Got To Be Good (Godfatherecords G.R. 387/388/389)
Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA, USA – 26 April, 2009
Disc 1: Badlands, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Outlaw Pete, She’s The One, Working On A Dream, Radio Nowhere, Seeds, Johnny 99, The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Raise Your Hand, 96 Tears, Trapped
Disc 2: Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Promised Land, The Wrestler, Jungleland, Kingdom Of Days, Lonesome Day, The Rising, Born To Run
Disc 3: Hard Times [Come Again No More], Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Land Of Hope And Dreams [/People Get Ready], American Land, Detroit Medley
Bonus tracks: Wachovia Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA – 28 April, 2009: Fire, The Fever, Mountain Of Love, You Can’t Sit Down; 29 April, 2009: London Calling, Red Headed Woman, Thundercrack, Streets Of Philadelphia
Ten days after the Los Angeles Sports Arena Show (released by Godfather as A Good Job In The City and reviewed earlier), Springsteen played in Atlanta. Still light on Working On A Dream material (only three songs from the album proper, plus the bonus track, The Wrestler), this show featured five cover versions in its twenty-five song set.
The band begins with a taut rendition of Badlands. Springsteen sings as if his life depends on it and during the song’s now-customary false ending he asks of the audience, also as usual, “is there anybody alive out there?” To the surprise and delight of the audience, the set’s second song is Darkness On The Edge Of Town and, if anything, Springsteen’s vocals on this classic number are even more impassioned. Unsurprisingly, the next song is Outlaw Pete, which Springsteen has described as his first epic song since Jungleland, not merely for its length but for the fact that it chronicles its protagonist’s life from birth to death. As at other shows it is, in the words of Ray Phillips on Springsteen’s official website, “much better live than on the album,” and it is followed by a superbly spirited She’s The One.
The next number is the simple but lovely Working On A Dream, marred once again by the tedious house-building metaphor, and then Jay Weinberg takes over on drums for a vibrant performance of Radio Nowhere and what might be called the “hard times” trilogy. After fine performances of Seeds and Johnny 99, however, Springsteen ends the trio not with Youngstown, as at the LA show, but with The Ghost Of Tom Joad. This is performed in an effective band version opening with Soozie Tyrell’s violin and featuring searing guitar and restrained but no less effective accordion. The younger Weinberg also makes a fine contribution and at the end of the song Springsteen credits him in addition to Nils Lofgren.
It is good to hear Raise Your Hand make another appearance in a version that lasts the best part of eight minutes, the length presumably due to the fact that it seems to have become the tour’s standard sign collection number. Then the requests begin unexpectedly with ? And The Mysterians’ 96 Tears, clearly seen by Springsteen as a challenge. “They think they’re gonna stump the band,” he tells the audience, “but this is the greatest bar band in the land, and if they don’t think we know 96 fuckin’ Tears…” Rather embarrassingly, Charlie Giordano (or Roy Bittan according to Godfather’s booklet notes, though it is organ not piano that is played) then begins to play something that is patently not 96 Tears and Springsteen has to correct him, telling the audience, “we’re gonna know it in a minute.” The version which finally emerges is, in Phillips’ words, “ragged but right.” The first disc then closes with a fine performance of Jimmy Cliff’s Trapped which, like 96 Tears, is a tour premiere.
Disc two opens with the jaunty Waitin’ On A Sunny Day during which Springsteen gets some children to sing, much to the delight of the rest of the audience. This is followed by the third and last song from Darkness On The Edge Of Town, The Promised Land. This rendition is heavy on the backing vocals which are well enough done but contribute to the song lacking a little bite. The Wrestler is given a beautiful performance and features some gorgeous violin from Tyrell, but it somehow lacks the restraint and poignancy of the version from LA.
