Darkness Starts Here (Masterpiece ESB 52378A-B)
Shea’s Buffalo Theatre, Buffalo, NY, USA – 23 May, 1978
Disc 1: Introduction, Badlands, Night, Something In The Night, For You, Thunder Road, Spirit In The Night, Prove It All Night, Racing In The Street, Candy’s Room, The Promised Land, Paradise By The “C”, Fire, Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Disc 2: Streets Of Fire, Mona/She’s The One, Adam Raised A Cain, Backstreets, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), The Promise, Born To Run, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, You Can’t Sit Down
Darkness Starts Here, as the title makes clear, presents the opening night of the Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour, played at the 3,500-seat Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. The show features the live debut of eight songs from the album, the exceptions being Factory, which was not played, and Something In The Night, which had made its debut at the Monmouth Arts Center, Red Bank, NJ on 1 August 1976.
The show gets off to an explosive start with Badlands. New York Times reviewer John Rockwell writes that Springsteen, “charged onto the stage…launched into an uptempo new song called ‘Badlands’ and immediately established an atmosphere of ebullence [sic] and euphoria.” Things remain uptempo as Springsteen and the E Street Band rip through Night before things slow down with a melancholy and atmospheric Something In The Night. For You is played in the fast full-band arrangement and is followed by obvious crowd favourite Thunder Road and an appropriately sleazy yet life-affirming Spirit In The Night.
The first set ends with four consecutive songs from Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Prove It All Night, as Brucebase points out, “has a piano and guitar solo introduction – this will develop and expand throughout the tour, becoming a concert highlight.” The intro here is indeed one of the shortest of the tour, timed by Brucebase at 2:29 minutes, with the guitar solo lasting 1:32 minutes. Pianist Roy Bittan shines in a haunting rendition of Racing In The Street and blistering Candy’s Room folllows, before a stirring performance of The Promised Land draws the first set to a close.
The second set kicks off with Springsteen’s debut performance of the jaunty instrumental Paradise By The “C”featuring saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Fire, which follows, is also a debut performance and is rather less sultry than later renditions. Then come another two numbers from the new album, a poignant Darkness On The Edge Of Town and a passionate Streets Of Fire. An energetic She’s The One is prefaced by Mona and then comes an intense, heavy rendition of Adam Raised A Cain. Backstreets contains the anguished spoken ‘Sad Eyes’ interlude. As Brucebase points out, “the monologue would vary throughout the tour, and often include lyrics that would end up in ‘Drive All Night.'” Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) closes the second set and, as so often, contains the band introductions.
An excellent performance of The Promise opens the encores. Brucebase points out that this show, “includes the only ever live performance of ‘The Promise’ with the full E Street Band until the Asbury Park Carousel web broadcast in 2010.” The band then tears through Born To Run before ending the show in suitably raucous style with Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and You Can’t Sit Down.
Interestingly, Gerry Antell writes on the Greasy Lake website that, “Bruce came out and sang the last two songs as he read the lyrics off a piece of paper. It was clear to me that he hadn’t anticipated playing them.” Antell does not specify what the final two numbers were (although Greasy Lake, as well as Brucebase, lists Tenth-Avenue Freeze-Out and You Can’t Sit Down as the two last songs). As it seems highly unlikely that Springsteen would need a written prompt for Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, and considering that he had performed You Can’t Sit Down on fifteen known occasions during 1976 and 1977, one might wonder whether the show really did conclude with the latter song – though Rockwell’s timing of 85 minutes for the second set and the encores would conversely suggest that it did.
The sound on this release is rather muffled and distant during the early part of the show. Thereafter, the sound is largely clear and quite nicely balanced overall, though I could detect no stereo separation. In particular, the second set and encores sound much fuller and brighter than the earlier numbers. Rockwell notes that there were problems with the sound in the venue, stating that, “a…problem at the outset was a murky and feedback-ridden sound system,” though, “it was improved a the show progressed.” Some collectors may find the level of audience noise problematic. The audience in general is loud and there are clearly audible conversations, during as well as between songs, which are carried out very close to the tape recorder. Additionally, some audience members shout out various things, including the titles of song they wish to hear, in disconcertingly loud voices. A tape switch deprives us of the last few seconds of Prove It All Night and there is a short section near the end of Backstreets where the sound deteriorates sharply, presumably due to a cut being filled with another, inferior tape.
Darkness Starts Here comes in a slimline jewel case with simple but effective packaging. The front insert is a single reversible sheet, and both it and the rear insert display a variety of onstage and posed shots, together with images of the exterior of the venue, several of which are likely to be familiar to collectors from books or from earlier unofficial releases. There is a limited stickered edition.
Antell writes that this was the, “best show I ever saw in my entire life. Its the ONLY concert I’ve EVER been to where no one left when they turned on the house lights. In fact, turning on the lights made the crowd go crazy.” Rockwell reckons that Springsteen’s, “performance here – despite some inevitable rustiness and opening-night hitches – was simply wonderful.” It is a very good and extremely enjoyable show and the recording bears out what Antell writes about the audience reaction. However, the appearance over the years of numerous Darkness Tour concerts clearly reveals that there are numerous more accomplished (not to say longer and better-recorded) performances out there. Therefore, it is probable that this release will not appeal to the more casual Springsteen collector. However, as it contains the historic first show from Springsteen’s finest tour, I suspect that this will be a set that more serious collectors will want to find a space on their shelves for.