Bruce Springsteen – No Nukes (Godfatherecords G.R. 615/616)

No Nukes (Godfatherecords G.R. 615/616)

Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, USA – 22 September, 1979 

Disc 1: Prove It All Night, Badlands, The Promised Land, The River, Sherry Darling, Thunder Road

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

Bonus track: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, USA – 21 September, 1979: Rave On 

The anti-nuclear energy group MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) was founded in by musicians Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt and John Hall in response to the Three Mile Island accident of March 1979, which involved a partial core meltdown in Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station near Harrisburg, PA.  MUSE organized a series of five concerts, which were held at New York’s Madison Square Garden in September 1979.  Springsteen headlined the last two shows on 21 and 22 September and, according to Patrick Humphries, in Springsteen: Blinded By the Light, it was his old friend Jackson Browne who persuaded him to take part.  In retrospect, this event is usually seen as the beginning of Springsteen’s public espousal of political causes (though Jimmy Guterman, in Runaway American Dream: Listening To Bruce Springsteen, reminds us that “he’d played a George McGovern benefit in ’72”), and this perhaps explains why he seemed hesitant to commit himself fully.  For example, he was the only artist not to publish a statement in the tour programme and, although he had written and recorded Roulette, a song Guterman calls “a tale of justified paranoia written in the shadow of the near-catastrophe at Three Mile Island,” he chose not to perform it at the shows.  Nonetheless, the shows acted to bring Springsteen to wider public attention.  As Dave Marsh contends, “MUSE placed Springsteen firmly and permanently in the pantheon of American superstars.” 

Some Springsteen material from the shows was issued officially on the triple-LP  and video releases.  Stay and an edited Medley from the first night appeared on the record; The River, Thunder Road and the latter part of Quarter To Three from the second night were included on the video.  The two complete songs also  later appeared on the official Video Anthology.  Both releases have since been reissued in CD and DVD formats.  Soundboard tapes exist for both nights and provide the basis for a surprisingly small number of bootleg releases.  The second show (with Rave On from the 21st as a bonus) appeared as More No Nukes  on the old Italian protection-gap label, Great Dane.  To my knowledge the first show has never appeared on CD, though there was a 2-LP set entitled No Nukes.  The River and Thunder Road, taken from the film soundtrack, and  Stay and The Devil With The Blue Dress Medley, from the album are included on The Lost tracks 1978-1993, a collection of assorted official recordings purporting to be a Columbia “demonstration” release but in reality a bootleg.

The concerts featured numerous artists, including (in addition those mentioned above), James Taylor, The Doobie Brothers, Gil Scott-Heron, Chaka Khan, Poco and Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. However, there is little doubt about who most of the audience on the last two nights had come to see.  “It was a Springsteen crowd,” states John Rockwell, “one got the impression that the other performers and perhaps even the nuke issue itself were barely being tolerated.”  Indeed, Springsteen’s music stood in clear contrast to that of virually all the other performers.  As Christopher Sandford writes in Springsteen: Point Blank, “most of the music of No Nukes was gravely beautiful.  Springsteen apart, its pace was dreamily slow,  its mood sublimely sober.”  The only other clear exception to this trend was Petty, whom, along with Springsteen, critic Robert Christgau rather unkindly maintains appealed to, “the low-rent ‘hard rock’ crowd.”

Springsteen and the E Street Band’s performances at the MUSE concerts each lasted for around an hour-and-a-half, and Marsh, in Bruce Springsteen: On Tour 1968-2005, describes them as, “a super-condensed version of  its standard set.”  Set lists were practically identical, save the Devil With The Blue Dress Medley and Rave On closed the first show and Quarter To three the second.  As if in deliberate contrast with the music of the other artists, Springsteen’s two performances were largely shorn of quieter, more reflective songs (the obvious exception being the debut performances of the River), so that, as Marsh says, “they lacked most of the pensive, dreamy moments… [of] his usual concerts…’Prove It All Night,’ ‘Badlands,’ and ‘The Promised Land’ landed like cudgel blows after the soft rock that preceded them.”

Indeed, these are the opening three songs and they are played in muscular versions, with a commitment and energy which well-earn the appellation of “cudgel blows,” and which collectively make for a tremendously exciting start to the show.  After this there is a pause, during which occurs one of two incidents which, as Marsh points out, lent a “sour aspect” to the show.   The concert was played the day before Springsteen’s birthday.  “Bruce wasn’t thrilled to be turning thirty,” maintains Marsh and Springsteen reacted petulantly when a woman in the audience passed him a birthday cake.  He can be heard saying, “don’t remind me,” before throwing the cake back at the woman, eliciting a widepread and clearly audible gasp, and stating that the icing-splattered fans can, “send me the laundry bill.”  As Marsh succintly concludes, “it wasn’t funny.” 

