Main Point Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 729-30)
The Main Point, Bryn Mawr, PA, USA – 5 February, 1975
Disc 1: Intro, Incident on 57th Street, Mountain Of Love, Born To Run, The E Street Shuffle, Wings For Wheels (Thunder Road), I Want You, Spirit In The Night, She’s The One, Growin’ Up, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, Jungleland
Disc 2: Kitty’s Back, New York City Serenade, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), A Love So Fine [incorporating Shout], For You, Back In The USA.
This release contains, in the words of Crystal Cat’s booklet, “one of the most legendary shows of Bruce’s career.” This is no idle boast. The Brucebase website refers to it as “one of the most compelling performances of Springsteen’s entire career.” Lynn Elder’s guide to early Springsteen bootleg CDs, You Better Not Touch, concurs, stating that “the show easily ranks as one of Bruce’s best ever.” Clinton Heylin, in The Great White Wonders, refers to it as a “testament to Springsteen at-his-peak.” The first twelve songs initially appeared on the LP You can Trust Your Car To The Man Who Wears The Star (SODD, later TAKRL). The complete show surfaced on Great Dane’s CD The Saint, The Incident & The Main Point Shuffle and the label re-released it in improved sound quality in their Master Plus series. Another CD release, on the Labour Of Love label, reverted to the LP title. The most recent version, on the Crystal Cat label, has now been available for some time.
The show was broadcast on WMMR-FM and the incomplete LP version obviously utilized an off-air tape, extremely listenable but not quite top-notch in sound quality. There were small cuts during the opening bars of Incident On 57th Street caused by the excision of some talking by a DJ. The initial CD version on Great Dane, which had similar sound quality, restored the DJ talk and made the entire show available. The breakthrough in terms of sound came with the Master Plus edition, although it did not extend to the whole concert. The situation is explained on the very informative Brucebase website:
“The final 55 minutes or so of this show (i.e. from ‘NYC Serenade’ onwards) has never surfaced in quite as crisp, clear and dynamic a sound quality as the rest of the show…The early part of the show has been sourced from pre-broadcast reels…but the later part of the show is sourced from a broadcast reel (which includes compression).”
The probable reason for this is linked to the way in which the show was recorded. It could not be broadcast live and was therefore subject to a two hour delay. This was explained by WMMR DJ Ed Sciaky, who introduced the concert, in issue number 82 of Backstreets magazine:
“We didn’t have a phone line from the Main Point, so they had to tape the show in hour-long segments and then drive them to the station and put them on air.”
The concert lasted for around two and a half hours. This would obviously necessitate the use of at least three reels of tape. Assuming that the first two tapes lasted somewhat less than an hour each, either being stopped early to prevent a tape running out mid-song or overlappped with the previous tape, so that they could be spliced together if it did, then the third reel could conceivably be fifty-five minutes long. However, there is a clear drop in sound quality eight minutes or so into Kitty’s Back, rather than at the start of New York City Serenade, which suggests that tapes were overlapped. Also, there are 63 minutes left of the show when New York City Serenade begins, not 55 as stated by Brucebase, and 67 when the sound quality of Kitty’s back drops, indicating the necessity for a fourth reel. The disparity in sound quality would seem to indicate that whoever provided Great Dane with the tapes only had access to the first two reels. The original tapes, incidentally, were taken by Marc Brickman, Springsteen’s lighting technician, so that Sciaky complained that WMMR “never got a good copy of the show.”
The use of the pre-broadcast tapes for a substantial proportion of the show led to Great Dane’s Master Plus edition being described by the Killing Floor Database as “probably the best Bruce unofficial release in circulation. The desert island choice, definitely.” However. Crystal Cat has improved the sound further. It has a striking clarity and vividness, especially in the slower, quieter songs where the relatively intimate nature of the venue effectively comes across. (The CD booklet includes a review of the show which refers to the Main Point as a “270-seat coffeehouse.”) In particular, Springsteen’s voice has a greater presence which enhances the listening experience.
Disc 1 begins with an introduction by Ed Sciaky, who, along with fellow WMMR DJ David Dye, was a noted champion of Springsteen’s music. Bryn Mawr is just west of Philadelphia (the home of WMMR) which, along with Boston and Cleveland, was a city where Springsteen gained an early following. He had played at the venue on numerous occasions and one earlier performance, from 24th April 1973, has also had an unofficial release, most notably on Great Dane’s Thundercrack. This accounts for Sciaky ending the introduction with “let’s welcome home to the Main Point Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.”
