Folk ‘N’ Roll In The Temple Of Soul (Godfatherecords G.R. 733/734)
Apollo Theater, New York, NY, USA – 9 March, 2012
Disc 1: Intro, We Take Care Of Our Own, Wrecking Ball, Badlands, Death To My Hometown, My City Of Ruins, The E Street Shuffle, Jack Of All Trades, Shackled And Drawn, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Promised Land
Disc 2: Mansion On The Hill Intro, Mansion On The Hill, The Way You Do The Things You Do, 634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.), The Rising, We Are Alive, Thunder Road, Rocky Ground, Land Of Hope And Dreams[/People Get Ready], Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Hold On, I’m Comin’
Springsteen’s March 9 concert at New York’s 1,200-seater Apollo Theater, billed as “Celebrating 10 Yrs of SiriusXM,” was the first full E Street Band show without the late Clarence Clemons. It was, effectively, a public rehearsal for the latest tour, though as Christopher Phillips points out on the Backstreets website, “it didn’t feel like a tour warm-up. It wasn’t touted as a rehearsal show, and it didn’t feel like one — it felt like a special night curated for the Apollo Theater.” Springsteen and the more established E Streeters were joined by a plethora of additional musicians, some more familiar than others, as his official website announced in January: “The expanded lineup for this Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band tour features singers Cindy Mizelle and Curtis King, trombonist Clark Gayton and trumpeter Curt Ramm, all of whom have toured with Bruce Springsteen in the past, along with newcomer Barry Danielian on trumpet. E Street stalwart Eddie Manion and first time tour member Jake Clemons will share the saxophone role.” Percussionist Everett Bradley was also added to the roster. The new album, Wrecking Ball, was well-represented by We Take Care Of Our Own, Death To My Hometown, Jack Of All Trades, Shackled And Drawn, We Are Alive and Rocky Ground, in addition to the older and much-played title song. Of these, Shackled And Drawn, We Are Alive and Rocky Ground were live premieres. Tickets were distributed to SiriusXM subscribers contest winners, though Jim Farber of the New York Daily News characterizes the audience as, “industry biggies and one-percenters.” Posting on YouTube, tvr3 also complains of, “too many fat cats in the lower seats.”
Barely more than a week had passed before Godfather announced its release of the show, but there are already other versions available. Project Zip’s Live At The Apollo will be ruled out of court by many collectors as it is a CD-R release. Stuart announced the appearance of a Crystal Cat version, simply titled Apollo, on CMR on 2 April, much to gsparaco’s disdain. Surprisingly for the label, this release comes in tri-fold packaging similar to Godfather’s. There is one bonus track, an acoustic performance of Surprise, Surprise from Pittsburgh on 4 November 2011 and a free bonus disc containing pre-Apollo show interviews with Max Weinberg, Jon Landau and Willie Nile.
After a horribly cheesy introduction, which seems to spoof Fats Gonder’s introduction to James Brown on Live At The Apollo, this show, like the new album, opens with We Take Care Of Our Own. Several commentators have drawn parallels with the dichotomy between music and lyrics found in Born In The U.S.A. “On first hearing…’We Take Care Of Our Own’ sounds like a typical Springsteen anthem of uplift, a celebration of fellowship and communality,” writes Uncut reviewer Andy Gill, “but then you start hearing what he’s actually saying, and it’s another ‘Born In the USA’ moment.'” Even Farber, who is clearly unimpressed by the new album, recognizes that, “its songs couldn’t help but gain more momentum live,” and this is true here, though I must say that the song immediately reveals that Springsteen’s voice is revealed to be showing its years somewhat.
Wrecking Ball follows, and this energetic and enjoyable rendition of the song is enhanced by Soozie Tyrell’s violin part, the horn section and the backing vocals; I was less convinced by the onstage handclapping. Badlands is the first song which has the listener asking the inevitable question – how will it sound without Clarence Clemons? Despite a slightly shaky entry Jake Clemons plays the sax solo well enough, though his timbre is clearly different from that of his illustrious uncle, and the song is as stirring we have come to expect in live performance. The customary audience singalong and false ending are both in evidence, which are not to everyone’s taste. Jimmy Guterman, in Runaway American Dream: Listening To Bruce Springsteen, argues that the song, “has gained length but not depth. It has developed false endings and singalongs, but nothing to improve on its original construction.” After this is straight back to the new album for the folky, rather martial-sounding Death To My Hometown, a number` which Gill rightly contends has the, “flavour of and Irish rebel song.” The Greasy Lake website argues that, “‘Death to My Hometown’ is already a highlight in many fans’ minds.”
