First Direct Arena, Leeds, UK – 24 July, 2013
Disc 1: Intro, Roulette, My Love Will Not Let You Down, No Surrender, Something In The Night, American Skin (41 Shots), The Promised Land, Hungry Heart, Local Hero, Gotta Get That Feeling, Bad Moon Rising
Disc 2: Intro, Thundercrack, Wrecking Ball, Death To My Hometown, This Depression, Because The Night, Darlington County, Shackled And Drawn, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Rising, Land Of Hope And Dreams/People Get Ready
Disc 3: Intro, Secret Garden, Atlantic City, Badlands, Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Shout, If I Should Fall Behind, Thunder Road
Bonus Tracks: Verizon Center, Washington DC, USA – 1 April 2012: The Promise; XL Center, Hartford, CT, USA – 25 October, 2012: Pink Cadillac
The last of Crystal Cat’s four recent simultaneous Springsteen releases brings us the very first show at the 13,500-capacity First Direct Arena in Leeds, a city last played by Springsteen in 1985. “According to press reports,” as the Brucebase website relates, “Springsteen specifically requested a date at this brand new amphitheatre-style arena, and will be the first act to perform there.” This is also mentioned by Backstreets writer Connor Kirkpatrick, who goes on to describe the opening of the show as follows:
“…the first ever show at the amphitheater-style venue was not so much an opening as a rock ‘n’ roll baptism.
Opening with a fervently energetic ‘Roulette,’ the E Street Band were on fire, pointing to the powerful night to come. They continued a particularly intense set of opening songs as the house-rocking ‘No Surrender'” became Darkness deep cut ‘Something in the Night.’ With Bruce already dripping with sweat, he stood alone at center stage enshrouded by a cloak of darkness, before being illuminated by a ray of light. Wailing with the voice of a broken-hearted man, Bruce truly tore ‘into the guts of something in the night.’ Immediately following was a rarity making its second appearance of 2013: ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ was met by ardent screams, the audience captivated as Bruce sang about getting killed ‘just for living in your American Skin.’ Bruce didn’t reference Trayvon Martin directly; he didn’t need to. Concluding with Jake Clemons’ saxophone, it was a very poignant performance.”
Holly Cara Price, writing on Springsteen’s official website, was also impressed by the show’s opening, describing the performance of Roulette as “relentless,” that of Something In The Night as “magnificent” and stating that:
“‘My Love Will Not Let You Down’ was next, hitting us in the solar plexus like a high-energy one-two punch. The crowd took up the refrain of the song and chanted it along with the band. Nils, Steven, and Bruce formed a three-pronged fearsome guitar attack as the song roared to its finish.
The energy continued to mount as ‘No Surrender’ followed, again warmly welcomed by the ecstatic audience.”
Of those opening five songs the highlight for me is the beautifully poised and intensely moving rendition of American Skin (41 Shots), which is quite possibly the most poignant version I have heard, and the emergence of Clemons’ sax part at the end is stunningly effective. The intensity of he show is maintained by a stirring, anthemic The Promised Land, and then the audience gets its customary chance to contribute some vocals to Hungry Heart. After Hungry Heart, Springsteen gathered request signs, resulting in a rare performance of Local Hero, very effectively augmented by the horn section and backing singers. Price comments that, “the band kicked into a Stones-y, bluesy new arrangement of this song, which had not been played onstage for almost ten years [in Detroit] and only once before with the E Street Band. It was absolutely terrific, the horns and choir adding an extra glorifying blast to this number from 1992’s ‘Lucky Town.’” Another tour premiere follows in the shape of what Price calls the “British Invasion-flavoured” Gotta Get That Feeling, a Darkness outtake which finally emerged on The Promise. Although it was a sign request, the performance was clearly not spontaneous as the song had been played at the soundcheck and Springsteen stated that it was played at the behest of Steve Van Zandt. The song has only been performed once before, at the Asbury Park Carousel taping in 2010 before a very small audience, so this is its first outing at a “proper” show. Springsteen then makes it three consecutive tour premieres by performing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising, last played with the E Street Band during a 2004 Vote For Change concert with John Fogerty. This brings the first disc to a close.
The second disc kicks off with what Kirkpatrick calls an “electrifying” performance of Thundercrack, a song which I have known and loved since I acquired the classic vinyl bootleg Fire On The Fingertips more years ago than I care to remember, and which it is always a delight to hear. You can plainly hear the audience’s excited response at being shown the sign requesting the song. Springsteen comments that this was the band’s showstopper in the early days when they were virtually unknown and opened for other acts such as Black Oak Arkansas, Sha Na Na, Mountain and Cheech & Chong.
After eleven songs we finally get a trio of numbers from Wrecking Ball. The title track and Death To My Hometown are followed by the much more rarely played This Depression, described by Price as, “a truly gorgeous rendition…achingly soulful…with a glorious solo by Nils.” Kirkpatrick clearly also enjoyed the performances both of This Depression and the following number. “A guitar-shredding duo followed,” he writes, “with Bruce and Nils coming together for the complex guitar work of ‘This Depression’ (its first performance of 2013) and ‘Because the Night.’ It was, quite literally, blisteringly good.” NarlsJunior, posting on Greasy Lake, reports that during Because the Night, “Bruce utterly tortured his Fender during the solo he took on this instead of Nils.”
