Bruce Springsteen – Milwaukee 1977 (no label ESB 22277A-B)

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Milwaukee 1977Milwaukee 1977 (no label ESB 22277A-B)

Milwaukee Auditorium, Milwaukee, WI, USA – 22 February, 1977

Disc 1: Night, Rendezvous, Spirit In The Night, It’s My Life, Thunder Road, Mona/She’s The One, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Action In The Streets, Backstreets

Disc 2: Jungleland, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Born To Run, Quarter To Three

Bonus tracks: Richfield Coliseum, Richfield, OH, USA – 17 February, 1977: Baby I Love You, Walking In The Rain, Say Goodbye To Hollywood, Be My Baby, Born To Run

This new no label release brings us a recording of the first show played by Springsteen in Milwaukee since the famous “bomb scare” concert of 2 August 1975 at the Uptown Theater.  This 1977 show has seen the light of day before, as the Brucebase website relates:

“Audience tape released on CD ‘Action In The Streets’ (Unbelievable Music) and ‘Will The Real Bruce…’ (Real Live). There is a remaster of the ‘Unbelievable Music’ bootleg which is a huge upgrade in sound – ‘The Return To Bombscare Arena’, Ev2.  A further upgrade was released in 2015 as ‘Nothing To Lose: The 1977 Tour Revisited Vol. 3’ (JEMS), the third in a series of so-called ‘official audience recordings.'”

The full title of the second CD release mentioned by Brucebase, which does not include the whole concert, is Will The Real Bruce Springsteen Please Stand Up?  Containing only ten tracks, eight from this show (Night, Rendezvous, Spirit In The Night, It’s My Life, Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, Jungleland and Born To Run) and two from the concert at Towson State University, Baltimore, MD on 13 March (Don’t Look Back and Backstreets), it was copied on CD-R  as Don’t Look Back (Alternative Edge Productions).  Milwaukee 1977 uses the JEMS torrent as its source.

The show gets of to an exciting start with Night, from the Born To Run album.  Clinton Heylin, in E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, contends that, “its slightly throwaway nature…made it a perfect set-opener.”  The comes Rendezvous, which Heylin characterizes as, “the first of a number of great hook-filled pop songs Springsteen would record for Darkness, promptly reject, and finally give away to second parties.”  (The song appeared on Greg Kihn’s With The Naked Eye in 1979 and Gary US Bonds’ On The Line three years later.)  The performance of Spirit In The Night, which is splendidly sleazy, while simultaneously being  joyous and life-affirming, is excellent.  It’s My Life is also superb, with a long and atmospheric instrumental intro leading into a lengthy version of the poignant story of Springsteen’s problematic relationship with his father, culminating in an inevitable screaming argument during which Douglas Springsteen tells his son that his “whole life was a waste.”  All this culminates in a blistering rendition of the song itself, featuring an impassioned vocal performance from Springsteen.  As Dave Marsh writes of live versions of the song at this time, in Bruce Springsteen: On Tour 1968-2005, “he went at it with a vengeance.”  Taken together, the four songs provide a stunning opening to the show.

A short piano intro by Roy Bittan leads into a fine rendition of Thunder Road.  After this we get a highly charged She’s The One with Mona employed as an effective prelude featuring, as usual, the band members contributing unsettling sound effects, which sound as if they are mimicking nocturnal forest creatures.  In addition to the standard lyrics of Mona, Springsteen repeats the lines “When They Turn Out The Lights/We Run Through The Jungle” several times, presumably in reference to the Creedence Clearwater Revival song. Tubular bells feature as Mona leads into She’s The One and are also heard later.

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, taken at a pace somewhat slower than that of the album version, is wonderfully augmented by the night’s first appearance of the “Miami Horns,” consisting of Ed De Palma (saxophone), John Binkley (trumpet), Steve Paraczky (trumpet) and Dennis Orlock (trombone).  As I pointed out in a previous review, these Philadelphia-based musicians were, despite the name, not the horn section from Southside Johnny’s band (who had played some shows with Springsteen the previous year).  The horn section sticks around for Action In The Streets, “a singular attempt” by Springsteen, in Heylin’s words, “to convince himself he could still write a song with all the good-times-roll zest of teenage years AM-radio favourites.  In concert, with the Miami Horns lending a hand…it works a charm.”

