London Second Magic Night (Crystal Cat Records CC889-90)
Emirates Stadium, London, UK – 31 May 2008
Disc 1: Intro/The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze, Out In The Street, No Surrender, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Gypsy Biker, Radio Nowhere, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Growin’ Up, Downbound Train, I’m On Fire, Because The Night, She’s The One, Livin’ In The Future, Mary’s Place
Disc 2: The Promised Land, Backstreets, The Rising, Last To Die, Long Walk Home, Badlands, Girls In Their Summer Clothes, Jungleland, Born to Run, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, American Land
Bonus Track: Old Trafford, Manchester, UK – 28 May 2008: It’s Hard To be a Saint In The City
This was the second of two shows at the Emirates Stadium, the home of leading English football (i.e. soccer) club Arsenal, and they were the first concerts to be held at the venue.There were numerous differences between the songs played over the two nights, leading Bill Cunningham to write on the Backstreets website that “with so many setlist changes, it felt almost as if the two-night run in London was just one wonderful six-hour show.” Material from the second show has surfaced on three previous occasions. Godfather included Growin’ Up, Downbound Train and Backstreets as bonus tracks on 4th Of July. Complete recordings of both shows appeared as a 5-CDR set on the Trial label entitled Emirates Stadium 2008. There is also a visual record contained on the DVDR Magic In London (Northern Disc). Crystal Cat’s London Second Magic Night is one of four Magic Tour titles released simultaneously recently (and this has been succeeded by a further seven-title deluge of material that includes the first night).
The show clearly made a great impact on those lucky enough to be in attendance. Ian Henry writes on the Backstreets website that, “it was simply sensational and awesome tonight…Bruce was seriously on fire.” The Point Blank website adds that, “The second London show was a blast, with an energetic show…Bruce was up and running all of the night, having a lot of fun and constantly interacting with the audience.”
Like the recently reviewed Gothenburg concert, this show has an exhilarating opening which feels more like the start of the encore than the beginning of the whole set. Cunningham writes that the band “opened with a bang with ‘Out In The Street’ and burned through ‘No Surrender,’ ‘Darkness’ and ‘Gypsy Biker.'” The highly animated performance of Out In The Street immediately immerses the audience in the joyous spirit of the occasion, and they sing along for much of the song. The momentum generated by the opening number continues during an energetic performance of the anthemic No Surrender. The tempo, though not the fervour, drops for an impassioned account of loss and isolation in the performance of one of Springsteen’s greatest songs, Darkness On The Edge Of Town. The melodic Gypsy Biker follows, featuring, in the words of Kathryn Stokes on Springsteen’s website, “an amazing guitar solo” from Steve Van Zandt. The opening section of the show is completed by a superbly spirited Radio Nowhere. The splendidly loose atmosphere is perhaps enhanced by the fact that Springsteen was already, even before the requests section, deviating from the written setlist.
It is at this point that both band and audience take a well-earned breather while Springsteen collects the requests. The ensuing two songs concern the late Danny Federici. Springsteen expresses thanks for flowers and letters before playing the song most associated with Federici, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy). The wistful, nostalgic performance, with Roy Bittan taking Federici’s accordion part, is imbued with a sense of loss, and the atmosphere is further enhanced by Steve Van Zandt’s mandolin. Ian Henry refers to it as the “real joy” of the evening’s performance. A vivacious rendition of Growin’ Up is prefaced by Springsteen’s story of how Federici had his illegally parked car towed away with a huge marijuana plant on the front seat. The tale ends in the middle of the song where Springsteen relates how he saw the marijuana plant growing, among the tomatoes and lettuce, in his neighbour’s garden – the neighbour who was a cop! Between them, the two songs evoke bitter-sweet memories of a departed friend.
The next two songs are tour premieres (the first premieres of the fourth, European leg). The melancholic Downbound Train, played, as Springsteen mentions, in response to a sign reading “no job,no girl – Downbound Train” is followed by an atmospheric I’m On Fire, sung by Springsteen straddling a chair in very close proximity to the audience.
Because The Night is, as always on the Magic Tour, given a tremendous performance, the highlight of which is Nils Lofgren’s ecstatic guitar solo. Livin’ In The Future, preceded by its usual political spoken introduction, is nonetheless high-spirited and disc one is concluded with Mary’s Place. Lasting almost ten minutes, the latter gradually builds the party mood and, by the end, the audience are enthusiastically joining in. As in other Magic Tour shows the song is enhanced by a brass section which I presume has been pre-recorded. At the end of the song the band immediately launches into The Promised Land, which is faded after a few seconds as the disc comes to its end.
The bustling version of The Promised Land, to which the audience makes an enthusiastic vocal contribution. is therefore heard at the start of disc two, with the end of Mary’s Place faded in. The next song is played in response to the “smallest request ever,” as Springsteen removes a tiny folded piece of paper from his pocket. To the delight of the audience, the song possesses a great deal more substance than the request. As the Point Blank website attests, Backstreets “was one of the best moments of the night, with a really intense version of the song.” The usual effectively played trilogy of The Rising, Last To Die and Long Walk Home then lead to the conclusion of the main set, a rousing rendition of Badlands.
Unsurprisingly, the encore begins with the delightful Girls In Their Summer Clothes but then comes a surprise in the shape of (as Point Blank puts it) a “note-perfect” version of the epic Jungleland, which takes its place alongside Backstreets as a cornerstone of the evening’s performance. Ian Henry notes that “the performance of ‘Jungleland’ was, in my 32-show experience, probably the finest.” After a blistering Born To Run and a jubilant Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Springsteen and the band bring the house down with the usual barnstorming rendition of American Land. That was it for the audience but the CD listener acquires a bonus in the shape of It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, recorded at the show in Manchester three days earlier.
The Brucebase website’s comment that the audience tape of this show constitutes a “contender for best of the tour so far” is a notable understatement. The sound here is absolutely superb, comparable to the three Godfather tracks and far superior to the tape utilized by Trial. In addition to the quality of the sound, the packaging makes this release highly desirable. Housed in a slim double CD Case this release features a double-sided back insert and a twenty-page booklet with superb photographs from the show. There are also photos of manager Jon Landau, Springsteen’s guitar technician Kevin Buell, one of the lighting technicians climbing his ladder to his post, the outside of the stadium and even a sign warning of restrictions on parking due to the concerts! Additionally, there is a single sheet insert, as with other releases, with the 2008 tour itinerary on one side and Springsteen’s hand-written setlist on the other. All are printed on Crystal Cat’s usual glossy paper. The discs themselves are, also as usual, printed in full colour. The label is also packaging its double CDs in cases with hinged inner trays, which is appreciated. (I trust I am not the only collector to have lifted a tray and damaged the spine of the back insert.) The immaculate presentation, stunning performance and superb sound make this the most impressive Magic Tour release to date.
If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)