MSU Auditorium, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA – 4 April, 1976
Disc 1: Intro, Night, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Spirit In The Night, It’s My Life, Thunder Road, She’s The One, Born To Run, Frankie, Meeting Across The River, Backstreets
Disc 2: Intro, Growin’ Up, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, Jungleland, Intro, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Raise Your Hand, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Detroit Medley, Quarter To Three
The show presented here by Crystal Cat is not new to CD, having appeared previously as Livin’ Rock ‘n’ Roll (Real Thing) and Hidden Worlds That Shine (E. St. Records). An Ev2 torrent, Rise Like The Rain, is a remaster of the latter release. A further torrented version from JEMS, described by Brucebase as “a fine upgrade over previous sources” and “one of the best recordings from the tour,” is noted by the site to be the source for the CD-R title Come Out Tonight Lansing (Midnight Dreamer). The Killing Floor database (www.brucespringsteen.it) also gives details of a two volume LP release Live In Detroit 1977 (Grasshopper Records), described as a “Japanese acetate,” which seemingly contains this show up to and including Rosalita. However, the site does reflect some uncertainty, stating: “The date stated on cover has revealed a wrong one, and, assuming the producer style hasn’t changed and the songs are all from the same show and in the right order, they can only be from 04-Apr-1976.”
The first song we hear is Night, which, in the words of Michigan Daily reviewer Mike Taylor, “opened the concert fervor, fast paced but loose.” This is followed by vivacious renditions of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and Spirit In The Night, the former, in Taylor’s opinion, “looser than it used to be” and extremely enjoyable, the latter sinuous, sleazy and thoroughly joyous.
It’s My Life is played in what Brucebase calls a “wonderful version,” with a superbly atmospheric opening. Tapeboy, who recorded the show, recalls that, “‘It’s My Life’ was stunning, virtually unrecognizable until the chorus, and prompting a standing ovation midway through the song as the band completed the first chorus.” A clearly impressed Taylor writes: “Springsteen gave a magnificent version of ‘It’s My Life’ the old Animals song. Beginning with a half-spoken, half-sung introduction reminiscent of Lou Reed, the song built to incredible peaks of power and emotion.”
Thunder Road, one of three consecutive numbers from Born To Run, is played in the full-band version with, as Brucebase points out,”a new piano introduction,” which has since become very familiar. The song is performed with a notable lightness of touch giving it a lilting quality which is most effective. She’s The One, according to Taylor, “showed off the E Street Band with style. Beginning alone on harmonica, Springsteen brought in each band member one by one. Clarence Clemon’s [sic] entrance on saxophone halfway through was a great moment, but only one of the concert’s many climaxes.” The trio concludes with a deft performance of the title song, which provides some evidence for Taylor’s contention that songs from the album are, “fresh and infinitely more appealing live.”
Frankie, as Tapeboy remembers, “featured Bruce on cowbell and pointed in a songwriting direction away from the sound of Born To Run.” BK, clearly impressed, writes on Jungleland that the show, “is also notable for including the second known recording of ‘Frankie,’ performed here in a magical version.” Taylor was far less enamoured of the song, writing that, “Springsteen treated his audience to a new song. Untitled, it had a medium tempo and a foreign flavor but it seemed under developed…this song didn’t seem to go anywhere.”
Meeting Across The River is beautifully played in an extremely rare full-band version. Taylor calls it, “a moody, haunting piece” enhanced by, “Springsteen’s lonely and vulnerable stage presence.” This is followed by an emotionally-charged Backstreets and then come what BK refers to as “fine versions” of two songs from Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., Growin’ Up and It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City. At the end of of the latter song, enthuses Taylor, “Springsteen and Miami Steve traded guitar licks as if their lives depended on it.”
Then comes the epic Jungleland, its presence in the set significant in that it makes this one of the very few concerts from the time to feature all eight songs from Born To Run. The main set concludes with an appropriately raucous Rosalita, which, as Brucebase notes, “features an extended mariachi-style introduction” during which Taylor notes the performance of a “clever Mexican hat dance routine.” As one would expect, the song contains the band introductions, including the usual snippet of the Theme from Shaft used when Clarence Clemons is introduced.
The first, three-song, encore opens with an exuberant performance of Eddie Floyd’s Raise Your Hand. This is followed by what Taylor calls a “mellow”4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) and a “frenzied” Detroit Medley, after which many members of the audience left. Taylor attributes this to the venue being filled with “casual Springsteen listeners” who failed to immediately recognize songs and who constituted an “unresponsive” audience. Those who departed missed a wonderfully riotous version of Gary US Bonds’ Quarter To Three, which brings the show to a tumultuous conclusion.
