Bruce Springsteen – Definitive Bomb Scare Show (no label)

BS BOMB-FDefinitive Bomb Scare Show (no label)

Uptown Theater, Milwaukee, WI, USA – 2 October, 1975

Disc 1: Little Queenie, The E Street Shuffle inc. Having A Party, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, Sha-La-La, Kitty’s Back

Disc 2: Jungleland, intro To Rosalita, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Detroit Medley, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Quarter To Three

Bonus tracks: Municipal Auditorium, Austin, TX, 12 September, 1975: It’s Gonna Work Out Fine, Twist And Shout inc. Save The Last Dance For Me

This 2-CD release and its accompanying bonus CD-R bring us, for the first time, a complete recording of the famous bomb scare show of 2 October 1975 in Milwaukee, referred to by Gary Graff, in The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen A to E to Z, as, “one of the most storied concerts in the touring history of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.”  The show was interrupted after Thunder Road by the return to the stage of WQFM DJ Bob Reitman, who had earlier introduced Springsteen and the band, in order to instruct the audience to leave the venue in an orderly fashion.  A phone call had been received warning that a bomb had been planted in the venue.  Though no bomb was found, the remainder of the show was delayed by three hours and Springsteen did not take to the stage again until midnight.  Springsteen and the band spent the intervening time in the bar of the Pfister Hotel and, upon his return to the stage, as Brucebase alleges, “it’s evident that Bruce has had a few drinks.” Furthermore, “Wayne Darlington for JEMS and the ER Archives,” writing on the Jungleland site, contends that, “If you’ve never heard Bruce shout ‘are you loose?!’ when it is patently obvious he is, you have a great piece of Springsteen live performance history to look forward to.”   Further details are given in an article on the website by Bobby Tanzilo.  Commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the show, the article contains excerpts from interviews with numerous people who attended the concert, including Reitman, and it is well worth reading.

As far as I am aware none of the songs from the first, audience-recorded, part of the show have previously appeared on LP or CD.  The second, soundboard, section has had two CD releases, We Had Too Much To Drink Tonight (Scorpio Records) and The Milwaukee Bomb Scare Show (Mistral Music).  Additionally, five songs from the latter part of the show have appeared on compilations.  LPs to feature songs from the show are: Prisoner Of Rock ‘N’ Roll (1 LP, Psychobrother Records) – Sha-La-La; Just A Prisoner Of Rock ‘N’ Roll (1 LP, Bossrecords, later copied with the title Live In Milwaukee 1975) – 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) and Quarter To Three; All Those Years (10 LPs, Heart and Soul) – Kitty’s back, Sha-La-La and Little Queenie.  The CD version of All Those Years (Templar Records) featured Kitty’s Back and Little Queenie (half a dozen songs had to be omitted to squeeze the 10 LPs on to 5 CDs and Sha-La-La failed to make the cut), and both also appear on Seagull Records’ Live And Unreleased 1971/79, a copy of four discs’ worth of the vinyl version of All Those Years.  Additionally, the 3-CD release Cover’s Story Vol. 1 (Finfagel) includes Little Queenie, Sha-La-La and Quarter To Three.

In addition to these releases two magazines were issued with accompanying CDs featuring songs from the show.  Issue number seven of Los Grandes Del Rock, published in Italian and Spanish versions, contained a CD which included Kitty’s Back.  More familiar to readers, I would imagine, is the Italian Springsteen fanzine Follow That Dream, numerous issues of which came with discs from the famous Great Dane label, the first of which, Good Rockin’ Tonight, features Sha-La-La.  Brucebase also notes that, “segments of the second set also exist on audience shot 8mm amateur film.”

The first disc and the second part of the show open with what Brucebase calls an “outrageous” rendition of Little Queenie, rather ragged at times but hugely enjoyable, during which Springsteen, “repeatedly and hilariously ask[s] the audience ‘are you loose?!'”  It is one of only eight known performances of this Chuck Berry number spanning the years 1971-2008.  The nine minute performance begins with Springsteen telling the story of what he and the band had been doing between the two parts of the show:

