Dream Of Life (Godfatherecords G.R. 840/841/842)
Rose Garden, Portland, OR, USA – 28 November, 2012
Disc 1: Land Of Hope And Dreams[/People Get Ready], No Surrender, Hungry Heart, We Take Care Of Our Own, Wrecking Ball, Death To My Hometown, My City Of Ruins, Spirit In The Night, Loose Ends, Growin’ Up
Disc 2: Jack Of All Trades, Seeds, Johnny 99, Darlington County, Shackled And Drawn, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, Drive All Night, The Rising, Badlands, Thunder Road, If I Should Fall Behind
Disc 3: Born To Run, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Dancing In The Dark, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Bonus tracks: Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA, USA – 30 November, 2012: Adam Raised A Cain, Something In The Night, Pay Me My Money Down, I’m Going Down, Devils & Dust, Kitty’s Back
Godfather’s two late-2012 Pacific North-west releases comprise Aross The Canadian Border (already reviewed), containing the Vancouver show of 26 November, and the Portland concert under consideration here. “‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ opened the show – yes, the same song that the night before [sic] was the finale of the main set,” writes Bob Mason on the Backstreets website, “it worked masterfully as the opener. Bruce shortened the outro a bit to keep the energy up and moved into a guitar-fueled ‘No Surrender.'” Steve Hanna writes on Springsteen’s official website:
“Portland found Bruce in freewheeling mode, from the instant he kicked things off with a house-lights-on run through ‘Land of Hope And Dreams.’ The crowd could be forgiven for being a little stunned by this, and Steve labored mightily to get folks clapping along. You got the sense he had a dog in this fight, having lobbied backstage to put a show-closer at the top of the set, and wanted to prove he was right. He was – the song proved a surprisingly fit rave-up. The lights dropped just as the band settled into the ‘People Get Ready’ gospel coda, and what usually reads as a breathy benediction now came off like a punchy promise of great things to come. ‘Are you ready for the train tonight?’ Bruce asked repeatedly, to roars of affirmation. Next up was a soaring ‘No Surrender,’ followed by a party-hearty run through ‘Hungry Heart.'”
We then get the oft-played trio of songs from Wrecking Ball, album-opener We Take Care Of Our Own, a splendidly energetic and defiant-sounding Wrecking Ball and the martial-inflected Death To My Hometown, which collectively serve to remind everyone that Springsteen is still as relevant and productive an artist as he ever was.
The next song, My City Of Ruins is described by Ned Lannamann of The Portland Mercury thus:
“The emotional high point came early, after an opening streak of new songs: ‘My City of Ruins’ was stretched out to 20 minutes, with Bruce speaking softly over a slow, steady vamp – about friends and lost ones, and passing years. ‘I’m old,’ he said, ‘but I got work to do.’ Then he added, ‘I love my job!’ He talked about his adopted hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey, which fell into blight and abandonment in the past 25 or 30 years, only to be revived, slowly, surely, the past of couple summers. I don’t remember him mentioning Hurricane Sandy then; he didn’t need to, as we were all thinking about it. From there, it was onto ‘Spirits in the Night’ [sic] and a round of audience requests.”
The Oregonian reviewer Ryan White explains how the first of these requests, Loose Ends, came to be played:
“By the the seventh song, Springsteen was taking requests. The first came from a over-sized work made up to look a little like Elvis Costello’s ‘Spectacular Spinning Songbook’ wheel. After making sure the wheel spun, Springsteen invited a woman in the front row up to spin it. The first try landed on ‘Pay Me My Money Down,’ but she tried to quickly move it to ‘Roulette.’
‘Spin it again,’ Springsteen said.
She did, and it landed on ‘Employee Appreciation Night.’ Also known as: Steve Van Zandt gets to pick a song.
Van Zandt thought about it for a moment and pulled out ‘Loose Ends,’ a River-era outtake that made its way to the ‘Tracks’ box set.
‘Uh oh,’ Springsteen said.”