Darlington County, the tale of, as Clinton Heylin puts it in E Street Shuffle, two, “revved up and randy, reckless and brain dead,” would-be sophisticates, reaches its inevitably unfortunate conclusion with the help of a violin part from Soozie Tyrell. Shackled And Drawn contains the usual splendid vocal contribution from Cindy Mizelle and then Waitin’ On A Sunny Day features the customary vocal slot for a youngster from the audience. The main set and disc two then conclude with the customary effective performances of The Rising and Land Of Hope And Dreams, the latter song culminating in the usual snippet from People Get Ready
The encores begin with a sublime performance of Secret Garden, which, like Gotta Get That Feeling, was played at the soundcheck. Springsteen dedicated it to the fans who travelled around Europe to see and hear him. The song, which had its only previous concert performance on 22 June 2000 at Madison Square Garden, became, as Brucebase points out, “the 218th song to be performed on the Wrecking Ball Tour.” Kirkpatrick call the performance one of “melancholy beauty…an unequivocal tour highlight…as surreal as it was ethereal. With the Arena in pitch darkness, the only source of light was the purple illumination of the stage. While the performance of the song as a whole was goosebump-inducing, the climax came when Jake Clemons, playing the saxophone, emerged from the shadows.” ” Lush, gorgeous, sensual,” adds Price, ” it was absolutely perfect. Soozie shone on backing vocals.”
The encore continues with the now-customary full-band Atlantic City, a song which, of course, appeared in acoustic form on Nebraska, but of which Springsteen wrote to manager Jon Landau, “this song should probably be done with whole band + really rockin’ out.” A muscular Badlands, with the usual false ending and audience singalong, is succeeded by the more regular encore trio of Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, with Dancing In The Dark notable for the appearance onstage of an entire family of seven! An effervescent rendition of the Isley Brothers’ Shout, complete with band introductions, concludes the full-band section of the show but, as in Cardiff the previous night, the concert closes with two solo acoustic songs, though this time If I Should Fall Behind, rather than Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart, precedes Thunder Road. Kirkpatrick notes Springsteen’s “stunning vocal performance” during If I should Fall Behind and Price refers to “the beautiful aching promise” of Thunder Road. Finally, we hear the play-out music, Ennio Morricone’s haunting theme from the film Once Upon A Time In The West, which is most welcome both for adding context to the recording and for its musical qualities.
Overall, this is a terrific show, where a very fine performance is complemented by an impressively varied setlist containing several English or European premieres, though perhaps it could have been even better, at least for those, like me, with a particular liking for Springsteen’s second album. As Brucebase states:
“First ever performances in Europe of ‘Gotta Get That Feeling’ and ‘Secret Garden’ and first ever performances in England of ‘American Skin (41 Shots),’ ‘Bad Moon Rising,’ ‘Thundercrack’ ‘This Depression.’ and ‘Shout.’…Curiously, the planned setlist for the show included the entire Side ‘A’ of The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, but not side ‘B.'”
As with the other three recent releases, Crystal Cat utilizes a very impressive IEM/audience mix, the high quality of which greatly adds to the enjoyment of listening to this show (despite some intrusive audience noise on If I Should Fall Behind). It may be that the sound quality owes something to the acoustics in the venue, which Springsteen can be heard praising during the show. According to the website of the Yorkshire Evening Post: “Much had been made of the First Direct Arena’s sophisticated sound system.” Price refers to the, “perfect sound mix,” and the Music Blog on the website of The Guardian refers to the “crystal clear sound throughout.” Numerous posters on the Stone Pony London and Greasy Lake websites agree, including Mando (on SPL) who refers to, “possibly the best acoustics I have ever heard at a venue,” and NarlsJunior (on Greasy Lake), who writes: “When the band hit the stage, it was clear the sound was superb…a little mixing adjustments made in Roulette I felt and then it was the best sound I have ever heard at any gig by any band”.
Rounding out this release are a pair of bonus tracks from two 2012 American shows. First up is one of Springsteen’s greatest songs, The Promise, in a performance also utilized by Godfather on Burnin’ Down The Clock. Bob Zimmerman, writing on Backstreets, is with me on this one, though we may be in a minority, as he writes:
“As great as the crowd was at the Verizon Center, it seemed that only a handful of people in the entire place got their rocks off on the full-band premiere of ‘The Promise.’ But man, was it beautiful…and intense. When Little Steven indicated that we might be hearing songs from The Promise played alongside Wrecking Ball, I prayed we might get to hear the title song. When many of the shows thus far left The Promise out in the cold, I thought it was a repeat of Tracks not getting enough play in 1999. I could hear Bruce sing ‘The Promise’ every single night of this tour, and that alone would be worth the price of the ticket.”
Readers are referred to my review of the Godfather release for further evidence that the song was grossly underappreciated by the audience. Intentional or not, the emotional impact of The Promise, coming so soon after the “beautiful aching promise” (how apt!) of the song which it references, the two separated only by the ethereal beauty of the Morricone theme, is staggering.
The second bonus track is the rather less consequential, but nonetheless enjoyable, Pink Cadillac, which Heylin characterizes as a, “deft slice of rockabilly heaven.” The song, in a version augmented by the horn section, and with some of the lyrics are spoken rather than sung, receives its tour premiere. The sound quality of the bonus tracks is also impressive, and the sound of The Promise here has the edge ont he Godfather version.
The packaging of this release is of Crystal Cat’s usual very high standard, featuring numerous onstage shots of Springsteen and the E Street Band on the front and rear inserts, the thirty-two page booklet, the additional tri-fold insert and the discs themselves. Also, the booklet and tri-fold insert bear photos of, amongst other things, an array of fans’ request signs, a ticket for the show, the printed set list, the audience inside the arena and the customary view from the centre microphone. In addition to the track listing and list of band personnel, the booklet reproduces Kirkpatrick’s account of the show. The usual high quality glossy paper is used.
Overall, this is another extremely fine Springsteen release from the Crystal Cat label. Despite the undoubted excellence of the Mönchengladbach performance, I think that, of the four recent releases, this splendid show from Leeds will be the one that I will return to most frequently.