Bruce Springsteen – A Great Gig In The Kyoto (Masterpiece ESB 41985A-B)

Bruce Springsteen - A Great Gig In The Kyoto

A Great Gig In The Kyoto (Masterpiece ESB 41985A-B)

Kyoto Furitsu Taiikukan, Kyoto, Japan – 19 April, 1985

Disc 1: Born In The U.S.A., Badlands, Out In The Street, Johnny 99, Atlantic City, The River, Working On The Highway, Prove It All Night, Glory Days, The Promised Land, My Hometown, Thunder Road

Disc 2: Cover Me, Dancing In The Dark, Hungry Heart, Cadillac Ranch, I’m On Fire, No Surrender, Bobby Jean, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Born To Run, Ramrod, Twist And Shout/Do You Love Me

This release brings us a recording of Springsteen at the height of his mid-80s popularity in the wake of the hugely successful Born In The U.S.A. album.  However, it is unusual in the fact that the show was held in what for the time was a very small venue. Indeed, on it is noted that the venue for the show, with a capacity of around 5,000, was “the most restricted audience before which Springsteen had performed since 1978.”  It is also the location of the photograph by Neal Preston which shows Springsteen, pre-concert and amidst the empty seats, used for the front cover of Dave Marsh’s book Bruce Springsteen: On Tour 1968-2005.  To date, it is Springsteen’s only performance at the venue.  There has been a previous release of the show, entitled Come Out Tonight on the Countdown Factory label.  As well as the issue of unobtainability due to its age, this release is problematic due to the omission of five songs: Cover Me, Dancing In The Dark, Hungry Heart, Cadillac Range and I’m On Fire.  Additionally the sound is not top drawer.  Writing in the third volume of You Better Not Touch, Lynn Elder describes the sound as merely “good” and awards it a rating of seven out of ten.

Throughout his career, from For You to American Land, Springsteen has written and performed songs where the seriousness of the lyrics has belied the upbeat, even at times joyous, nature of the music.  More than one song from Born In The U.S.A. fits this category as Jimmy Guterman points out in Runaway American Dream: Listening To Bruce Springsteen, when he writes, “Songs like ‘Darlington County’ and ‘Working On The Highway’ were meant to be ambiguous.  You could dance and shout to them or you could wonder what was going on beneath all those ‘Sha-la-la’s.'”  The most noteworthy example of such a dichotomy between words and music  (“a lot more ambiguous than the songwriter intended,” if Guterman is to be believed) is, of course the album’s title track, a thunderous rendition of which makes for an excellent start to this concert. 

The show proceeds in a similarly driven fashion with Badlands, the otherwise high quality of which is diminished  by Patti Scialfa’s vocals which sound out of place in this song.  The clearly discernible high spirits of the audience are further buoyed up by the crowd pleasing Out In The Street, a song much more suited to Scialfa’s input.  Two song from Nebraska follow.  The acoustic Johnny 99, which begins with Springsteen’s squawking harmonica, is, of course, a world away from the extravaganza which it has more recently become.  Atlantic City works extremely well in its slow and weighty concert guise, kicking off with Max Weinberg’s portentous drumming, and it is succeeded by a poignant rendition of The River, to which Scialfa’s vocals add an ethereal touch.  Springsteen precedes the song with a short version of the familiar tale of father-son conflict:

“When I was…I was a boy, my father would wait up at night to see what time I came home and, uh, he’d sit at the kitchen table and drink some beer, just sit there all night thinking.  And if we were gonna come home too late, sometimes it was better if we waited until morning and I had a sleeping bag, I’d sleep out on the edge of the woods or in a friend of mine’s car or on somebody’s porch.  And now when I go home, I drive down the old streets, past the places I’d sleep and sometimes they feel more like my home than my house did and this song is…because everybody needs some place they can go on the nights when they can’t go home.”

Things move uptempo again with the rockabilly-tinged Working On The Highway and then comes a muscular Prove It All Night with extended guitar soloing.  Glory Days, a song which Heylin contends became. “almost vaudevillian in concert,” begins with Springsteen initiating some call-and-response wit the audience.  It is introduced as, “about growing old.  Man, everybody’s growing old…it’s about time’s winged chariot,” and, as often, he finishes the song by counting up the last few years to his then-current age of thirty-five.  This is another of Guterman’s “ambiguous” numbers, which, “slips some hard truths about aging into what first feels like a light performance.”  Following this, Scialfa’s vocal contribution somehow seems to sit more comfortably within the framework of a stirring rendition of The Promised Land than they did in Badlands.

