The Italian Promise (Godfatherecords G.R. 761/762/763)
Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy – 7 June, 2012
Disc 1: Intro: Once Upon A Time In The West, We Take Care of Our Own, Wrecking Ball, Badlands, Death to My Hometown, My City of Ruins, Spirit in the Night, The E Street Shuffle, Jack of All Trades, Candy’s Room, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Johnny 99
Disc 2: Out In The Street, No Surrender, Working on the Highway, Shackled And Drawn, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Promised Land, The Promise, The River, The Rising, Radio Nowhere, We Are Alive, Land of Hope And Dreams
Disc 3: Rocky Ground, Born in the U.S.A., Born to Run, Cadillac Ranch, Hungry Heart, Bobby Jean, Dancing in the Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, Glory Days, Twist and Shout
With this release Godfather presents us with a recording of what has been widely reported to have been the second-longest show of Springsteen’s career, clocking in at three hours and thirty-eight minutes and exceeded, with a duration of three hours and forty-three minutes, only by the 31 December 1980 concert at the Nassau Coliseum. While lavishing praise on the performance, the Brucebase website casts some doubt upon this assertion, stating: “Bruce’s fourth appearance at the famous San Siro and he produces an incredible 33-song set that clocks in at over three-and-a-half hours. This magical night in Milan became one of the longest shows Bruce has ever done, only the New Years Eve show in 1980 at Nassau Coliseum, the final night of the Born In The U.S.A. Tour in Los Angeles and the Concert To Fight Hunger in 1993 can be confirmed as longer. Others (such as December 29, 1980) could well have been longer, but edited tapes makes it difficult to be certain.” One thing that is certain, however, is that Springsteen has since played a longer show, in Madrid on 17 June, lasting for three hours and forty-eight minutes. This has just been released by Godfather with the title Spanish Eyes and it will be reviewed shortly.
As the Springsteen and the E Street Band enter the stage we hear the theme from Sergio Leone’s film Once Upon A Time In The West. This is cut short as the band launches into an energetic We Take Care Of Our Own. Redbossfan, posting a review of the show on passioncolourseverything.com, was clearly impressed by the start of the show, commenting, “‘Wrecking Ball,’ ‘Badlands,’ ‘Death to my Hometown,’ every song delivered like a punch, not leaving much room to breathe.” Badlands, in particular is superb, with much audience participation to boost the joyous atmosphere.
After all this excitement, things calm down a little for the soulful arrangement of My City of Ruins, to which the horns and the backing singers contribute most effectively. During the spoken intro Springsteen adresses the audience in both Italian and English, as he does during the usual mid-song “roll-call,” with its introduction of current band members and its nod to the unnamed departed. Spirit in the Night and The E Street Shuffle both, according to jj74 on the Stone Pony London message board, inject an element of “pure fun” into the show. Springsteen’s decision to begin with an address to the audience, in mock-preacher persona, about the E Street Band’s “mission” unfortunately does nothing to enhance the song, though the horn section beefs up the song nicely. The E Street Shuffle, in its fast incarnation, is always a delight, and this version, with its duel between percussionist Everett Bradley and drummer Max Weinberg, is no exception. The show then takes a sombre turn with Jack of All Trades, with an introduction in Italian and poignant trumpet playing from Curt Ramm. This is followed by a blistering Candy’s Room and what redbossfan calls “a great rendition” of Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Disc one concludes with Johnny 99 which, as redbossfan writes, “had the entire stadium jumping and dancing.” Justifiably, however, jj74 has some reservations about the current version of the song, stating, “funny how everybody were happily dancing during Johnny 99, the crowd went crazy for that, most people clearly don’t know what the song is about and of course this arrangement doesn’t help.” While I enjoyed this upbeat version of the song, which contains solos from pianist Roy Bittan and guitarist Steve Van Zandt, features a prominent contribution from the horn section (principally Ramm) and retains the train whistle backing vocals from the Working On A Dream Tour, I do feel that jj74 has a point; the same, I think, applies to the use on the last tour of American Land as a celebratory set-closer, which, enjoyable as it was musically, undermined the tragic element inherent in the lyrics.
