Does This Bus Stop At Max’s? (Godfatherecords G.R. 269)
Max’s Kansas City, New York, NY – 31 January 1973
Mary Queen Of Arkansas, Bishop Danced, Circus Song, Spirit In The Night, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, Thundercrack, Saga Of The Architect Angel, Song For The Orphans
Bonus Tracks: 914 Studios, Blauvelt, NY – 28 June, 1973: Santa Ana; Joe’s Place, Cambridge, MA – January, 1974: Zero And Blind Terry
Springsteen’s first album,Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, was released on 5 January 1973 and shortly afterwards he played a twelve-show, six-night stand (31 January-5 February) at Max’s Kansas City in New York, supporting Biff Rose. Springsteen had already begun to build up a following in New York and clearly many of the audience were there to see him rather than the headliner. It seems that they were not disappointed. As Stuart Werbin wrote in Rolling Stone:
“The house was packed by the time he walked on each night. People were crammed on each other’s laps. His sets [were] followed by an impatient demand for a encore…Onstage, he projected a dirty sexual energy that rivaled the best of the established stars with whom he had been compared…coupled with a loose, cavalier attitude.”
Springsteen’s manager, Mike Appel and his label, Columbia, had arranged for recording of the first night’s show to be carried out by DIR Broadcasting Corporation for the widely syndicated radio show King Biscuit Flower Hour. Only one song, Bishop Danced, was broadcast, on 18/19 February. It was subsequently re-broadcast many times, but it appears that permission was never given to air any other songs. The song eventually obtained an official release on the career retrospective Tracks (with the broadcast date mistakenly given as the recording date).
King Biscuit still retains its master tape of the first night shows. Springsteen seems to have treated the performances as two halves of the same show with different songs in each. After two acoustic numbers, the band took the stage for the remainder of the set. The tape consists of the entire first set and at least the two acoustic numbers from the second set. There have been suggestions that King Biscuit also have the band section of the second set on their tape. After all, it seems unlikely that the DIR engineers would sit through the interval, Biff Rose’s set and the break between shows and then record only two further songs. Possible evidence that the tape is complete comes from the invaluable Brucebase website, which suggests that the recording of Rosalita on the excellent three CD set Deep Down In The Vaults (E. St. Records) is from this series of shows, possibly from the first night. This is due to the fact that Rosalita is a “near perfect sonic match” for the first night’s performance of Thundercrack.
Appel used the recordings of Bishop Danced and Thundercrack (the latter heavily edited) for copyright/publishing purposes and tapes or acetates were distributed to select industry insiders. These were presumably the source utilized for the early Springsteen bootleg LP Fire On The Fingertips, a short compilation of live and studio tracks. Tracks from the show appeared piecemeal on numerous other LPs and CDs. They finally came together on the Live At Max’s Kansas City CD (Swingin’ Pig). However, for reasons that have never been explained, the final song is incomplete. Recently, the show has been made available on Wolfgang’s Vault in, as Brucebase puts it, “much clearer quality than previously known.” This has led to two new releases, the CD-R Live At Max’s Kansas City (Vintage Masters) and the Godfather CD under review. (The Vintage masters release is credited to “Tallent & Federici, Sancious, Ropez [sic] & Clemons” as well as to Springsteen and this seems to be widely regarded as the title of the CD, although a glance at the artwork would suggest otherwise.)
Like the first LP, this show sees Springsteen in a period of transition. He had been signed to Columbia the previous August by John Hammond, who envisaged him as a folky singer-songwriter, and he had played solo acoustic shows (including an earlier one at Max’s to, according to venue owner Mickey Ruskin, an audience of two!). However, Springsteen was at heart a rock musician. The New York Times commented that “Springsteen can do anything he chooses, and it’s sometimes been difficult for him to decide what he should be.” Dave Marsh was clear which camp Springsteen was really in:
“His lyrics were sufficiently intense and personal to work as singer-songwriter material, but they were clearly rooted in the rock tradition…Springsteen’s music was never sedate and well-mannered in the singer-songwriter fashion…To lump him together with them was as unwieldy as trying to make the singer-songwriters themselves fit the tradition founded by Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.”
