Greetings From Buffalo, N.Y. (Godfatherecords G.R. 467/468/469)
HSBC Arena, Buffalo, NY – 22 November, 2009
Disc 1: Intro, Wrecking Ball, The Ties That Bind, Hungry Heart, Working On A Dream, Blinded By The Light, Growin’ Up, Mary Queen Of Arkansas, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, Lost In The Flood, The Angel, For You, Spirit In The Night, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City
Disc 2: Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Promised Land, Restless Nights, Surprise, Surprise, Green Onions, Merry Christmas Baby, Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, (I Don’t Want To) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes, Boom Boom, My Love Will Not Let You Down, Long Walk Home, the Rising, Born to Run, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Disc 3: I’ll Work For Your Love, Thunder Road, American Land, Dancing In The Dark, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Higher And Higher, Rockin’ All Over The World
Intense speculation has surrounded this show, with a widespread belief that it may have been the very final E Street Band concert. This belief seems partially to do with general circumstances, in the shape of an ageing band coming to the end of a double-headed touring schedule lasting for more than two years. However, the show itself gave cause for such speculation. Not only did Springsteen complete the circle by performing, in its entirity, his first album, but he paid tribute to his former manager, Mike Appel, who was his guest at the show. All Springsteen fans are aware of the acrimonious circumstances of the breakdown of their relationship. What better time for a public reconciliation than the band’s final concert?
However, other aspects of the show suggest otherwise. “Can you have a final E Street Band show without Patti?” asks Jon Phillips on Springsteen’s official website, “Without ‘Badlands,’ ‘Jungleland,’ ‘Backstreets’? No you can’t.” The last song played also gives a pointer. Ray Phillips, also writing on Springsteen’s website, states, “No ‘Blood Brothers,’ no ‘Last Carnival,’ no implications of finality.” Instead, the final number was the celebratory John Fogerty song Rockin’ All Over The World, during which Springsteen said that, “we’re gonna say goodbye, but just for a little while…a very little while.” Moreover, in a recent Billboard interview, Springsteen responded to the suggestion that this might be the band’s “last run” by saying, “No. We don’t even really think of it…We look forward to many, many more years of touring and playing.” More specifically, in an interview that appears on the LiveDaily website, Steve Van Zandt is quoted as saying, “We are going to take a break. I don’t know how long, one year, year-and-a-half, two years off.”
The Buffalo concert begins with an energetic Wrecking Ball, “sounding better than ever here,” according to the Point Blank website. This performance presumably brings to a close the song’s brief stint as the regular set opener. A breezy The Ties That Bind, similar to the rendition played earlier in the month during the complete performance of The River, then gives way to Hungry Heart. This jubilant performance, featuring an extremely high-spirited audience, a crowd-surfing Springsteen and a splendid sax solo from Clarence Clemons is a joy to listen to, although its very effervescence renders this version even more at odds than usual with the song’s lyrical content. (This is a compositon, remember, that begins with the lines, “Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack/I went out for a ride and I never went back.”) Working On A Dream is as charming as ever and, bearing in mind the circumstances of the show, even Springsteen’s evangelical preacher-style house building speech does not grate too much.
After this relatively short opening sequence, we get the centrepiece of the show, the only complete performance of Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. “This was the miracle,” Springsteen says, light-heartedly introducing Greetings, “this was the record that took everything from way below zero to…one.” He dedicates the performance to Appel, whose “incredible talking…got me in the door,” securing an audition with “one of the great legends in music production,” John Hammond.
Blinded By The Light, played in a version very similar to the original, with Nils Lofgren on acoustic guitar, receives a rapturous response from the audience as Springsteen pours out what Peter Basham calls “a torrent of surreal images and phrases.” It still sounds thoroughly imbued with youthful, high-spirited optimism, notwithstanding the age of its performers. The mood continues with what the Point Blank website refers to as a “magnificent” Growin’ Up, spitting youthful defiance at all and sundry. Despite the exuberant musical performance, the real treat arrives when the music subsides and you hear Springsteen say, “There I was…” This begins a story about his first meeting with Clemons which, as attested to by the saxophonist at various times, seems to be closer to the truth that some other versions. Clemons had been advised to check out the Bruce Springsteen Band by Karen Cassidy, lead singer of the group he was then playing in, Norman Seldin & The Joyful Noyze. Consequently, in September 1971, he went to see Springsteen’s band at The Student Prince in Asbury Park. As Springsteen narrates here, when Clemons entered the club the door came off its hinges. Although this was the result, not of the Big Man’s excessive strength, but of a howling gale, it contributed to a dramatic entrance as “a large shadow of a man” stepped inside. He walked to the stage and said (Clemons speaks here), “I wanna play with you.” “What could I say?” continues Springsteen, “I said sure,” his tone implying that such an imposing figure would brook no refusal. Clemons played and, “at the end of the night we just looked at each other and went…” At this point Springsteen and Clemons adopt the famous pose from the cover of Born To Run, much to the delight of the audience. “We got into the car, big long Cadillac, drove though the woods at the outskirts of town. We got very sleepy and we fell into this long, long, long, long dream and when we woke up we were in fuckin’ Buffalo, New York.” Although this does not sound overly humourous in print, when you hear Springsteen’s delivery, it is hilarious and, as Chris Phillips reports on the Backstreets website, the “crowd goes nuts.”
