Another Carnival By The Danube (Godfatherecords G.R. 409/410/411)
Ernst Happel Stadion, Vienna, Austria – 5 July, 2009
Disc 1: An Der Schonen Blauen Donau; Jackson Cage, Badlands, Cover Me, My Lucky Day, Outlaw Pete, Darlington County, Working On A Dream, Seeds, Johnny 99, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Raise Your Hand, Growin’ Up, Rendezvous, Proud Mary
Disc 2: 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Becuase The Night, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Promised Land, The River, Into The Fire, Lonesome Day, The Rising, Born To Run, Cadillac Ranch
Disc 3: Jersey Girl, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, American Land, Bobby Jean, Dancing In The Dark, Twist And Shout [/La Bamba]
Bonus Tracks: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, USA – 3 May, 2009: The Ghost Of Tom Joad; Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival, Manchester, TN, USA – 13 June, 2009: Mustang Sally, Bobby Jean, Glory Days
With a release date of 28 July, Godfather was quick off the mark in bringing us this recording of Springsteen’s Vienna concert. It was clearly quite an event. The anonymous writer on the Point Blank website refers to it as a “spectacular show,” and on the Backstreets website Peter Schoefboeck reports that the performance was such that the Viennese were moved to shake off the “reserved attitude” for which they are “notorious.” Moreover, “after a few weeks with not many set list changes,” contends the Point Blank writer, “Springsteen is now back to crazy-setlist-change-mode.” Indeed, in addition to several mildly surprising additions to the setlist, there were three tour premieres, including one song played for the first time outside of the USA.
The beginning of the show sees another instance of a recent innovation – a solo accordion performance by Nils Lofgren of a tune with local connections, in this instance Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube waltz. This is greeted with appreciative applause and some laughter by the audience, who respond with louder applause and cheers part way through as the rest of the band members take the stage. After this unusual opening the band tears into vigorous rendition of Jackson Cage, referred to by the Point Blank writer as “a killer kick-off.” Things remain up-tempo with a committed performance of Badlands which builds to a furious climax before a driving rendition of Cover Me, which features a distinctive guitar solo from Nils Lofgren, continues the momentum. “Not a bad start at all,” writes Schoefboeck, with studied understatement that perhaps displays some Viennese reserve!
After My Lucky Day, Springsteen asks the audience, “wie geht’s?” before launching into the atmospheric opening of a dynamic and beautifully played Outlaw Pete, the best live version I have yet heard. The audience were also clearly impressed. “Even the new material, in particular ‘Outlaw Pete,'” contends Schoefboeck, “went over really well with the Viennese crowd.” Darlington County then chugs along nicely. It works well live and this performance is augmented by Soozie Tyrell’s violin and seemingly a brief vocal contribution from a member of the audience.
Next up is the charming and melodic Working On A Dream, reflecting the “happy” qualities, as Springsteen has said, that infuse the album of which is is the title track. The lengthy, quasi-religious house building metaphor persists, during which Springsteen remarks that the band is there to “build a house of happiness.” The following numbers provide a stark contrast to this as the usual “hard times” trilogy is pared back to its crucial two components, Seeds and Johnny 99. The former proceeds as relentlessly as ever to document the tale of a family in economic distress, the driven and unsentimental nature of the performance echoing both the hardship that they suffer and the lack of compassion they receive from others, such as the unsympathetic policeman who taps on their car window with his billy club to move them on.
As elsewhere, Johnny 99 is delivered in a very different fashion from the spare, stripped-down version on Nebraska, with its violin, piano and guitar solos and its train whistle-style “whoo-whoo” vocals from Cindy Mizelle and Curtis King. Some may feel that the full-band version, lacking the bleakness inherent in the spare original, detracts from the emotional impact. It is possible to argue, however, that the almost light-hearted nature of the musical performance serves only to increase the shock of the point in the song where “Johnny” asks the judge to reconsider his sentence, as he would prefer to have his hair shaved off and be placed on “the killin’ line.” It doesn’t work here, however, as Springsteen stumbles over his words at precisely this point and laughs. The train imagery in the background vocals is extended here with reference to hearing the executioner’s train coming and a false ending followed by the song restarting with guitar and drums imitating a train, plus further “whoo-whoo” vocals. Roy Bittan’s sombre piano then introduces a fine rendition of the classic Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
Raise Your Hand is played in an instrumental version while the request signs are being collected. Clarence Clemons brandished a sign at Springsteen which asked for The Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go, doubtless proffered by a fan whose expectations had been raised by the band’s earlier stabs at London Calling. Unfortunately, it remained unplayed. However, as pointed out both by Schoefboeck and Steven Strauss (the latter writing on Springsteen’s official website), there were no complaints or feelings of disappointment from the audience, who were instead treated, in Strauss’ words to four “classics from the Wayback machine.”
First comes Growin’ Up, played in a jaunty version devoid of any mid-song story, and this is followed by an upbeat Rendezvous. Thirdly, and bringing disc 1 to a tumultuous ending, is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary. The state of euphoria induced in the audience by this song is highlighted by Schoefboeck: “By the time the ladies and gentlemen of the E Street Band had finished their stomping rendition of CCR’s ‘Proud Mary’ (another sign request), Springsteen pretty much owned the place.”
Just as this performance constitutes an appropriately rollicking ending to the first disc, the fourth “classic,” a poignant rendition of the wistful 4th Of July, Asbury Park, (Sandy), makes for a superb opening to disc 2. Played, of course, the day after America’s national celebration, this indisputable highlight of the show (and tour premiere) is inevitably dedicated to Danny Federici. A subtly modified piano introduction signals the start of a vigorous performance of Because The Night, which features a lengthy and marvellously fluid guitar solo from Nils Lofgren in its latter stages. The band then goes straight into an appropriatelylight-hearted rendition of Waitin’ On A Sunny Day. The texture of the song is nicely enhanced by the backing vocals and Springsteen also give the audience a chance to sing the chorus. A stirring rendition of The Promised Land (briefly marred by a little off-key sax from Clarence Clemons) then gives way to another of the show’s highlights, a sombre and affecting version of The River, with a haunting coda featuring a wordless vocalise and a harmonica solo, described by Schwartz as “absolutely beautiful.”
