A Good job In The City (Godfatherecords G.R. 390/391)
L.A. Sports Arena, Los Angeles, CA, USA – 16 April 2009
Disc 1: Badlands, Candy’s Room, Outlaw Pete, No Surrender, Adam Raised A Cain, Working On A Dream, Seeds, Johnny 99, Youngstown, Raise Your Hand, Proud Mary, Growin’ Up, Hungry Heart, The Promised Land
Disc 2: The Wrestler, Backstreets, Bad Luck, Lonesome Day, The Rising, Born To Run, Encore Break, Food Bank Speech, Hard Times [Come Again No More], Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Land Of Hope And Dreams/People Get Ready, American Land, Glory Days
This is one of two recent releases by Godfather of shows from Springsteen’s current tour. (The other, from the Atlanta show of 26 April, will be reviewed in due course). The concert was the second night at the LA Sports Arena, a delapidated venue characterized by Springsteen as “the dump that jumps.” It was the first “second night” of the tour and there were eleven changes from the previous evening’s setlist. Erik Flannigan, writing on the Backstreets website, contends that early setlists have tended to be more rigid, with things loosening up as tours progressed (a statement which is certainly accurate for the preceding Magic Tour). He cites this concert as the point on the current tour when things “moved us to ‘loose’ status.” It is a tremendous performance and collectors are fortunate that Godfather have released an excellent recording of the show. It was not the first version to appear, however, being preceded by Project Zip’s CD-R release Outraw Stage (sic). Since I began this review, Crystal Cat have also produced their take on the show as L.A. Working On A Dream Night, which I hope to review soon.
The set opens with a tremendously rousing version of Badlands, with a false ending during which Springsteen asks his customary question of the audience, “is there anybody alive out there tonight?” As the song concludes, the band launches straight into a blistering performance of Candy’s Room. This is followed by Outlaw Pete, the opening track from Working On A Dream, songs from which are appearing surprisingly rarely on setlists. Here, as elsewhere on the tour, it receives an effective performance which is more robust and satisfying than the album version.
No Surrender benefits from Roy Bittan’s piano contribution and this leads into a gritty and dark-hued Adam Raised A Cain, which features a striking guitar solo. The mood then lightens somewhat with Working On A Dream, which features harmonious backing vocals from Curtis King and Cindy Mizelle. During the song Springsteen delivers a monologue to the audience concerning the symbiotic relationship between band and audience, in the form of a rather laboured, quasi-religious house-building metaphor.
The next three numbers form a potent trilogy. Seeds is possessed of a driving momentum which relentlessly grinds out its story of a family suffering from a harsh economic downturn. In the song Springsteen effectively subverts his own automobile imagery. For the unemployed parents and their children, their car is a metaphor not for escape but for confinement, and the song is a terrible reminder that poverty affects not just emotional well-being but also physical health (“My kids in the back got a graveyard cough”). An excellent full-band Johnny 99 continues the despairing theme with its tale of a drunken killer whose crime is partially motivated by the hopelessness engendered by extreme financial hardship ( “Well judge, judge I got debts no honest man could pay/The bank was holdin’ my mortgage, they were gonna take my house away”). This version features brief violin, piano and pedal steel guitar solos from Soozie Tyrell, Roy Bittan and Nils Lofgren respectively and a further solo from Tyrell and the end, together with train whistle-style vocals from King and Mizelle. Thirdly comes a superb rendition of Youngstown, weightier than the album version and featuring a fine violin contribution from Tyrell. Springsteen’s impassioned vocals in the last verse give way to a superb guitar solo from Lofgren. The song’s story of a munitions factory which nourished and supported a local community for generations before falling into decline and closure (“Now the yard’s just scrap and rubble”) is immensely affecting and it eloquently supports Springsteen’s contention that the E Street Band is an outfit “built for hard times.”
Next up is the Eddie Floyd number Raise Your Hand, a frequent request (though played here before the sign gathering) that harks back to the period 1976-1978, when it was often performed, and the band effectively conveys the song’s joyous spirit. It is followed by the first request, the Creedence Clearwater song Proud Mary, which hangs together well despite the need for some shouted instructions, helped perhaps by the memory of performances with John Fogerty during the Vote For Change concerts in 2004.
There is something of a story to the next request. Springsteen was handed a sign by a young boy with Radio Nowhere one one side and Growin’ Up on the other. Another sign requesting the latter song was provided by Neil Van Harte, who recounts the tale on Springsteen’s official website:
“My parents went to high school with Bruce and always bragged that they had a photo of him in their yearbook. It’s not the graduation picture that usually makes the rounds though. This is a photo of Bruce as a freshman wearing preppy school attire, hair coiffed just so, with a youthful eagerness and large ears that his head hadn’t grown into yet.”