Next up is Jungleland, which is played in response to a sign reading “Atlanta’s STEENagers deserve Jungleland.” Springsteen recalls meeting two 18-19 year olds during the 1990s in his home town of Freehold who told him that that were great fans of the E Street Band but, due to their age and the bad’s dissolution, had never been able to see the band live. This, he says, was “the seed that planted this whole last decade of activity…One of the reasons we got back together was so you could hear this one.” Tyrell’s violin opening is somehat off-key (not for the first time in this number), but thereafter we are presented with a magisterial version of this classic song. Clemons’ saxophone solo is marvellous, somehow managing to be simultaneously driven and restrained and when the sax dies away to be replaced by Roy Bittan’s piano the effect is breathtaking. Despite a momentary cut just before Springsteen resumes the vocals, the quiet section leading to the song’s denouement is intensely moving. It is the kind of performance that makes your skin tingle and the tears well up in your eyes and it is the indisputable highlight of the show, garnering an enthusiastic response from the audience.
After the heightened emotions of Jungleland, it is inevitable that the next song, Kingdom Of Days, the last from Working On A Dream to be performed, comes across as rather lightweight. Springsteen dedicates it to his wife, Patti Scialfa, who missed the show due to a horse riding accident (though she had also not been present for some of the shows performed during the previous week including the LA show already reviewed). Lonesome Day and a fine rendition of The Rising then lead to the final song of the main set, a thunderously exciting Born To Run which features an monumental climax ending in the momentary mid-song pause before Springsteen counts the band back in.
Returning for the encore, Springsteen give a name check to producer Brendan O’Brien who lives in the area and who was in the audience, before dedicating the first song, Hard Times (Come again No More), to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, exhorting the audience to contribute. An ebullient version of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out has the audience singing along from the start and then Jay Weinberg returns on drum for Land Of Hope And Dreams, which again featured a snippet of People Get Ready at the end. He has almost invariably won praise for his performances and the consensus seems to be that he played particularly well on this song. Phillips contends that, “Jay Weinberg was on fire, especially on ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams,'” and the anonymous writer on the Backstreeets website concurs, stating that Weinberg did “a fabulous job on this one.” Jay remains on the drummer’s stool for the customary show stopper (both literally and metaphorically), American Land. However, as Springsteen tells the audience, “it ain’t over ’til its over,” and the band launches into the Devil With The Blue Dress Medley, the night’s third tour premiere, with, in the words of the Backstreeets writer, “Roy Bittan going nuts on the piano, driving the crowd wild and closing the Atlanta show in style.”
Phillips comments that, where Springsteen is concerned, “there are only great shows and better-than-great shows. Bruce has set the bar pretty high. But in Atlanta Sunday night, he and the E Street Band cleared the bar with plenty to spare. What a great show.” Despite the hyperbole, there is much truth in this remark. However, I do not think that this performance is a match for the St.Louis show of 23 August 2008, which was the last Springsteen concert Phillips attended and which presumably determines where he sets the “bar.” Nonetheless, it is a very fine performance, which is well worth acquiring, and Godfather makes this set even more desirable with some excellent and well-chosen bonus tracks.
The seven bonus tracks come from the two shows at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Springsteen has a long history with Philadelphia, playing concerts there very early in his career and performing his first arena show at the Spectrum on 25 October 1976. As stated on the Backstreets website the Spectrum has been the “home of so many outstanding Springsteen performances over the years,” and, judging by these excerpts, the two 2009 shows fall in to that category, the band members’ inspired playing surely prompted by the knowledge that these are their last shows in the soon-to-be-demolished venue.
The first song included, the atmospheric Fire, had been played at the Spectrum during the Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour on 26 and 27 May 1978. It was requested by a group of fans holding up four large letters spelling out the song’s title with flames on top and to the side, which can be seen on the Backstreets website. The other numbers included are three “Philadelphia specials.” First is The Fever, ostensibly played in response to a sign, but in the setlist anyway. This song, a studio performance of which had been distributed to radio stations in tape form in 1974, was championed by legendary Philadelphia DJ Ed Sciaky, whose widow Judy was in the audience. It had been performed at the Spectrum on 18 and 19 August 1978 and also at the one-off “birthday show” of 24 September 1999 (the day after Springsteen’s 50th birthday). This smoky performance, with moody piano and organ solos, culminates, in Jon Greer’s words on Springsteen’s website, in a “terrific, searing guitar solo…taking what I normally think of as a ’70s soft-rock ballad and turning it into a barnburner.” The Backstreets writer agrees, referring to “the boss taking a killer solo at the end.”
