La Vie En Rose (Godfatherecords G.R. 777/778/779)
Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, Paris, France – 4 July 2012
Disc 1: Intro: La Vie En Rose, We Take Care Of Our Own, Wrecking Ball, Badlands, Death To My Hometown, My City Of Ruins, Spirit In The Night, The E Street Shuffle, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Jack Of All Trades, Because The Night
Disc 2: Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Johnny 99, Darlington County, Easy Money, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Promised Land, Apollo Medley [The Way You Do The Things You Do, 634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)], Independence Day, The River, The Rising, Out In The Street, Land Of Hope And Dreams [/People Get Ready]
Disc 3: We Are Alive, Born In The U.S.A., Born To Run, Bobby Jean, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, American Land
Godfather’s latest Springsteen releases cover the two Paris shows of 4 and 5 July (the second show, entitled Au Clair De La Lune, will be reviewed very soon). The first show, which resumed the tour after a ten-day break, begins with the twin accordions of Roy Bittan and Charlie Giordano playing La Vie En Rose, one of the most well-known songs of legendary French chanteuse Édith Piaf, while the rest of the band takes the stage. It took place under adverse conditions due to technical problems, which, according to Caryn Rose’s blog account, were a significant contributory factor to an uneven performance:
“It was not a particularly hot day, but there had been three power outages at Bercy (one of which we were inside for), and they were so worried about a fourth that they sent out someone to explain this and ask that, if for some reason the power should go out again, that we all stay calmly in our seats. This probably explains why there was no sign of any air conditioning for the entire show, causing the entire band to become drenched in sweat, for Stevie to be continually gesturing for water for the band, and towards the end of the set, for Bruce to be hand-carrying cups of his water and blue Gatorade to the fans around the front platform. This is the kind of adversity the E Street Band could potentially thrive on. I fear, instead, that it gave us an uneven mix of strong performances with lackluster ones.”
Hovever, Rose also speculates that, “this also could have just been a symptom of the first show after a break, or the fact that the show has reached the point where the setlist needs a serious re-thinking,” the latter point being one that posters on more than one forum have been putting forward.
To my sensibilities there is nothing remotely lacklustre about the start of the concert with strong and vibrant performances of regular early-show numbers We Take Care Of Our Own, Wrecking Ball, Badlands and Death To My Hometown. Badlands, criticized (along with The Promised Land) by posters on some forums for being tired and in need of a break, is anything but here and the song energizes the Parisian audience who sing along lustily during a magnificently stirring performance.
My City Of Ruins, as usual, sees Springsteen addressing the audience at the start and during the mid-song “roll-call,” in this case in both English and French. During the roll-call each major member of The E Street Band gets to make a short instrumental or vocal contribution, and Michelle Moore’s expanded role is acknowledged as she is included as a member of the “E Street Choir.” After this, Springsteen asks, “are you ready for a houseparty tonight?” and then uses this as a rather awkward lead-in to the reference to departed band members, where he says, “when you throw a party, you always notice who’s here and who’s not here.” This undermines the poignancy of the message, as does the unnecessary expansion of this section of the song, where Springsteen asks the audience, “are we missing anybody?” over and over again.
The following song, Spirit In The Night, is, as is now customary, unbalanced by Springsteen’s lengthy introduction in mock-preacher persona, though the performance of the song itself is suitably ebullient. An exuberant rendition of The E Street Shuffle is a definite highlight with a prominent contribution from the horns, particularly during the dissonant opening and the fast, Latin-inflected coda with prominent roles for percussionist Everett Bradley and drummer Max Weinberg. The audience continues to sing along for some while after the song’s conclusion and its persistence is rewarded with a reprise of the coda. Then comes Springsteen’s first nod to America’s national day with 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy). It is a fine performance which even impressed Rose, who considers the song “overrated.” She writes that, “watching it thousands of miles away from home, in front of people who have never been to Asbury Park or New Jersey made it seem different, seem special, feel magic.” Jack Of All Trades, a song which has largely been underappeciated by reviewers of the Wrecking Ball album, but which has grown in stature in live performance, is excellent here, and Curt Ramm’s trumpet part is particularly plaintive. The status of the song is attested to by Rose, who laments the absence of Rocky Ground by stating that it, “needs to come back, it is just as important (if not more so) than [sic] ‘Jack of All Trades.'”
However, I could not disagree more with Rose’s opinion that the rendition of Because the Night heard here, “was one of the weaker versions I’ve seen.” Other than in one respect I found it a delight from start to finish, with a particularly enoyable guitar solo from Nils Lofgren. The one thing which mars the the song is Patti Scialfa’s unnecessary vocal part, which fails to mesh with the rest of the performance. The song brings the first disc to a terrific close.
