A Dream Where Everything Goes Right (Godfatherecords G.R. 454/455/456)
The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA, USA – 20 October, 2009
Disc 1: The Price You Pay, Wrecking Ball, Out In The Street, Hungry Heart, Working On a Dream, Born In The USA Introduction, Born In The USA, Cover Me, Darlington County, Working On The Highway, Downbound Train, I’m On Fire, No Surrender, Bobby Jean
Disc 2: I’m Going Down, Glory Days, Dancing In The Dark, My Hometown, The Promised Land, The River, Long Walk Home, The Rising, Born To Run, [(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me)] Higher And Higher, Spirit In The Night
Disc 3: Loose Ends, Kitty’s Back, American Land, Save The Last Dance For Me, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, Thunder Road, Flying High [Fanfare For Rocky]/Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Bonus tracks: The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA, USA – 13 October, 2009: Seaside Bar Song, Little Bit O’ Soul; 14 October, 2009: What Love Can Do; 19 October, 2009: When You Walk In The Room, I Wanna Marry You, All Shook Up/Blue Suede Shoes
After several shows at a soon-to-be-demolished stadium featuring complete album performances Springsteen followed up with…several shows at a soon-to-be demolished stadium featuring complete album performances! Unlike the five show stand at the Giants Stadium earlier in the month, however, the E Street Band’s four show stand at the Spectrum (13, 14. 19 and 20 October 2009) did not include the very last show played there, that honour falling to Pearl Jam on 31 October. Godfather has previously released a Giants Stadium show, which showcased the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album (Rocking Down The Giants, already reviewed); now we have the fourth and final Spectrum concert, which features the Born In The USA LP.
Reviewers and commentators on the Giants Stadium show rightly saw the performance of Darkness as the centrepiece and highlight of the concert; perhaps surprisingly, the emphasis here has been placed less on Born In The USA than on the “two long-lost gems,” as the Point Blank website calls them, which opened and closed the main set, and particularly on the show opener, The Price You Pay, last played in Brighton on 27 May, 1981. Writers on the Backstreets, Bruce Springsteen and Point Blank websites all focus on these two numbers, with the Backstreets reviewer beginning by stating that, “they’re serving ice water in Hell tonight. Pigs have been spotted flying over the eastern seaboard. And ‘The Price You Pay’…opened the final show of the Philly stand.” However, it was not just the rarity of the song which provoked excited comment, but also the performance. “And what a performance it was!” comments Glenn Radecki on Springsteen’s official site, “It mirrored the album arrangement (rather than the one used on the River tour) with Curt Ramm’s trumpet addding to the introductory melody. Bruce even took to encouraging the crowd to sing along to the melody lines, and when it came time for the passionate ‘tear it down and throw it away’ line, he nailed it.” Bearing this in mind it it unsurprising that Godfather paraphrases a line from the song to give this release its title (though in the song things go wrong).
Wrecking Ball then receives a fine performance, rather more animated than either version on Rocking Down The Giants, and with the lyrics modified to accomodate the Philadelphia setting. This is followd by Out In The Street, jaunty and good-natured as ever, and then a spirited Hungry Heart gives the audience a chance to contribute vocally and Springsteen a chance (as a photo on the sleeve shows) to indulge in a spot of crowd-surfing. This is followed by a vivacious Working On A Dream, complete, of course, with the usual house building speech during which Springsteen refers to the Spectrum as “one of the last of the great rock ‘n’ roll arenas.” Then it is time for the centrepiece of the show, a complete performance of the 1984 album, Born In The USA.
Godfather’s booklet notes are refreshingly honest in stating that of the three albums receiving complete performances at the Spectrum concerts (the others being Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town), Born In The USA constitutes the one “his hard-core fans were the least excited to hear.” Springsteen begins by dedicating the title track to a Vietnam veteran friend. It is played in a thunderous rendition with an intense vocal performance from Springsteen which reminds us that, as the booklet says, this was one if his “grimmest, most desperate tales of social and personal alienation.” Things lighten up somewhat with Cover Me, which, according to Backstreets was “rocking with a fiery solo from Nils.” The slower-paced Darlington County gives way to a rendition of Working On The Highway that, like the version from Turin in July 2009, features a long drum introduction and acoustic guitar, and a lengthy coda. After highly atmospheric readings of Downbound Train and I’m On Fire the band moves into anthemic mode for No Surrender and Bobby Jean, the latter of which brings the first disc to a close. As with Darkness On The Edge Of Town on the Rocking Down The Giants release, the structure of the concert means that the album is split unnaturally between the discs, at a point other than where the side-break occurred on the original LP.
Disc two therefore begins with the album’s final four tracks, kicking off with rousing versions of I’m Goin’ Down and Glory Days. Springsteen then danced with his mother, Adele (not for the first time) during a breezy Dancing In The Dark. The album sequence then ends with a fine rendition of My Hometown, nostalgic but without shallow sentiment.
The final section of the main set begins with a stirring The Promised Land, which is followed by a moving performance of The River, which the Backstreets website calls “an unexpected highlight” of the show. Long Walk Home once again showcases Steve Van Zandt’s vocals in its latter stages, and this is succeeded by the usual fine version of The Rising. A triumphant Born To Run, featuring the usual extended mid-song crescendo and a lenghthy cacophonous ending, does not, in this instance, close the set, but is followed by the second of Point Blank’s “long-lost gems.”