An exuberant Out in the Street, as redbossfan puts it, “kept the party going,” though with the band launching into this song without hesitation, it’s appearance at the start of the second CD constitutes an unfortunate disc break. Perhaps it is the party atmosphere which accounts for a mistake or two. Redbossfan writes that, “Bruce fucked up ‘No Surrender’ twice and blames the E Street Band for it, before finally getting it right.” This is also referred to by tailschao on the Stone Pony London message board, who states that, “Bruce fucked up No Surrender twice. As usual he claimed that ‘the E Street Band fucked up,’ when actually Bruce had come in 2 beats late with his guitar part of the intro TWICE. He then did the same thing at the start of Working On The Highway, but then it was just Bruce & Max so Max just conformed to what Bruce was doing. Get your act together, Bruce.” However, despite noting the “false starts,” Corrado Passoni and Graeme Johannesen, on the Backstreets website, consider this enthusiastic performance to be “superb,” a contention which which I would agree; Working On The Highway also serves to keep the celebratory atmosphere going.
Springsteen’s call-and-response with the audience introduces Shackled And Drawn, which highlights Cindy Mizelle’s vocals to great effect. The additional vocal contribution on Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, of course, normally comes from a child drawn from the audience. Here, however, we have two, a rather shy and reluctant girl and a more confident boy. (The girl came on to the stage, whereas Springsteen went into the audience and held out the microphone for the boy.) Then comes a fine rendition of the anthemic The Promised Land.
Aftrer the wonderful full-band incarnation of The Promise Godfather included among the bonus tracks of its previous Springsteen release, Burnin’ Down The Clock, what we get here is the solo piano version. As with the full-band rendition, however, the attributes of the song seemed lost on the more casual Springsteen fans. Redbossfan reports that, “as he started striking the keys, the die-hard fans separated from the rest, the former looking at each other in disbelief, cheering, the latter oblivious to the miracle that was just happening in front of them: Bruce playing ‘The Promise’. It was a beautiful version too.” Praise for the performance is widespread. “The Promise on piano worked really well,” argues jj74, “even in such a crowded stadium.” On Backstreets’ BTX forum, Tulleberg, posts, “The promise, solo on piano…. great,” and HeyJazzMen comments, “The Promise solo… that’s a highlight for you right there.” Stan Goldstein, on nj.com, also considers the song a “highlight.”
“‘The River’ was great,” writes redbossfan, “with everyone singing along.” Even with the participation of a large audience, Springsteen and the band manage to make the song both moving and intimate, especially at the end, with its wordless vocalise and harmonica part. This is followed by a fine performance of The Rising and then we hear Radio Nowhere, which is, as redbossfan contends, “a song that always works great live.” Then it is back to the new album with We Are Alive, the quiet, atmospheric start giving way to an energetic performance of the faster section with its echos of Johnny Cash’s Ring Of Fire. Redbossfan considers it “beautiful.” The main set concludes with an excellent rendition of Land of Hope And Dreams concluding, as is cutomary, with a snippet of People Get Ready.
