Driving That Dusty Road (Godfatherecords G.R.530/531)
Memorial Hall, Kansas City, KS, USA – 16 June, 1978
Disc 1: Darkness On The Edge Of Town, For You, The Promised Land, Prove It All Night, Racing In The Street, Thunder Road, Jungleland, Paradise By The C, Fire, Adam Raised A Cain
Disc 2: Mona, She’s The One, Growin’ Up, Backstreets, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), The Promise, Born To Run, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Quarter To Three
Springsteen’s 1978 tour in support of his long-delayed and eagerly awaited new album Darkness On The Edge Of Town began in Buffalo, NY on 23 May. Nine of the ten songs (Factory was the exception) were played at that first show, eight of which were receiving their premiere performances. (Something In The Night had first been played at the Monmouth Arts Center in Red Bank, New Jersey on 1 August, 1976.) Kansas City was only the seventeenth concert of a tour which ended on 1 January, 1979 after a hundred and seventeen shows. Consequently, Godfather presents us with very early performances of five songs from Darkness and two other Springsteen compositions (Fire and Paradise By The C, both of which also debuted in Buffalo).
The Darkness Tour is often considered to be the one which features Springsteen’s greatest performances. Dave Marsh, in his Born To Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, refers to it as “a triumphal tour,” adding that during its best moments “you could see how far Springsteen had come.” John Rockwell of the New York Times states of his experience of the tour that, “it’s not difficult for this writer to say that as a performer…Springsteen is the best he’s encountered in rock-and-roll, ever.” Christopher Sandford, in his book Springsteen: Point Blank, contends that the Darkness Tour shows displayed Springsteen as “an all-action hive of euphoric, mesmerising pop and percolating rock; playing notes like bolts of static…the gigs connected on aural, visual and, above all, gut levels. Springsteen delivered.”
The shows’ visceral impact came largely from a heavier, more guitar-based sound. As Robert Santelli points out in his book Greetings From E Street: The Story Of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, “On Darkness Springsteen…returned to the sound of the electric guitar as the dominant musical force in most of the songs.” In an interview for Rolling Stone, Paul Nelson told Springsteen that Darkness was “less urban” that his previous work. Springsteen agreed, stating that, “I always felt closest to…the small town kind of stuff” – characters in songs such as Racing In The Street, like Springsteen, “don’t live in New York.” Consequently the Darkness LP saw a reduction in the role of Clarence Clemons’ saxophone (a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, essentially urban instrument) in favour of Springsteen’s guitar. The saxophone, claims Springsteen, is “right up to your face. But the guitar has always been a little cooler instrument, and the tone of the songs was a little cooler, so I played more guitar on this record than I did the last time.” Ironically, especially in the live shows, the guitar sound was anything but cool, and as Jimmy Guterman suggests in Runaway American Dream: Listening To Bruce Springsteen, “Springsteen’s loud, nasty guitar was everywhere.”
The new sound of the Darkness Tour was disseminated widely thanks to FM radio broadcasts of five shows: The Roxy, Los Angeles, CA – 7 July (KMET); The Agora, Cleveland, OH – 9 August (WMMS and around nine other stations, and later rebroadcast on KSAN); The Capitol Theater, Passaic, NJ – 19 September (WNEW); The Fox Theater, Atlanta, GA – 30 September (various south-eastern stations) and The Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, CA – 15 December (KSAN). These shows will be familiar to many collectors in numerous LP and CD incarnations and all but the Atlanta show are available on Crystal Cat CDs.
The Kansas City show, however, is not one of the well-known shows from the tour. Indeed, it appears that the location of the show has been widely misidentified, even by authoritative sources such as Backstreets and Dave Marsh. The venue is usually given as the Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City, MO. However, the Brucebase website cites the Memorial Hall, Kansas City, KS and presents incontrovertible evidence for its claim – a ticket stub clearly stating, “Bruce Springsteen Memorial Hall Jun 16 1978.” Godfather’s sleeve correctly places the show at the Memorial Hall but incorrectly gives the state as Missouri. (The Kansas City Metro Area straddles the state line so that, despite being in the same city, the Memorial Hall is indeed in Kansas, while the Municipal Hall lies within Missouri.)
