Wrecking Ball Weekender,” held at Nowlan Park, home of Kilkenny’s hurling team, with Delorentos, LAPD and Imelda May acting as the openers for Springsteen and the E Street Band. “Good evening, good evening Kilkenny!” announces Springsteen as the set begins with the tour’s sixth performance of This Little Light Of Mine, familiar to Springsteen fans from its inclusion on the 2007 Sessions band release Live In Dublin. Interestingly, on that release the song is credited as “traditional,” as it is elsewhere (for example, the Brucebase and the Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen websites), though, as the ShareFaith website (http://www.sharefaith.com/guide/Christian-Music/hymns-the-songs-and-the-stories/all-creatures-of-our-god-and-king-the-song-and-the-story.html), points out:
“Taking his theme from Matthew 5:16, Harry Dixon Loes (1895-1965) composed the children’s song This Little Light of Mine in 1920. The song has since been sung, often with hand motions, by many children in Sunday Schools throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The song also found its way into the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s when Fannie Lou Hammer added it to her spiritual song repertoire, along with other songs such as Go Tell it on the Mountain, and We Shall Overcome.”
Wikipedia, which also credits Loes with the song’s authorship, points out that, though the song is, “often thought of as a Negro spiritual, it does not, however, appear in any collection of jubilee or plantation songs from the nineteenth century…the song has since entered the folk tradition, first being collected by John Lomax in 1939.” Possibly also the song has been thought of as traditional due to the number of variants with distinct lyrics, though this is explained by ShareFaith as follows: “Since Loes first introduced the song, there have been many verses added for various reasons and occasions.” Kristin C. Hall (http://kristinhall.org/songbook/GospelTunes/ThisLittleLightOfMine.html) suggests that the perception of the song as traditional may have actually encouraged lyrical modifications:
“Since this was collected by John Lomax in 1939, it was widely thought to be a Traditional Spiritual. However, it does not exist in any of the collections of jubilee or plantation songs from the 19th century. So, Loes is most likely the actual songwriter (ca. 1920) and not just someone who was the first to copyright it. Because it was considered traditional, many people have added their own lyrics to the song over the years.”
Springsteen continues his introduction by saying, “I want you to raise your voices, clap your hands, and join us in celebration of the eternal, everlasting, ass-kicking power of rock and roll!” As if to prove his point, the next four numbers turn out to be a powerful and exciting combination. The Brucebase website refers to, “an intense, high energy opening that includes both ‘Badlands’ and ‘Adam Raised A Cain,'” and Holly Cara Price notes on Springsteen’s official website that, ”My Love Will Not Let You Down,’ ‘Badlands,’ ‘We Take Care Of Our Own,’ and ‘Adam Raised A Cain’ were leveled at the crowd in a four-pack of fierceness.” Caryn Rose (http://www.jukeboxgraduate.com/2013/07/bruce-springsteen-and-the-e-street-band-nowlan-park-kilkenny-ireland-28-july-2013/) writes of the latter song that, “the initial solo does not quite flow at first but then Bruce finds what he is trying to say and says it, blistering notes off the guitar frets…it was fierce. It was ‘Adam’ at full throttle.” Commenting further on the early part of the show, Price, states, “the night was full with end-of-tour intensity; everything was just that much more vivid. The band clearly felt it and the crowd picked up on it,” and the end-of-tour feel has also been remarked upon by Michael Stutts, who writes on the Backstreets website that, “from the outset, it was clear that Bruce viewed this as the last show of the tour. Direct references were made to ‘the last dance,’ ‘one last time,’ etc.” It was clear at the time that this was not the tour’s last show, as three of the four September shows in South America had already been announced. Further dates have since been added but only in Australia, New Zealand and, more recently, South Africa, so perhaps for Europeans it was effectively the end of the tour.