Despite Marsh’s contention, it is the singer-songwriter persona which initially emerges on Godfather’s CD, as the concert opens with Mary Queen of Arkansas. Springsteen’s acoustic guitar is effectively complemented by Danny Federici’s accordion and the song also features a strong vocal performance which makes it an improvement on the LP version. The second acoustic number is Bishop Danced, a rather more upbeat song, again featuring Federici’s accordion (including a solo), and it is an enjoyable performance. Familiar to many due to its appearance on Fire On The Fingertips, it appears here complete with a rambling and incoherent spoken introduction in which Springsteen claims to explain what the song is about.
The band then take the stage for the remainder of the first set. The sound of the band section of the performance is spare and rather unusual. Springsteen and Federici are joined by Clarence Clemons, Garry Tallent and Vincent Lopez. David Sancious would not add his distinctive piano until June (although he had played on the Greetings LP) and Steve Van Zandt’s second guitar would have to wait until 1975. Consequently, even the band section is lighter and less clearly rock-oriented than in later performances. The sound of these early performances is summed up effectively by Robert Santelli in Greetings From E Street:
“It was a somewhat sparse sound…While Lopez, Tallent and Federici comprised the rhythm section, with Federici stepping out on some songs with his accordion and an occasional organ solo, the bulk of the solo work was left to Clemons on sax and Springsteen on guitar. Not having a rhythm guitarist in the band meant that when Springsteen took a lead the sound of the band lightened.”
Indeed, it would be hard to regard the first band number as a rock song. In a performance very close to the album version the number later known as Wild Billy’s Circus Story (though at this point titled Circus Song) features its usual line-up of acoustic guitar, accordion and Tallent’s tuba. Things finally get louder and faster with Spirit In The Night. The song is carried by Clemons’ saxophone, joined later by Federici’s organ. The prominence of the saxophone provides an interesting alternative to more familiar performances. Next up is Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? This is somewhat slower and funkier than the album version, with Springsteen’s guitar, Clemons’ sax and Federici’s organ interweaving effectively. The first set ends with Thundercrack, again a lighter performance than later versions, and featuring a comedy interlude which elicits much laughter from the audience.
The first of the two two acoustic songs from the second set is the western-themed Saga Of The Architect Angel, on which Springsteen accompanies himself on the piano. After this he switches to acoustic guitar and is again joined by Danny Federici on accordion for Song For The Orphans. Unfortunately, the song ends little more than half way through. Godfather’s version has a few seconds’ more music than the old Swingin’ Pig CD and fades rather than cutting out suddenly. The complete performance of this song was issued on The Unsurpassed Springsteen Volume 2 (Yellow Dog), although the sound, while still very good, is inferior.
The first bonus track is the studio version of Santa Ana which also appeared on Fire On The Fingertips and will therefore be familiar to many collectors. The second bonus track is Zero and Blind Terry (a studio version of which also graced Fire On The Fingertips) in a live performance from Joe’s Place in Cambridge in January 1974. This is a better performance than the studio version but Godfather have already issued this as a bonus track on their CD Mountain Of Love so the studio version would have been a more fitting bonus. However, on the new CD there is a snippet of a spoken introduction and, to my ears, a slight improvement in sound quality. The rival Vintage Masters release has no bonus tracks so Godfather has the advantage here.
The Godfather release comes in excellent clear stereo, which makes this a very enjoyable listening experience. The CD is contained in Godfather’s usual tri-fold sleeve with some nice photographs from the era, including a superb stage shot of Springsteen and Clemons on the front cover. The transitional period represented on this CD would not last long. The acoustic songs would soon be gone and Sancious’ arrival would serve to fill out the band’s sound. Consequently, this is an important historical release and belongs in every serious Springsteen collection.