New York City Dream Box (Crystal Cat Records CC 959-64)
Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY, USA – 7/8 November, 2009
This is the second of three Crystal Cat boxed sets of shows from The Working On A Dream Tour. (I have reviewed the first, The Italian Dream Box, and I hope to review the third, Stockholm Dream Box, at some point in the future.) Most of the material from these three Madison Square Garden shows has already appeared on several releases by Godfatherecords/Apocalypse Sound, which have already been reviewed. The concert from 8 November, which contained the complete performance of The River, has been released twice by Godfather under the title Into The River We Dive, firstly from an audience tape and then again utilizing the IEM/audience matrix. Additionally, Apocalypse Sound released the show on DVD, entitled The Night He Went Down To The River. The complete performance of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle from 7 November, together with the night’s opening and closing numbers, Thundercrack and (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher, appeared on a free bonus disc, entitled Serenade To NYC, included with the first edition of Into The River We Dive. The performance of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, in IEM-sourced sound, has recently appeared on Innocent And Glory Days (Social Graces). There have also been some releases on CD-R such as the Cat’s Meow issues Wild & Innocent In New York and The River In New York, which contain the complete shows from both 7 and 8 November.
The bonus tracks on this Crystal Cat release allow us to hear Springsteen’s complete performance from the multi-artist Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 25th Anniversary Concerts. Ten of the seventeen songs from this show, in which Springsteen was joined by numerous guest artists, appeared on the Apocalyse Sound DVD Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert. Readers are directed to my reviews of the Godfather and Apocalypse Sound releases for comments on the majority of individual songs; this review will concentrate on those songs not included on the previous releases, together with issues of sound quality and packaging.
New York City First Dream Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 959-61)
Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY, USA – 7 November, 2009
Disc 1: Intro, Thundercrack, Seeds, Prove It All Night, Hungry Heart, Working On A Dream, Introduction to THE WILD THE INNOCENT & THE E STREET SHUFFLE, The E Street Shuffle, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Kitty’s Back, Wild Billy’s Circus Story, Incident On 57th Street
Disc 2: Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), New York City Serenade, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, Raise Your Hand, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street, Glory Days, Human Touch, Lonesome Day, The Rising, Born To Run, Wrecking Ball, Bobby Jean
Disc 3: American Land, Dancing In The Dark, (Your Love keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher
Bonus tracks: Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY, USA – 29 October, 2009: Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Hold On, I’m Coming, Soul Man, The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Fortunate Son, Proud Mary, [Oh,] Pretty Woman, Jungleland, A Fine, Fine Boy
After the excellent opening number, Thundercrack, the first show continues with a performance of Seeds which is even more grinding and relentless than usual. A muscular Prove It All Night concludes with a superbly fluid guitar solo from Nils Lofgren. “New York!” Springsteen then bawls before the enthusiastic audience sing the first verse of Hungry Heart and for good measure he adds a long drawn out “New York City!” once they are done. The song receives an energetic and uplifting performance (somewhat at odds, of course, with the lyrical content) and Springsteen can be heard to ask, “you got me?” during his crowd surfing. Clarence Clemons’ sax solo brings the song to a conclusion and the band then launches into Working On A Dream. At the end of the spoken section Springsteen states, “New York City, we need you to bring the noise,” and the audience complies with gusto.
The first song played after what Glenn Radecki, writing on the Backstreets website, calls “the magnificent recreation” of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle is the charming Waitin’ On A Sunny Day. “With the album understandably the predetermined highlight” contends Radecki, “it was difficult for Bruce to keep the entire show at the same level.” However, although the show, “had certainly peaked,” in the words of Paul Doughty on Springsteen’s official website, “there wasn’t much of a drop-off.” Doughty is certainly impressed with Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, writing that, “even the ten-year-old kid picked for ‘Sunny Day’ was spot on for his lines at center stage with Bruce, even adding a ‘take it, Big Man!’ to Clarence as he was popped back into the pit.”
Curt Ramm then adds a trumpet part to the sign collection number, Raise Your Hand. The first request played is Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? performed in what Doughty considers to be “a great version.” Radecki concurs, calling it a “high point” of the show. A “rousing” Glory Days is referred to as “an easy win” by Doughty, coming just three days after the New York Yankees’ triumph in the World Series. Springsteen is then joined on vocals by Patti Scialfa for what Doughty calls, “a massively gripping and intense ‘Human Touch’…an incredible part of the show, extremely powerful.” (“Intense” is also Radecki’s description.) As Doughty goes on to say, “the triple header of ‘Lonesome Day,’ ‘The Rising’ and ‘Born to Run’ brought the main set to a rousing finish, and then the band played on – these days, what’s the point of exiting and coming back on!”