The sombre mood is continued with an extremely rare post-The Rising Tour rendition of Into The Fire. Still extraordinarily powerful several years after the events of 9/11, this is the kind of performance that moves the listener to genuine emotion. Effective versions of Lonesome Day (again with excellent backing vocals) and The Rising (enhanced by Soozie Tyrell’s violin part) lead into a thundering version of the usual set closer, Born To Run. This features a cacophonous instrumental section leading to the brief pause, after which Springsteen shouts “let’s see see your hands!” before counting the band back in for the climax of the song. Tonight, however, Springsteen says “we can’t stop now!” and the Viennese audience is treated to an additional number, a rumbustious Cadillac Ranch featuring a guitar solo from Steve Van Zandt. Appropriately, this brings disc 2 to a close.
The encore begins with the most unexpected moment of the evening. One of the screen camera operators zoomed in on a young woman in the audience with an orange “Jersey Girl” T-shirt, which was eventually removed and passed to Springsteen. “Well, I never expected that,” says Springsteen, ” but, uh,I guess we’re gonna have to do this one for ya.” “The whole place went ape,” reports Schoefboeck, “and then followed what was one of the most awe-inspiring, goosebump-inducing moments I have ever witnessed at a Springsteen show: what else but an absolutely beautiful rendition of ‘Jersey Girl'” With its sublime piano, gorgeous backing vocals and splendid sax solo from Clemons, this version was the first performance of the Tom Waits classsic by Springsteen outside of the USA.
A superbly lively version of Tenth-Avenue Freeze out clearly has the audience on its feet and singing along and this is followed by the usual show-closer, American Land, with its effectively ironic juxtapositon of jolly, celebratory music and the dashed hopes and misery endured by many immigrants to the USA. (I wonder how many people miss the message of the lyrics, as President Reagan famously did with Born In The USA, only to have the abrasive Seeds dedicated to him by Springsteen.) Despite a furious drum-fuelled climax, this is not the end of the show. As with the main set the band “can’t stop” and the audience get to enjoy three more songs which continue the euphoric mood. First comes the anthemic Bobby Jean, followed by a joyous Dancing In The Dark (which culminates in a few further bars of The Blue Danube) and as if this were not enough, the band keeps the energy levels at a peak right to the end with an excellent Twist And Shout, during which Springsteen leads band and audience in an extract from La Bamba.
Overall this is another very fine performance from the Working on A Dream Tour. As Strauss claims, Springsteen and the band are “continuing to pour every bit of energy they have into each and every song.” Schoefboeck concludes his report thus:
“Previous show reports had already suggested that these guys are seriously on fire on this European leg of the tour, and after witnessing tonight’s concert, I can only confirm that. They just keep getting better and better and are continuously raising the bar, it seems. Another unforgettable night even the most casual Austrian concert-goer most certainly will remember for a long, long time.”
The bonus tracks feature Springsteen performing with other artists. First comes a performance from Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday Celebration. The Ghost Of Tom Joad from this show is a duet with Tom Morello. “It was a very energetic performance,” states the anonymous Backstreets correspondent, “benefiting from their recent collaborations on the song with the E Street Band.” Morello had joined the band for this song at the LA show on 15 April and previously during the Magic Tour’s Anaheim concert on April 7, 2008. Those renditions, however, were full-band versions which featured jaw-dropping guitar solos from Morello. Here, as you would expect from a celebration of the life and work of Seeger, it is just vocals and acoustic guitars, so we have a unique version. Morello performed and recorded the song with his band Rage Against The Machine, who are perhaps as far from the folk music genre as it is possible to get. However, the style of performance given here will come as no surprise to those familiar with Morello’s solo incarnation as The Nightwatchman, which he describes as, “my political folk alter ego.”
The remaining three tracks see Springsteen joining Phish onstage at the Bonnaroo Festival. Phish frontman Trey Anastasio has referred to Springsteen being, “my boyhood hero and still my hero today.” Bassist Mike Gordon later stated that, “it was a joy to play with him.” They play three Springsteen-oriented songs, the first having been played by Springsteen more than once at recent shows and the other two being his own compositions. First up is a fine version of Mustang Sally, fleshed out by two extended solos (guitar and then guitar/keyboards) which take the song to virtually ten minutes. Bobby Jean, according to Whitney Pastorek on the Music Mix website, was no more than “capably performed,” but, even so, she concedes the effectiveness of “Bruce and Trey’s guitar solos, overlapping in the most pleasant of discord.” Glory Days starts rather tentatively but, as Pastorek states, the song, “crescendoed into someting extraordinary. Bruce dropped back to rhythm and let the man who idolizes him take the lead on what could be termed an incredibly Phishian take on an incredibly not Phishy song.” So, as with the Morello performance, Godfather presents us with a unique twist on these songs.
The sound of the main concert is very impressive, courtesy of the same taper who did such a good job with Godfather’s previous release, Got To Be Good. The recording of The Gost Of Tom Joad is also superb. Phish make their concerts available to their fans via downloads and this is presumably the source used here, with the kind of sound quality you would expect. This release comes in the usual tri-fold packaging with numerous onstage photographs and sleeve notes, but no booklet. With an excellent principal performance, very impressive sound and unusual bonus tracks, this constitutes another highly recommendable issue from Godfather.