The second “Philadelphia special” is a raucous version of Harold Dorman’s Mountain of Love, probably best-known among collectors in the version from the Main Point Bryn Mawr, just west of Philadelphia, on 5 February, 1975, a show introduced by Sciaky. (This is available on Crystal Cat’s Main Point Night, already reviewed.) It was also played at the city’s Tower Theatre on 30 and 31 December of that year. (Excerpts from the latter show appear on Godfather’s Mountain Of Love, already reviewed.) These three songs were played as the first requests immediately after Raise Your Hand. The fourth song, and the third and final “Philadelpha special” is You Can’t Sit Down. Originally recorded by the Phil Upchurch Combo in 1961, it was a number 3 hit for Philadelphia group The Dovells (with whom Steve Van Zandt had played in the early 1970s) in 1963. Played as the second encore, after Hard Times (Come Again No More), it receives a performance that Backstreets refers to as “loose and fun.”
The first number included from the next night, The Clash’s London Calling, must have come as a massive surprise to the audience. It had been requested the previous night; unplayed then, it was worked on at the soundcheck to get it ready for the performance heard here, a version as close to the original as you could expect the E Street Band to play. Next up is Red Headed Woman in a faster, full-band version with vocal input from the returning Patti Scialfa, described on the Backstreets website as, “a country-swinging duet, and a fun, goofy show of affection from a laughing Bruce.” Perhaps in deference to the youngsters in the audience, Springsteen does not sing what Carlyn Rose refers to on Springsteen’s website as “that verse.” Springteen and Scialfa had sung the song two nights before as a tribute to Tom Hanks at the Alice Tully Hall in New York during a brief respite from the tour.
The next song is Thundercrack, familiar to older collectors from the LP Fire On The Fingertips, which contained an edited performance from Max’s Kansas City in New York. (The full version is now available on Godfather’s Does This Bus Stop At Max’s, reviewed by me and on Crystal Cat’s Max’s Kansas City Night, reviewed by gsparaco.) The song functioned as what Backstreets calls “the nightly showstopper” during the early days of the E Street Band. A version from the Main Point concert of 24 April 1973 appeared on the old Great Dane CD Thundercrack and Springsteen introduces the song by saying, “we’re gonna take this back to the Main Point now!” “It was a consummate performance too,” according to Backstreets, “better than the Magic tour encores, which is saying something.” After these songs Springsteen played Hungry Heart (which featured a vocal contribution from his mother, Adele!) and The Promised Land, followed by the song which ends the third disc, a sober rendition of the oscar-winning Streets of Philadelphia.
The main show derives from a truly excellent audience tape and the sound of the bonus tracks is also impressive. Indeed, both the sound quality and performances from Philadelphia suggest that releases of the complete shows would be most welcome. Godfather’s set comes in the usual tri-fold packaging with some superb in-concert photographs, not all from the shows featured (the front cover shot, for example, is from the 15 April concert in Los Angeles). The rear cover shot, showing Springsteen, Tyrell and Max Weinberg silhouetted against huge flames on the screen behind them, is most striking. As with the LA show the list of band members on the sleeve includes the absent Patti Scialfa, though with some justification here as she appeared at the second Philadelphia concert and the photographs also include one of her with Springsteen at that show. There is also a booklet with further photographs and notes by “Joe Roberts.” Excellent sound, a fine principal performance, carefully chosen bonus tracks and high-quality packaging all contribute to making this another very desirable Springsteen release from Godfather.