“It was in the next song, a horn-heavy “My City of Ruins” with a newfound groove, that Springsteen met the elephant in the room head on,” writes Phillips, “‘Roll Call!’ he shouted, introducing each member of the band, who each took a solo. And when they were done: ‘Are we missing anybody?’ There was a tentative feeling in the crowd as a whole, and one of the most moving moments of the night was as we first wondered, is this really what he means? And the look on Bruce’s face as he beckoned said it all. He was giving us permission. ‘Are we missing anybody?’ he asked again, and this time the crowd knew to respond. Soon he was telling us, ‘The only thing I can guarantee tonight… if you’re here and we’re here, they’re here.'” It is an incredibly moving moment, the more so for the fact that neither Danny Federici or Clarence Clemons are actually named. There are brief solos from some of the horns, followed by some sweet backing vocals before the “roll call,” which also serve to add a new dimension to a familiar song. Before the first verse, Springsteen speaks to the audience at length for the first time. All these embellishments take the song to twelve minutes.
“To stress the setting Springsteen upped his own soul quotient,” maintains Farber, “He included a rollicking take on the the ‘E Street Shuffle’ which borrows its key riff from Chicago R&B.” With the horn section in tow, the song’s inclusion in the set was surely a good choice for the setlist. The number is performed in its fast version, as on The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, so that we hear the horns immediately in the initially dissonant opening to the song and an extended version of the fast instrumental coda, with a part for percussionist Everett Bradley, is also in evidence.
Jack Of All Trades, another song from Wrecking Ball, receives an effectively emotive performance. Neil McCormick, of The Telegraph, refers to the song as, “a mordant waltz, underpinned by a slow arpeggio piano figure…another lament for the plight of the unemployed, delivered like a 1950s rock’n’roll lullaby.” Springsteen knows exactly where to lay the blame for economic woes, as he sings: “Banker man grows fat/Working man grows thin/It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again.” Nonetheless, the song’s protagonist assures his partner that, with his willingness to do any work in order to survive, “Baby we’ll be all right.”
Gill’s review refers to Shackled And Drawn as, “one of several songs in which the dense, ebullient folk-rock textures blend with revivalist gospel touches, in a burlier, more muscular version of the hootenanny stylings of the We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions LP.” Phillips also rightly notes a flavour of the Seeger Sessions, contending that this performance of the song, “was a Sessions Band-style tour de force, with all the vocalists down front on an a capella intro, even Garry stepping to the mic, and Cindy Mizelle bringing it home at the end: ‘I want everybody to stand up and be counted tonight!'”
A vibrant Waitin’ On A Sunny Day is another number to benefit fom the playing of the horn section and the singing of the backing vocalists. Thankfully, there is no sign of a child being extracted from the audience to sing. Disc one then concludes with an appropriately muscular and anthemic performance The Promised Land.
The first song on the second disc is a haunting Mansion On The Hill, which is played acoustically on guitar and harmonica, with Patti Scialfa on harmony vocals and Soozie Tyrell on violin. It is preceded by a spoken introduction in which Springsteen recalls that its parent album Nebraska was conceived in a time of economic recession, which was “the beginning of a thirty-year arc that would show the country growing farther and farther apart in income equality.”
As Springsteen was making, as Farber puts it, “his first-ever, full performance at the apex of soul, he then pays tribute to soul music in general and to the Apollo in particular (“the home of the gods and the true temple of soul”) by playing The Temptations’ 1964 hit The Way You Do The Things You Do and Wilson Pickett’s 634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.). Before his first ever performance of The Way You Do The Things You Do, Springsteen namechecks the song’s co-writer Smokey Robinson in addition to Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Solomon Burke. “So many powerful vocalists onstage brought their talents to bear on a superbly arranged ‘The Way You Do the Things You Do,'” writes Phillips, “and Bruce kept the soul train rolling right into Wilson Pickett’s ‘634-5789,’ as he gave Eddie Vedder and his wall-scaling a run for the money.” The “powerful vocalists” included Jake Clemons and Everett Bradley in addition to the usual Curtis King, Cindy Mizelle, Patti Scialfa and Soozie Tyrell, so that we now have, in Springsteen’s words, “the E Street Chorale.” Springsteen’s “wall-scaling” saw him perched precariously on the edge of the balcony, as Godfather’s sleeve photos testify. It is during this absence from the stage that he exhorts the band to continue, shouting, “somebody solo!”