Further requests followed through the show and into the encores, whether for songs of for audience participation, as White goes on to explain:
“Next, a sign asking for ‘Growing Up’ [sic] in honor of a 50th birthday. Not only did the guy get his song, but he got to get up and sing it with Springsteen. Later, the now-regular group of women in ‘Lesbians (heart) Bruce’ T-shirts made it up on stage to dance during ‘Darlington County.’
A couple of girls got to help sing ‘Waiting on a Sunny Day’ [sic]. A little girl, and a bunch of women who had a sign declaring their desire to dance with Van Zandt were pulled up during ‘Dancing in the Dark.’ During the same song, when security saw some fans climbing on the riser in the middle of the floor and went after them, Springsteen urged them to stick with it.
‘Don’t pay any attention to that guy,’ he said, pointing at his security detail and laughing. ‘(Bleep) that guy.’
And always, just when it seemed it could go totally out of control, Springsteen brought it back. Taking a request for ‘Seeds,’ a searing song about desperation, he paused to set it up with ‘Jack of all Trades,’ a resolute-in-the-face-of-adversity ballad from his latest record, ‘Wrecking Ball.’ Then ‘Seeds,’ then a blistering ‘Johnny 99’ that ended with the horns taking over the stage, and the party was on again.”
White omits to mention a fine performance of Shackled And Drawn with its usual fine vocal contribution from Cindy Mizelle drawn from Lyn Collins’ Me And My Baby Got Our Own Thing Going.
Drive All Night was also played by request and is the first of a sequence of numbers late in the show which made a huge impact on Lannaman: “The closing string of songs (the rare ‘Drive All Night,’ ‘The Rising,’ ‘Badlands,’ ‘Thunder Road,’ a soft and stunning ‘If I Should Fall Behind,’ ‘Born to Run,’ ‘Rosalita,’ ‘Dancing in the Dark,’ ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,’ and ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’) was absolutely mindblowing, with the house lights on full blaze for the final half hour.” “For us ‘seasoned travelers,’ there’s always at least one moment that reminds us exactly why we do this,” writes Mason, who was attending his thirtieth show of the tour, “tonight, it was when Bruce went back to the request pile to pull out a sign for ‘Drive All Night,’ This River chestnut, which went unplayed by the E Street Band for far too long, is developing into a breathtaking musical assault, with musical layers and textures beginning to rival, Racing in the Street.'” Glen Boyd, writing on blogcritics.org, notes that Jake Clemons played, “a stunning, pitch perfect solo” during the song. If I Should Fall Behind, which opened the encore in response to a sign request from a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary, was performed by Springsteen in a solo acoustic rendition which Mason calls “a beautiful version.” Boyd argues that, “Bruce turned in one of his strongest vocal performances of the night.” Unfortunately, mirroring the song placement on Across The Canadian Border, If I Should Fall Behind concludes disc two and is therefore separated from the rest of the encores.
Companion release Across The Canadian Border does contain a fine show, and anyone who has heard it will be aware of what a great time the audience in Vancouver had, but in my estimation this Portland concert is even better. Boyd concludes that:
“fans [left] the arena feeling pretty satisfied in Portland. But even if none of the rarities had been played at all, this would have ranked as one of the great ones. The newly expanded E Street Band played their asses off for over three hours making for one very high energy show. The band was tight, the new horn section sounded great, and Bruce and Steve in particular looked like they were having the time of their lives.
It was definitely an ‘on’ night.”
Lannamann, by his own admission not an enthusistic Springsteen fan, was nonetheless mightily impressed:
“Well, damn. That was just about as great a show as I have ever seen. I’ve seen the Boss before – he was good, but not that good. For more than three hours at the Rose Garden last night, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band did what they are legendary for doing – playing impassioned, major-chord, sing-along anthems about life, love, and loss, and pretty much electrifying everyone in the room. I don’t know if I can adequately explain why last night’s concert was as good as it was, but it was downright astonishing.