I don’t know what you did, but we got real weird…We ran back to the hotel.  Are you loose?  We ran back to the hotel, ran into the bar.  I said, ‘bartender,’ I said ‘bartender, I need a drink.’  [Clarence Clemons: ‘Make it two, make it two.’]  I was shaking, my knees were weak, I couldn’t see straight.  Steve was there.  Come here, Steve.  Steve was there with me, we were sitting at the bar, we were scared to death, we said, ‘bartender, somebody tried to blow us up tonight.’  [Steve Van Zandt: ‘That’s right.’]  We said, ‘bartender, are you loose?  We said,  ‘bartender, somebody tried to blow us up tonight.’  He looked at me and said, ‘son, son, are you loose?’  I said, ‘yeah,’ and there I was and Clarence came in the bar.  Clarence shuffled in in his white suit.  The people, I wanna tell you now, that the people over at the Pfister didn’t know what was happening.  That is a weird joint.  So there we was.  I was sitting at the bar, Steve was at the bar, Clarence was at the bar, we was drinking our skulls out.”

As if that doesn’t paint a vivid enough picture, Springsteen adds mid-song that, “by this time I was on my knees…I was on my knees at the bar.  I was a sad and sorry sight.”

Next up is The E Street Shuffle is the slow version played at this time and perhaps most familiar from the famous Main Point show of 5 February.  Like that performance, this rendition begins with the spoken introduction, sometimes referred to as the “E Street Rap,” in which Springsteen narrates a highly mythologized version of his first encounter with Clemons, and it also contains the “Having A Party” section at the end.  It is another lengthy number, clocking in at twenty three and a half minutes, with the spoken “rap” alone lasing nearly fourteen minutes!  The story is even more highly embellished than usual, with Clemons coming across as an even more imposing and intimidating presence.  Springsteen also mentions the band’s lack of  success at that time, noting that the first encounter with Clemons occurred when they were “walking home one night, trying to figure out what we was missing.”  Finally, after the “Having A Party” section, as Clemons’ quiet, beautifully restrained sax part brings the song to its atmospheric conclusion, comes the revelation, as Springsteen concludes: “Hey, Steven, that’s what we needed – a saxophone.”  Overall, it is a superb performance.

Relative brevity is restored with a vibrant rendition of it’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, with Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt adding some effective guitar interplay at the end of the song.  Darlington contends that, “if you’re a Little Stephen fan…you’re going to love this mix, as his guitar and voice are high in it, which helps make this an especially fine night for ‘Saint in the City,’ too.”  Then comes The Shirelles’ Sha-La-La, with prominent backing vocals from Clemons.  Darlington calls it a “breakneck” performance and a review on the guitars101 website, noted as being “Courtesy of The Promise,” notes that the song is, “played at punk speed.”  Performed thirteen times during 1975 and only once since, in Hartford, CT, in 2009, the song was also recorded by Manfred Mann and Springsteen namechecks The Shirelles at the beginning of the song and Manfred Mann at the end.

Next up is another excellent performance, which a laughing Springsteen introduces by saying, “now the mad bomber better be careful, because Kitty’s Back.”  The song is another lengthy workout featuring extended organ, piano, guitar and saxophone solos, and gives the lie to Heylin’s contention that Springsteen should have stopped performing the song live after the highly accomplished keyboardist David Sancious left the band.  The Promise reviewer reckons it to be, “the best version of Kitty’s Back known to this reviewer…It is jazzy, it is messy and drunk, yet just when you think the whole composition is going to fall to pieces it explodes and returns again, and again, and again.”

The second disc opens with a fine performance of Jungleland, which features a nicely atmospheric concluding section.  The main set then ends with a raucous Rosalita.  Springsteen introduces the song by stating that there are differing ideas concerning where the events of the song took place, citing Italy, Paris and Jersey City.  Pianist Roy Bittan plays a snippet of music to represent each location, finishing with the theme from The Godfather to represent Jersey City.  Eventually, Springsteen reveals that the correct location is, “in a little café on the other side of the border,” and the song begins.  As one would expect, the song contains the band introductions, with the Theme From Shaft used to represent Clarence Clemons; more unusually, Springsteen repeats the band introductions after the song has concluded. 

The encore begins with an energetic Detroit Medley, only the sixth known performance, the first being a mere nine days earlier at the University of Michigan, which Springsteen introduces as, “one of my favourite songs in the world.”  The wistful, nostalgic aura of 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) is beautifully realized and then comes a riotous performance of Gary US Bonds’ Quarter To Three, a song performed frequently since its first outing just over a year before this show.  Before the song Springsteen tells the audience that, “now we’re gonna leave you the way we found you – LOOSE!” and there is some mid-song interaction with the audience during which Springsteen professes to be amazed that, some six hours after the show started, “you don’t wanna go home.”  This concludes a show which, as The Promise reviewer goes on to say, “technically was perhaps far from perfect, but was played like it was the band’s last performance ever.”

