From The Dark Heart Of A Dream (Godfatherecords G.R. 183-184)
The Music Hall, Boston, MA, USA – 25 March, 1977
Disc 1: Night, Don’t Look Back, Spirit In The Night, Incident On 57th Street, Thunder Road, Mona/She’s The One, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Action In The Streets, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City
Disc 2: Backstreets, Jungleland, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Born To Run, Quarter To Three, Little Latin Lupe Lu, You Can’t Sit Down, Higher And Higher
Springsteen and the E Street Band had been touring throughout February and March 1977. The tour ended with a four-show stand (22-25 March) at the Music Hall in Boston. According to Godfather’s booklet notes, these shows were “among the best in his career. The final show itself is a candidate for the greatest show ever.” It would be easy to dismiss this as mere hyperbole on the part of the label issuing the CD. However, numerous other comments suggest that Godfather are not exaggerating. A fan who attended the second, third and fourth shows said that “they were definitely as good as it gets…it was clear that these were special.” The Brucebase website calls the final concert “a contender for one of the best ever.” Bruce Springsteen: You Better Not Touch, Lynn Elder’s guide to Springsteen bootlegs published in the early 1990s, states: “Indisputably, this is one of Springsteen’s greatest shows ever…The set here is truly outstanding, with amazing versions of many songs.” The book Springsteen: Blinded By The Light, by Patrick Humphries and Chris Hunt, says that “the final night is reputed to be one of Bruce’s finest shows ever.” Juxtaposed with these statements, the brief reference to this performance as an “excellent show” on the Killing Floor Database seems positively restrained. Clearly we are dealing with something out of the ordinary here.
To my knowledge, the whole show never appeared on LP. Action In The Street (Scorpio) contained eight songs. The double album The Boston Breaker (no label) included sixteen, omitting Jungleleand and Rosalita and substituting Fire and The Promise in performances of unknown provenance. The full show appeared on CD in 1989 on the Great Dane label as Forced To Confess and this was followed some years later by a CD-R release The Boston Breaker (Piggham). More recently there have been Stranded In The Park (Ruthless Copying Records) and the version reviewed here, Godfather’s From The Dark Heart Of A Dream.
“Are you ready for the final moments?” cries Springsteen, immediately before the band launches into Night, getting the show off to a thunderous start. This is followed by Don’t Look Back, a strong medium-paced rocker which appeared on early acetates of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, but was omitted from the final version of the LP. An excellent performance of Spirit In The Night follows, and it is clear the band members are going to play their hearts out. Incident On 57th Street, shorn of Suki Lahav’s violin (which had graced the song in 1974-5), is now back up to album-version speed. A short piano intro has the audience rather quiet, obviously not knowing what to expect, but then clapping and cheering greet the familiar harmonica at the start of Thunder Road, the quintessential Springsteen number. Played in the fast band version, the song’s conclusion is greeted with rapturous applause.
Next comes Mona ( recorded by Bo Diddley in 1955) which begins atmospherically with drums and animal-like calls from the band, as Springsteen tells a brief story reciting how God looked down on the Garden of Eden and named the first woman not Eve but Mona. The choppy rhythms of this song lead seamlessly into Springsteen’s own She’s The One, which is unexpectedly enhanced by tubular bells. For Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out Springsteen and the band are joined by the Miami Horns ( listed as Rick Gazda and Deacon Earl Gardner – trumpets; Bob Malach – tenor sax; Bill Zacagni – baritone sax; Louie Parente – trombone, though the Brucebase website would beg to differ – see my review of Land Of 1000 Dances) to tremendous effect and the delighted audience clap along throughout the song. The brass section remain for a joyous rendition of Action In The Streets. This upbeat number would have been a great song for Springsteen to have passed on to Southside Johnny. Disc 1 is brought to an end by a version of It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City which features some lengthy guitar soloing in the conclusion.
Disc 2 opens with Backstreets. The song begins with a slow and quiet introduction, including vocals, which lasts four minutes. It also includes an outrageously over-the-top version of the long spoken “Sad Eyes” interlude, in which Springsteen, accompanied by tubular bells, reacts to his lover’s broken promises by calling upon God to send some angels to blow away the entire town! Jungleland follows, featuring a stirring saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons, and the main part of the show concludes with Rosalita, which sees the band introductions and the return of the Miami Horns.
Born To Run begins the first encore and is played with such enthusiasm that it transcends the sonic limitations imposed upon it by live performance. The Miami Horns return again for a stupendous ten-minute rendition of the Gary US Bonds hit Quarter To Three. They remain for the second encore, which opens with Springsteen asking the audience again whether they are “ready for the final moments,” and which is described in You Better Not Touch as “one of Bruce’s greatest encores.” This consists of storming performances of Little Latin Lupe Lu (The Righteous Brothers, 1963), You Can’t Sit Down (The Phil Upchurch Combo, 1961) and Higher and Higher (Jackie Wilson, 1967), the latter once again featuring the tubular bells. By this time the performance has truly become, as the CD booklet states, “a pure rock and roll party.”
The sound quality of the Great Dane issue was rather limited and, as the Killing Floor Database points out, “the noise reduction process somehow ‘flattened’ the dynamic of the show.” I have not heard the Piggham CD-R but I have seen it described as a “nice upgrade from the original Great Dane version.” The breakthrough in sound quality came with Ruthless Copying’s Stranded In The Park. Brucebase refers to its “tremendous sound quality” and Killing Floor states that it “is rumoured to be in unsurpassable sound quality.” A post from “thecautiousman” on the Backstreets website’s BTX section reveals that Stranded In The Park is from “an alternative source tape that has better sound (clearer, more open sound)”. However, it also says that this Godfather release is a “remastered version of Stranded In The Park…The improvements are subtle, but noticeable if you play the 2 versions side-by-side.” The Godfather version has full and clear sound which is remarkably good for an audience recording that is over thirty years old and it makes this superb concert a joy to listen to (although there is some audible audience talking during quieter moments).
From The Dark Heart Of A Dream comes in Godfather’s usual tri-fold packaging, featuring several in-concert shots (including a striking one of Springsteen leaping into the air on the front cover) and a posed band photo, together with a four-page foldover booklet. Elder concludes that “every fan needs this show in one format or another” – and Godfather’s is now clearly the preferred format.