Boston 1977: Legends From The Music Hall (no label)
The Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA, USA – 22 March, 1977 (discs 1 and 2); 23 March, 1977 (discs 3 and 4); 24 March, 1977 (discs 5 and 6)
Disc 1: Night, Don’t Look Back, Spirit in the Night, It’s My Life, Thunder Road, Mona/She’s the One, Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, Action in the Streets, Backstreets
Disc 2: Jungleland, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Born to Run, The Promise, Quarter to Three, You Can’t Sit Down
Disc 3: Night, Don’t Look Back, Spirit in the Night, Incident on 57th Street, Thunder Road, Mona/She’s the One, Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, Growin’ Up
Disc 4: Backstreets, Jungleland, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Born to Run, Quarter to Three, Little Latin Lupe Lu, You Can’t Sit Down
Disc 5: Night, Don’t Look Back, Spirit in the Night, Incident on 57th Street, Thunder Road, Mona/She’s the One, Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, Growin’ Up, It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City
Disc 6: Backstreets, Jungleland, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Born to Run, Quarter to Three, Little Latin Lupe Lu, You Can’t Sit Down, (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher
Having given us the final show of the four-night stand in Boston that concluded the Lawsuit Tour on Boston 1977: Are You Ready For The Final Moment? (already reviewed), the no label people present us with a six-CD set of the previous three shows. The first and third shows have appeared on CD as Promise Into The Darkness (Main Stream Records) and Running Into The Darkness (E Street Records) respectively. As with the previous release, this set is a response to the emergence of the torrents of the Steve Hopkins master tapes of the shows via JEMS.
What Brucebase calls the “first show of the famous Boston stand,” kicks off with a brilliantly exuberant Night. Then comes a splendid performance of the Darkness On The Edge Of Town outtake Don’t Look Back. BK’s notes on the Jungleland website state that, “‘Don’t Look Back’ is evolving every show with lyrics the first night that won’t be there the last. Bruce sings it with incredible conviction knowing most in the audience have never heard it. Fantastic.” This is succeeded by a rendition of Spirit in the Night which is wonderfully sleazy and immensely enjoyable.
Then comes the last 1977 performance of It’s My Life. The instrumental opening which sets the scene for the song is intensely atmospheric, hauntingly beautiful and rather different from that of other versions I have reviewed, with a prominent trumpet part announcing the presence of the faux-Miami Horns (four musicians from Philadelphia, as Springsteen later acknowledges). Springsteen’s spoken introduction is also somewhat different. It concludes with a modified story of the young Springsteen coming home late and having to face his resentful father in which the pair do not stay in the kitchen of the family home but go for a drive and park in front of a white house. It is during the drive that Douglas tells his son that he is, “watching [Springsteen’s] whole life go to waste in front of him.” There is additionally a prelude during which Springsteen explains where he has been before arriving home:
“I remember…I remember it was summertime and me and this friend of mine, we used to get his old man’s car and we used to take off at night down towards the beach…lived about 20 miles inland, take us about a half hour to get there and we, we were too young, they wouldn’t let us into bars at the time so we used to park outside on the street. We used to get the bouncers to leave the doors open and we’d sit there on the curb just talking, sitting on the hood of the car listening to the bands that were coming down out of New York City playing along the coast in the summertime And we’d sit there, we’d sit there all night long, around four o’clock we’d head back home.”
The song itself sees Springsteen delivering an angry and embittered vocal performance, culminating in a defiant, “Don’t push me!” As with his other renditions of the song, Springsteen makes this classic Animals number wholly his own and this version is a strong candidate for the highlight of the first show.
Next comes the quintessential Springsteen number, Thunder Road, dedicated here to “Boston Godfather Jerry.” Boston Globe reporter Ernie Santosuosso refers to the “potent imagery of Thunder Road in which Sal Mineo-like rebel cajoled his girl to escape…delightful.” An energetic She’s the One (which is unfortunately subjected to a swift fade-out at the end) is preceded by Bo Diddley’s Mona, featuring the usual spooky, animalistic noises from the band. Following this an ebullient performance of Tenth Avenue Freeze-out is splendidly enhanced by the presence of the horns and they remain for Action in the Streets. BK considers that, “‘Action in the Streets’ is Bruce’s best horn number ever, period. Now here’s a song that deserves to be revived on the Wrecking Ball tour. It just kills here.”
Disc one concludes with a version of Backstreets which Santosuosso describes as, “smouldering in youthful frustration and loneliness.” It begins with a slow atmospheric instrumental part dominated by Roy Bittan’s piano and then augmented by a plaintive vocal part from Springsteen. In common with the performances from the two subsequent nights, it also contains a version of the spoken interlude similar to the one from the 25th, which I described in my review of From The Dark Heart Of A Dream as follows: “[Backstreets] also includes an outrageously over-the-top version of the long spoken ‘Sad Eyes’ interlude, in which Springsteen, accompanied by tubular bells, reacts to his lover’s broken promises by calling upon God to send some angels to blow away the entire town!”
