Innocent And Glory Days (Social Graces 006/007)
Disc 1: Madison Square Garden, New York. NY, USA – 7 November, 2009: Intro, The E Street Shuffle, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Kitty’s Back, Wild Billy’s Circus Story, Incident On 57th Street, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), New York City Serenade
Bonus Tracks: Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ, USA – 23 March, 2009: My Lucky Day; Bonnaroo Music Festival, Manchester, TN, USA – 14 June, 2009: Bobby Jean, Glory Days
Disc 2: Giants Stadium, Meadowlands, NJ, USA – 3 October, 2009: Intro, Born In The U.S.A., Cover Me, Darlington County, Working On The Highway, Downbound Train, I’m On Fire, No Surrender, Bobby Jean, I’m Goin’ Down, Glory Days, Dancing In The Dark, My Hometown
Bonus tracks: Covention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ, USA – 18 March, 2009: Outlaw Pete; Somerville Theater, Somerville, MA, USA – 19 February, 2003: Born In The U.S.A.
Social Graces’ first Springsteen release, Born Again, which I have already reviewed, contains the complete performance of Born To Run from Auburn Hills, MI on 13 November 2009. The label has followed this up with a double CD with two further complete album performances, this time of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle and Born In The U.S.A.
The performance of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle was the first part of a complete album double-header at Madison Square Garden on 7 and 8 November 2009, with the second night featuring The River. The Godfather label’s first edition of the concert of 8 November, Into The River We Dive, came with a bonus disc, entitled Serenade To NYC, which contained the whole of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, together with two further songs from the show, from a superb audience tape. The entire concert was then released by Crystal Cat as part of the six disc New York City Dream Box, initially with audience sound and then utilizing an IEM/audience matrix. Now Social Graces present us with the album portion of the show only, again from the IEM/audience source.
Readers seeking comments on the quality of the performance are directed to my earlier review of the Godfather release, where I found myself in agreement with Paul Doughty, who, writing on Springsteen’s official website, considers it “truly sublime.” The sound quality here, as with the Crystal Cat release, is excellent. The New York City Dream Box has the advantage of containing the complete concert. However, when Springsteen played complete albums they appeared at a point in the set which has resulted in performances almost invariably being split between discs in releases which contain full shows. The specific value of the Social Graces releases is that they enable the listener to enjoy the complete albums without a break, and this is particularly significant in the case of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle as the disc break on the Crystal Cat release comes between Incident On 57th Street and Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) – the only two songs on the album played together without an intervening pause. Although the Godfather version also contains the whole album performance without a break, that release is now out of print and, as stated above, uses an audience tape.
After Springsteen’s brief introduction to Born In The U.S.A. the performance of the complete album on disc two commences with a splendidly gritty rendition of the title track which includes what New York Times writer Jon Pareles calls, “a seismic drum interlude by Max Weinberg.” The next number, Cover Me, is also most impressive. Tom Cantillon reckons it “amazing,” with Nils Lofgren’s guitar solos “out of this world.” Pareles concurs, stating that, “Nils Lofgren played frantic, searing guitar solos in ‘Cover Me.'” Then Springsteen shouts, “are you ready for a road trip?” as the band goes straight into what Pareles calls ‘the Rolling Stones twang of ‘Darlington County,’ which features Soozie Tyrell on violin prior to a sax part from Clarence Clemons which brings the song to its close. Then comes what Pareles characterizes as, “the rockabilly boogie of ‘Working On The Highway,'” another example, after the title song and Cover Me, of the juxtaposition of upbeat music with downbeat lyrics. We then get a moving version of the solemn Downbound Train, followed by the closing song of the original album’s first side, I’m On Fire. This song, with its aura of rather menacing sexual tension, is, for Tom Cantillon, writing on the Greasy Lake website, a “highlight” of the performance.