As with some other shows from this time Backstreets, which ends the first disc, contains a particularly angst-ridden spoken interlude where the protagonists’ rejection by his lover has him that wishing, “that God would send some angels to blow this whole town right into the sea.”  Similar lyrics (with “those guys” replacing God) would later feature in The Fast Song, first recorded in June 1977, though they did not last long as a lyrical rewrite, with some lines borrowed from the medium-paced Candy’s Boy, turned the song into Candy’s Room.

Disc two opens with the epic Jungleland, here with a peculiarly choppy guitar solo, before the main set ends with  Rosalita, “a song which, back in the day,” says Heylin, “made sparks fly every night.”  This riotously over-the-top version, with a contribution from the horns, an exuberant band introduction section (including a snippet of the Theme From Shaft when Clarence Clemons is introduced) and Springsteen referencing his simultaneous appearances on the covers of Time and Newsweek, constitutes a metaphorical as well as a literal show stopper.

The excitement is maintained when Springsteen and the band return for the encore with a frantic Born To Run and what the notes on Jungleland “by BK for JEMS” call a “particularly committed version of ‘Quarter to Three.'”

The bonus tracks come from a show in Richfield, OH a few days before.  During the encore Springsteen was joined, as Brucebase notes, by, “Ronnie Spector, along with Flo and Eddie, as unadvertised guests on four songs; three classics from her Ronettes period [Baby I Love You, Walking In The Rain and Be My Baby] plus her about-to-be-released single ‘Say Goodbye To Hollywood,’ the studio version of which had been recorded with Bruce & The E Street Band just a few weeks earlier (with Miami Steve producing).”  It is a treat to hear Spector sing such classic songs with the E Street Band and I am also fond of her version of the Billy Joel number.  “That encore makes this show an historic one-off,” contends BK, “and well worth a listen.”  The four Spector songs had also appeared as bonus tracks on Action In The Streets, along with Something In The Night and Growin’ Up from Toronto on 13 February; Milwaukee 1977 does not have the Toronto songs but instead adds the next song from Richfield, Born To Run, so here we get all of the encore numbers other than the final one, Quarter To Three.

Regarding the sound quality of the main show, BK  states:

“Of the so-called ‘official audience tapes,’ Milwaukee is the most widely known, thanks to a mid-90s bootleg CD Action in the Streets.  More commonly circulated these days is a version called The Return to Bombscare Arena, which is remastered from the aforementioned bootleg.  We think you’ll find this new transfer a significant improvement, sounding more natural, without any exaggerated high end or noisy artifacts…

That isn’t to say it is perfect. Like St. Louis [Fox Theater, 28 February, volume 2 of Nothing To Lose] there are moments here when things seem to go out of balance (‘Rosalita’), but there are many more where the mix locks in appealingly (‘Rendezvous’).  Taken as whole, I find this a very satisfying listen and one of the better quality tapes from the tour when the recording is at its best.”

Posting on Jungleland, jbeaulieu contends that, “like the St Louis 77 show, this one has great sound for the era.  Full and punchy, and quite clear.”

The generally high quality of the sound derives from the fact, alluded to above, that this is not an audience recording in the sense of it being surreptitiously taped by a member of the audience; instead, it is what JEMS calls an “Official Audience Recording.”  As BK explains in the notes accompanying the first volume of Nothing To Lose (the Richfield show from which the bonus tracks are derived), “we…know that on this tour and seemingly this tour only, Bruce’s sound crew set up open mics at the board to make what some have called Official Audience Recordings.  Instead of recording the Front of House mix from the board, they captured an ambient recording in the room, just like a taper would.”

There are two minor cuts in the tape of this show, one in She’s The One and one in Rosalita, during the band introduction section.

I have a great liking for the 1977 shows, several of which have appeared on CD in recent years (see my earlier reviews). Recordings reveal them to be energetic, exciting and most definitely enhanced by the addition of the horn section.  BK refers to, “Bruce’s remarkable 1977 tour,” jbeaulieu calls Milwaukee “absolutely awesome,” and the Killing Floor database contends that it is an “outstanding performance.”  Brucebase calls the Richfield concert which provides the bonus tracks a “magical show.”