Curt Ramm’s trumpet features in the first encore number, an “outstanding” version, in Doughty’s opinion, of the new number, Wrecking Ball, and this is followed by a rather under-powered Bobby Jean. American Land, of course, features Springsteen introducing the members of the “legendary” E Street Band, and this performance additionally features Sam Bardfield on violin. (The eight-strong Sam Bardfield Strings had earlier played on the closing song from The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, New York City Serenade.) Then comes Dancing In The Dark, before the show closes with (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher, featuring Elvis Costello.
Appearing as bonus tracks are the first nine songs from the Springsteen’s performance at one of the two Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 25th Anniversary Concerts from the end of October 2009. Two of these, the show opener Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and Proud Mary are absent from the broadcast contained on Apocalypse Sound’s DVD. “Springsteen’s show kicked off with energy with ‘Tenth Avenue freeze-Out,'” writes the Point Blank website, and the energy was maintained throughout the show. A fine performance of Proud Mary was one of three numbers to feature John Fogerty.
New York City Second Dream Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 961-64)
Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY, USA – 8 November, 2009
Disc 1: Wrecking Ball, Introduction to THE RIVER, The Ties That Bind, Sherry Darling, Jackson Cage, Two Hearts, Independence Day, Hungry Heart, Out In The Street, Crush On You, You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch), I Wanna Marry You, The River, Point Blank, Cadillac Ranch, I’m A Rocker
Disc 2: Fade Away, Stolen Car, Ramrod, The Price You Pay, Drive All Night, Wreck On The Highway, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, Atlantic City, Badlands, Born To Run, Seven Nights To rock, Sweet Soul Music, No Surrender
Disc 3: American Land, Dancing In The Dark, Can’t Help Falling In Love, (Your Love keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher
Bonus Tracks: Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY, USA – 29 October, 2009: Da Doo Ron Ron, London Calling, Badlands, You May Be Right, Only The Good Die Young, New York State Of Mind, Born To Run, (Your Love keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher
The whole of the concert of 8 November 2009, which included a complete performance of The River, is included on Godfather’s Into The River We Dive, and discussed in my review of that release. Of the eight bonus tracks from the Roll And Roll Hall Of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert, only the last three appear on Apocalypse Sound’s DVD The Night He Went Down To The River. Da Doo Ron Ron is the second song to feature Darlene Love, and sees Patti Scialfa and Soozie Tyrell joining the backing singers. It is a vibrant and very enjoyable rendition, featuring what Radecki calls Love’s “one-woman wall of sound.” “Darlene Love,” contends New York Times writer John Pareles, “can still belt ‘Da Doo Ron Ron.'” London Calling and Badlands both see Tom Morello onstage. This version of the Clash song “blasts the roof off Madison Square Garden,” acccording to Caryn Rose on Springsteen’s official site. “Tom Morello turned heads,” states Radecki, “with his solo and lead vocals on an exciting version of London Calling.” Morello remains to contribute his distinctive guitar and vocals to a stupendous Badlands. “The transition into Badlands – and having Morello remain on stage for this song – is,” according to Rose, “one of the more jaw-dropping moves Bruce has made recently.”
Springsteen then talks quite extensively to the audience while a piano is manouevred onto the stage. Billy Joel and his band subsequently make an unannounced appearance, joining Springsteen and the E Streeters for You May Be Right and Only The Good Die Young, in addition to New York State Of Mind which was included in the broadcast. You May Be Right, from the 1980 album Glass Houses, is the weakest of the three performances, the song being rather too tame to be the rock song it aspires to be. Only The good Die Young, from the classic album The Stranger, fares better, though this performance, lively as may be, is not preferable to the album version. As an armchair listener I am happy to have the Joel songs (and I would not want to be without New York State Of Mind, the clear highlight of the trio), although I can see why Rose considered herself to be “somewhat underwhelmed” by this section of the concert. It would certainly have made for a more exciting and powerful conclusion to have followed Badlands with Born To Run and Higher and Higher.
Overall, the Hall Of Fame Anniversary show is well worth having. I wrote in my review of Apocalyse Sound’s DVD that, “this release represents an opportunity to acquire non-standard repertoire performed in company with some well-chosen guest artists,” and, as we have the complete show on this Crystal Cat release, that statement is even more applicable here. In addition to the unusual repertoire and guest appearances, we also have splendid versions of Tenth-Avenue Freeze-Out and Jungleland. Radecki contends that Springsteen and the band “turned in a fantastic performance,” and Rose concurs, stating that, “it was a Hall of Fame worthy show for a Hall of Fame performance.”