As Price relates, “a riveting ‘Death to My Hometown’ was next, followed by a deeply felt ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ featuring a blistering guitar solo by Bruce.” Rose found listening to the latter song a highly emotional experience:
“To say that this rendition of ’41 Shots’ was monumental and breathtaking would not come close to accurately describing it. It was nothing short of magnificent. The saxophone was haunting, cutting; Roy and Garry holding down the rest in air tight formation. It would have filled a stadium twice the size of Nowlan Park. It filled the world, it filled your heart and your head and I could not stop the tears at that moment, tears for right now and what happened before and what will happen again until we get it right.”
Splendid performances of The Promised land and Wrecking Ball are succeeded by Spirit in the Night, which opens with what Stutts calls a, “particularly long intro vamp that discussed the length of the tour, and the hibernation of the band for ‘a very, very little while.'” Then Springsteen tells the audience that they are about to hear, “a four song segment,” to cover, “some debts I have to pay.” As Stutts describes:
“The actual payment was four songs he promised to fans one way or another, including three straight tour premieres. First, another boisterous airing of ‘The River’ for one fan’s brother. Then, ‘Wild Billy’s Circus Story’ for the pit resident who is the biggest fan of that song ever (though the broader crowd reaction jammed bathrooms and beer lines). The jewel of the set was a gently instrumented, vocal-heavy, and fantastic ‘Man at the Top,’ played for another sign-wielding fan. Finally, the magnificent ‘When You Walk Into the Room’ was covered for a group of ladies in the pit. Bottom line: the ‘debt’ was to the persistent and loyal fans that he doesn’t ignore; the payment is what they most longed to hear.”
The last three songs of the quartet constitute what Brucebase calls, “three well-rehearsed tour premieres in a row” and they are very welcome rarities. Wild Billy’s Circus Story, described by Price as “absolutely magical,” makes its first appearance on the setlist since the Madison Square Garden show of November 2009, where it appeared as part of a complete performance of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle. Man At The Top, recorded in January 1984 during the sessions for Born In The U.S.A. but not released until 1998 on Tracks, receives only its third live outing, the other two having been during the Born In The U.S.A. Tour. Even those among the audience who were unfamiliar with the song seemed to be aware that this was something special, because, as Rose points out, “everyone around us shut the fuck up.” Glenn Radecki (http://stayhardstayhungry.wordpress.com/2013/07) refers to, “Bruce playing the twelve-string electric guitar and Charlie shining on the keyboard part,” during When You Walk In The Room, a song played for only the second time since 1976, the other performance being in Philadelphia in October 2009. In common (I imagine) with other long term fans, I have loved Springsteen’s take on the song since acquiring the legendary Bottom Line performance of 15 August 1975 on vinyl more years ago than I care to remember, and it is a treat to hear it again on this release.
Following this we are treated to a complete performance of the Born To Run album. “The performance was top notch,” argues Stutts, “the fans loved it, and it’s hard to complain about hearing ‘Jungleland’ and ‘Backstreets’ in the same show (the latter including some ‘Sad Eyes’ verbiage for some 1978 throwback).” Price assesses the performance as follows:
“Bruce then dedicated the entire ‘Born to Run’ album in sequenced order to Jimmy Iovine, who was present at the show tonight, remembering that ‘skinny Italian kid sitting at the tape machine’ when they were recording the album in 1974-75. It was wrought with emotion from start to finish – ‘Backstreets’ in particular standing out as Roy’s majestic piano swelled the melody, Bruce standing with eyes closed, holding his guitar up to the sky, taking it all in. He favored us with the ‘sad eyes’ interlude before tenderly putting the song aside. ‘She’s the One’ was also a standout with its demented Spanish flamenco rhythms. As the sunset gave way to gray clouds prior to rain, the mystical chords of ‘Meeting Across the River’ played; the only musicians on stage were Curt on trumpet, Roy on piano, and Garry on bass backing Bruce’s vocal.”
Rose states that, “it could have been flat, it could have been rote, but the band kept the energy high and the performance above-average and kept plowing through from song to song, which elevated the album performance several notches.” However, she questions whether the album should have been played at all, stating, “Born To Run should not have been the album you play on the last night of a tour in a country that got five shows, one of which already got that album.”
