18 May 2012, Cliff @ 10:12 am
My Home’s Here In These Meadowlands (Godfatherecords G.R. 743/744)
Izod Center, East Rutherford, NJ, USA – 4 April 2012
Disc 1: Intro, We Take Care Of Our Own, Wrecking Ball, The Ties That Bind, Death To My Hometown, My City Of Ruins, Candy’s Room, Johnny 99, Jack Of All Trades, Jackson Cage, She’s The One, Easy Money, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Promised Land
Disc 2: Racing In The Street, Apollo Medley [The Way You Do The Things You Do/634-5789 (Soulsville U.S.A.)], The Rising, We Are Alive, Thunder Road, Trapped, Rocky Ground, Ramrod, Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
After being astonishingly quick off the mark with its release of the pre-tour show at the Apollo Theater, the Godfather label now offers the first silver release of a concert from the Wrecking Ball Tour itself. The label has chosen well; commentators have been extremely positive about the performance, reckoning it to be the best, or at least among the best, of the tour so far, and, in some cases, comparing it favourably with the show at the same venue on the previous evening. The show saw, “Bruce and the E Street Band showing ‘em how it’s done,” according to the anonymous writer on the Backstreets website, ”one of those nights when they seem untouchable. After Tuesday’s show didn’t quite reach the bar set in Tampa and DC, Wednesday’s Meadowlands set was a stellar performance, extremely spirited, with tour premieres flying fast and furious.” Other reviewers have also argued that the number of tour premieres contributed to the quality of the performance. “Oh there’s just so many highlights,” writes Stan Goldstein on nj.com, “Bruce Springsteen’s Wednesday night show at the Izod Center in East Rutherford was a memorable one: Five tour premieres and an overall hot show from start to finish…one of the shorter shows on the tour, but definitely one of the best, maybe the best so far of the nine shows.” Even posters on the Stone Pony London message board, where Springsteen’s previous tour in support of Working On A Dream was met with a decidedly underwhelming response, were impressed, with comments such as: “great show, and interesting setlist” (Bobby G); “I was blown away with how good this show was and how much I enjoyed it. Dont [sic] think all the new stuff works…but overall show was excellent” (315780); “Another great show tonight, albeit a short one…The tour premieres were all fantastic” (IvanNF); “amazing show” (Brucelegs); “ WOW!!!!!!!!! Tonight’s show was off the hook amazing! Great premieres…Bruce and the Band sounded hotter than ever” (Bossfan12).
The first thing we hear is the final pre-show song played over the PA, Big Boss Man, written in 1960 by Luther Dixon and Al Smith for Jimmy Reed and later recorded by a variety of artists including Elvis Presley and B. B. King. Springsteen then weighs in with a spoken introduction which is mercifully shorter that that from the Apollo. “New Jersey!” he cries, “get your lazy asses out of those seats! Are you ready for the romp in the swamp, take 2?” Judging by the huge cheers, the audience is more than ready, and Springsteen and the band launch into a brash and energetic We Take Care Of Our Own which gets the show off to a great start. “Blown away!” enthuses Jack of Hearts on the Greasy Lake website, ”We Take Care of Our Own rocks!” Wrecking Ball makes for a terrific follow-up to the opening number. The song really takes off when the horns make thir entry and the song is also enhanced by the contribution of the backing singers. Predictably, the cheers loudly again when Springsteen sings the line, “Now my home’s here in the Meadowlands.” Tour premiere The Ties That Bind receives a splendidly vibrant performance, with Jake Clemons featuring effectively on saxophone. “Jake Clemons did a nice job on the sax solo,” writes Goldstein and Jay Lustig agrees in his live blog on nj.com, noting a ”good sax solo by Jake Clemons, who really puts his own spin on song.” Clemons’ performance is all the more impressive when one considers Backstreets’ contention that, “to give you an idea of how impromptu some of this stuff is, they just ran through this one in a band meeting backstage before the show, Steven working with Jake on the solo.”