A fine performance of the sombre My Hometown, a song Springsteen stated was, “about the place where you live and sharing the responsibility in it,” follows.  It is my favourite song from Born In The U.S A. (which I imagine reveals much about my opinion of the album) and it is succeeded by Thunder Road, which concludes both the first set and the first disc in fine style.

Disc two begins with Cover Me,  the least consequential number form Born In The U.S.A.  In common with other performances from the tour, the song features a short, slow intro and coda with additional vocals from Springsteen.  The audience clearly enjoys the poppy Dancing In The Dark, which always works well in a live setting despite its essentially vapid nature.  (Clinton Heylin’s wry account of the song in The E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days Of Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band, begins, “guy gets up in the evening. Got nuthin’ to say.  But says it anyway.”)  They then get a chance to sing along at the start of Hungry Heart.  Cadillac Ranch, in my opinion easily the best of the rather vacuous rockers from The River (though Heylin violently disagrees), is very enjoyable and features, as elsewhere, Springsteen trying to start his car accompanied by faux engine noises from the band.  It is followed by an atmospheric rendition of I’m On Fire, a song which, in Heylin’s word, “communicates its dirty little secret just fine.”  Before the song, Springsteen briefly returns to the topic of his relationship with his father:

“I remember when I was growing up my dad would sit at the kitchen table, and he’d think about all the things that he wasn’t ever gonna have until he’d get you thinking like that too.  I’d lay in bed at night.  I’d lie awake staring at the ceiling until I felt that I was just gonna…like some day I was just gonna…”

The anthemic No Surrender and Bobby Jean would seem to make an entirely appropriate coupling, though this is somewhat undermined by  the fact that, as elsewhere on the tour, the former is played in the slow acoustic version.  Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), which naturally contains the band introductions, then concludes the second set in suitably riotous fashion.

The encore opens with a high spirited full-band Born to Run and Springsteen then decides to create a party atmosphere with Ramrod.  The audience clearly laps it up, despite the weakness of the song, which lyrically, as Heylin puts it, is “banality itself.”  A raucous thirteen-and-a-half minute Twist And Shout then concludes the show in triumphant fashion.  As was regularly the case in 1984 and 1985, the song includes a substantial excerpt from The Countours’ 1961 hit single Do You Love Me.

The Brucebase website notes the existence of two audience tapes for this show, the second of which is referred to as a, “high quality tape source of this show which circulated in February 2013 (mjk5510).”  The other, Vittorio Tapes Collection, source was used for Come Out Tonight.  This new release, with nice full, dynamic sound, utilizes the mjk5500, seemingly without any remastering.

Of this tape, mjk5510 writes on the Jungleland website:

“Back in the tape trading days I received 2nd generation copies of almost all the Japanese BIUSA shows from a Japanese trader and this was part of the batch…quality is excellent from start to finish.

The taper did a fantastic job and this is a wonderful listen all the way through.  It’s been a few months since I transferred this but as far as I can remember there are no cuts, no splices, nothing missing.  Quality does not waver during any part of the show…I highly recommend this one.”

Overall, I would endorse mjk5510’s view that the sound quality helps to make this release highly recommendable.  However, listening to the first disc does reveal some minor fluctuations in the sound during several songs from the first set and a small cut in Prove It All Night and there also seems to be a momentary cut in Ramrod on disc two.  The audience is boisterous, but audience noise is not overly intrusive and it adds to the atmosphere of the show.

The packaging is as one would expect from this source.  The discs are housed in a slimline jewel case with a single-sheet reversible front insert.  One side, as can be seen above, displays three onstage shots of Springsteen and the other shows an onstage photo of Springsteen with Clarence Clemons.  The inner side of the rear insert also carries the larger shot of Springsteen, seen above on the left (which also appears on the discs themselves), together with three further very small photos, two of which are, to my eyes at least, indistinct.  One is clearly another shot by Preston of Springsteen in the empty venue and another may be; the third shows what may be the exterior of the venue with people who may be the band members.  The reverse of the rear insert has another onstage shot of Springsteen with the track listing and band personnel against the background of the cover of the Born In The U.S.A. album.  As can also be seen above, there is a limited numbered and stickered edition.

Overall, this is a very worthwhile release, containing a very good, albeit relatively short, concert (rated by Elder as eight out of ten for performance) in generally impressive sound quality, and it will give collectors a great deal of listening pleasure.  Obviously, however, it does not displace the Milan performance of 21 June, released (in superb sound quality) as A Love Affair by Godfather and Milano Night 1985 by Crystal Cat, as first choice for an ’85 show.  Of the Godfather version, gsparaco wrote, “this is one of the most impressive titles to be released by this, or any label, and is essential.”

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