The Giants Game (Godfatherecords G.R. 622/623/624)
Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, USA – 31 August, 2003
Disc 1: Intro, Cynthia, The Rising, Lonesome Day, Night, Lucky Town, Empty Sky, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, Spirit In The Night, Because The Night, Badlands, Two Hearts, No Surrender, Mary’s Place [/I Don’t Want To Go Home]
Disc 2: Lost In The Flood, Into The Fire, The Promised Land, Kitty’s Back, Glory Days, Born To Run, My City Of Ruins, Land Of Hope And Dreams [/People Get Ready], Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Dancing In The Dark
Disc 3: Jersey Girl
Bonus Tracks: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, USA – 30 August, 2003: Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart, Candy’s Room, Trapped, Roll Of The Dice, Out In The Street, Across The Border, Thunder Road, This Hard Land, Raise Your Hand, Pretty Flamingo, Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart (soundcheck); The Hit Factory, New York, NY, USA – March, 2001 : American Skin (41 Shots)
In contrast to the backward-looking Reunion Tour the Rising Tour of 2002-2003 is characterized by Jimmy Guterman in Runaway American Dream: Listening To Bruce Springsteen as, “a tour which took a deep breath and then peered forward.” The tour had begun in East Rutherford at the Continental Airlines Arena on 7 August 2002, so it had been in progress for more than a year by the time that the show presented here took place, having taken in Australia and New Zealand as well as North America and Europe. In the summer of 2003, Springsteen and the E Street Band returned to East Rutherford to perform ten shows at the much larger Giants Stadium, the first seven covering the period 15-27 July and the other three played on 28, 30 and 31 August.
Early on in the tour there had been a decided similarity in set lists. Indeed, Dave Marsh, in Bruce Springsteen: On Tour 1968-2005, contends, not entirely accurately, that, “for the first two weeks, the set list varied not at all.” However, later the set lists became more variable and this show actually opens with a world premiere performance, Cynthia. In common with other concerts of the time, this performance features a single main set and two encores. Brucebase features a printed set list for the show, with two songs (No Surrender and Kitty’s Back) added by hand, though not in Springsteen’s handwriting. This set list shows that Empty Sky was an addition to the set and that She’s The One gave way to Two Hearts. Unfortunately, two songs which were scheduled for the first encore, Backstreets and Seven Nights To Rock, were not played. The relatively few changes between this set list and the songs actually played would seem to suggest that Kelly-Jane Cotter, reviewing the show for the Asbury Park Press, is incorrect when she writes that, “Springsteen abandon[ed] the set list after an hour.”
It would seem that collectors are fortunate to have this final Giants Stadium concert, as commentators suggest that other shows from the stand were not necessarily as impressive. Cotter states that, “as it turned out, on many nights, you would’ve seen a decent show. On a few nights, a tepid show. But if you got tickets to last night – the final night – you know now that you lucked out.” Tom Cantillon, who atttended all ten concerts, writes on the Greasy Lake website that, “a lot of people complained about songs not heard, brief shows and what not,” though he states that he never left any of the shows with a feeling of disappointment. He goes on to contend that the performance presented here was “a truly legendary show.”
One reason for this high opinion of the show is the setlist. As Cantillon goes on to say, “what can anyone say about a show that has Night, Spirit in the Night, Because the Night, Lucky Town, Lost in the Flood, Kitty’s Back, Rosalita and Jersey Girl all wrapped up in one amazing performance?” In addition to all these favourites there was, as mentioned above, the unexpected show-opener, Cynthia. “This, argues Cotter, “boded well for a more spontaneous show and an adventurous set list.”
However, Cynthia is not the first song we hear on this release. As Wikipedia states, “by the time Summer 2003 rolled around and the U.S. multiple night stadium dates were being played, the feel of the show became somewhat looser. As each show was about to begin, the stage video screens would show Springsteen and the band relaxedly walking in from backstage, while Frank Sinatra’s classic recording of ‘Summer Wind’ was aired.” Disc 1 therefore begins with the opening strains of Summer Wind, and, as the song progresses, we hear the audience acknowledge the arrival of Springsteen and the band members. Then comes Cynthia, in a rendition similar to the version which appears on the Tracks compilation. It seems a curious choice for a set opener, being neither an audience favourite or a fast, exciting song. Mid-paced and keyboard-dominated, it has definite similarities to the ouevre of Elvis Costello And The Attractions and it would not sound at all out of place on This Years Model.
