A Star Is Born (Godfatherecords G.R. 435/436)
Palace Theater, Providence, RI, USA – 20 July, 1975
Disc 1: Incident On 57th Street, Spirit In The Night, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Growin’ Up, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, The E Street Shuffle, Born To Run, Thunder Road, New York City Serenade
Disc 2: Kitty’s Back, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), A Love So Fine [/Shout], Sha La La, Quarter to Three
The concert presented here by Godfather is an event of genuine historical significance for one, or perhaps two, reasons. Firstly, this was the opening night of the Born To Run Tour. The Born To Run album and some of the shows from the tour, principally those at the Roxy and the Bottom Line, reinvigorated Springsteen’s faltering career and set him on the road to nationwide, and subsequently international, prominence.
Springsteen had a keen awareness that his third album constituted the potential career breakthrough he so desired, and he consequently agonized over Born To Run. Months were spent attempting to recreate the sounds Springsteen heard in his head. His perfectionism led him to believe that any length of delay was justified; as Jon Landau recalled, Springsteen’s attitude was, “the release date is just one day. The record is forever.”
Consequently, live performances were considered to be of lesser import and only ten shows were played during the early months of 1975. The first was the legendary Main Point concert of 5 February (available on Crystal Cat’s indispensible Main Point Night) and the last were played on 8 and 9 March at the Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. The latter shows are noteworthy as the last played by violinist Suki Lahav. Three other scheduled concerts were cancelled due to the ongoing recording/mixing sessions for Born To Run. Further shows had been negotiated by manager Mike Appel for March and April, but these were abandoned before contracts were signed.
This situation led to a woefully inadequate attempt to rehearse for the new tour. Incredibly, there was only one rehearsal, a staggering nineteen hour session held in the rehearsal room above The Record Plant between 3pm on 19 July and 10am on 20 July, concluding a mere ten hours before the start of the Providence show.
The concert itself has effectively gained its historic status by default. The opener should have been the show at the Geneva Theater, Geneva, NY on 12 July. Initially brought forward to 11 July, this show was postponed to 18 and then 22 July, when it was finally played. Again, the delay was due to further recording/mixing sessions for the new album.
The second contributory factor to the concert’s historic status is that it is widely held to be the first show played by Steve Van Zandt as a member of the E Street Band. The Brucebase website refers to it unequivocably as “the live debut of Miami Steve as a member of the E Street Band,” and the only older incarnation of the show, the CD-R release on the B Street label reflects this in its title of Introducing Miami Steve Van Zandt. However, the Killing Floor Database only goes so far as calling it “(probably) first concert with Miami Steve,” citing the recollection of a fan who attended the Constitution Hall shows who is adamant that Van Zandt played on both nights, “dressed in a bright red suit and hat.” Intriguingly, Killing Floor’s entry for the following Geneva concert further muddies the waters by stating that this was “the first show with a full time [my italics] Miami Steve on guitar or so was announced by Bruce.”
The tape of the show which has recently emerged was taped by Dan Lampinski, who recorded over a hundred concerts in the area of Boston and Providence, largely between 1974 and 1978. Lampinski taped a large and varied selection of artists, including The Who, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, The Faces, Yes, ELP, Al Stewart and Frank Zappa. According to the account of “Kev & Carl,” he “never traded copies of his recordings, they were all essentially uncirculated.”
So how did Lampinski’s recordings end up on Dime (and numerous other torrent sites) in the summer of 2009? According to Kev, who seems to be the narrator of the story, Carl Morstadt went to see John Wetton concert in Foxboro, MA, and struck up a conversation with the man in the next seat, “and it just so happens this guy taped a bunch of shows in the 1970s that he essentially kept to himself.” Carl then made “multiple trips to Dan’s house to pick up tapes, lovingly and carefully transfer the recordings and then prepare them for our collective listening pleasure.”
