Fields Of Dreams (Apocalypse Sound AS 167)
We Are One Concert, Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, USA – 18 January, 2009: The Rising, This Land Is Your Land; Super Bowl Press Conference – 30 January, 2009; Pre-Super Bowl Day Interview with Bob Costas; Super Bowl XLIII Half Time Show, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL, USA – 1 February, 2009: Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Born To Run, Working On A Dream, Glory Days; VH1 Special on the making of Working On A Dream
Apocalype Sound’s latest Springsteen DVD concentrates on recent performances that are unusual both in their style and their brevity. The Lincoln Memorial performance, which featured other artists including U2, Garth Brooks and Beyonce, as well as a host of actors reading monologues that, as Variety puts it, “emphasized moments in which the status quo was rejected and public service was encouraged,” was a huge event which began the process of Barack Obama’s inauguration as US president. The Washington Post states that, “by some estimates, more than 400,000 people filled the western end of the Mall for the official start of a three-day jubilee of prayers, parades and parties.”
Springsteen’s first performance comes from near the beginning of proceedings and the footage opens with the massed women of the Joyce Garrett Singers standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial resplendent in scarlet robes. Springsteen takes the stage, clad entirely in black and the choir begins The Rising, singing a few bars before Springsteen takes over on vocals and acoustic guitar. The choir also contributes backing vocals at other times throughout the song to create a unique rendition. Variety refers to this song as, “one of [Springsteen’s] strongest songs about renewal,” which here, “took on a new air [with] its message of community and hope.” The camera largely stays on Springsteen during the performance, though there are three brief shots, each of a few seconds’ duration, of the enormous crowd and one of Obama.
The performance of Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your land sees Springsteen joined by Pete Seeger, who seemingly overcame some reluctance to appear. “Normally, I don’t ever go in for big things,” he told Rolling Stone, “Bruce had to persuade me to go down to Washington.” Springsteen introduces Seeger, who was, of course, the inspiration for The Seeger Sessions CD, as “the grandfather of American folk music.” Playing banjo, the very sprightly-looking 89-year-old is accompanied by his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, who plays acoustic guitar and the three principals are joined by the youthful Inauguration Celebration Chorus. Seeger sings at times but also speaks some lines before they are sung in order to encourage the crowd to join in. This adds an extra dimension to the song and gives it agreeably folky feel. Rodriguez-Seeger dominates the actual singing, and it is hard to hear Springsteen, so this is more a Seeger family preformance than a Springsteen one. The tempo is faster than the Springsteen performances of the 1980s and therefore closer to Guthrie’s own renditions of the song. An intriguing feature of this version is the inclusion of two rarely heard verses. One refers to hungry people outside a relief office and the other, pointedly, to a private property sign (There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me/Sign was painted. it said private property/But on the back side it didn’t say nothing/That side was made for you and me).
The next three sections of the DVD pertain to the Super Bowl performance. First up is the pre-game press conference which is introduced by Don Mischer, co-executive producer of the half-time show, and which, it is pointed out, is Springsteen’s first press conference since Amnesty International in 1987. Most of the questions are about music, Springsteen professing early on that he knows next to nothing about football. Most of the band accompany Springsteen, although not Charlie Giordano or Soozie Tyrell. The E Street Band seems to have become something of a two-tier institution and Nils Lofgren refers jokingly to himself and Patti Scialfa, with a mere twenty-five years’ membership, as the “new kids on the block,” which would seem to indicate that Giordano and Tyrell are not regarded as full band members.
During the conference Springsteen is very upbeat about the band and its music, stating: “I really believe our band is going through a sort of golden age right now. We’ve made three of what I think are some of our best records in a row which is really one of the reasons we’re here. And the band on the last tour played the best it’s ever played.” Responding to a question about how a band which habitually performs three-hour concerts will come across during such a brief time on stage, Springsteen invents a story of a fan who suffers numeroustribulations during his journey and arrives at a concert very late indeed: “You make it into the stadium at two hours and forty-eight minutes into the show. That’s what you’re gonna see – the last twelve minutes.”