One of the distinguishing features of this concert is that it showcases the performance of Suki Lahav on violin and background vocals. Lahav first played with the E Streeters at earlier Main Point concerts on 18/19 September 1974 and stayed until the shows at Constitution Hall, Washington, DC, on 8/9 March 1975. Christopher Sandford, in his book Point Blank, refers to Lahav “bringing violin, and a dramatic flair, to the mix.” Marc Eliot, in Down Thunder Road, writes of Lahav’s and Springsteen’s contrasting stage presence as “uniquely wonderful and dramatic…[they] burned up the stage .” This contrast was, as Dave Marsh put it in Born To Run, between “Suki’s ghostly pale figure” and “Bruce’s darkness and toughness.” The clear sexual chemistry between the pair provided the catalyst for the departure of Lahav and her husband, sound engineer Louis.
The concert begins with a superb rendition of Incident on 57th Street. Played more slowly than the album version, the song is beautifully enhanced by Lahav’s violin and vocals. This forms a spellbinding opening to the show and it constitutes the best performance of this song that I have heard. The atmosphere is enhanced further at the end, in a way that complements the subject matter of the song, by a police siren. This was an audio prop which had been used in previous shows, not, as some people have supposed, a real police vehicle passing the venue. After this things get louder and faster, with a joyously upbeat debut performance of the Harold Dorman number Mountain Of Love (every bit as good as the version to be found on Godfather’s excellent release Mountain Of Love) and a thunderous version of Born To Run.
The tempo slows again for The E Street Shuffle. Preceded by the lengthy account (definitely to be taken with a pinch of salt) of how Springsteen met Clarence Clemons, this is perhaps the best extant rendition of the slow version of the song. Further highlights follow, including the live debut of Thunder Road. Featuring alternative lyrics and a different arrangement from the not-yet-released album version, the song has Suki Lahav’s violin again to the fore, with Clemons’ sax dominating the instrumental coda. This is the so-called Wings For Wheels version. It has been claimed that this was the original title of the song, and Crystal Cat label it so. This is followed by an utterly gorgeous version of Bob Dylan’s I Want You, again played slowly and featuring the delicate and beautiful combination of Lahav’s violin and Danny Federici’s accordion, together with a heartfelt vocal performance by Springsteen that adds an intensity not found on the original.
A jazzy Spirit In The Night is followed by a fine performance of She’s The One with some alternative lyrics, a jaunty version of Growin’ Up and an upbeat rendition of It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City. A compelling performance of the epic Jungleland then concludes the first disc. Like Incident on 57th Street, The E Street Shuffle and Thunder Road, this is radically different from the standard version. Opening with Lahav’s violin, this also has different lyrics and alternative instrumental sections. The faster first solo is taken by Clemon’s sax rather than by guitar and what became the slow sax solo is here played on guitar and violin.
The second disc opens with Kitty’s Back, given its usual exuberant performance, with an extended instumental section taking the song to over eleven minutes. This is followed by a stunning eighteen-minute performance of New York City Serenade, which features a different arrangement (including Lahav’s violin once more) and additional vocal and instrumental sections. Springsteen then encourages members of the audience to say hello over the radio to friends and relatives and after this the band launch into a rousing rendition of Rosalita, which as usual includes the band introductions. (Lahav is not included, and is presumably not on stage at this point.)
The first encore begins with the wistful 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), featuring Federici’s accordion, together with Lahav’s background vocals and Garry Tallent’s tuba. Then comes A Love So Fine, a Springsteen original not to be confused with The Chiffons’ song of the same name. An instrumental version (which can be found on the Godfather release Running Out Of Innocence) was recorded at the 914 Sound Studios, Blauvelt, New York in October 1974 and the song was included in the live set between then and August 1975. Featuring Clarence Clemons’ saxophone, it is the kind of up-tempo, feelgood number that is perfect for an encore and, near the end, Springsteen interpolates a few bars of the Isley Brothers’ song Shout.
The mood changes dramatically when Springsteen returns alone for the second encore. Accompanying himself on the piano, he provides a slow and melancholy rendition of For You, which is much more suited to the lyrical content than the faster album version. The band then rejoin Springsteen to conclude the show with a barnstorming premiere of Chuck Berry’s Back In The USA.
As well as improving the sound quality, Crystal Cat have done this release proud with the packaging. The glossy twelve-page booklet includes several photographs from the show itself. There is a photo of the Main Point’s owner, Jeanette Campbell, with three of the waitresses, and the back insert even has a photo of the cake presented to Springsteen as a token of thanks for playing the show, which was a benefit for the venue. As usual with this label, the discs themselves are also printed in full colour. Short of the appearance of the whole show from pre-broadcast tapes, it is virtually impossible to imagine Main Point Night being bettered. Every serious Springsteen collector must have this release.