Next up is Death To My Hometown and the song’s military overtones saw Springsteen practically marching on the spot at times. Springsteen addresses the audience at the start of My City Of Ruins. “We’re so glad to be back in the swampy Meadowlands tonight, where we opened this building thirty years ago.” Originally, he points out, “they named it after a human being,” then adding, in a tone of mock incredulity which elicits much laughter from the audience, “I’m not kidding ya. Now it’s named after a shirt.” (The “human being” in question was New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne.) As with the Apollo performance, the horns and backing singers make a splendid contribution to the song and the band members get to perform brief solos when Springsteen introduces them. Late band members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici are once again referenced when Springsteen asks the audience, “are we missing anybody?” After this rather mellow interlude things move uptempo with what Tommy C, posting on the Geasy Lake website, calls a “blistering” Candy’s Room, the second tour premiere. The Backstreets reviewer comments that, ”Bruce’s vocal on ‘Candy’s Room’ gave it a different tone and feel, a guttural confession in the beginning before the whole thing goes into overdrive.” The performance of next number, Johnny 99, has garnered numerous plaudits. The Backstreets writer states: ”Another kick-ass new addition to the set, up there with ‘Racing,’ was ‘Johnny 99,’ spotlighting the horns…the guys…really used to great effect (and loud enough to blessedly drown out much of the ‘woo-woo’ locomotive sounds)…If Springsteen has more where that came from, watch out: ‘Johnny 99′ was a stunner.” Bossfan12 mentions it, along with The Ties That Bind and Candy’s Room, as one of three songs that “were smoking hot.” “Good barrel house piano solo by Roy Bittan and and a sharp guitar solo by Steven Van Zandt as well,” notes Lustig, “great ending to song with all the horn players wailing away.” “We’ve been waiting to do that,” says Springsteen of this third tour premiere, “We’ve been waiting to bust that out.”
The downbeat Jack Of All Trades is prefaced by Springsteen speaking to the audience about increasing social inequality, ironically commenting on the” free pass” that the system gives to, “the folks at the top and rich guitar players.” The performance is suitably melancholy and Curt Ramm’s trumpet part is simply heart rending. This is followed by what Tommy C calls a “powerful” Jackson Cage. Lustig, rather awkwardly, refers to it as an, ”ultra-melodramatic (in a good way) version.” Then comes a wonderfully flamboyant She’s The One. “Once again,” notes Goldstein, “Jake nails the sax solo.” Springsteen then returns to Wrecking Ball for Easy Money. “Tonight showed what Bruce and the band – and a Wrecking Ball tour set – can do,” states Backstreets, “Even with all the rarities, there were still seven songs from the new record, and they all packed a punch: ‘Easy Money,’ for one, stood out as a real showcase of E Street mettle.”
Waitin’ On A Sunny Day is fresh and joyful, and when Springsteen invites two young girls on to the stage to make a vocal contribution and they acquit themselves pretty well. A moment of inadvertent poignancy occurs when, for obvious reasons, the youngsters finish their brief stint by shouting, “Come on the E Street Band!” rather than, “Take it, Big Man!” Strangely, perhaps, I found that it was this moment which rammed home the sad fact that Clarence Clemons is no longer with us. The next number is the anthemic The Promised Land, which closes the first disc. It is the one song from this show which has received negative comments from some commentators. Lustig considers it to be, ”a big sluggish.” “I agree,” states Goldstein, ”yes it’s a classic, but it could use a break every now and then.” Despite these caveats, I found it to be an enjoyable performance.
Disc two kicks off with the fourth tour premiere, a splendid version of the classic Racing In The Street. Springsteen’s mature voice delivers the lyrics in a somewhat world weary tone which is entirely appropriate to the song, but, as always, the star here is pianist Roy Bittan, who gets to play an extended coda. Commentators were hugely impressed. Brucebase calls it, “a beautiful ‘Racing In The Street’ is the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album version.” “In its classic incarnation, rather than the alternate from The Promise box, ‘Racing’ was the majestic highlight of the night.” comments Backstreets, “subtle horn fills added color, and the outro soared with Roy’s eloquent piano, Garry’s basslines cranked up, and Max building it all to crescendo after crescendo. E Street orchestration at its finest.” “Magnificent,” opines Tommy C, “Bruce should be playing that one more often. Simply amazing to watch the band kick in during the outro and take it to another whole level.” If Lustig and Goldstein were disappointed by The Promised Land, Racing In The Street clearly assuaged that disappointment. ”Long, spellbinding Roy Bittan solo, with the horns adding grandeur,” states Lustig, ”highlight of the show, so far, for me.” A “superb version,” is the opinion of Goldstein, “nice job by Everett Bradley on the congos which was a nice touch. Roy Bittan’s piano is always wonderful and the horns joined in at the end. One of the night’s highlights.” Similarly, Bobby G reckons that,”Racing In The Street was sublime, and the high point of the night.”