For much of the tour two numbers from The Rising, the title track and Lonesome Day, were the first songs played (though some concerts opened with an acoustic number, often Born In The U.S.A), and splendid renditions of both these songs, described by Kyle Mitschele on the Greasy Lake site as, “as polished as any versions I’ve heard,” follow Cynthia. Things then move up-tempo with a frenetic Night (a “standout” acccording to the Backstreets website), which is followed by a fine rendition of Lucky Town. I was unimpressed by the songs from Lucky Town (and its companion Human Touch), but I very much like the beefed-up [Un]Plugged performances of the album’s first two numbers, Lucky Town itself and Better Days, by Springsteen and the “Other Band.” It is good to hear the E Street Band tackle the song here, though I still think that the [Un]Plugged version is superior.
Springsteen then returns to The Rising for the next song, Empty Sky. It is a marvellously captivating performance, beginning with Springsteen’s gentle wordless vocalise and acoustic guitar and featuring sublimely discreet embellishments in the form of backing vocals, tambourine, harmonica, pedal steel and mandolin. “Scialfa’s voice,” states Cotter, “sounded ethereal.” Then we get Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, featuring a singalong section for the audience, though fortunately not, as in later tours, a solo spot for a small child. Guterman states that performances of this song, “turned out to be a live standout, a sober but endlessly enjoyable counter to the ravages of ‘Empty Sky’ and ‘You’re Missing.'” Unfortunately, though it followed Empty Sky for much of the tour, You’re Missing is absent from the setlist here.
We then get two more of Backstreets’ “standouts,” a high-spirited, boisterous Spirit In the Night and a splendid Because The Night, a combination which Mitschele calls, “a most memorable 1-2 punch, maybe one of the best parts of the night.” In a rather curious metaphor, Backstreets states that, “‘Because the Night’ sizzled like a fried egg on a hot Texas street.” As if this were not enough, a superbly energetic rendition of Badlands follows directly afterwards, with the audience singing its way through the extended instrumental coda. Energy levels are maintained by Two Hearts and an excellent No Surrender, before disc 1 closes with Mary’s Place, which features a spoken interlude in Springsteen’s preacher persona and the band introductions and, more unusually, a couple of verses from the Steve Van Zandt composition I Don’t Want To Go Home, which opens the debut album of the same name by Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes.
Disc 2 begins with another Backstreets “standout,” a stark and powerful Lost In The Flood, featuring a brief but haunting introduction and coda played here on the violin by Soozie Tyrell, but which has also been seen service in a piano version. Into The Fire is a little disappointing. While I would not go so far as Guterman, who, despite admiring the Rising version, claims the song is “a set-deflating clunker live,” I would argue that it somehow lacks the poignancy that ought to be present. Certainly, this performance is no match for Empty Sky or My City Of Ruins. Fortunately, the main set then concludes with a suitably uplifting version of The Promised Land.
The first encore number, Kitty’s Back, is played in a long, loose version lasting ten-and-a-half minutes, and featuring organ, piano, guitar and sax solos. “This song is so much fun live,” writes Mitschele, “and the band was at its best in the break in the middle, doing some really tight jamming. Roy, Danny, and then Bruce just played their hearts out on this break, and it showed.” The band then rocks out on Glory Days, Springsteen’s wry dissection of reactions to the aging process, with sports a lengthy but not terribly compelling twin-keyboard coda, before Born To Run brings the first encore to a thunderous conclusion.
The second encore, by contrast, begins quietly with and most affecting performance of My City Of Ruins, which is, for this reviewer, the high point of the entire concert. The song is sung and played with a dignified restraint and the background vocals are simply exquisite. “An unforgettable performance,” contends Tom Carpini on the Geasy Lake site, “best I’ve heard.” An appeal on behalf of the Community Food Bank Of New Jersey precedes My City Of Ruins and before the next song, Land Of Hope And Dreams, Springsteen makes a “short public service announcement” on the subject of Iraq, stating, “I think the question of whether we were misled into Iraq isn´t a Liberal or a Conservative question, it’s an American question, protecting the democracy that we ask our sons and our daughters to die for is our sacred trust, as is demanding accountability from our leaders, it’s our job as citizens, it’s a good time to be…vigilant out there….that’s the American way.” The song debuted on the Reunion Tour and, in Guterman’s estimation, “ranks among the greatest of all Springsteen compositions.” As usual, the song ends with a short excerpt from People Get Ready. A jubilant Rosalita ensues , followed by the show’s penultimate number, Dancing In The Dark, which, in Carpini’s words, “maintains the intensity level.” Unfortunately, the show was just too long to squeeze onto two CDs, so the final song, a beautifully-executed Jersey Girl (the second performance of the tour and the first with full band), opens the third disc.