“However,” state Passoni and Johanssen, ” the real fun came with the encores…’Rocky Ground’… began an immense encore set (ten songs altogether!) that rocked San Siro to the foundations.” A thunderous Born in the U.S.A. is followed by an enthralling Born to Run and the best of the rockers from The River, Cadillac Ranch, considered another “highlight” by Goldstein. The audience gets another vocal opportunity at the start of Hungry Heart, before the festive atmosphere is continued with Bobby Jean and a fabulous Dancing in the Dark, both of which are enhanced by sax solos from Jake Clemons, particularly his extended solo in the latter song, which also features an impressive contribution from the rest of the horn section. The carnival atmosphere of the show is captured by Passoni and Johannesen, who write: “Jake was the star of…’Bobby Jean’ and ‘Dancing in the Dark,’ complete with not one, but two girls on stage: one for Bruce, and one for Jake. Bruce had picked up a girl with the sign, ‘Can I dance with Jake?’ and she didn’t need to ask twice: the Boss sent her to dance side by side with Jake, as his final sax solo stretched out. The madness peaked when Jake’s girl’ did a ‘”Rosalita” video moment’ on Bruce, and he carried her off the stage with her arms around his neck!” The show continues with what Passoni and Johannesen call a “fantastic” performance of Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, with its mid-song tribute to the late Clarence Clemons. Springsteen ends this, in the style of the Working On A Dream Tour, by reminding the audience that, “you’ve just seen the…legendary E Street Band,” but in contrast to the majority of 2012 shows, the proceedings do not end here. The ecstatic audience and thefortunate CD listener are treated to an ebullient Glory Days and a rendition of Twist and Shout, with a prominent trumpet part from Ramm, of which redbossfan writes, “the show finally ended with a powerful version of ‘Twist and Shout’. One last time for everyone to sing along, to jump and dance and then it was over.”
As with the Seville show, there were few surpises, but unlike that show, this one most definitely transcended the limitations of the setlist. As Goldstein comments, “set list-wise, it wasn’t a legendary show, but it definitely was a memorable night.” Redbossfan, in similar vein, writes, “I had fun and the concert was one big party, but the setlist was still pretty standard.” Skywriter, posting on SPL, agrees, writing, “let’s face it: milan is always about energy, italian craziness, dancing and crowd pleasers. the main set was setlist-wise kinda uninspired.” Roberto, also on SPL expresses similar feelings, but is much more effusive in his description of the show, arguing that, “if you only take setlist into account, probably it doesn’t looks any impressive. Maybe look too standard, maybe you don’t think you have lost any worthy thing. But , let me say, having seen 35 shows in 9 different countries (including Ireland, Spain, Sweden or NJ), this San Siro night was the most joyful and funny show I have ever attended; maybe not the best sounding, sure not the best setlist… but, after all, what is a R&R show but fun and joy? WOW, what a show!” Other SPL posters are also very impressed. ESTREETMAN claims that, “I’ve been to 50+ shows now around Europe but I’ve never seen a show like last night, the crowd are unbelievable I am so glad I finally got to a Milan show, it was beyond special, truly brilliant.” Lamarider considers it, “the most loose show I’ve seen…great, great atmosphere!” Lastly from SPL, fxstb states, “what an unbelievable night !!!” Passsoni and Johannesen reckon that, “the band was simply on fire.”
The source for this release is an excellent audience recording with full, clear and dynamic sound. The sound of the opening number, We Take Care Of Our Own, leaves a little to be desired, there is a noticeable diminution in sound quality for a while in Spirit In The Night and the first three numbers on disc two, Out in the Street, No Surrender and Working On The Highway, sound rather less clear than the rest of the show. Overall, however, the high quality of the sound serves to enhance enjoyment of a terrific show and the taper’s achievement is the more impressive considering that the sound in the stadium was not top notch, as evidenced by Roberto’s comment, quoted above, that the show is, “maybe not the best sounding.”
The discs are housed in Godfather’s customary tri-fold sleeve, which features numerous onstage shots of Springsteen and band members. The tracklisting is on the rear and the back of the front flap displays the band personnel. There is an eight-page booklet with further onstage shots and extensive “Joe Roberts” notes and also a mini-poster showing Springsteen on stage on the front and the band on the reverse together with a list of shows from the European leg of the Wracking Ball Tour, the poster promoting the show (also seen above on the front cover) and a ticket. Overall, the effect is very pleasing.
This record of a “magical night in Milan,” sounding impressive and with attractive packaging, is an essential document of the Wrecking Ball Tour. Do not hesitate.
If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)