One journalist asks Springsteen for the reasons why the band has been able to appeal to people of different generations. “Just by sticking around long enough,” he replies, “I mean, if you don’t die people get a chance to see you.” He points out that a large number of young people attended concerts during the last two tours and that it is not unknown for them to like, for example, Springsteen, the White Stripes and rap music. Springsteen surmises that the availability of music on the internet has contributed to this development, stating that, “people are just taking their music where they find it.” He also suggests that the band’s energy appeals to young people, contending that, “we come out and play like we’re sixteen.” When asked why he is finally playing the Super Bowl, after turning down several previous invitations to do so, he semi-seriously says that it is to promote the new album, “one of the best of” the last three releases.
The second Super Bowl segment is introduced from inside the stadium by Bob Costas. It includes a brief two-part interview, with snippets of live performance, and a section in which NBC news anchorman Brian Williams tells of his first encounter with one of his musical heroes. The interview covers much of the same ground as the press conference. Springsteen reiterates his belief in the quality of the last three albums and again cites the need to promote Working On A Dream as the reason for playing the show. Praising the band once more, he states, “I really feel the band is at the height of its powerss right now…and the band retains its edge, its power to blow the roof off the place,” He goes on to say that the band is performing just as well as it had in 1985 or 1978, though there seems to be a little apprehension at the thought of “scrunching three hours of energy” into twelve minutes. This section of the DVD concludes with Springsteen’s appeal on behalf of the Danny Fund and the Melanoma Research Alliance. Fittingly, the song playing unobtrusively in the background is 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy). to which the late Danny Federici contributed such an idiomatic accordion part.
The final Super Bowl section is, of course, the half-time performance itself. We first see Springsteen and Clarence Clemons standing back-to-back, silhouetted against a white background, and then Springsteen exhorts televison viewers to put down their snacks and turn their televisions to maximum volume. Asking, “is there anybody alive out there?” he leaps onto the piano. One wonders if this is in response to Costas’ remark during the earlier interview that, “may be you can’t jump on the piano like you used to,” to which Springsteen had replied, “do you wanna bet.” While all this is going on the band, complete with four-man horn section, launch into a superbly energetic version of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, which contains the modified line, “when Scooter and the Big Man bust the Super Bowl in half.” Springsteen works the crowd enthusiastically and leaps around like a man half his age, at one point performing a long knee slide which sends him careering into the camera at the side of the stage. It is a wild beginning to this heavily truncated show and Springsteen later recalled that he felt like he had “just taken a syringe of adrenalin straight to the heart.”
One unique feature of this show is the display of pyrotechnics and, during a breathless rendition of Born To Run, fireworks shoot into the sky throughout the instrumental section and at the end. The Joyce Garrett Singers then troop onto the stage, clad this time in silver-grey, to add backing vocals to a shortened Working On A Dream. The audience is now a sea of light as the audience members enthusiastically wave glow sticks (so many that they must have been issued with them). The final song is Glory Days and, of course, the friend who was a baseball player becomes a football player for this rendition. Near the end Springsteen, with mock seriousness, warns Steve Van Zandt that the show is overrunning and someone dressed as a football referee comes on to the stage to call time on the performance. Asked what time it is again, Van Zandt yells, “It’s Boss time!” and the show ends with Springsteen whirling his guitar around his body accompanied by the most impressive fireworks yet.
The show’s brief duration, in the words of the Backstreets writer, “necessitat[ed] cut verses and a bit of a rush.” Born To Run, shorn of its second verse, clocks in at three minutes and forty seconds and Working On A Dream is a full two minutes shorter than that. There are, unsurprisingly, no breaks between songs. The show is a little hammed-up and overblown but it is full of energy and encapsulates the spirit of rock music as sheer joy. “We want it to be a twelve-minute party,” said Springsteen at the press conference, and he certainly achieves this aim. The Backstreets writer goes on to say that, “maybe the most remarkable thing about…the…show was how much it felt like a Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band show – compressed into twelve minutes.”