We then enter the realm of the anthemic for stirring versions of the first two songs from side two, No Surrender and Bobby Jean, the latter, of course, widely interpreted as a farewell to the departing Steve Van Zandt, with, as Dave Marsh puts it in Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen In The 1980s, “lines that mingle love, grief and rancor.” A lively performance of I’m Goin’ Down is followed by what Pareles refers to as ‘the merry carousel-organ chords of ‘Glory Days.’ Again, the vibrant nature of the music is belied by the lyrics, as the song’s ageing protagonist reluctantly realises that he will ineviatably, and quite soon, be reduced to “telling boring stories of glory days.” The effect is heightened further during the succeeding Dancing In The Dark. Musically, the tone of this upbeat, poppy number appears positively jubilant, but the existence of the song’s protagonist is characterized by boredom, loneliness and alienation. He is “dying for some action,” but there seems to be no possibility of him finding it (“There’s something happening somewhere/I just know there is”). This enjoyable performance, which conveys the song’s musical/lyrical dichotomy effectively, is followed by a poignant version of the album’s closer, My Hometown.
Some commentators have noted the positive effect of playing the songs from Born In The U.S.A. in the order in which they appear on the album. Dante Cutrona writes on the Backstreets website that, while a complete performance of Born In The U.S.A. contains no rarities, all the songs being performed frequently, playing them together makes the songs more effective: “‘I’m On Fire’ was enhanced by its performance after ‘Downbound Train,’ and the lost friendship in ‘Bobby Jean’ seemed more vital when played after the message of ‘No Surrender.'” Glenn Radecki, on Springsteen’s official website, points out that, “nothing from the record is ever played in order during the live shows.” When the songs are played in order, however, the effect is most impressive: “‘No Surrender’ smoked like it hasn’t in recent memory, as the perfect follow-up to a simmering ‘I’m On Fire'”…”‘Glory Days’ and ‘Dancing In The Dark’ were a treat to see back in the main set for the first time in years. The biggest surprise of all, though, was the new life breathed into perpetual encore song ‘Bobby Jean’ as it followed ‘No Surrender’…as an encore standby for so many years, the performances of ‘Bobby Jean’ have typically not been nearly as compelling as on Saturday Night at Giants Stadium.”
Pareles notes how the dichotomy between the music and lyrics of Born In The U.S.A., to which I have made reference above, is effectively emphasized by this complete performance: “The lyrics, by and large, are about hard times and irreparable losses…yet most of the music is celebratory, brazening through setbacks with rock ‘n’ roll…Performing the album 25 years later, Mr. Springsteen sang with deeper nuance; he was more desperate in ‘Born In The U.S.A.,’ angrier in ‘I’m Going Down.’ And the band has slightly bulked up the music without cluttering it…The songs have not faded.” Cutrona’s overall conclusion is most enthusiastic: “For any fan who wore out his or her cassette of Born In The U.S.A., tonight was a dream realized…the performance [did not] feature any special nuances or subtle changes…But that didn’t matter…tonight gave Springsteen and the band a chance to revisit a collection of anthems tailor-made for a football stadium. Tonight was an opportunity to see how far we’ve all come since 1985 and give everyone, singer and fan, a chance to revisit the glory days, raise their hands in the air and sing along.” Cantillon writes that he is “not a big fan” of the album, “but tonight, played from start to finish like it was meant to be played, hard and loud so the songs can rock the stadium, I truly enjoyed the entire collection of songs.” The conclusion of the Point Blank website is a little more measured and, in my opinion, rather more accurate: “It was the night to have fun and perform all the hits, and the whole audience had a great time…The hits from the Born in the USA album brought the show to another level and Giants Stadium was a big party, bringing back the memories of the 1985 tour. It was a solid performance, but…not his greatest concert…As good as the performance was, it was hard to beat the emotional level of the previous night.”