A robust, committed performance of The Rising is followed by an atmospheric version of the closing song from Wrecking Ball, We Are Alive, which embodies McCormick’s view of it as, “a campfire song for ghosts of the oppressed, martyred strikers, protesters and immigrant workers, with Springsteen strumming and whistling while a Mariachi band kicks in to celebrate the eternal possibility of good triumphing over bad as an idea, if not a reality.”
The opening of Thunder Road is greeted with squeals of delight from some members of the audience, who, as customary, get to sing a couple of lines. This performance comes across as slightly more deliberate than the album version amd it is subtly augmented by Tyrell’s violin and the backing vocalists, although the full horn section in the instrumental coda may be felt by some to be over-egging the pudding.
Springsteen then returns to Wrecking Ball with Rocky ground. Phil Sutcliffe writes of the song in his Mojo review of the album: “Unprecedented and beautiful, Rocky Ground develops through the call-and response singing of Springsteen and Michelle Moore from the Victorious Gospel Choir…Moore solos the round-and-round hookline, ‘We’ve been travelling over rocky ground, rocky ground,’ while he summons images of the New Orleans, Jesus driving the ‘money changers’ from the temple, and ‘a new day coming.'” Of this live performance Phillips writes that, “‘Rocky Ground’ brought the album’s featured vocalist Michelle Moore to the stage, with Bruce recalling fondly how long they’ve worked together, from Asbury Park holiday shows to The Rising and beyond.” It is an excellent performance with a splendid contribution from Moore. The anonymous Greasy Lake writer was clearly and rightly impressed, arguing that, “‘Rocky Ground’, which some might predict would be difficult to recreate in a live setting, came across as a powerful manifestation of the new times on E Street, as it merged into a fresh-sounding ‘Land of Hope and Dreams.'”
Land Of Hope And Dreams, which prominently features the horns, comes across as a little more sprightly and lighter of touch than has been customary. As usual, the performance concludes with an excerpt from People Get Ready, and it makes a fine set closer. As has become the norm, the encore begins without the band leaving the stage, and in this case virtually without a break. “In the encore,” contends Phillips, “‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-out’ brought an even more moving salute to Clarence, Bruce first holding out the mic to the crowd for ‘kid you better get the picture,’ and soon bringing the song to a complete halt after ‘the Big Man joined the band,’ the crowd hollering in tribute, the moment stretching out before the entire horn section played that quick, signature solo in unison.” As always, the song is greatly enhanced by the presence of a full horn section, and once again there are some impressive backing vocals.
The show returns to soul territory for its conclusion with a rendition of Sam And Dave’s Hold On, I’m Comin’, which begins with Springsteen name checking some of the cities to be visited in the upcoming tour. The song makes for a terrific finale with the backing vocalists and the horn section once again making a prominent contribution. The tremendous applause and cheering which greets the end of the performance is well deserved.
This release originates from the Sirius broadcast and the superbly full and clear sound contributes to making Folk ‘N’ Roll In The Temple Of Soul an extremely enjoyable listen. The discs are housed in Godfather’s customary tri-fold packaging. The front cover of the sleeve features a shot of Springsteen taken from promotional material for the concert and there are also several onstage photographs from the show and the usual “Joe Roberts” notes. There is no booklet.
Despite the passing of nearly four decades Springsteen and the E Street Band have recently demonstrated, during 2008 Magic Tour shows and the Working On A Dream concerts which featured complete album performances, that they are still capable of stunning live performances. Despite the sad loss of Clarence Clemons, and Danny Federici before him, Folk ‘N’ Roll In The Temple Of Soul, while likely to be to be surpassed by releases of later shows from the tour, clearly shows that the band are still a formidable live act.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)