The Rising and Land of Hope and Dreams, the latter with the usual snippet of People Get Ready at its conclusion, follow, two songs that have been played often during the tour. Rose is harsh on the first song, contending that, “‘The Rising’ was one big out-of-sync mess almost from start to finish,” though she goes on to state that,“I am always glad to hear ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ in the current arrangement, the horns soaring, the arrangement carrying the song and elevating it.” Despite the appearance of these two stalwarts, a notable feature of the show was the absence for the first time on the tour of Waitin’ On A Sunny Day (though it reappeared for all four South American shows). Glenn Radecki notes that this was, “perhaps the biggest surprise of the night.”
The encore and disc three get off to a thunderous start with a powerful Born in the U.S.A., followed by Bobby Jean and a frantic rendition of Moon Mullican’s Seven Nights To Rock. The high-spirited performance of Dancing in the Dark, which came next, is described by Price as follows:
“During ‘Dancing in the Dark’ Bruce pulled up a young girl who had been holding a sign that said ‘I dyed my hair blue for the chance to Irish dance with you.’ They then proceeded to high step it and Irish dance together. He then sought out a young boy who couldn’t have been older than ten with a sign that said ‘Please can I play guitar with you.’ Bruce brought the boy onstage, gave him an acoustic guitar, and had him assist in finishing the song with the band. Then he sent him back to his parents, with the guitar in hand. The audience went nuts.”
For American Land the E Street Band are joined by drummer Max Weinberg’s daughter Ali on accordion and she remains on stage to contribute keyboards to the Isley Brothers’ Shout (“so fun and silly and goofy,” according to Rose). During the song the customary speech about the audience having just seen the “legendary E Street Band” is augmented by a tribute to the audience, which is referred to as, “the ticket seekin’, hotel bookin’, money jugglin’, plane takin’, train ridin’, queue formin’, tramp meetin’, feet throbbin’, back breakin,’ burger eatin’, rain endurin’, music lovin,’ Boss followin’, legendary E….Street…..fans!” This originates from a fan T-shirt brought to Springsteen’s attention by Amy Lofgren. After a reprise of This Little Light of Mine Springsteen emerges alone for what Stutt calls, “the final goodbye in the form of ‘This Hard Land,’ a moving acoustic rendition.” The end-of-tour feel is again emphasized by Springsteen’s speech before the song:
“Thank you, thank you, thank you. I don’t know what else to say. I’ve been doing this, next July, for fifty years. I feel like I just started, man! I got another fifty in me. The older you get, the more it means. I’ve enjoyed this tour… even losing so many people that were so close to us, this tour has just been really wonderful to us. I gotta thank the E Street Band. I gotta thank our crew, who puts this show up every night. I gotta thank Jon Landau, Barbara Carr – my longtime partners. The older you get, the more it means.”
“For the final night of their European tour,” summarizes Price, “Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band delivered three hours and 18 minutes of emotion packed rock and soul this evening.” “This one was a celebration of a successful tour,” concludes Stutts, “an airing of the best album he’s ever written (debatable, but not dismissible), and several tributes to the fans that went above expectations.” While I would take issue with Stutts about Springsteen’s best album, which in my opinion is Darkness On The Edge Of Town, I must agree that this is a tremendous show. Rose concludes that, “it was not a legendary last show, but it was a great last show, and it was still not a show I would have missed for anything.” However, she laments the absence of much Wrecking Ball material:
“The fact that some of the most important songs from the album that this tour was based on were nowhere near the setlist, like ‘We Are Alive’ and ‘Rocky Ground,’ is a disgrace…If you could play ‘Born In The USA’ two nights in a row then you could play ‘Jack of All Trades’ two nights in a row as well.”