The first bonus track on disc one, My Lucky Day (which appears in the track listing as Lucky Day), comes from the open rehearsal for the Working On A Dream Tour held at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park on 23 March 2009. In my review of Godfather’s release of this rehearsal, Working On A Show, I quoted an anonymous writer on the Backstreets website, who wrote of this performance that it, “had a good classic E Sreet feel; stripped of some of the busy-ness of the album version, it was a straightahead, high-energy rocker.” This open rehearsal has more recently been released, coupled with the closed rehearsal of 18 March, on Social Graces’ four-disc set 2009 Tour Rehearsals, which I intend to review in the near future. This is followed by performances of Bobby Jean and Glory Days from the Bonnaroo Music Festival on 13 June 2009, where Springsteen joined the band Phish These have already been utilized as bonus tracks by Godfather, on that label’s release of the Vienna show of 5 July 2009, Another Carnival By The Danube. In my review of that title I wrote: “Bobby Jean, according to Whitney Pastorek on the Music Mix website, was no more than ‘capably performed,’ but, even so, she concedes the effectiveness of ‘Bruce and Trey [Anastasio]’s guitar solos, overlapping in the most pleasant of discord.’ Glory Days starts rather tentatively but, as Pastorek states, the song, ‘crescendoed into something extraordinary. Bruce dropped back to rhythm and let the man who idolizes him take the lead on what could be termed an incredibly Phishian take on an incredibly not Phishy song.’ So…Godfather presents us with a unique twist on these songs.”
The first bonus track on disc two is a rendition of Outlaw Pete from the closed Working On A Dream Tour rehearsal of 18 March 2009. Like My Lucky Day, this has also since appeared on 2009 Tour Rehearsals. The performance proceeds nicely, though it is clearly a work in progress here, with Springsteen giving instructions on several occasions and at one point calling a halt to the performance. The second bonus track on disc two is an acoustic Born In The U.S.A. from the DoubleTake magazine benefit show at the Somerville Theater on 19 February 2003. This has already appeared on another Lighthouse-related release, Somerville Story. In My review of this, I quoted Caryn Rose’s Backstreets article, in which she wrote, “it’s as deep and soulful as the best renditions of this song can be.”
As to the sound of this release, tailschao, posting on the Stone Pony London message board, eventually comes to the conclusion that the full-album performance of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle comes from the same source as the Crystal Cat release of the complete show. Posters on the site have clearly been impressed (and a couple have been moved to the point of profanity) by the sound on this release. The high quality of the sound here is illustrated by the fact that discussion has centred around whether the two shows are really IEM-sourced or actual soundboard tapes: tailschao: “And jesus fucking christ it sounds good. I’m not really a fan of BITUSA the song, but good lord this is fantastic.”; randy5554: “Just listened to The E Street Shuffle and Cover Me. Holy Shit, amazing sound. Is there any chance that these songs are actually from the soundboard? They sound fantastic, much better than multiple IEMs mixed together.”; tailschao: “I’d probably put my money on the same IEM feeds for all 3 [the two performances here and the Auburn Hills Born To Run performance].”; AndreaWozzup: “Holy sheep, this one sounds actually better than AH!!!”; Pete: “I’m sure it is an IEM, but it’s undoubtedly one of the better ones I’ve heard. The least IEM-ey so to speak.”; hobbes4444: “I wouldn’t be surprised if this truly is a board recording…If it really is an IEM, then serious kudos to the taper to pull that off in GS.”; 44gazza: “Awesome sound indeed.”; Bossman 284: “If these are IEMs they are the best IEMs I’ve heard from a Bruce show.”
Despite this fulsome praise, the sound on the Born In The U.S.A. performance is not entirely faultless. Tailschao notes the presence of “a vocal reverb in the right channel.” Pete also comments that, “echo on the BITUSA tracks is all messed up.” However, as heard on this release, this does not greatly affect the whole performance. Springsteen’s voice clearly echoes when he speaks to the audience before and after the performance of Born In The U.S.A.; fortunately, only one actual song, My Hometown, is notably affected by this problem, allthough there are occasional instances of it elsewhere. According to hobbes4444, “the echo is simply the ambient audience mics picking up reverb from the FOH PA.”