There are two very welcome bonus tracks from the show in Austin, Texas later in the year.  The first is Springsteen’s take on Ike And Tina Turner’s It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.  The song was played thirteen times in 1975, but has only resurfaced twice since then, once each in 1978 and 1979.  I have loved Springsteen’s version of the song since coming across it many years ago on the old vinyl classic Hot Coals From the Fiery Furnace (a performance from The Bottom Line on 16 August 1975) and it is wonderful to have this fine performance in excellent sound.  The second bonus track is show closer Twist And Shout.  The song, disfigured by a substantial cut at the start which results in a track length of less than five minutes, is notable for including a snippet of The Drifters’ Save The Last Dance For Me,  a song known from a handwritten set list to have been performed by Springsteen in its entirety just once up to this point, with the Bruce Springsteen Band.  Brucebase tentatively dates the performance to one of nine shows played at The Back Door, Richmond, VA in February 1972, while admitting that it could come from anytime between October 1971 and February 1972.

The source for the bonus tracks is a soundboard tape from the ER Archives (which contains shows from tapes in the collection of the late WMMR DJ Ed Sciaky), described “by BK for JEMS” on Jungleland as, “another clear and close board tape.  The mix is a bit vocal heavy, expected given a raw board feed in a relatively small venue, but otherwise quite appealing… it is a[n] upgrade, in this case sharper and tighter, especially in the high-end, compared to extant sources like the Whoop[y] Cat’s Austin 1975 bootleg CD.”  The sound of It’s Gonna Work Out Fine is particularly impressive and the performance and sound quality of the two songs make me think that a new CD release of the complete show would be highly desirable.


brucespring-before-bomb-scare1-300x296Bonus CD-R: Before The Bomb Scare

Uptown Theater, Milwaukee, WI, USA – 2 October, 1975

Meeting Across The River, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Spirit In The Night, Pretty Flamingo, She’s the One, Born To Run, Thunder Road. Bomb Scare

Anyone fortunate enough to acquire this release with the bonus disc will find themselves in possession of a single CD-R containing the audience recording of first part of the show.  The lesser-known opening section of the show made an impact from the start.  Damien Jacques, interviewed by Tanzilo, explains that:

“The scene that night was supercharged even before the bomb scare announcement.  The Uptown wasn’t that big, and the audience was a gathering of music hipsters because Springsteen hadn’t really broken out into the general public yet. You had to be a music person to have heard the buzz from the East Coast about him.  Reitman was still the head hipster in Milwaukee at that time.  There was an excitement in the crowd from the moment people got to the Uptown.”

Fellow interviewee Michael Plaisted writes:

“The show began slowly and beautifully – I could see music building to what would well have been earth-shattering without the bomb scare. He was the street poet then, caressing his odes to the boardwalk life – a killer ‘Meeting Across the River.’

Numerous sources state that this was the very first performance of the song.  This is incorrect, as the first known outing for the song was at the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium on 26 September, a show which can be heard on Live Songs (Super Sonic), and it was also played at the three intervening concerts.

A vivacious Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out is followed by a sinuous, sleazy, life affirming Spirit In The Night.  “During ‘Spirit in the Night,'” recalls Plaisted, Springsteen, “crawled up and down the aisle of the small theater, the first of many demonstrations of trust in humanity and his fans.”

Springsteen’s beautiful, slow arrangement of Pretty Flamingo is prefaced by a briefer version of the spoken introduction, concerning a girl who is so desirable that no-one has the courage to approach or speak to her, that is perhaps most familiar from the well-known Roxy show later that October.  A vibrant She’s the One and a frantic Born To Run then lead up to what turns out to be the last song of the first section of the show, a gorgeous solo piano rendition of Thunder Road.  The bonus disc then concludes with Reitman’s announcement.

Though the second part of the show has ensured what Plaisted calls its “legendary status,” the first section has also won plaudits.  Interviewed by Tanzilo, Dave Benton and Bob Reitman respectively state that, “the first part of the show was pretty amazing,” and, “I have no sense of any low points in the first part. It was powerful.  The (fans) were into it.”