Driving That Dusty Road appears to be the first silver release of this concert and it comprises the whole soundboard portion of the show, one of only two circulating Darkness Tour soundboards that predate the famous Roxy show mentioned above (the other is from the Paramount Theater, Portland, OR on 24 June, once available on the E St. Records release, Raising Cain.) Missing are the first three songs, Badlands, Night and Spirit In The Night, though these exist on an audience tape. I understand that Godfather had some concerns about the quality of this tape, and, indeed, the sound is rather bass-heavy and somewhat lacking in clarity. The Brucebase website suggests a previous release with the statement, “released on CD Kansas City Carboy (BTS 1) – soundboard only.” The Killing Floor Database is unsure about what it suggests is a 3CD-R release, stating “DETAILS ON THIS ARE UNCONFIRMED. Songs from this show are contained in this CD-R, but only a part of the show is included, the part available on soundboard source.” Further details can be gleaned from the trading page of the Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen website, which shows two releases. Kansas City Carboy is credited to “Bruce Tree Service vol. 1” and also shown in a “nototim corrected version” with identical artwork; there is also This Is For You…But You Gotta Shut Up, credited to “Buckshot production.” Aside from the venue and date, no other details are given; I assume that these are, in fact, torrented versions, complete with downloadable artwork. There is also a 3 CD-R release from Hot Stuff, Kansas City Carboys, dating from 2006. This features the entire show, but it seems that the label did not have access to the complete soundboard tape, as the first eight songs, not just the first three, are from the audience source. (Hot Stuff, incidentally, correctly identifies the venue as the Memorial Hall.)
Driving That Dusty Road opens with Springsteen talking to a member of the audience. “Mike’s Giant Submarines?” he says quizzically, “Are you Mike?” It would appear that Mike has been irritatingly vocal, for, after a litlle more banter, Springsteen offers him a decidedly qualified dedication: “Mike, this is for you, but you gotta shut up.” What follows is a superb rendition of Darkness On The Edge Of Town. It is a fiery, gutsy, affecting performance, fully reflecting both Guterman’s description of the song as “a slow, snarling, burning rocker” and Sandford’s opinion of it as “a dark fable…[conveying] a raw, harrrowing awareness that we can never escape our fate.” After this terrific beginning comes a simultaneously jaunty and powerful full-band version of For You, introduced as one of “a whole mess of songs” written in 1971-72. Dave Marsh, commenting on the opening Buffalo show in Bruce Springsteen: On Tour 1968-2005, states that Springsteen “played ‘For You,’ which he’d never done with the band in its twin-keyboard, twin-guitar formation.” Next up is a fine, enegetic version of The Promised Land, sounding exceedingly fresh in this early live incarnation and featuring a splendid sax solo from Clemons.
The next song, Prove It All Night, is also from the new album but played in a radically modified version which contains the best example of Guterman’s “loud, nasty guitar.” As he goes on to say, the Darkness Tour vesion of this song “built from a soft piano intro through a screaming guitar solo into an unruly version of the song as it appeared on the album, followed by another wicked guitar solo. It was as if Springsteen intended in one song to make up for all the guitar solos he didn’t play onstage in ’75 and ’76.” Anyone who has a number of Darkness Tour shows in their collection will be aware that the initial lengthy instrumental intro evolved as the tour progressed, becoming increasingly raucous and powerful. The Winterland performance is, in my opinion, the most intense and satisfying, but the early version here has a natural, unforced quality which provides a pleasing contrast.
Another Darkness song, Racing In The Street, which is dedicated to “all the Kansas City car boys,” follows. The slow, haunting album-closer receives a wonderful performance, largely courtesy of of Roy Bittan’s subdued, understated piano, but also due to an excellent vocal turn by Springsteen. The song seems to me to encapsulate what the album is all about. The “adolescent” Springsteen who could end a song like Thunder Road with the defiant optimism of “It’s a town full of losers/I’m pulling out here to win” is gone, replaced by the “adult” Springsteen, who reputedly stated that the characters on Darkness are, “people who are going from nowhere to nowhere.” Despite the realization that life is often bleak, the characters in the songs refuse to wallow in self-pity. Pehaps the key lines of the entire album are to be found in Racing In the Street: “Some guys just give up living/And start dying, little by little, piece by piece/Some guys come home from work and wash up/And go racing in the street.” As Dave Marsh puts it in his Rolling Stone review of Darkness, these lines show that “Springsteen knows that the line separating the living dead from the walking wounded is a fine and bitter one.” The version of the song presented here conveys this magnificently. It is also an early example of a version of the song which segues almost seamlessly into Thunder Road (this occurred for the first time at the Music Hall, Boston, MA on 29 May.) The bridge between the songs is short and does not contain the spoken introduction to Thunder Road which Springsteen performed in some shows (most effectively during the Passaic show). The full-band performance of Thunder Road is a little staid, which is disappointing after such an effective Racing In The Street. However, this is followed by an excellent version of the epic Jungleland, where Clemons is again heard to great effect. This classic number closes the first set, and we then hear Springsteen stating that he and the band will return in fifteen minutes.
The second set opens with the lively instrumental, Paradise By The C, which again showcases Clemons’ sax playing, and which Marsh refers to in Rolling Stone as a song which “simultaneously evokes Duane Eddy and Booker T. and the MGs.” This is followed by a sultry and atmospheric Fire, played without a mid-song break and then the first disc ends with a furious Adam Raised A Cain, which Brucebase rightly refers to as a “great version.”