The performance has garnered plaudits. Tapeboy recalls that, “we left the show knowing we’d seen a great one,” Brucebase calls it “a fine show” and BK “a gem.” Lynn Elder, commenting on the old Real Thing release in the third volume of Springsteen bootleg guide You Better Not Touch, awards the show ten out of ten for performance. Taylor states that the show, “was filled with moments of sheer joy and great rock ‘n’ roll.” Dave DiMartino, reviewing the show for the Michigan State News, writes:
“Springsteen…started somewhat shakily, but rapidly picked up sufficient steam to provide a high-class display of some intelligent and very enjoyable rock and roll…Springsteen’s performance in the MSU Auditorium served only to reinforce his reputation…few people can disregard the performer’s impact in a live setting… Springsteen performs with youthful vigor that is extremely contagious. His apparent excitement on the stage coupled with his antics with the visually captivating saxophonist Clarence Clemons greatly increases the audience’s own enthusiasm and makes for a consistently enjoyable concert atmosphere…More than anything else, the concert Sunday night was a lot of fun.”
However, not all comments have been positive, even from DiMarco, who laments the almost total lack of songs from The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, Springsteen’s “best album,” as well as the absence of covers such as Manfred Mann’s Sha La La and Pretty Flamingo, which Springsteen had played in a previous show in Michigan in Ann Arbor in September 1975. Taylor makes a similar comparison:
“Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band returned to Michigan Sunday night for the first time since their triumphant tour last fall. The Michigan State University concert was superb by most standards, but slightly disappointing by the ones Springsteen set his last time around [Ann Arbor and Detroit in October]…
Springsteen played a short concert just over two hours he didn’t perform ‘Kitty’s Back’ or ‘The E Street Shuffle’ highlights of his shows last year. And he’s cut most of the oldies he used to perform as well as the long spoken introductions that used to add variety and depth to the show.”
Taylor clearly feels short-changed by the relative brevity of the show, additionally complaining that, “Springsteen seemed unwilling to perform as many songs, or to remain on stage as long as he used to.” Conversely, DiMarco praises Springsteen’s willingness to, “play 2½-hour sets for a simple Midwestern college.”
I have reviewed several releases of 1970s shows recently and I noted in my review of Jersey Devil Records’ Hitting The Coast that numerous contemporary commentators have remarked upon the E Street Band’s contribution to the success of the performances. DiMarco concurs, contending that, “Springsteen is as dependant on his band as they are on him,” and singling out for praise Clarence Clemons, Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg.
The JEMS torrent appeared on the 40th anniversary of the show from Tapeboy’s master cassettes and his is the only known audience recording of the show (though Brucebase notes the existence of a partial soundboard beginning with Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and ending with Rosalita). It would seem clear from the exceptionally high quality of the sound and the timing of this release that the JEMS torrent is Crystal Cat’s source. Certainly, it matches BK’s description of the JEMS torrent:
“The new transfer renders all previous versions obsolete, offering what to our ears is a material upgrade of fuller, richer and more natural sound, especially in the bass and vocals. It has a clarity and depth previous incarnations lack…There are moments so clear in fact that you can hear the shutter on Tapeboy’s camera clicking as he shot rolls of color and black and white film.”
Buckshot, posting on the Stone Pony London message board, states that, “there aren’t words to describe how good this recording is,” and, posting on Jungleland, argues that, “this might be the best recording from the 76-77 period.” Other posts on Jungleland include, “WOW! This sounds incredibly good” (standardquot) and “this is an amazing recording! What a pleasure to listen to!” (sqolston). I have been made aware that that Crystal Cat has done further mastering work to enhance the sound and listening to this show, the sound of which is at many points comparable in quality to a good soundboard, is an unalloyed pleasure.
The discs are housed in a slimline double jewel case with a sixteen-page booklet, a foldover four-page insert and a rear insert featuring several of Tapeboy’s onstage shots from the show plus a few offstage ones, photos of the venue, a map of the USA showing the location of East Lansing and a list of the tour dates and venues. The booklet also reproduces DiMarco’s and Taylor’s reviews of the show, which are respectively headed Springsteen gives energetic show and Springsteen underwhelms MSU, the latter of which makes Taylor’s review seem more negative than it actually is. All are printed on Crystal Cat’s usual glossy paper.
This is an absolutely superb release from Crystal Cat, featuring a hugely enjoyable performance, with It’s My Life, Meeting Across The River and the last two encore numbers being particular standouts. Add to that the truly excellent sound and the label’s usual high quality packaging and you have a release to treasure.