Our listening pleasure begins with Incident On 57th Street, played here, as in earlier concerts during the year, in a version slower than the recording from The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle. It is a spare and stripped-down rendition, with Springsteen’s beautifully restrained vocal performance backed only by an atmospheric piano accompaniment. Initially I missed the violin and backing vocals of Suki Lahav, familiar from the Main Point show, but thereafter this version, striking in its simplicity, grew on me immensely. As Patrick Humphries says in Springsteen: Blinded By The Light, “the song has a genuine narrative thread with fully realised characters, soaked in atmosphere,” and this spare arrangement allows these qualities to shine through.
Spirit In The Night begins, as often at this time, with swirling saxophone and shimmering cymbals, and the song itself prominently features Clarence Clemons’ sinuous sax and Max Weinberg’s pounding drums. As so often in live performance, the section of the song briefly describing the drunken sexual encounter “in the dirt” at Greasy Lake is slowed down even further than on the album version, and it delights the audience. An exuberant Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out again sees Clemons take a prominent role (in the absence of the album version’s additional brass), and this continues through a breezy and enjoyable Growin’ Up, which in turn is followed by a vibrant It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City. The latter two songs in particular work well together, the irresistible brashness of the former giving way to the bragadoccio of the latter.
Things then slow down again for The E Street Shuffle. As was common at this time, the song is preceded by a long spoken introduction, with instrumental backing, which purports to detail Springsteen’s initial meeting with Clemons. In this slow and soulful version of the song Springsteen sings the verse that nears its conclusion with the words “dressed in snakeskin suits packed with…” twice, before finally Clemons enters at the third attempt, finishing the line with “…East Coast muscle” in his incredibly deep voice. The E Street Shuffle is remarkable in that it works effectively in both its fast and slow versions, a trait it shares with other Springsteen songs such as Thunder Road and For You. Dave Marsh, in Born To Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, sees this as, “a measure of Bruce’s relentless searching, his willingness to rethink his material constantly,exploring all of its possibilities.
Born To Run is propelled once more by Clemons’ sax and Weinberg’s drums. Taken at a tremendously fast lick, it sounds very fresh in this reading. It had been played live for more than a year (initially at the Harvard Square Theater, Cambridge, MA on 9 May, 1974) and tapes of the song had been sent to some radio stations, but there is no sense yet of it being a show-stopper or a particular audience favourite. Thunder Road follows, in its full band incarnation, though sounding a little light-textured. The song had only received its first live performance at the Main Point and it seems rather odd, regarding this show from the perspective of the Working On A Dream Tour, to hear no sign of audience recognition as the song begins.
Disc 1 ends with a superb New York City Serenade. Beginning with Springsteen’s wordless vocalise, the instrumental opening of the song is different from the official recording, resembling the version from the Main Point. Like that version it also contains the additional subdued, “hey, little stranger” vocal section near the end. After Clemons repeatedly sings the line, “Baby we could slip away,” the quiet is punctuated by several emormous thwacks on Weinberg’s drums before some piercing sax from Clemons leads the song to its climax. As with Incident On 57th Street, Springsteen’s vocal performance is tremendously effective and fully reflects Marsh’s comments on the song: “Here is Springsteen the great seducer. It’s as though he were whispering secrets and promises in our ear, drawing us just close enough to make us want to hear more.” Again, as with Incident On 57th Street, it is a number which justifies Christopher Sandford’s comment in Springsteen:Point Blank that, with The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, Springsteen had become an “architect” rather than a mere “author” of songs. Despite some splendid contributions from David Sancious’ piano and Suki Lahav’s violin in earlier live renditions, this is now my preferred version of one of my favourite Springsteen songs.
Disc 2 opens with a funky, jazzy rendition of Kitty’s Back, introduced by Clemons. Solos on organ, piano, guitar and saxophone take this version to thirteen minutes and it has the feel of a long, loose jam which is great fun to listen to. The main set closes with an effervescent Rosalita, complete with band introductions, though there is unfortunately a cut after these introductions which excises much of the following verse. As was often the case at the time, the introduction of Clemons is followed by a brief snippet of the Theme From Shaft.