The second disc opens with Darkness On The Edge Of Town, a strong performance, though less intense than some. This gives way to Johnny 99, with its violin part from Soozie Tyrell, prominent horns and “whoo-whoo” backing vocals making for a splendid musical experience, but coming across as severely at odds with the subject matter of the song. Springsteen then delivers the second Independence Day reference, courtesy of what Rose calls an “enjoyable” performance of Darlington County, with its opening lines, “Driving into Darlington County/Me and Wayne on the Fourth of July.”
Next comes Easy Money. Glenn Radecki writes on the Backstreets website that, “the show in Paris also marked the return of Patti Scialfa to the stage, for her first appearance in Europe since July of 2008, and the return of ‘Easy Money’ to the set, taking the place of ‘Shackled and Drawn.’ Bruce and Patti played off each during ‘Easy Money,’ and they also sang together at Bruce’s microphone during ‘Because the Night’ and danced together during ‘The Way You Do the Things You Do.’ Although they brought great chemistry to the stage, ‘Easy Money’ showed a bit of rust from having not been played since April.”
Waitin’ On A Sunny Day contains the usual vocal spot for a youngster plucked from the audience, who, after repeatedly singing “waitin’ on a sunny day,” sings, “I don’t remember the words/I’m sorry” and then claims to, “write songs as well,” though they are “not as good” as Springsteen’s! As often, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day is rather incongruously followed by The Promised Land. The Apollo Medley of The Way You Do The Things You Do and 634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.) is as enjoyable as ever. Rose, rather less impressed, argues that the Medley should be replaced by a song such as Shake or Sweet Soul Music and, while it would be great to hear them for their own sake, I do not share her dissatisfaction with the Medley, which I find a wholly satisfying part of the Wrecking Ball Tour shows.
A solo piano rendition of the third song to reference the special date, Independence Day, has won many plaudits. Radecki writes that, “the biggest highlight and surprise of the show came when Bruce sat at the piano. Introducing the song as ‘something special for the evening’; Bruce performed ‘Independence Day’ for the first time on the tour. The choice of song may have been predictable, but the solo-piano arrangement and magnificent performance were certainly not.” Rose refers to Springsteen, “singing with power and pathos. It was magnificent, and alone worth the price of admission.” Keyser Soze, posting on the Greasy Lake forum comments that, “he absolutely nailed it. It was the highlight of a great great show. I’ll never forget it.”
One highlight is followed immediately by another with what Rose rates as an “outstanding” performance of The River. The audience gets the chance to sing near the beginning, and the harmonica part and wordlesss vocalise at the song’s conclusion are truly haunting. The main set then plays out with a fine performance of The Rising, a boisterous Out In The Street and the always-excellent Land Of Hope And Dreams, which concludes, as usual with a snippet of People Get Ready. This ends the second disc.
The encores on the third disc commence with We Are Alive, which Springsteen introduces as, “a ghost story about the way the voices of the dead give hope and inspire the voices of the living, about the way the past lives through the present.” This is followed by an immensely powerful Born In The U.S.A., dedicated to France, which was, “America’s friend before America was America.” Radecki comments that, “the band ripped into an extremely strong ‘Born in the U.S.A.,’ bringing one of the loudest crowd reactions of the night,” and Rose argues that it, “sounded muscular and fantastic.” The audience is kept on a high with Born To Run, Bobby Jean (“magnificent,” according to jamesy on Backstreets’ BTX forum), Dancing In The Dark (after which Springsteen repeatedly asks the audience, “fatigué?” provoking predictable cries of “non!”) and Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, with its tribute to the late Clarence Clemons. American Land, complete with reference to the audience just having seen the “legendary E Street band,” concludes the concert, its role as a celebratory show closer continuing to be rather curious when one considers the message of the song.
The source for La Vie En Rose is an excellent audience recording, doubtless helped by the setting of a relatively small indoor venue. Rose states that, “the crowd was wonderful, loud and boisterous and dancing and jumping all over the arena. There were signs everywhere, there were flags from a dozen different countries. They were loud and when they weren’t, they stood still and listened.” This is refected in the splendid recording, in which the audience adds to the atmosphere without being obtrusive. The discs themselves are housed in the label’s customary tri-fold card sleeve with plenty of onstage shots. Patti Scialfa, who returned to the stage for the first time since the end of April in Los Angeles, features on the front cover. There is no booklet, though the usual “Joe Roberts” notes appear on the sleeve, along with the track listing and list of band personnel. Overall, La Vie En Rose presents Springsteen collectors with a very good performance in very fine sound and it is well worth acquiring.