Eisenhower Hall Auditorium, US Military Academy, West Point, NY, USA – 27 May, 1976
Disc 1: Night, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, [Stagger Lee/]Spirit In The Night, It’s My Life, Thunder Road, [Talk To Me/]She’s The One, Born To Run, Pretty Flamingo, Growin’ Up, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City
Disc 2: Backstreets, Jungleland, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)[/J. S. Bach: Prelude No. 1 In C Major (BWV 846)/ Theme From Shaft], Raise Your Hand, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Detroit Medley
As I stated in my review of Godfather’s Run South Young Man, there is some dispute over when, in this period, one tour ended and another began. The show we are treated to here, the debut release from Jungle Land Records, was the penultimate concert of what Brucebase now labels as both the “fourth leg of the ‘Born To Run’ tour – U.S.” and the “‘Chicken Scratch’ tour.” Dave Marsh, in Born To Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, writes that:
“The tour was meant to cover secondary markets, but it had not been properly structured…Springsteen was…left with a long jaunt through the South, the area of the country where he had the least appeal. The tour featured, for instance, five dates in Tennessee [in five different cities], where Bruce had never before appeared, and where he eventually would not draw very well.”
Rather improbably, as Christopher Sandford relates in Springsteen: Point Blank, “Springsteen became the first rocker to headline the Grand Old Opry and grace the West Point military academy.”
It is, of course, the latter performance that we hear on this release and the armed forces theme continued the next night when the tour closed at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis (where, for obvious reasons, Springsteen chose to close proceedings with his first live performance of Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s Sea Cruise, a million selling hit for Frankie Ford in 1959.) Springsteen never returned to West Point, though he played at the Naval Academy once more, in June 1978. Referring to this West Point concert, he was, according to Patrick Humphries and Chris Hunt in Springsteen: Blinded By The Light, “invited by the Dialectic Society.” One attendee remembers that the military personnel got priority seating, stating that, “us commoners had to sit in the last five or six rows as the cadets, decked out in dress whites, had all of the rest of the theater.”
The show commences with a vibrant Night and a boisterous, animated Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. In common with other shows from this time, Springsteen sings the opening lines of Lloyd Price’s Stagger Lee as an introduction to Spirit In The Night, which begins with Clarence Clemons’ swirling sax, backed by Max Weinberg’s drums and cymbals. As the song proper starts the audience immediately claps along, obviously enjoying what turns into a high-spirited and energetic performance. It is an excellent opening trio.
Things turn darker with Springsteen’s take on The Animals’ It’s My Life. As was often though not invariably the case, the song is preceded by Springsteen’s reminiscence of the numerous occasions on which his younger self returned home late to face the wrath of his father, sitting in the darkened kitchen with six-pack and cigarettes and a perplexed inability to understand his son. The instrumental opening is starkly atmospheric, but Springsteen’s monologue is not the most intense and it fails to build to the shattering climax of some other versions.
A brief piano intro from Roy Bittan ushers in a fine version of Thunder Road and this is followed by an energetic She’s The One, with a harmonica intro augmented by enthusiastic clapping along from the audience. According to Brucebase, as with other shows during this tour, Springsteen inserts a few lyrics from Talk To Me into the introduction, though his words are so indistinct that it is difficult to hear that this is the case. A quartet of numbers from Born To Run is completed by an enjoyably hell-for-leather rendition of the title song.
The performance of Manfred Mann’s Pretty Flamingo is prefaced by a version of the familiar shaggy dog story telling of a youthful Springsteen and his associates’ woeful attempts to impress an attractive woman who walks by each day. In this telling, Clarence Clemons unsuccessfully tries to get her attention by riding his bicycle with no hands while playing the saxophone and Springsteen adds that even his father was scared to approach her. This rendition, while enjoyable, does not quite have the charm of that heard on Crystal Cat’s Roxy Night (reviewed March 2008), which I described as a “superb performance” with an introduction that was both “funny” and “poignant.”
Then comes a duo of up-tempo numbers from Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., Growin’ Up and It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City. The vivacious performance of Growin’ Up is preceded by a more than fanciful account of Springsteen’s audition for “the president of CBS” seated behind his “solid gold desk” and has an extended mid-song instrumental section. The vibrant rendition of It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, featuring an extended guitar-based coda, concludes the first disc.
Disc two opens with a solid performance of Backstreets and a splendid Jungleland, leaving Meeting Across The River is the only song from Born To Run not to feature in this concert.