Disc two begins with a stunning performance of the epic Jungleland, with a stirring sax solo from Clarence Clemons and a suitably affecting piano part form Roy Bittan leading into Springsteen’s emptional vocals at the end of the song. The main set then concludes with a barnstorming rendition of Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) complete with band introductions and a snippet of the Theme From Shaft to introduce Clemons. Santosuosso comments: “While not a concept program, the content in its way comprised a curbside cantata with Springsteen feverishly assaulting the consciousness with an intensity that continued to swell , finally erupting in the bomburst [sic] frenzy of Rosalita.”
The encore begins with Born to Run, which Santosuosso calls,”a percussive drag race in which the audience members went along for the wild ride.” After this comes something special in the shape of a poignant rendition of Springsteen’s greatest unreleased (by which I mean unreleased in an appropriate version at the proper time) song, The Promise. The performance is superb and it runs It’s My Life close for the accolade of highlight of the show. After this, the show concludes with wildly joyous versions of Gary US Bonds’ Quarter to Three and the Phil Upchurch Combo’s You Can’t Sit Down, with the horns again making a most effective contribution.
BK’s notes reveal a glowing appreciation of the quality of this opening show and the stand as a whole:
“It’s the kind of debate diehards love: What’s Bruce’s greatest concert stand? Not a single show, but a continuous residency at a single venue? Bottom Line ’75 springs to mind. Passaic ’78. LA Sports Arena ’81. The ten-pack at Meadowlands ’84. The list goes on. But it would be hard to quibble with the run of four shows Bruce and the band kicked off this night in Boston, the last proper shows before the settlement of the Appel lawsuit and the commencement of recording for Darkness on the Edge of Town.
I’ve been accused of hyperbolic writing (a charge I do not deny, by the way, as one has to be a superfan to do what we do), but I don’t think there’s any way to over hype this show and this run of shows. While I was well familiar with the last two concerts in Boston, March 24-25, I was less familiar with opening night and my response has remained the same throughout repeated listening: Holy fucking shit.
From the blistering version of ‘Night’ that opens, if there’s a more passionate, joyful, emotional, giving-it-his-absolute-all show than this, I’m struggling to find it, though I know the three nights that follow just might be them. Song after song is performed in quintessential versions, with particularly epic readings here of ‘Spirit in the Night,’ ‘It’s My Life,’ ‘Mona’ into ‘She’s the One, ‘Backstreets,’ ‘Jungleland’ and ‘The Promise.'”
Santosuosso sums up Springsteen’s performance during the first show thus: “During a two-hour nonstop performance, the pinball wizard from Asbury Park lit up the stage with a dazzling light show of dynamic pyrotechnics. He roamed the bandstand area like a frenetic stallion and played his audience like a finely tuned harp.”
As with Boston 1977: Are You Ready For The Final Moment? the Hopkins master tapes allow us to enjoy the shows in excellent sound quality. Brucebase refers to the sound of the first show as being of “superior quality.” BK’s notes state:
“The man who documented Bruce at this venue so brilliantly, Steve Hopkins, had upgraded his recorder in time for the ’77 shows, now using Sony’s latest TC-158SD. That was the deck for this run and his seats for the last three gigs were pretty much identical, 5-10 rows back of the right side PA stack, though this night he was left center orchestra, row G. All four nights do sound remarkably consistent.
While Hopkins’ recording is nothing short of fantastic, he’s really just capturing lightning in a bottle. The musicians on stage are doing everything to make this performance and those that follow, ones for the ages.”
Posters on the Jungleland site concur, with bossfannn commenting on the “spectacular sound” and Neo arguing that “the sound on this is incredible!”
For the second show on 23 March, the energy levels and the quality of the overall performance remained high and the set list remained largely the same. BK points up the differences thus:
“Night two of what I call Springsteen’s greatest concert stand ever brought with it some set list changes. ‘Incident on 57th Street’ replaces ‘It’s My Life,” and while I am admittedly something of an ‘Incident’ apologist, it will grow to be a stronger performance nights three and four. ‘Action in the Streets’ takes a seat on the bench in favor of a lively ‘Growin’ Up’ [with a version of the “aliens looking for the New Jersey Turnpike” story, replaced the next night with the “gypsy lady” version]. And ‘The Promise’ departs to make room for the debut of [The Righteous Brothers’] ‘Little Latin Lupe Lu, giving us an encore that is truly a non-stop party.
‘Don’t Look Back’ is even stronger this night and its lyrics are further cemented vs. night one. And like night one, the show is again peppered with moments where Bruce is pushing his performance to staggering heights. He even changes his vocal delivery in ‘Thunder Road’ as the moment moves him.”
As to sound quality, Brucebase comments that, “the sound is a revelation, and a must-listen.” BK’s notes state:
“Our friend Mr. Hopkins switched sides of the house for the this and the next two shows, sitting 5-10 rows back of the stage left PA stack. As good as his recording of 3/22 was, this might be just a tiny bit better [more than a tiny bit in my opinion]. Every second Steve recorded, including the applause breaks, has been preserved.