The encore begins with the wistful, nostalgic 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), which showcases Danny Federici’s talents on the accordion and which receives a beautifully nuanced performance. The next song is a jaunty version of A Love So Fine, a frequent inclusion in the setlist at this time, which debuted at the Avery Fisher Hall in New York on 4 October, 1974 (Suki Lahav’s first gig). An instrumental version was recorded during the Born To Run sessions (probably on 6 October, 1974) and the song was later revamped during the Darkness On The Edge Of Town Sessions as So Young And In Love (available on Tracks). This performance is full of joie de vivre and incorporates a loose and rather approximate excerpt from the Isley Brothers’ Shout. A vibrant version of Sha La La, The Shirelles song from 1964, follows and the concert ends with a raucous Quarter To Three which, after a false ending, clocks in at five-and-three-quarter minutes, by no means the longest version of the then-usual show closer.
The sound quality is quite stunning for a tape from this era. The stereo sound is full and clear, with a remarkable depth and presence, which comes over particularly impressively during the sonic shifts of New York City Serenade. There is some low level hiss, heard most audibly on Incident On 57th Street, but this is not particularly distracting, and occasional hum, which may emanate from the band’s equipment rather than the tape. At times, for example on Incident On 57th Street and It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, Springsteen’s voice seems very slightly distant, but again this is a very minor problem. The seemingly quite modestly-sized audience is caught nicely, adding to the atmosphere without being intrusive. There are two or three brief instances of extraneous noise, which seem to emanate from the stage – not the fault, obviously, of either Lampinski or Godfather. I must say that listening to this excellent recording makes me want want to investigate more releases of Lampinski tapes as soon as posssible.
There is, of course, another recent version of this show, the Japanese no-label issue Ready To Run. In his review of this eric99 states that, “it doesn’t seem like this recording has been tweaked.” Godfather, however, contends that, “we have done a hard…remastering job. We have deleted spare claps, coughings, screams and specially the speed tape fluctuations on NYC Serenade, also the cut on Rosie has been a little bit adjusted.” Listening to the two releases bears out these claims. I counted twelve examples of what sound like tape slips in the no label version of New York City Serenade. A couple were marginal; some, though momentary, were very disfiguring indeed. On Godfather’s version only three were audible, and even these were reduced. I was convinced that the instance at 6.00 minutes on the no label release was also accompanied by a very small cut; on Godfather’s disc (at 5.54 minutes) it is not clear that there is a cut. Godfather have done a tremendous job here. Additionally, as stated, the cut on Rosalita has clearly been smoothed over and is slightly less jarring. In more general terms, I find the sound on the Godfather release is a little more refined.
However, there is one small problem. Gsparaco contends that, “it sounds like the Godfather runs slightly faster than no label.” Comparative listening bears this out, and it is comfirmed by timings – Godfather’s Born To Run is around 6 seconds faster than the no label release; Thunder Road comes in at 7 or 8 seconds less. The no label release does appear to run at a more natural speed, whereas the Godfather seems a hair fast. However, the difference is slight and I am not sure that I would have had any qualms about the Godfather release had I not had the no label version for comparison. Indeed, in the case of some songs, such as New York City Serenade, it is virtually impossible to discern a difference. Overall, therefore, despite this small flaw, I would listen to A Star Is Born in preference to Ready To Run, though I suspect that no-one who acquires the latter will be disappointed.
This release comes in Godfather’s usual tri-fold sleeve with a striking onstage photograph of Springsteen and Van Zandt on the front cover. There are numerous other photos (mostly onstage) from the era on the sleeve and the booklet, which has the usual notes from “Joe Roberts.” Some of the shots were new to me; others are familiar from the front covers of The Milwaukee Bomb Scare Show (Mistral Music), Walk Like The Heroes (Anubis) and Live At The Allen Theatre (Scorpio). The no-label release, which comes in a slimline jewel case, also looks attractive, with front and rear shots taken by Eric Meola, from the photo-shoot that provided the iconic cover shot of Born To Run. (A book containing many of these photographs, Born To Run: The Unseen Photos , was published by Insight Editions in 2006.) However, the packaging of Ready To Run, though aesthetically pleasing, is simpler than that of A Star Is Born. There is no booklet, for example, merely a single-sheet front insert. Consequently, Godfather has the edge in this regard. This is a high-quality release of a very fine and historically significant performance and it is warmly recommended to Springsteen collectors