The “Apollo Medley”(as Springsteen refers to it in his handwritten setlists) consists of the two soul numbers, The Way You Do The Things You Do and 634-5789 (Soulsville U.S.A.), familiar from the Apollo show and heard on Godfather’s Folk ‘N’ Roll In The Temple Of Soul and Crystal Cat’s Apollo, and they are again most enjoyable here with effective contributions from the horns and backing singers. During the spoken introduction, Springsteen mentions how, “we got stuck with the soul bug again,” after playing the songs at the Apollo.
The main set then ends with the already established trio of The Rising, We Are Alive and Thunder Road. We Are Alive, of course contains a louder, faster section later in the song, but the slow acoustic beginning, with Springsteen’s semi-whispered vocals, provides a most effective contrast with the stirring and dignified performance of The Rising, which it follows without a break. The audience gets to sing a longer than usual section of Thunder Road, which, despite being a trifle stately, nonetheless acts as an effective set closer.
There follow what Jack of Hearts rightly calls, “terrific encores.” First up is a splendidly taut performance of Jimmy Cliff’s Trapped, the opening notes greeted with delight by the audience which sings along throughout. This was the first time on the tour that the encore did not start with Rocky Ground. Goldstein states that Springsteen played Trapped in response to a sign held up in the audience. Rocky Ground, however, does follow, and Springsteen dedicates it to some family members on the occasion of their thirtieth wedding anniversary. It is a terrific performance and Michelle Moore shines, especially in the rap segment. “‘Rocky Ground’ seems to really have found its feet in New Jersey,” argues the Backstreets reviewer, “magnificent performances of this song on both nights with Michelle Moore.” Quite why Moore only takes the stage for this one song is a mystery – she would surely be a fine addition to the ranks of backing vocalists who contribute throughout the show.
Springsteen cries that Jake Clemons “must be tested” at the start of a raucous Ramrod, seemingly a spur of the moment addition to the set list and “a blast,” according to Bossfan12. “And lest you think ‘Ramrod’ is a walk in the park, it did test him,” states Backstreets, “bringing a squawk or two – probably the first bum notes we’ve heard out of Jake since this whole thing started. Call it the exception that proves the rule: he’s been a virtually flawless player, better than anyone had a right to expect, and the crowd seems to love him more and more ech night.” Bobby G agrees, arguing that, ”Jake is really doing an excellent job,” and Lustig concurs, stating that, “Jake passes with flying colors.”
Born To Run receives a superbly spirited and most exciting performance. “House lights up, everyone up, place goes nuts.” comments Goldstein, ”always seemed a bit extra special when played in New Jersey.” The momentum is maintained with Dancing In The Dark, during which, with the house lights still on, Springsteen danced with a young woman plucked from the audience. The show ends with a wonderfully vibrant Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, with long and loud audience cheers during the lengthy pause after Springsteen sings that, “the Big Man joined the band,” and the screen showed a video montage of Clarence Clemons through the years.
Brucebase mentions two audience tapes by Bakerstuff and FatahRuark. However, I understand that Godfather utilizes neither of these, but instead presents us with a recording made by the same taper who has occasionally taped shows specifically for the label on previous occasions. It is a full, dynamic recording with an impressive bottom end which gives the sound plenty of presence, especially when played at high volume. The quality of the sound really brings out the horns and the backing vocalists, who contribute so effectively to the performance, and the Apollo Medley, for example, sounds superb. It is also noteworthy that the impressive sound adds considerably to the visceral impact of Born To Run, which often sounds muddied in live recordings. Only occasionally does the sound picture lack a little clarity. The audience is heard clearly throughout and adds to the atmosphere, and is only very rarely intrusive. Overall, the sound is most impressive and I found that the presence and punchiness of the sound enhanced the enjoyment of this tremendous show.
The two discs are housed in Godfather’s customary tri-fold card sleeve, which is adorned with several onstage shots of Springsteen and the band. The tracklist appears on the rear, though there is no list of band personnel. There is no booklet though there are short and none-too-original sleeve notes, which are, as usual, credited to “Joe Roberts.”
The Backstreets writer summed up the show thus: “Tonight showed what Bruce and the band – and a Wrecking Ball tour set – can do. Even with all the rarities, there were still seven songs from the new record, and they all packed a punch…the way you do the things you do on a night like this is something we should all be lucky enough to see.” Even if we weren’t there to see it, we are now, courtesy of Godfather, lucky enough to be able to listen to the show as often as we wish.
If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]Bruce Springsteen - My Home's Here In These Meadowlands (Godfatherecords G.R. 743/744),