As folks who have recorded so many shows ourselves and mastered many recordings from the original tapes, I can’t tell you how fantastic Steve’s actual masters are. First of all, the sound in the venue must have been incredible to begin with. You can hear each instrument with uncanny clarity even when they are all blasting away together. And Hopkins’ location, mic, recorder and taper acumen are all dialed in perfectly to capture that majestic sound. We often say things like, ‘It would be difficult to record a show this well today.’ I’m here to tell you that you couldn’t. I couldn’t. It can’t be done. Despite all the improvements in technology and theoretically in live-sound reinforcement, too, ”77 sounds way better than 2012.”
Responses on Jungleland include: “It’s always nice to hear the clarity from the master,” (buckshot); “The quality of this recording is outstanding” (leedsunited); “Stunning sound quality!” (Neo) and ” words can’t describe how great these shows sound!!!” (tbonedaddy). Comparing this to a previous torrented version EV2’s Incident in Boston, rockcat writes that, “EV2’s source was several generations removed from the master. I’ve never seen any other sources for this show (all originate from Hopkins).”
The final show presented here, from 24 March, is perhaps the best of the three overall (though the presence of It’s My Life and The Promise also make the first night a strong contender and the performance of Don’t Look Back from the second night is superb). This show adds the youthful braggadocio of It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, which, as always, makes an appropriate and enjoyable coupling with Growin’ Up. However, the more significant factor in terms of the set list is Springsteen’s first performance of Jackie Wilson’s (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher. BK comments that:
“The second addition is one you all know, and probably the song that pushed the Boston run into the rarefied air it occupies: a cover of Jackie Wilson’s ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.’
Why is ‘Higher and Higher’ so significant? Well, part of it has to do with the timing of these shows, which would be the final performances before Bruce returned to the studio to begin recording Darkness on the Edge of Town. While the Appel lawsuit was not yet settled, Bruce had seen the light at the end of the tunnel, so there’s a sense of both relief and anticipation that feels palpable in all four Boston ’77 performances.
‘Higher and Higher’ comes across like that perfect addition, that one step beyond, with Bruce telling his fans through the song that they had sustained him through this dark period, when his future as a recording artist was up in air. ‘Higher and Higher’ is akin like that great finale song at the end of a musical that just seems to sweep up every theme of the night into one last exuberant declaration.”
Of the already-played numbers, BK’s pick of the bunch is Incident on 57th Street, of which he states,”for my money this is a superior performance, one of the song’s finest.”
BK’s opinion on the performance as a whole is that it, “sets the stage for the final show one night later. Or, as some have argued, is night three the apex itself, the best performance of the bunch?…they are both so fucking great, which is ‘the best’ hardly matters, especially when you are fortunate enough to enjoy them both.” Posters on Jungleland concur, stating: “classic show” (media69); “one of the best concert[s] ever (andrea med); “KILLER show” (hogjaw1510) and “fantastic show” (littlebruce).
“The sound quality is remarkable,” in Brucebase’s estimation and BK comments on Hopkins’ “incredible work” in taping this show. Referring to the additional clarity of the master tape, MikeDreams, posting on Jungleland, claims that, “now we can hear Steve’s higher-and-higher, castrato-falsetto-horroro even clearer on Incident and Higher!”
These four fantastic performances (including the already-released show from the 25th) have received the highest possible praise on Jungleland. BK argues that this is “Springsteen’s greatest concert stand ever.” Assorted posters agree. Buckshot contends that, “you would be hard pressed to find four shows in a row as good as this stand. Only Dec 15th, 16th, 19th and 20th of 1978 come to mind. Elvers1975 goes so far as to claim that these performances are among the “top 5 of shows ever performed on this earth.” Bossfannn contends that:
“I saw the last three shows and these continue to be the most memorable of the 100+ I’ve seen. It’s hard to believe they only played 15 songs yet made such an impact on so many who were privileged to attend these shows…I was at five of the Bottom LIne 75 shows and two of the Meadowlands 84 but the three shows I saw in this run continue to be at the top of my list…I’ve now seen Bruce at 50 different venues over the years, none better than the Boston Music Hall. This [23rd March] was the first of three shows I saw on this stand and I can testify there was magic in the building that week…It is hard to believe only 15 songs were performed as my vivid memories of these shows is of complete ensemble performances of the greatest band in the world at their best.”
This no label release is housed in a thick jewel case with simple but effective packaging which features onstage shots from the shows of the 23rd and 24th, three tickets (two torn and one complete) and an advertisement for the concerts proclaiming the whole stand to be sold out. As is made patently clear above, both the performances and the sound quality are outstanding. CandysBoy2, posting on Jungleland, writes, “thank you Steve and JEMS for sharing the greatest stand ever captured by one of the best tapers!” In other circumstances, I would conclude by additionally thanking the no label people for making the shows available on CD and recommending that you acquire this set without further delay. However, shortly after this set appeared, Godfather released the whole stand as a boxed set with the title The Boston Godfather: The Definitive Boston March 1977 Tapes and this will be reviewed very soon.