Mary Queen Of Arkansas is a little less pedestrian than the album version. It features Springsteen on vocals and acoustic guitar and Nils Lofgren on harmonica. “While far from a favorite,” writes Ray Phillips, the song “was special because of the great harmonica accompaniment by Nils.” It does not, however, match the version from Max’s Kansas City on January 31, 1973 where the song is enhanced by an accordion part played by the late Danny Federici. A sprightly Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? features a short instrumental intro and coda that long-term collectors are likely to recognize. It contains piano and sax solos, together with what Phillips calls “a stand-out solo from Charlie.” Likewise, Lost In The Flood begins and ends with a few bars from Bittan’s piano that adorned live performances of the song many years ago. The version heard here is stunning, culminating in what Andy Greene, on the Rolling Stone website calls “a jaw-dropping guitar solo” from Springsteen, complemented by Max Weinberg’s thunderous drumming. This rendition backs up Godfather’s contention that the song constitutes “Springsteen’s first proper epic.” “Best ever version?” asks the Point Blank website, “Probably.”
The Angel was notorious for never having been played live, with Springsteen quoted as having said he would never perform it. That changed at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 22 April 1996, when Springsteen unexpectedly performed it during his solo acoustic tour in support of The Ghost Of Tom Joad. There have been hints at other performances. On Peter Collingwood’s ‘The First And Last Pages’ section of the Brucebase website, he cites the song as being played at Max’s Kansas City in New York during 9-14 August 1972. However, the main section of Brucebase, which gives partial setlists for these shows (which do not include The Angel), merely states that, “it is highly likely that all 10 songs from the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. album were performed.” At the Albert Hall Springsteen suggested that he might have played the song before, when he was around 24 years old, which, if true, would not fit the timeframe for the Max’s shows.
The performance here is superb. Greene claims that Springsteen “breathed new life” into both this song and Mary, Queen Of Arkansas, imbuing the performances with “tremendous care and passion.” His restrained and poignant vocals are the highlight and at the concert Phillips had a friend turn to him and say, “he knows how to sing now.” He is accompanied for most of the song solely by Roy Bittan’s appropriately subdued piano. For the last forty-five seconds or so there is a beautifully played viola part. Springsteen does not credit the violist, but I believe it to be Tania Maxwell Roberts, who formed part of the string section which played on the Magic album. It might be going too far to suggest that during, this performance, Springsteen turns this much-maligned song into a minor masterpiece, but I am tempted to do so anyway. Phillips refers to it as “a beautiful, lost ’70s vignette.”
For You obviously gets the full-band, album version treatment, its jaunty music pointedly juxtaposed with its serious subject matter of power struggles within relationships and suicide. Then, as with many recent performances, Springsteen introduces Spirit In The Night with a cry of, “can you feel the spirit?” This sleazy tale of drunken sex is as effective as ever in a tight performance which doubtless reflects its relatively frequent inclusion in the set. (It was played twenty-one times during 2009, seven more times than the next most frequent song, Growin’ Up, and I am certain that it must be the number from Greetings that has been played more than any other over the years.) Both the album section and the first disc conclude with an energetic, enjoyable It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, which ends with a guitar duel between Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt.
“The performance of Bruce’s debut album Greetings From Asbury Park NJ was superlative,” contends the Point Blank website and it certainly reminds us (along with the complete The Wild, The Innocent And The New York Shuffle from the bonus disc of Godfather’s Into The River We Dive) that Springsteen was producing some very fine music before the breakthrough third album, Born To Run. In particular, it suggests that Lost In The Flood could easily have functioned as a mainstay of the set across the years and that The Angel is a far better song than we all (including Springsteen himself) realised.
The second disc kicks off with a good-natured Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, with the usual enthusiastic but tuneless junior vocal contribution. Following this, The Promised Land recieves the kind of stirring performancve that makes your scalp tingle. Then we are treated to the unexpected live debut of the River outtake Restless Nights, played due to its status as Steve Van Zandt’s “very favorite song of all time” (or so Springsteen tells us). Point Blank rates this as a “superb” performance, though an older Springsteen struggles a little with the vocals. After Happy Birthday is sung to Van Zandt (and a cake is produced), Van Zandt is effectively wished happy birthday all over again with a performance of Surprise, Surprise.
