Bruce Springsteen – Early Darkness (Masterpiece MA 78531A/B)

Early Darkness (Masterpiece MA 78531A/B)

Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA – 31 May, 1978

Disc 1: Badlands, Night, Spirit In The Night, Something In The Night, For You, The Promised Land, Prove It All Night, Racing In The Street, Thunder Road, Paradise By The “C,” Fire, Adam Raised A Cain

Disc 2: [Mona/]She’s The One, Growin’ Up, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, Backstreets, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), The Promise, Born To Run, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Quarter To Three.

As the title of this release indicates, we have here a very early performance from the 1978 Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour.  It was the last of three Music Hall shows  played on consecutive nights, and only the seventh concert of the tour, which had opened on 23 May at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre in Buffalo, NY.  This is the first and, so far, only silver release of this show, though it had previously been available in a torrented version entitled Looking For That Million Dollar Sound, a title, of course, taken from the song The Promise, which is performed during the show.

After a very brief opening announcement, Springsteen and the E Streeters tear into a  powerful and vigorous rendition of The Promised Land, one of six songs included in the setlist from the as yet unreleased Darkness On The Edge Of Town.  It makes for a most effective show opener and the audience is obviously impressed.  Almost immediately, the band launches into a  high-spirited Night and this is wonderfully complemented by a bouncy, joyous Spirit In The Night, with a splendid saxophone contribution from Clarence Clemons.  Springsteen then returns to the new album for Something In The Night.  As I have pointed out in previous reviews, this song underwent several modifications during live performances in 1976 and 1977.  Here, however, the song is played as on the album, and it is beautifully and poignantly done.  Springsteen then returns to earlier material with a full-band For You, the jaunty performance, as ever, contrasting with the more serious lyrical content.  Then it is back to Darkness for a sutably stirring The Promised Land.

The next song is Prove It All Night, with the then-customary instrumental opening and additional guitar part at the end.  The Brucebase website times the intro at 2 minutes and thirty-four seconds, with the guitar solo at one minute and six seconds, which are among the shortest of the tour.  The initial guitar solo grew in both length and effectiveness as the tour progressed and my favourite version is the one from the Winterland show of 15 December (available on Crystal Cat’s Winterland Night, already reviewed).  The transition from the intro to the song itself is a little awkward and the start of the song is rather heavy-handed; the closing gutar solo is, however, excellent.  It is indeniable that the instrumental embellishments enhance the song; one is apt to wonder if fans who attended early shows such as this one were disappointed to find them absent when Darkness On The Edge Of Town was released on 2 June.

Springsteen stays with the new album for Racing In The Street which features Roy Bittan’s splendidly lyrical pianism.  Like the instrumental opening in Prove It All Night, Bittan’s piano bridge between Racing In The Street and Thunder Road is briefer than it would be in later shows from the tour; the spoken intro which so effectively introduced the latter song at shows like that in Passaic on 19 September (available on Crystal Cat’s Passaic Night, already reviewed) is also absent here.  Thunder Road brings the first set to a close among appreciative audience applause.

The second set opens with Clemons’ sax and Danny Federici’s organ contributing prominently to the jolly instrumental Paradise By The C and this is followed by a sultry Fire, which lacks the mid-song pause for onstage antics to be found in some later versions.  Disc one then concludes with a passionate and blisteringly heavy Adam Raised A Cain, the last of the Darkness songs to feature here.

The second disc begins with an energetic She’s The One, prefaced by Mona, complete with the then-usual, vaguely unsettling cries and wails.  A good-natured Growin’ Up contains a variant of the story where Springsteen, Clemons and Steve Van Zandt meet aliens who are seeking directions to the New Jersey Turnpike and this is succeeded by an equally vivacious It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City.

After this Backstreets returns a measure of emotional and musical weightiness to the set and this performance contains a version of the spoken “Sad Eyes” interlude which is shorter and less well-developed than it would become in later shows.  Springsteen’s vocasl would also become more impassioned in later shows.  The second set then draws to a close with an exhilarating rendition of Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) which contains the band introductions and lasts for nearly nine minutes. 

The first of the four encore numbers is a subdued and moving version of The Promise, featuring just voice and piano.  This is followed by an exciting Born To Run and a vibrant Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, during which Springsteen mumbles a misplaced line of the lyrics.  The euphoric mood continues into the final number, a riotous nine-minute Quarter To Three, with a lengthy mid-song break, which makes its tour debut here.

This release derives from an audience tape which presents the show in full, clear and wonderfully dynamic sound.  There is also a nice, atmospheric collective audience sound with no trace of intrusive audience noise in the vicinity of the taper.  For a 1970s audience tape, the sound is stunningly good.  This release derives from the second, speed/pitch-corrected version of Looking For That Million Dollar Sound.  On the Jungleland website musicdav24, seemingly familiar only with the first version, comments: “Great upgrade!  The sound is stellar!!…’Million Dollar Sound’ was much too fast.  This sounds more speed corrected.”  JSBSC1 more soberly but entirely accurately states, “great sound for 1978.”  The beginning of Backstreets is very slightly clipped, but, although there are one or two further cuts between songs, no other music is lost

I have seen this release listed as a no label release on more than one seller’s website; however, it clearly bears both a label name and catalogue number.  The packaging, which is similar to the Social Graces releases which I have already reviewed, clearly demonstrates that it is a Lighthouse-related release.  The  front insert again appears to be deliberately reversible.  Both sides show Springsteen onstage.  The image shown above comes from another very early show, at The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA on 26 May 1978; the photo on the other side, from the legendary Passaic concert of 19 September, can be seen on the giginjapan website.  The outer side of the rear insert shows Springsteen sitting atop Roy Bittan’s piano and also bears the track listing; as with Born Again, the smaller picture on the inner side, which depicts Springsteen with Clarence Clemons, resembles a further cover design.  There is also a sticker, proclaiming the set to be a limited edition.

As evidenced by the fact that it fits on to two discs, this early show is rather shorter than the later concerts already familiar to collectors, and it certainly does not displace the legendary Passaic and Winterland concerts as joint first choices for the Darkness Tour.  Nonetheless, it is a fine performance of an unusually early show in excellent sound quality.  On the Jungleland website  hekkie  writes that it is “a pretty short show but great setlist!!” and fellow poster  grantbeard calls it “one of my favorite Darkness shows.”  Consequently, this release is well worth seeking out. 

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