Van Harte reproduced the photo on his sign which read “PLAY GROWIN UP FOR THIS GUY,” and he says that the look on Springsteen’s face was “utter disbelief and then laughter.” Springsteen showed it to a highly amused Steve Van Zandt and then to the audience, saying “who is this guy?” According to Van Harte, he didn’t provide the answer, making it a private joke between himself, Van Zandt and Van Harte, but in fact Springsteen can be heard identifying himself in the photo as “Baby Boss.” The sign can be seen on Springsteen’s website. The song is performed in a version that is fractionally slower and heavier-textured than the original (which has become the norm) and the young boy with the other sign got to sing a little at the end of the number, a nice gesture.
Hungry Heart follows and, “tired as that song once was, as Flannigan accurately relates, “it was fresh tonight, with the crowd in full voice like it was 1980 or 1981.” The first disc then concludes with a stirring rendition of The Promised Land, the fourth and last song played from Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
Disc two begins with two highlights from this show, the first being an exceptional account of The Wrestler, which is restrained and incredibly poignant. The quiet instrumental beginning is extended by a full minute and it is incredibly atmospheric, as are Springsteen’s vocals, which are more muted than on the album version. An emotionally charged performance of Backstreets ensues, featuring a superb contribution from Max Weinberg on drums. The next song is Social Distortion’s Bad Luck from the band’s most highly regarded album Between Heaven And Hell, for which Springsteen was joined onstage by the band’s leader Mike Ness. Ness had been backstage at a previous Springsteen gig at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA and when his solo tour reached Asbury Park, Springsteen joined him onstage for four numbers. Ness therefore reciprocates here and he has revealed that the song was Springsteen’s choice, as “he likes to solo on that riff.” Ness contributes vocals and guitar to an effective performance of this stright-ahead rocker. Max Weinberg then vacates the drum stool in favour of his son Jay for fine versions of Lonesome Day and The Rising ( the latter of which also saw the return of Ness), and then Born To Run brings the main set to a triumphant conclusion.
After a speech on behalf of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the encore begins with the Steven Foster song Hard Times (Come Again No More), which is, as usual, enhanced by the vocal contribution of King and Mizelle and whichalso showcases Clarence Clemons on saxophone. A somewhat stately rendition of Thunder Road follows and this leads straight into an exuberant performance of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.
The next number is a stand-out performance of Land Of Hope And Dreams. The latter part of the song is essentially Springsteen’s riposte to the traditional song This Train (sometimes referred to as This Train Is Bound For Glory), a song performed by, among others, Big Bill Broonzy (whom I have seen credited with its composition), Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash and Sandy Dennny. The lyrics of traditional songs obviously vary; they appear in the version recorded by Bob Dylan in Bonnie Beecher’s Minneapolis apartment in May 1961 as: “This train is a-bound for glory/If you ride on it, you must be holy…/This train don’t carry no gamblers/Two bit whores an’ midnight ramblers.” Springsteen’s Land Of Hope And Dreams, however, does not confine salvation to the “holy.” His train offers redemption on a much less exclusive basis, as he sings: “This train carries saints and sinners/This train carries losers and winners/This train carries whores and gamblers/This train carries lost souls/This train/Dreams will not be thwarted/This train/Faith will be rewarded.” Fittingly, the performance ends with a snippet of Curtis Mayfield’s People get Ready. Inspired by the March On Washington and recorded by his group The Impressions in 1965, this song also lies firmly within the tradition of the gospel train song as a metaphor for salvation. The song is enhanced by a fine saxophone solo from Clemons and the idiomatic backing vocals of King and Mizelle. By this time Springsteen’s voice is becoming very hoarse, perhaps unsurprisingly given his committed performance throughout the concert.
American Land, which, as usual, contains the band introductions, sounds just a little lightweight here. It is immediately followed by Glory Days, which constitutes a suitably raucous set closer. Hammed up somewhat in a way reminiscent of the Super Bowl half-time show, it concludes with a few instrumental bars of The Kingsmen’s Louie, Louie. Thus ends what Flannigan calls “a truly glorious night.”
The sound quality of this release is undeniably excellent. It is being referred to on sellers’ websites as a soundboard but it is, as Godfather has confirmed, a soundboard/audience matrix. The audience recorded element is revealed by the fact that you can at times hear voices and applause close to the taper, the applause having that curiously hollow sound which characterizes audience recordings. The two sources are combined expertly to produce a full, clear and detailed stereo recording. This release comes in Godfather’s usual trifold sleeve with in-concert photos, including one of Springsteen and Ness. The front cover is a striking image of Springsteen on stage with Soozie Tyrell silhouetted behind him. There is no booklet, but there are sleeve notes reproducing Flannigan’s Backstreets article. In terms of performance, sound quality and packaging, this is another superb release from Godfather.