This takes the form of Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher, which receives, according to Point Blank, “a terrific performance.” The Backstreets website calls this “another mind-blower…an absolutely phenomenal performance,” and In the words of “one regular show-goer” quoted on the site, “it was the best, most exuberant Bruce Springsteen performance I’ve seen since the end of the Seeger Sessons tour…he became Jackie Wilson performing that song.” Radecki comments that, “the song had it all…His take on Higher And Higher was truly revelatory and one of the finest performances I’ve been privileged to see.” He then proceeds to suggest a most interesting scenario: “If Bruce is looking for a new musical challenge after this tour ends, one can only hope that he considers an R&B/soul sessions project in the same vein as the Seeger Sessions.” Now, wouldn’t that be something!
Disc two does not end here, however,but includes the first song from the encore, Spirit In The Night. After a brief speech in support of Philabundance, the local food relief organization, Springsteen announces a surprise change in personnel, as Max Weinberg vacates the drummer’s stool for this one song in favour of orginal E Street Band member Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez.
The third disc begins with what Point Blank calls a “vibrant” rendition of Loose Ends, a personal favourite which is described by Backstreets as “the great long-lost River outtake.” Then comes what Point Blank calls a “delirious” performance of Kitty’s Back, fourteen minutes long, loose and effervescent, with entended soloing. The Backstreets writer was also impressed, stating that, “‘Kitty’ kicked ass, with Charlie’s organ solo kicking over to Curt’s trumpet, then Roy’s piano, then finally over to Bruce’s searing guitar.” Ramm’s trumpet solo fits the song perfectly, Bittan’s piano solo includes a snippet of music familiar from the James Bond films, and there is also input from Clarence Clemons’ saxophone which the Backstreets writer neglects to mention. Then comes the usual barnstorming performance of American Land, complete with introductions of the members of the “legendary” E Street Band. I was pleased to see a reminder in Godfather’s booklet notes that, despite musically resembling an “Irish jig,” the song has a more weighty underlying message, chronicling the hardships suffered by immigrants and their role in building the USA, and criticizing modern anti-immigration feelings. Although the song has its crowd-pleasing aspect, I have often felt that, by placing the song at or near the end of shows and including the band introductions, Springsteen has undermined the song’s serious message.
We are then offered a treat in the shape of what Backstreets calls “a very nice, and nicely apropos take on the Drifters’ ‘Save The Last Dance For Me.'” The song is soulful, beautifully performed with gorgeous backing vocals, and a highlight of the show. This is followed by Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, with its usual vocal input from junior members of the audience, and the quintessential Springsteen number Thunder Road, before the show finally closes with Rosalita. This begins with trumpeter Curt Ramm playing the brief Fanfare For Rocky, acknowledging the fictional boxer’s Philadelphia connections, and he contributes splendidly throughout, helping to bring Springsteen’s final Spectrum concert to an appropriately rollicking conclusion. One imagines that this must have been an emotional moment for him. Philadelphia provided Springsteen with an early fan base and both his first arena shows as a support act (supporting Chicago in 1973) and a headliner (1976) were at the Spectrum.
Godfather’s bonus tracks all emanate from the other Spectrum shows and they provide a very desirable addition to this set. They begin with the show opener from 13 October, Seaside Bar Song. The Backstreets website argues that the “fun and high energy” of the song set the tone for the “light and freewheeling” nature of the show, although it is a little slower than the classic version familiar to long-term collectors from the vinyl bootleg, Fire On The Fingertips. Also from the 13th is the E Street Band’s first stab at The Music Explosion’s 1967 hit, Little Bit O’ Soul, continuing the “good fun,” according to Backstreets with, in the words of Magnus Lauglo on Springsteen’s official site, a “shaky but heartfelt” performance. From the next night we get the debut of the Working On A Dream track What Love Can Do. Lauglo writes that it is, “one of the few true rock songs on the much-neglected new album, and the E Street band puts its usual muscle behind the sinewy, taut rocker.” Dante Cutrona, writing on the Backstreets site, comments that it “was played with a fervor and familiarity that made it seem as if the band had been playing the song for years.” It is a shame that this song has not featured regularly during the tour.
The remainder of the bonus tracks come from 19 October. First up is show opener When You Walk In The Room, a song perhaps most familiar to collectors from its performance at the Bottom Line in New York on 15 August 1975, and not played since the show at the Allen Theater in Cleveland on 8 April 1976. “Fabulous,” enthuses Point Blank, “a great way to begin,” although the performance is just a little staid. The next song was played for a man in the audience and the woman to whom he had just proposed. Their request was Two Hearts but, that song having already been played, Springsteen substituted the entirely appropriate I Wanna Marry You, a rarity not performed at an E Street Band show since the concert at the Rosemant Horizon in Chicago on 11 September, 1981. Jason Franks, on Springsteen’s website, calls this “a stellar version.” Finally, we get something truly bizarre, as Springsteen is joined on stage by a fully-costumed Elvis impersonator, plucked from the audience for a performance of All Shook Up. Not only does “Elvis” sing lead vocals but the asssumes the role of band leader, offering Springsteen a solo with the words, “take it, Bruce!” and leading the band into a second Presley number, Blue Suede Shoes.
The sound quality of this release is very good indeed and eminently listenable. It is similar to, but to my ears has a clear edge on, the sound on Rocking Down The Giants. It comes in Godfather’s customary high quality tri-fold packaging, and there is additionally a four page foldover booklet with the usual notes by “Joe Roberts.” The packaging features numerous onstage photographs, in some of which Springsteen is wearing the flat cap he donned during the show. There are a couple of shots of Springsteen dancing with his mother, and two of Vini Lopez during and afterafter his performance on Spirit In The Night. Rocking Down The Giants features a finer performance overall and includes Darkness On The Edge Of Town, a far better album than Born In The USA in my opinion. Unlike that release, I would therefore not rate this as an essential acquisition, but there are some gems here and this set is well worth having.