The main show is augmented by six numbers from the first night of the “weekender” played on the previous evening with opening acts Josh Ritter, Damien Dempsey and Glen Hansard – a show which, overall, left Stutts less than impressed, largely due to his aversion to the complete album performance of Born In The U.S.A. These bonus tracks kick off with two tour premieres, played by sign request, in the shape of Sam Cooke’s Shake and Arthur Conley’s Sweet Soul Music, “a pair of performances,” in Stutts’ words, “that were [sic] truly impromptu.” Price writes at more length and is more impressed:
“‘There’s these kids down there that always try to stump me,’ Bruce laughed as he assessed the signs. ‘I dare you, old man!’ At this he brandished a sign for the Sam Cooke classic, ‘Shake,’ given to him by a young lad who couldn’t have been more than ten, if that. ‘We haven’t done this in many many many moons.’ A magical moment followed during which we were able to watch Bruce rehearsing the song on the spot, setting the key, singing the chorus to the band. Let’s try D! If I get bold I’ll modulate.’
It was absolutely magic. In a split second the massive E Street Band Orchestra turned into a crackerjack bar band and nailed the sucker. Bruce let his backbone slip, the horns blasted, and wide grins could be seen on Steven’s, Garry’s, and Max’s faces. Going with the flow, Bruce next chose a sign request from another young lad, this one for Arthur Conley’s spectacular soul stomp ‘Sweet Soul Music.’ Another one nailed to the ground by the redoubtable E Street Army; the horns more than rose to the occasion and rocked us silly.”
Long Time Comin’ from the Devils & Dust album, makes its second appearance of the tour, and it receives only its second full band performance, the first being the tour premiere in Coventry in June. This is followed by the always-welcome Jack of All Trades. Then we get the first song of the encore in the shape of what Stutts calls, “a stirring ‘Drive All Night’ with Glen Hansard, which elevated the show considerably…a deep track from The River featuring a brilliant guest artist.” Of this “real treat for the audience,” Price comments that, “Glen Hansard joined Bruce for one of the best versions of ‘Drive All Night’ I’ve seen, trading off verses. They added a nod to Ireland’s own Van Morrison with a line or two from ‘Here Comes The Night,’ which was sublime.” Hansard is a member of the Irish band The Frames and half of the folk rock duo The Swell Season (with Markéta Irglová) and played guitarist Outspan Foster in Alan Parker’s film The Commitments. Lastly comes the show’s final song, what Price calls a “devastatingly beautiful acoustic version” of Thunder Road.
Godfather states that the show was recorded by their own taper who is also responsible for taping the show from the previous day, as well as those from Saint-Denis (Lucille), Rome (Serenade To Rome) and Padua (We Gotta Stay Cool Tonight). The sound overall is nicely dynamic and very punchy with instruments and voices distinctly heard and it is often very impressive, though lacking a little in clarity at times. However, there is a phasing or swirling quality that overlays the sound of the first half-dozen songs, marring the quality of the sound. I was mildly surprised to find the same two adjectives utilized by hobbes4444, when referring to another recording by Stevedore, on the Jungleland website:
“Unfortunately it’s impaired quite a bit by intrusive crowd noise at times, WTCOO, My Love, 10th Ave, DITD, for example, and some of the phasing you get from outdoor gigs with light wind. No wind rumble from brief listens, but some of that swirling sound…Hats off to the taper doing a fine job in what must have been very difficult conditions. . .”
While the latter part of the comment applies equally to what we hear at first on Man At the Top, there are differences. Firstly, there is little in the way of “intrusive crowd noise” on Godfather’s tape, though the audience can be clearly heard at times. Furthermore, Stevedore writes on Jungleland that there is a, “very short patch from a lossy source during ‘Shout’ – only about ten seconds,” on his recording, whereas there is no such problem on the Godfather version. The sound of the bonus tracks is broadly similar, but less affected by the problem cited above.
The three discs are housed in Godfather’s trademark tri-fold card sleeve, with the usual range of onstage photographs. As with Lucille, the design features the relevant national flag, in this case the Irish rather than the French tricolour, which adorns three panels of the sleeve and also appears on the rear of the four-page fold-over insert with its “Joe Roberts” notes. Although, as noted above, the sound of the first few songs does call for a little tolerance, Man At The Top brings us another excellent 2013 Wrecking Ball Tour performance with a pleasing selection of bonus tracks as an added incentive.
If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)