The last item on the disc is the short documentary of around twenty minutes’ duration on the making of the Working On A Dream album. We see Springsteen interviewed and in the studio recording the album, although too much of the soundtrack consists of the finished, album versions of the songs. He says that the album contains elements of all the others while retaining its individual character and that it is “an album that needs to be listened to more than once or twice.” Springsteen also gives an insight into some of the individual songs and at times he speaks most eloquently. Kingdom Of Days, for example, is stated to be about how “time is obliterated in the presence of someone you love…There seems to be a transcendence of time in love.” Unsurprisingly for a man nearing sixty, Springsteen refers to days, months and years as “fearsome markers” of passing time which “lose some of their fearsome power” when you have someone you love. Outlaw Pete is described as “a little rock opera,” the first since Jungleland, and is partly about how the past always influences the future. “The past is never the past,” he contends, because you carry your past, and your sins, with you always – not, of course, a new concept in his work. Despite the fact that he denies that Working On a Dream is an overtly political work, Springteen admits that there is a political subtext, arguing that the USA has suffered under “a historically blind administration…terrible, terrible things occurred because there was no sense of history, and there was no sense that the past is living and real in your daily life.” The other songs that Springsteen gives some insights into are Queen Of The Supermarket, The Last Carnival, written in memory of Danny Federici, and The Wrestler, composed for the acclaimed film starring Mickey Rourke. This documentary forms a nice companion piece to the DVD which came with the limited edition release of Working On A Dream and collectors who have that will recognize some of the footage.
All of the material on this DVD originates from television broadcasts, so obviously we have very high-quality, professionally recorded sound and picture. There are a few minor glitches. On one occasion when Bob Costas is on screen the image fast forwards for a few seconds (a green strip appears on the screen with the words “fast forward”) and on another occasion, when Costas is clearly beginning to discuss something non-Springsteen related, there is a skip to a relevant section of his presentation. Also, the trailer for The Wrestler is followed by a couple of seconds of the next advertisement before returning to the documentary. There is additionally a problem with the sound for a second or two during Costas’ interview with Springsteen, although it is still possible to hear what is being said. These problems are of no great significance and should not spoil enjoyment of this release. However, there is also a small problem with the sound during the performance of The Rising which emanates from the television coverage itself. When the picture cuts to the crowd for the first time, the sound quality deteriorates somewhat. It appears that both sound and picture switch to the crowd and that we hear what they hear, which is sound through a speaker (there are speakers and screens at various locations for those distant from the stage). Fortunately, this does not happen on the other two occasions, and therefter the sound remains constant.
This release from Apocalypse Sound comes in the usual trifold sleeve with a clear plastic tray to hold the disc attached to the inner central panel. There are numerous excellent quality photographs from the events and, overall, the packaging looks most impressive. The menu allows access to the five sections of the DVD, though not to individual songs (though if you use the search button you access The Rising and This Land Is Your Land separately). Apocalypse Sound has compiled a coherent package of material but the highlights of this release, the two unique musical performances, together last for only around twenty minutes. The documentary is interesting and I can imagine myself occasionally watching it again. I find it unlikely, however, that many people will watch the press conference and interview more than once. Consequently, it would be difficult to recommend this as an essential purchase for Springsteen collectors. Conversely, however, I am tempted to argue that the superb Super Bowl show is alone worth the cost of this DVD. There is another release which contains only the two musical performances but this comes as a three-disc set together with a double CD of the public rehearsal at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park on 23 March 2009 (Working On A Dream Tour Rehearsals – First Night, 2009 on the Midnight Dreamer label). However, this is a CD-R/DVD-R release. Moreover, the Asbury Park performance is also available on Apocalypse Sound’s sister label Godfatherecords, entitled Working On A Show (to be reviewed shortly). Collectors who want both, therefore, will probably want the Apoclypse Sound/Godfather releases.