After its debut in the role in Baltimore two nights before, the instrumental Green Onions (a 1962 hit for Booker T. & The M.G.’s) is again the sign collection song. We first get a brace of festive numbers, Merry Christmas Baby and Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, both of which feature Curt Ramm. This is followed by the Chuck Willis song (I Don’t Want To Hang Up) My Rock’n’Roll Shoes, not played since Saginaw on 3 September 1978, which perhaps conveys some of the sentiment of the occasion. “The song was a blast,” argues Phillips, “blowing away any poignancy with its full-throttle rock ‘n’ roll.” A driving version of John Lee Hooker’s oft-covered 1961 single Boom Boom then arrives, to bring back memories of the Tunnel Of Love Tour. Boom Boom is succeeded by the fast-paced My Love Will Not Let You Down. This song is described by the Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen website (a very useful source for lyrics and song histories) as “one of the best Born In The USA outtakes,” despite having to wait until 1999 for its first live outings (one of which, of course, appeared on Live In New York City), and Stan Goldstein, on the nj.com website concurs, calling the song “a rediscovered gem.”
After this we enter familiar set-closing territory with Long Walk Home (once more featuring a vocal contribution from Van Zandt at the end), The Rising and Born To Run. The latter song is played with a passion and energy that is simply stunning, and it is unsurprising that Springsteen opts not to stop there, recalling Ramm for supremely spiritted Tenth-Avenue Freeze Out, which closes disc 2 as well as the main set.
Disc 3 opens with Springsteen exhorting the audience to contribute to the Food Bank Of Western New York. The encore then begins with what Point Blank calls the “beautiful and fast paced” I’ll Work For Your Love, from the Magic album, which opens with some charmingly light-textured piano from Roy Bittan. The undisputed classic Thunder Road then gives way to American Land, which sees the return of Ramm to the stage. The band introductions appear here, of course, and the mention of Clemons’ name is followed (as it often used to be when Rosalita contained the band intros) with a snippet of the Theme From Shaft. Then, after a beezy, poppy Dancing In The Dark, which features a little more junior audience input on the “Hey Baby” lyrics, we get a tremendous, full-throttle performance of Rosalita itself, again brilliantly enhanced by Ramm’s trumpet contribution. As at several other recent shows, Higher and Higher is another highlight, and here it features a guest appearance by Buffalo native Willie Nile, who had previously joined Springsteen for three encore songs during the first Giants Stadium show on 30 September. Ramm is impressive again and the song features a superb ensemble vocal performance. The concert then concludes with what Point Blank calls a “fantastic long version” of John Fogerty’s Rockin All Over The World, during which Springsteen individually thanks the entire tour staff. “It was a celebration of the tour, of the band, of rock ‘n’ roll,” writes Phillips, “not of a band on the verge of retiring, but of a band firing on all cylinders at this very moment.” Referencing Oscar Wilde, Greene maintains that Springsteen “looked like he could go on all night. Somewhere there’s a portrait of that man aging.”
Overall, I was not as impressed as I hoped I would be by the post-Greetings section of the main set. I felt the need for something more overtly valedictory, even though this was clearly something that Springsteen was consciously avoiding. Even if this turns out not to be the last E Street Band concert, it was still the last show of a double tour lasting for more than two years and it may be two more years, as Van Zandt states, before the next show. Consequently, to refer back to Jon Phillips’ remark quoted earlier, I most certainly did want to hear Badlands, Backstreets and Jungleland rather than the lightweight Surprise, Surprise and a couple of Christmas songs. Having said that, I confess that I was most impressed by the tremendously upbeat and energetic encore, which is simply superb.
However, I do not deny the worth of having rarely played (and in the case of the former, unique) performances of songs such as Restless Nights, (I Don’t Want To Hang Up) My Rock And Roll Shoes and Boom Boom. Nor would I deny the energy and commitment displayed by the band during the latter part of the show. As suggested above, it was the choice of material that I felt left a little to be desired; the performances are excellent. As Greene maintains, Springsteen played, “a ferocious set that proved the remarkable strengh of the band,” and Jeff Miles of The Buffalo News contends that, “this gig was so fiery, so passionate, so frankly youthful in its energy.” Miles goes on to sum up the show in these words: “Sunday’s show was absolutely sublime. It was everything a great rock ‘n’ roll show should be – intense, joyous, deeply musical, irreverent, sensual, romantic, incredibly fun. No band does it better.”
This show was recorded by the same taper responsible for the fine-sounding Atlanta and Vienna gigs. Overall, the sound is very good indeed. It has a very pleasing immediacy, with nice depth and presence, but it is lacking a little in clarity. The Greetings numbers sound very impressive indeed and, to my ears, come across better than anything else on this release, which contributes greatly to the enjoyment of listening to this unique performance. The CDs are housed in Godfather’s usual tri-fold sleeve, the front cover of which is based on the sleeve of the original Greetings LP. The rear of the sleeve, which displays the track listing, is also strikingly colourful. Elsewhere on the sleeve are onstage photographs, including one of trumpeter Curt Ramm. Additionally there are two inserts, a tri-fold booklet with the usual Joe Roberts notes and a small, double-sided poster reproducing the front cover art and listing all the shows on the tour. The label sides of the CDs reproduce the title in the same style as the cover. With its last two releases (This one and Into The River We Dive), Godfather has presented collectors with all three of Springsteen’s unique full-album performances. Although there are other gems here (not least the only performance of Restless Nights), the presence of Greetings alone is enough to make this an essential purchase for all serious Springsteen collectors.