In addition to the snippets of Talk to Me and Stagger Lee mentioned above, there is a third insert common to concerts from this period. The barnstorming rendition of Rosalita, which thrillingly concludes the main set, includes Roy Bittan playing an excerpt of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude No. 1 In C Major (BWV 846) in the midsection in addition to the usual snippet of the Theme From Shaft. Both of these occur during the band introductions. Springsteen modifies the lyrics of the song to reference his simultaneous appearances on the covers of Time and Newsweek.
The encore begins with a joyous rendition of Eddie Floyd’s Raise Your Hand, aa song frequently performed throughout 1976. Then comes the wistful, nostalgic 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), featuring Danny Federici on the accordion, before the concert ends with an energetic Detroit Medley.
The source for this release is a torrent which appeared on the Jungleland site on 18 December 2018 and the notes there give some details of the sources and of some unfortunate cuts/edits:
“Here is the latest in the [Fanatic Records] ‘Original Master Series’ made possible by Mr Anonymous. 2 master tape sources were used for this project, so Mr Anonymous had some help that night. Born To Run is not complete with an obvious edit toward the last minute or so using the second tape source as filler. Jungleland has a very slight cut in. Detroit Medley uses the second source to fill in the end.”
It sounds as if the taper was somewhat distant from the stage, unsurprising considering that the “commoners” occupied “the last five or six rows.” However, though certainly falling short of that of some other shows from the tour, the sound is largely clear and reasonably well-defined, albeit rather lacking in dynamics. Audience noise is very apparent and sometimes, as with Thunder Road and Rosalita, the sound of the audience clapping along is rather intrusive. However, I did not find it overly distracting, except for some occasions on which audience members shouted out loudly mid-song.
The fact that the sound is reasonably good is presumably partially due to the excellent acoustics in the venue. As the fan quoted above remembers:
“The sound was amazing. The big crescendos of ‘Growin’ Up’ seemed to move through us from left to right. I mentioned that to Bruce at the Stone Pony before Southside’s May 30 radio broadcast and he said that Eisenhower Hall was supposed to be one of the best acoustic theaters in the country. I believe it.”
I was unable to hear any stereo separation and I could not discern any left-to-right movement of the sound in Growin’ Up.
The discs are housed in a slimline jewel case with a single sheet front insert. The choice of photos is rather curious, with only one, that on the inner side of the rear insert showing Springsteen on stage with Clarence Clemons, coming from the show. This is one of a series of photographs taken by Michael Butkus which can be seen on Brucebase and on Butkus’ own website (www.butkus.org), via which prints can be obtained. They also appeared in Lawrence Kirsch’s book For You. The outer sides of the front and rear inserts show onstage shots of Springsteen at other shows; he is bearded in the former and clean shaven in the latter. The reverse of the front insert displays a posed photo of Springsteen taken by Phil Ceccola, which appears in the Backstreets book. The caption there states that this was the last photo of Springsteen with his beard, which he shaved off the next day. The photo is cropped to show only Springsteen; the original includes former E Street Band members David Sancious and Ernest Carter, whose band Tone he had gone to see in Bryn Mawr, PA. According to the “Kingdom of Days” section of the E Street Shuffle blog (estreetshuffle.com) this was on 21 June. Also appearing on the rear of the front insert are the notes from Jungleland on the tape sources and the comments from the attendee quoted above, which are headed “Notes from BruceBase.” These comments can also be seen on Jungleland and I believe they originally appeared in Kirsch’s book (though I am not certain as I unfortunately do not have a copy). The onstage shot from the front insert also appears on both the discs. There is an error on the track listing on the rear insert with track 2 given as “TENTH” and track 3 rendered as “AVENUE FREEZE-OUT.” Care needs to be taken accessing the second disc; I found that the tray damaged the spine of the rear insert when moved.
The notes on Jungleland conclude that, “overall, the show is very enjoyable and worth having.” I would tend to be a little more enthusiastic than this comment, which has an air of “faint praise” about it, though I certainly concur with those sentiments. I enjoyed listening to a very good show and I am sure that committed Springsteen fans will want to add Military Night to their collections. However, there are superior performances and better-sounding recordings from the Chicken Scratch Tour, notably East Lansing Night (Crystal Cat – reviewed November 201), which I described as, “an absolutely superb release…featuring a hugely enjoyable performance…[with] truly excellent sound…a release to treasure.”