Damien Jacques, whose account of the show in the Milwaukee Journal is headed “This Concert’s No Bomb” states that:

“Springsteen hasn’t gone back to playing simple Chuck Berry chords but has recycled bits of rock’s best moments from the last 20 years and blended them into a style that is both basic and sophisticated…

What was clear Thursday night was Springsteen’s lightning bolt energy, his clowning charm, his personal intensity that makes him an unforgettable stage figure.  Springsteen’s unabashed and uninhibited love of rock ‘n’ roll spreads through the audience like a contagious disease…

The new rock messiah has been found.  Bruce Springsteen is the man for the job.”

Kevin P. Keefe, interviewing Reitman nine years later for the Milwaukee Sentinel, writes:

“‘That had to be the greatest rock ‘n’ roll show ever,’ Reitman said with just a slight sense of exaggeration.  ‘I remember a Columbia Records photographer told me that was Bruce’s 83rd show of the tour and that it was the best…What everybody ended up seeing was Springsteen at his best.  Perhaps inspired by the tension of the bomb incident, the band erupted for two more hours of passionate music-making.  When the E Street band quit at 2 o’clock in the morning, the audience was drained.”

Jaques, interviewed by Tanzilo, contends that, “the place was electric when the concert resumed.  It has to be considered the greatest rock concert in Milwaukee history,” and fellow interviewee Louie Lucchesi agues that, “Springsteen had really blown the roof off the Uptown when he left the stage.  To this day I put it with the best concerts I’ve ever seen, maybe the best.” In his interview with Tanzilo, Reitman states that, “it was so intense and so incredible. The greatest rock and roll show I’ve ever seen.”  He credits this to the combination of extremely good songs, a great band and the tension engendered by the bomb scare. 

While some commentators concentrate on the tension caused by the bomb scare as the main factor in making this a great performance, others cite the fun aspect of the second part of the show, the result of the consumption of alcohol.  Dave Benton, also interviewed by Tanzilo, notes that both, “the crowd and band came back for part two fairly well lubricated…It was a big party for a couple more hours, great fun.”  Similarly, Lynn Elder, in Bruce Springsteen: You Better Not Touch, notes that, “Bruce admits he spent the time at the hotel bar while he waited for the show to resume, and the raucous and lively performance confirms it…fun and entertaining.”

It is clear from the comments of some attendees who have written or spoken about the show that they have reacted to the hype surrounding Springsteen at this period in his career.  Already he had been hailed as “the new Dylan,” had been the subject of Jon Landau’s infamous pronouncement, “I have seen rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen,” and had seen the excessive hyping of his new album Born To Run, released a month before this show, by Columbia Records.  In addition to all this, Springsteen’s simultaneous appearance on the covers of Time and Newsweek followed later in the month.  Some commentators have clearly both been influenced by the hype and contributed to it.  Jacques, for example, notes that people, “had heard Springsteen, the recipient of a massive publicity campaign, called the new Bob Dylan,” but he concludes his review of the show, as stated above, by calling Springsteen, “the new rock messiah.”  We should therefore be wary of hyperbolic comments such as Reitman’s reference to the performance as, “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll show ever.”  I do think that it is a great show, but if one casts around for superior Springsteen performances one could come up with several potential examples just from 1975.  There are, for example, the legendary Main Point show, one of my three favourite Springsteen shows of all time (Main Point Night, Crystal Cat), the long-revered Bottom Line concert (The Punk Meets The Godfather – Godfather) and the splendid Roxy show mentioned above (Roxy Theatre Night – Crystal Cat), with, among other delights, a sublime rendition of Pretty Flamingo, and this does not exhaust the list of contenders.  The Roxy performance, one of a stand of five shows over four nights, also demonstrates that the hype fed into reviews, with two reviews in The Sundial, the student newspaper of California State University Northridge, being jointly headed, “He really is that good…”

In the words of Darlington, the source for both parts of the show is:

“The sixth in a series of releases from the ER Archives, the collection of an active ’70s taper and trader…ER’s collection contains previously uncirculated shows as well as upgrades to circulating tapes, both audience and soundboard.” 

ER made copies of several Springsteen shows from tapes in Ed Sciaky’s possession (including, as stated above, the Austin show from which the bonus tracks derive) using, as he states, “only the best tape and copied from my Akai 4-track to my Tandberg stereo deck,” leading Darlington to conclude that ER’s “copies of even well-known shows may well be improvements.”