Consequently, there is room for a generous selection of bonus tracks, mostly taken from the previous evening’s concert. These begin with a jaunty Janey Don’t You Lose Heart and a blistering Candy’s Room. Trapped is perhaps a little less taut than usual, though Clarence Clemons’ sax solo is most effective, and it is succeeded by an enthusiastic performance of the insubstantial Roll Of The Dice from the Human Touch album. Out In The Street carries its customary air of joie de vivre and is succeeded by a marvellous version of Across the Border from the album The Ghost Of Tom Joad. Beautifully enhanced by the additional vocals of Emmylou Harris, it outshines the album version and it is another highlight of this release. The next three songs were played consecutively during the show. Springsteen dedicated Thunder Road to Jim Berger and to his family. Berger, who gave his own life to save the lives of others on 9/11, inspiring the song You’re Missing, was a great Springsteen fan and Thunder Road was his favourite song. We then get a fine version of This Hard Land before Dave and Serge Bielanko of the band Marah join the E Street Band for Raise Your Hand. Cantillon refers to these two numbers as, respectively, “great” and “a blast.” Finally, from the show itself, comes Pretty Flamingo, in a slow, gentle and utterly gorgeous rendition, which is another highlight of this set. Completing the bonus tracks from the 30th, we get a second version of Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart, this one coming from the soundcheck. It gets underway after a false start and what sounds like someone exhaling loudly.
The final bonus track is a studio version of American Skin (41 Shots), which was premiered during the Reunion Tour and which appears on the official Live In New York City CD and DVD releases. This version was recorded at The Hit Factory in New York City, NY, on March 2001, produced by Springsteen and Chuck Plotkin. It remains unreleased though a US-only 1-track radio promotional CD-R single appeared in June 2001. This version is essentially similar to the officially released live version, though it lacks the “41 shots” intros sung by various band members and it fades out during Clarence Clemons’ saxophone solo.
Both of the shows featured here have recently been torrented. As the Brucebase website states : “The soundcheck [from the 30th] exists as an IEM feed (with many drop outs). There is an IEM/AUD mix from the über series (‘Across The Border In Jersey’, ev2). The IEM source has quite many skips every now and then – even more in the encores…[The show from the 31st is] again available on a IEM/AUD mix from the über series – ‘Giant House Party in Jersey’ (ev2). The IEM source has a few very short (about a second) skips but it’s mostly very unnoticeable.” It would seem logical to assume that the problems mentioned in regard to the first of the two shows led to Godfather choosing the second of them for the main set here, while utilizing the first show for the bonus tracks. The IEM/audience matrix creates a full, clear stereo sound which makes this release very enjoyable to listen to. However, there are some balance problems on two or three occasions, most noticeably on Kitty’s Back, where Clarence Clemons’ saxophone solo is barely audible. The skips mentioned by Brucebase are few and far between on the Godfather release and do little to diminish the listener’s enjoyment. The level of audience noise is just about right, adding atmosphere without becoming obtrusive The bonus tracks from the previous night are in comparable sound. The soundcheck version of Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart sounds a trifle brash and is plagued by the drop outs that Brucebase mentions. As befits something that was officially circulated, albeit in a restricted fashion, American Skin (41 Shots) comes in excellent studio sound.
This release comes in Godfather’s trademark tri-fold sleeve, which features several onstage photographs from Rising Tour shows. The main shot on the front cover comes from Fenway Park, Boston in September, the rear cover photo showing an acrobatic Springsteen dangling upside-down from his microphone stand is from the earlier section of the Giants Stadium stand and the main shot on the inner part of the sleeve from New York’s Shea Stadium, where the tour concluded in October. The inner sections of the sleeve also contain a posed black-and-white photograph of the entire band, with the personnel and their instruments listed, together with the usual “Joe Roberts” notes. The track listing appears on the rear of the sleeve. There is no booklet.
While it may be an exaggeration by Cantillon to accord it “truly legendary” status, this is certainly a very fine show, possessed of an interesting and highly enjoyable setlist which led Cotter’s review to be headlined, “Bruce Digs Deep for NJ Closer – Concertgoers Hear Rarities.” Add to this a judiciously chosen selection of bonus tracks, generally impressive sound and attractive packaging, and you have a release which should have a wide appeal among Springsteen collectors.
If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)