Bruce [is] on a hot streak right now…the entire audience was rapt from start to finish…
In short, it was just an incredible, magical night, and not a soul walked out of that arena disappointed. I’m not the biggest Bruce fan – sure, I’ve always liked him, but you know how nuts the real Springsteen fans can get – but last night might have made me a convert…I don’t know why Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band gave Portland such a miraculous show last night, and I’m pretty sure we didn’t deserve it, but I’m definitely glad they did.”
Lannaman’s description might seem overly hyperbolic but posters on his paper’s website were also impressed. Len writes,”it was magical…I left thinking that was the greatest show I had ever seen and I’ve seen my fair share” and cidergirl opines: “I had heard how incredible he was at live shows, and I walked out thinking ‘Man, everyone was right, that was the best show I’ve ever seen.’ Reading updates from friends and reviewers today who have been to multiple Springsteen shows, saying that it was by far the best show of his they’ve seen….wow.”
To supplement the main show Godfather adds a welcome selection of bonus tracks from the concert played at the Oracle Arena in Oakland on 30 November. First up is a leaden, lumbering reading of Adam Raised A Cain, but the disappointment is quickly assuaged due to a gorgeous rendition of Something In The Night. Springsteen then enters Seeger Sessions territory for a jaunty and most enjoyable Pay Me My Money Down, which is followed by an energetic I’m Going Down.
Then comes the highlight of the bonus tracks. ‘Devils & Dust’ was particularly impressive,” argues Jon Greer on Springsteen’s official website, “with Bruce starting by softly accompanying himself on electric guitar, only to bring in the entire band for a rocked-up bridge and finish featuring Nils on pedal steel.” Jonathan Pont, on the Backstreets website, was also most impressed, writing: “Its arrangement is simply gorgeous, featuring a full complement of sound, from the drone of Charles Giordano’s accordion to the harmony of Curt Ramm’s trumpet and back to Springsteen’s striking guitar solos. Here, in its second E Street Band airing, the music took its biggest chance, and paid its biggest reward, too.”
Finally, there is what Pont calls “a fantastic reading” of encore-opener Kitty’s Back, with the extended soloing imbuing the song with the feel of a long, loose jam and stretching it to thirteen-and-a-half minutes.
Comments on the Jungleland website suggest that this Godfather release has the best sound of the available versions of the Portland show. The first recording to appear was recorded at some distance from the stage and has a distorted and incomplete Land Of Hope And Dreams. Comparing the first recording with the Godfather release, KleWdSide states of the Godfather that, “LOHAD isn’t all screwed up. It’s not mindblowing, but WAY better than the lousy first boot.” Additionally, olli66 (who is exceedingly hostile to Godfather and who disparaged the sound quality on Across The Canadian Border) comments that, “Portland ain’t too bad…the recording seems to improve after [No Surrender], still the high frequencies are to [sic] harsh but it seems to be very listenable even without eq.” There is also a JEMS version, but “I’ll stick with Godfather’s,” writes KleWdSide due to, “too much bass, muffled vocals” in the former. As with Vancouver, Godfather states that Portland emanates from the label’s “usual taper.” The sound does not quite boast what I referred to as the “terrific presence” of the Vancouver tape but it does possess more in the way of clarity. It may not “mindblowing” but it is extremely good and makes for an enjoyable listen. It seems that credit should be given to the taper for having to contend with less than ideal sound in the venue. On the Portland Mercury site fan writes that, “my only problem with the show was the sound. I don’t expect much at the Rose Garden, but I thought it was particularly bad last night.” As with Across The Canadian Border the sound of the bonus tracks, while listenable, is clearly inferior to that of the main show.
Godfather’s customary tri-fold packaging has the usual slection of onstage shots. As with the companion release, Across The Canadian Border, the front cover shows Springsteen against the background of a national flag – here, of course the Stars and Stripes rather than the Canadian maple leaf design. The rear shows Springsteen, Lofgren and Van Zandt in a variety of less-than-flattering festive headgear. There is no booklet, though there are the usual “Joe Roberts” sleeve notes. Overall, with its terrific main show and its enjoyable and generous selection of bonus tracks, Dream Of Life is well worth acquiring.