The incident makes for a strange and most unwelcome prelude to the second live appearance of The River, which had debuted he previous night.  Springsteen dedicates the song to his mother and sister (he does not specify which one), and it receives a heartfelt and moving, if slightly staid, performance, which is adversely affected by Springsteen’s rather rough harmonica playing.  Springsteen then refers to the show as his “big birthday party,” before, asking for some “party noises” to kick off another relatively new song, Sherry Darling, which had been played the previous year on the Darkness Tour.  However, he also displays further displeasure by stating, “I’m officially over the fucking hill.  I can’t trust myself anymore.”  The performance of the song itself is splendidly high spirited and great fun.  Closing the first disc is the quinessential Springsteen song Thunder Road, in its full band incarnation, played after another pause during which Springsteen spots some sort of intriguing activity in the audience, calling on the lighting engineer to “spotlight these maniacs.” 

Disc 2 opens with the majestic Jungleland, impressive as always in live performance, and then Springsteen’s cry of “let’s go!” ignites a tumultuous Rosalita, during which Springsteen introduces the members of the E Street Band.  Things continue in similar vein with a high-energy Born To Run, but then become a little less hectic as Springsteen is joined by Jackson Browne, Tom Petty and singer and bassist Rosemary Butler (who has sung backing vocals for Browne, Taylor and Raitt, among others) for a good-natured  rendition of the 1960 Maurice Williams And The Zodiacs hit, Stay, the song which, in a version with revised lyrics, closed Browne’s 1977 album, Running On Empty.

The show closes with an twelve-minute romp through Gary US Bonds’ Quarter To Three, which is marred by the second and more widely known incidence of unpleasant behaviour on Springsteen’s part, involving former girlfriend, photographer Lynn Goldsmith, whose taking of photographs during the show he found objectionable.  There is some disparity between accounts of the build-up to this incident.  Marsh states that Springsteen had, “expressly requested she not be given a press pass; she didn’t have one but snapped away anyhow.”  According to Sandford, “Goldsmith swore she’d only agreed not to shoot from backstage, not ten rows back.”  Sandford describes what happened during the song: “As Springsteen dragged her onstage, the floor of the Garden was shaking, fans surging up from their seats and ccoing Br-ooose from the rafters.  It was like a collective orgasm.  Joel Bernstein, also taking photos, had ‘never heard or seen anything like it…the place was lierally bouncing on its axis.'”  We clearly hear Springsteen’s pointed dismissal of Goldsmith as “my ex-girlfriend.”

Following the lead of the Great Dane release, No Nukes contains a solitary bonus track, a frantic performance of Rave On, the previous evening’s set closer.  

Springsteen’s performances were the highlight of the MUSE concerts.   As Sandford states, “amid the anaemic soft-rock bias of CSN, Browne and James Taylor, Springsteen stole the last two shows.”  Janet Maslin, reviewing the film for the New York Times,  also argues that Springsteen “steals the show.”  However, though the show presented here is both exciting and powerful, it is not of the same standard as the Darkness Tour concerts, during which, in Sandford’s words, Springsteen “bundled up his whole life and flung it against the stage.”  The “stripped-down” nature of the show, as Guterman puts it, without the balance and variety of a full-length performance, leaves one feeling rather unsatisfied.  “Not the greatest Bruce show ever,” is Elder’s opinion and Guterman damns both MUSE shows with faint praise, calling them “quite good.”

Although derived from a soundboard recording, the sound is not absolutely top-notch.  Lynn Elder, in the early 1990s bootleg guide, Bruce Springsteen: You Better Not Touch, awards the Great Dane version 7 out of 10 for sound quality, noting, however, that, “the sound is very clear, with good instrumental separation and little hiss.”  Elder does have one clear reservation, stating that, “there are drop-outs in the sound, notably on ‘Promised Land,’ but these are inherent in the original recording.”  Comparing the New Godfather release with the old Great Dane version, Rick56, posting on the Stone Pony London website, states that it “has the same drop out of music vocal etc that I recall is present in No more nukes,” and bcpkid refers to it having “the same quality.”  Although full and clear, the sound has a rather unrefined, rough-edged quality.  The drop outs on The Promised Land are unfortunately severe, with vocals and instruments coming in and out of focus at different times (beginning at around one minute and forty seconds) in a most disconcerting manner, effectively rendering it unlistenable.  The fact that this occurs in one of the trio of terrific show openers makes it even more untimely.  The sound quality of bonus track Rave On is comparable to that of the main show.

This release is housed in Godfather’s customary tri-fold sleeve, the front cover of which, with its black and brown sun’s rays design, is based on the official release, though with an onstage shot of Springsteen replacing the panel with the artists’ names.  There are several onstage photos, including one featuring Browne and Petty alongside Steve van Zandt and one of Goldsmith being brought on to the stage by Springsteen.  There is also a mini-poster reproducing the original film poster, together with the usual “Joe Roberts” notes, which clearly draw information from Marsh’s book.

Overall, this is not an essential show to own, and it is certainly not the equal of the preceding Darkness Tour shows, but it is an unusual performance of historical significance in Springsteen’s career and, overall, it is an enjoyable one.  Godfather should therefore be commended for restoring it to circulation. 

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