Darlington goes on to say:

“Milwaukee…[has] never circulated from a known lineage and [was] never digitally transferred from Sciaky’s reels…So this copy of Milwaukee, we believe, is the lowest generation source ever transferred and torrented.  And to our ears it is a clear upgrade.  Milwaukee has always been one of the better boards, but the clarity here, both in the high and low end, is striking.  Compared to the previous best circulating copy, the new Milwaukee board transfer is lush and full, brighter and deeper in a way the old one never was.  It has a true ‘you are there’ quality.”

Elder awards We Had Too Much To Drink Tonight a mark of seven out of then for sound quality, stating that, “the sound is very good (if a bit noisy).” Comparing the two older releases, Guitars101 quotes volume 1 of Wanted – The Bruce Springsteen Bootleg Guide:

“This brilliant show has been previously released on ‘We Had Too Much To Drink Tonight.’  Then it was in mono and in very good sound quality.  This release [The Milwaukee Bomb Scare Show] is in stereo and has excellent sound.  Unfortunately, the sound quality drops on disc two.  There’s suddenly a hiss present on the first part.  It gets a little better along the way.  Here you find the uncut version of the show.  (The first version had blanks between songs.)  This preserves  the great atmosphere…Also the songorder [sic] has not been tempered [sic] with so you can fully enjoy this of this part show as it was actually performed.”

The last comment is a reference to the fact that, unlike the old Scorpio title (and this new release), The Milwaukee Bomb Scare Show places Jungleland before Kitty’s Back.  The provenance of this new release alone would lead me to doubt the claim that this is the correct order.  Moreover, the Mistral release has a clear discontinuity in the audience noise between Sha-La-La and Jungleland and between Kitty’s Back and Rosalita.  No such discontinuities are discernible on Definitive Bomb Scare Show.

The Promise reviewer also notes that the Mistral version of the show, though superior to the Scorpio release clearly and possessing positive qualities, is also not without problems:

“Soundwise, this is a soundboard, but not a perfect one, for there is some distortion in the beginning of Kitty’s Back and the louder passages are a bit muffled.  Still the sound is clear and bright, very ‘live,’ whatever that may mean.
I guess the best way I can describe it is that as far as live recordings are concerned, this one makes you feel like you were there in the first row.”

The Milwaukee Bomb Scare Show does provide a most enjoyable listening experience.  However, this new version is an upgrade and it undoubtedly lives up to Darlington’s description quoted above.  Moreover, as I have noted, the sound of the bonus tracks is also extremely impressive.

The sound of the audience section of the show leaves a lot to be desired.  It is, Darlington continues, “still crappy, but this copy should be better than you’ve heard it before. The start of the show isn’t cut as it is on other copies, and while it remains a poor recording, you can still make out what’s going on.”  Overall, the sound is distant and rather muffled, with, perhaps unsurprisingly, the two voice-and-piano performances, Meeting Across The River and Thunder Road, coming across rather better than the band numbers.  There are also several glitches, seemingly caused by tape slippage or the tape having been chewed up and additionally there is some intrusive audience chatter.

The two main CDs are housed in a slimline double jewel case with front and rear inserts but no booklet.  The front features a posed photograph of Springsteen and the band which is likely to be familiar to many collectors and this is also reproduced on the discs themselves.  Additionally, the inserts display onstage shots from the show taken by Rick Kohlmeyer and Robert J. Cavallo and a photo of fans outside the venue waiting for the show to recommence by Mark Goff.  The bonus disc comes in an ultra-slim case with a front insert only.  The front reproduces, in larger size, an onstage shot also included on the rear of the front insert of the main set; the reverse bears a further onstage photo featuring Springsteen and Clemons.  Incidentally, in 2009 Cavallo published a book of his photographs from  the show, entitled Are You Loose?  Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band Live at the Uptown Theater.

Overall, despite the existence of even better shows from 1975, this is a tremendous performance derived from a unique and historically significant show.  This new release is simply but very nicely packaged, with the artwork enhanced by the inclusion of the photographs from the show, and the superb sound quality of the main 2-CD set is an upgrade from previous releases, allowing for greater listening pleasure.  Moreover, the decision to include the poor-sounding opening section of the show only as a limited bonus CD-R was absolutely right, allowing committed collectors the opportunity to acquire the full show for the first time, while avoiding the extra expense of a three disc set.  Consequently, Definitive Bomb Scare Show deserves to find its way into every Springsteen collection.


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