Disc 2 begins with Mona, which begins, as was customary, with band members’ eerie and unnerving animalistic calls backed only by the rhythmic pounding of Max Weinberg’s drums (augmented briefly by some sparse guitar). The effect here is genuinely unsettling. The song, also as usual, segues effortlessly into a fiery, energetic version of She’s The One. The next number is Growin’ Up, which a this time almost invariably featured an example of what Sandford disparages as Springsteen’s shaggy dog stories. Acccording to the Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen site the show at the Civic Center, Santa Monica, CA on 30 September 1976 saw “the first known performance of GROWIN’ UP to feature a story.” Here, however, we get two. Before the first verse Springsteen tells the audience how the nuns threw him out of school and urged his parents to seek psychiatric help for him. Later in the song we get a variant on the story of encountering an alien in a spacehip who is looking for the New Jersey Turnpike. In return for their assistance he grants Springsteen and Clemons a wish, but refuses their request to become movie stars on the grounds that they are not handsome enough: “No, no, you guys, you ain’t got the looks but would you settle…for rock and roll?”
After this frivolity, things take a more serious turn with another song which usually featured a spoken interlude at this time, Backstreets. The so-called “sad eyes” interlude (not all versions contain the phrase) was also not new at this time. The Lebanese Tribute site states that the concert at the Civic Center, Springfield, MA on 22 August 1976 was “the last 1976 version of BACKSTREETS not to yet include the Sad Eyes interlude,” thereby giving the honour to the next show at the Vets Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix, AZ four days later. The stunning and genuinely affecting performance heard on Driving That Dusty Road contains a version that does, indeed, mention those “sad eyes”:
“Just me and you, baby…just me and you, girl…I remember you standing on the corner…in that pretty blue dress…that dress, the one that your baby bought you…you and your sad eyes…your lonely, lonely, sad eyes…your lonely, lonely, sad eyes…and how they cried…I´d hold you once, we’d let them cry, let ’em cry till they’re all cried out, we let ’em cry, we let ’em cry till they’re all cried out….we let ’em cry, let ’em cry till they’re all cried out…go ahead and cry, go cry till you’re all cried out…but only me and you know….baby, that only me and you knew…the way they could lie…they could tell such pretty lies….they could tell such pretty lies…and I wanted you so bad, you could dress ’em up and I’d buy each and every one, you could dress ’em all up and I was dying, and you knew…you knew I was dying and you knew, baby, you knew I was dying, you could see it in my eyes, I was dying, oh, you could see it in my eyes, I was dying and you knew…I was dying and you knew…”
The second set then concludes with a joyful and effervescent Rosalita which contains, as was usual at the time, the band introductions.
Springsteen then returns alone for the first song of the encore, an achingly poignant solo piano rendition of The Promise. The song had made its debut at Red Bank in 1976, two days after the premiere of Spirit In The Night and was alway played as a solo piano piece with the single exception of the opening Darkness Tour show which featured a full-band version. Springsteen often stated that it would be on the next album, but it narrowly missed out on inclusion on Darkness. He repeats the assertion here, though by this time the “next album” is what eventually emerged as The River – and the song again failed to make the cut.
After the sombre start to the encore, the band reappears for an energetic rendition of Born To Run and an ebullient Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, the first note of which appears slightly clipped. The show ends with the oft-played Gary US Bonds hit Quarter To Three, another “great version” acccording to Brucebase. Altogether it lasts eleven minutes and becomes more manic as it progresses, featuring a prolonged false ending and Springsteen crying, “I’m just a prisoner…of rock and roll… Are you alive?…Are you alive?” just before the song concludes.
The show is enhanced by coming in the form of a very nice soundboard, clear and detailed with good depth and presence. There is a low level of hiss that can be heard during quieter moments but this is not overly intrusive. Disc 2 however, does have some extraneous noise in the form of an odd muffled clicking sound (also present on thr Hot stuff release) which can be heard briefly between some of the songs, but is also present for a few seconds during a couple of the numbers, principally Quarter To Three.
Godfather’s packaging is splendid, with effective sepia-toned photographs. The front cover shows Springsteen and Clemons standing in front of what we may presume to be the tour bus and there is also a shot of Springsteen standing in some car breaker’s or junkyard surrounded by hubcaps. The rest of the photos are onstage shots of Springsteen and band members, which are not from the show itself, but are from other Darkness Tour shows including those in New York, Philadelphia and Seattle. The sleeve notes are presented in an old-fashioned typrewriter font (also used for the title on the discs) which I found a little difficult to read. The rear of the sleeve features the track listing and the only full colour photograph, of Springsteen on stage in Philadelphia.
I imagine that many fans would agree that Springsteen’s Darkness Tour shows saw him at the height of his considerable powers as a live performer, and this release bring us the earliest soundboard from that tour. Consequently, despite any qualms some collectors may have regarding completeness, it is self-recommending.