However, the presentation of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame songs as bonus tracks is problematic. Firstly, it results in an unnatural break during that show, coming as it does between the two numbers featuring Darlene Love. More seriously, the cramming on of bonus tracks causes the disc break during the complete performance of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle to occur between Incident On 57th Street and Rosalita, two songs played here, as on the album, without a pause. This is summed up by Froggie, posting on the Stone Pony London message board, as “the BIGGEST mistake they could make in this release…They could make the split everywhere [sic] they want. But the ONLY TWO songs that had to be seemless [sic] back-to-back were these two.” Froggie goes on to suggest that this release should have stretched to eight discs with the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame show inhabiting a discrete 2-CD set of its own with plenty of room for other bonus tracks. This would have been my preferred option, but doubtless there will be some collectors, for whom cost may be a significant issue, who welcome the 6-CD option. However, the problem may be diminished by the existence of the Social Graces release Innocent And Glory Days (to be reviewed shortly), which, as it contains only the The Wild, the Innocent And The E Street Shuffle section of the show of 7 November, allows listeners to hear the whole album performance uninterrupted. Since it additionally contains the whole album performance of Born In The U.S.A. from the 3 October show at Giants stadium, many collectors will doubtless acquire both Innocent And Glory and New York City Dream Box, giving themselves the best of both worlds.
This boxed set has existed in three versions. It was initially released with the concerts of 7 and 8 November in audience sound. However, after a relatively short time, the second 3-CD set, with the concert of 8 November, was replaced by discs with sound sourced from an IEM/audience matrix. (Godfather also upgraded its version of the show.) Making a splendid gesture to collectors, Crystal Cat replaced the discs free of charge for those who had purchased the set in its original incarnation. Now that an IEM source has emerged for the 7 November show, Crystal Cat has upgraded the first 3-CD set, making it available for previous purchasers for a modest sum.
The sound quality of both main shows, and particularly that of the first show, is outstanding. The sound is full and rich, with splendid dynamics and with clear instrumental separation. The sound quality of the performance of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, with its lush textures provided by additional horns, a string section and Blackwell’s congas, is superb. “Best mix I ever heard,” is the opinion of baccala on the Stone Pony London message board. To my ears the Crystal Cat version of the second night has a little more presence than Godfather’s Into The River We Dive; honours are even between Crystal Cat’s first night and Innocent And Glory Days, where the differences in sound are minimal. The bonus tracks come in excellent audience sound.
The packaging, as has become customary with Crystal Cat, is stellar. The box front’s design with the band’s name, taken from the concert screen, is continued inside the box. The front covers of The Wild, the Innocent And the E Street Shuffle and The River, together with the poster for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame shows (since replicated on the official CD and DVD releases) appear on the spine of the box and on the reverse, which also features the track listings. The front inserts of each 3-CD set both show Springsteen crowd-surfing, and also on the front and rear inserts are further in-concert shots, together with a photo of the venue and reproductions of tickets for the shows. Each 3-CD set also contains a twenty-four-page booklet with numerous splendid onstage photographs, Springsteen’s handwritten set lists and Glenn Radecki’s concert reviews from the Backstreets website. Additionally. each of the two sets contains a further tri-fold insert with more onstage photos. The complete boxed set (both 3-CD sets are available separately) also contains an eight-page booklet reproducing an article about Springsteen written by David Fricke which appeared in Rolling Stone in February 2009. All the inserts are printed on Crystal Cat’s usual glossy paper. The CDs are picture discs, each bearing a further onstage photograph of Springsteen. The only difference in appearance with the upgraded versions is the word “soundboard,” which appears in small lettering on each disc.
Overall, this is a quite splendid release. The complete performances of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle and The River are both magnificent and there is much else of stature from the shows of 7 and 8 November; additionally, there is some hugely enjoyable material from the Hall Of Fame concert. Despite unhappiness about the disc break, Froggie argues that, “the material on these discs are [sic] really outstanding!!! ABSOLUTELY.” Moreover, with Godfather and Social Graces choosing to issue partial versions of the show from 7 November and the official The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Concerts set featuring a truncated version of Springsteen’s set, purchasing New York City Dream Box is the only way to acquire all three Madison Square garden performances in their complete form.