The packaging, as with Born Again, is fairly basic though reasonably attractive. The discs are housed in a slimline double jewel case. The single sheet front insert has a photograph of Springsteen on stage against a dark background on one side and a further onstage shot of Springsteen, Clarence Clemons and Max Weinberg, together with a list of band personnel, on the other. The outer face of the rear insert shows Springsteen on stage in the company of Nils Lofgren and Soozie Tyrell and also displays the tracklisting, which is quite small and difficult to read. The design of the inner face of the rear insert, in common with Born Again, shows what could pass for an alternative cover design, and shoes Springsteen hanging from his microphone stand. A numbered sticker proclaiming this to be a limited edition combines the designs of the two albums showcased here. As with the previous release, the red label side of the CDs is deliberately in the style of official releases but “Boss/ESB” appears around the edge, rather than “Columbia.”
Bonus CD-R – Darkness At Giants Stadium: Giants Stadium. Meadowlands, NJ. USA – 2 October, 2009: Introduction, Badlands, Adam Raised A Cain, Something In The Night, Candy’s Room, The Promised Land, Factory, Streets Of Fire, Prove It All Night, Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Bonus tracks: Bonnaroo Music Festival, Manchester, TN, USA – 14 June, 2009: Mustang Sally; Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ, USA -18 March, 2009: Ain’t Got No Home (version 2)
The bonus disc that accompanies this release contains the complete performance of Darkness On The Edge Of Town from Giants Stadium on 2 October 2009 – the emotionally intense “previous night” referred to above. This was the second complete live performance of the album, the first having taken place at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ on 7 May 2008, when Born To Run had also been played in its entirety. The whole show has already appeared in an audience recording on Godfather’s Rocking Down The Giants, and in my review of that release I quoted the Point Blank website, which stated that the album was played, “with fury and passion, with conviction and intensity.” Readers are referred to my review of that release for further comments on the quality of individual songs. Here again, however, we have the complete album section in an IEM recording. This again results in the two advantages of enhanced sound quality and the presentation of the whole album without a break. Commentators have again praised the sound. OM, posting on the Stone Pony London message board, states, “Sounds great too!” On the Jungleland website bartlett, who was lucky enough to have been at the concert, states, “very nice to get it in a quality recording,” and paraiceen enthuses, “once again, fantastic! Thanks a lot for these IEM’s. Keep them coming!!” As with the recording of Born In The U.S.A., there is some echo to Springsteen’s voice. This can be discerned in his opening and concluding spoken remarks and during the many of the songs. I did not find it too distracting; others listeners may.
The first bonus track, Mustang Sally from the Bonnaroo Festival with Phish, has already appeared, along with Bobby Jean and Glory Days in Godfather’s Vienna release. In my review I commented that Mustang Sally is played in, “a fine version…fleshed out by two extended solos (guitar and then guitar/keyboards) which take the song to virtually ten minutes.” The second bonus track, the second version of Ain’t Got No Home, is again from the closed Working On A Dream Tour rehearsal of 18 March 2009 and therefore has also since appeared on 2009 Tour Rehearsals. The song makes effective use of the backing singers, but, like Outlaw Pete, it does feature Springsteen giving instructions and the song is halted several times. The sound of the bonus tracks on all three discs is excellent, the rehearsal songs being again IEM-based and the songs with Phish having been made available for download from that band’s website.
The bonus CD-R is housed in a slim single CD case with a single-sheet front insert only. The front shows a montage of shots of Springsteen on stage and the cover of Darkness On The Edge Of Town; the rear shows the stage from some distance, over the heads of the audience and also gives the track listing.
Overall, this is a superb release, containing as it does, three complete album performances in excellent sound, and it deserves a place in every serious Springsteen collection.