The discs are housed in a slimline jewel case, with black and grey coloured inserts.  The front insert, as with others from this source, is clearly intended to be reversible, with onstage shots of Springsteen with Clarence Clemons and Steve Van Zandt on one side (see above image) and with Clemons on the other; the former, which comes from the show, is also reproduced on the discs.  The inner side of the rear insert shows another onstage photo of Springsteen and Van Zandt; the outer side has a posed shot of Springsteen and the E Street Band with Spector.  This photo, which will be familiar to many Springsteen collectors, is largely obscured by the track listing and the list of band personnel.

brucespring-77rare-gig1-300x294Bonus CD-Rs: Rare Gig 1977 (ESB 31477A-B)

Mid-Hudson Civic Center, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA – 14 March, 1977

DIsc 1: Night, Don’t Look Back, Spirit In The Night, Something In The Night, Thunder Road, Mona/She’s The One, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Action In The Streets, Backstreets

Disc 2: Jungleland, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Born To Run, Quarter To Three

If you are lucky enough to acquire this release with the bonus CD-Rs, you will have a recording of Springsteen’s only performance at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie.

As with the show on the main discs, Night and Spirit In The Night are the first and third songs, but sandwiched between them we have not Rendezvous but what was only the fourth live outing for the splendid mid-paced rocker Don’t Look Back, which had debuted in Toledo, OH four days before and which has some lyrical differences from the official version.  The song had been offered to The Knack, who recorded it for their album Get The Knack, bur Springsteen vetoed its inclusion as he decided he wanted to include it on Darkness On The Edge Of Town.  Ironically, not only was the song a last minute omission from Darkness, but The Knack’s version saw the light of day first, being included on the compilation CD Retrospective in 1992, six years before the song’s appearance on Springsteen’s Tracks.

Something In The Night’s last performance of the tour is nicely enhanced by a trumpet part and this is followed by another fine rendition of Thunder Road.  She’s The One is again preceded by Mona with its spooky forest creature noises and then the horns emerge for splendid performances of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and Action In The Streets.  Backstreets again features the wonderfully over-the-top spoken interlude and this song brings the first disc to a close.

Disc two opens with Jungleland, in a performance which has the edge over that from Milwaukee.  Rosalita again utilizes the horns and contains the band introductions, complete with the brief excerpt from the Theme From Shaft.  The rather short second disc then closes with the two encore numbers, a frenetic Born To Run and an ebullient Quarter To Three, again featuring the horn section.

The source for this release appears to be a torrent from Fanatic Records’ Kivak Master Series (pitch corrected version).  Rob of Fanatic Records notes on Jungleland that, “there are a couple of small glitches with a few seconds of the beginning of ‘Tenth’ missing and a couple of spots in ‘Spirit.’  But, overall this is a nice recording worth having,  Joe Kivak grabbed another good one!”  In addition to the problems mentioned by Rob, there is a brief tape slip in Don’t Look Back.  The sound is a little distant and rather lacking in dynamics, but the tape is generally quite listenable.

Rob contends that, “this 13 song show is an all out thrill ride!” and it is, indeed, a most enjoyable show.  However, with the performance being essentially similar to that of the Milwaukee show and the sound being less impressive, putting this show onto bonus discs was surely the right decision.

The discs are housed in a slimline double jewel case with a front insert only.  The obverse shows a black-and-white onstage shot of Springsteen with Clarence Clemons and Steve van Zandt and the reverse has an onstage colour shot of Springsteen together with the track listing.

Overall, this is another splendid Springsteen “no label” release from a tour which, as successive releases clearly demonstrate, contained many performances of the highest quality.  First choice among shows from this era remains with the Boston concert which ended the tour on 25 May.  This is available on another no label release Boston 1977: Are You Ready For The Final Moment?  This show is, in the estimation of Charles Cross, founder of Backstreets magazine a “candidate for greatest show ever,” and I would heartily recommend it to even the most casual Springsteen collector.  (The remaining Boston shows followed on another no label release Boston 1977: Legends From The Music Hall before Godfather boxed up the whole four night stand as The Boston Godfather: The Definitive Boston March 1977 Tapes.)  However, anyone whose interest in Springsteen goes beyond the casual will certainly want to acquire Milwaukee 1977.

 


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  1. Again, a superb review!
    I am still waiting to find a show from 1977 that isn’t worth adding to the smallest collection! This is yet another one I am more than happy to have heard.

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