On The Road Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 850)
Community Center, Berkeley, CA, USA – 2 March 1973: Lost In The Flood, Spirit In The Night, Circus Song, Bishop Dance, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, Blinded By The Light, Thundercrack
Alpha Recording Studios, Richmond, VA, USA – 31 May 1973: Satin Doll, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, Circus Song, Growin’ Up, New York Song, You Mean So Much To Me
The soundboard tape of the Berkeley show began circulating in the mid-1990s. It contains what is thought to be Springsteen’s complete performance in support of Blood, Sweat and Tears. It was released at that time on the 2 CD set Prodigal Son together with numerous studio tracks from 1972-73 (no label, but in fact an early Crystal Cat release). This was followed by a CD-R release, Before The Flood (CU Records), which coupled the show with the majority of the concert from the Main Point on 31 October 1973. Recently, another CD-R version emerged on Hot Stuff/Cat’s Meow (my copy says Hot Stuff on the CD and Cat’s Meow on the back insert). Called Cannon Blast Lightnin’ Flash, this has the show by itself on a single disc. Now Crystal Cat has produced a new CD, coupling the show with a radio performance from the same year.
Although complete in the sense of containing every song played, the tape is unfortunately missing the opening of Lost In The Flood. The first four numbers are given conventional performances very similar to the album versions (or, in the case of Bishop Danced, to give it the correct title, similar to other live performances from the era). The band starts to open up with Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? which is stretched to over five minutes by the addition of a lengthy saxophone intro and further sax and organ solos. This is followed by an exuberant rendition of Blinded By The Light and the excitement of the occasion is heard in Springsteen’s voice in the brief pause before the band crash into a stupendous ten minute-plus version of Thundercrack to finish the show to the clear appreciation of the audience.
The sound quality of the tape is excellent, with great presence and depth. Crystal Cat’s version is very similar to the Hot Stuff/Cat’s Meow issue, but it has the advantage of virtually eliminating the tape hiss that is found on the latter. The hiss is only really intrusive on Circus Song, due to it being at a higher level during this song on the original tape.
Crystal Cat fill out the CD with one of the acoustic radio sessions used as a promotional device by Springsteen during 1973-74. (Collectors may well be familiar with others, such as those for KLOL in Houston and WBCN in Boston in March and April 1974.) Like these, the Richmond session begins with the Duke Ellington number Satin Doll. The brief rendition is played by Clarence Clemons on saxophone, Danny Federici on accordion and Garry Tallent on tuba. The other songs largely feature Springsteen on acoustic guitar in addition to these instruments. The exception is New York Song, on which Springsteen accompanies himself on the piano. The acoustic versions of Growin’ Up, You Mean So Much To Me Baby and Does This Bus stop at 82nd Street? provide an effective contrast with more convential performances, especially as the latter two songs are performed at a speed somewhat slower than normal. Circus Song, being scored for these instruments, is obviously closer to the officially recorded version. New York Song did not survive, although a large section of the lyrics later appeared in New York City Serenade, a far superior song. In addition to the songs, the tape features a fair amount of conversation between Springsteen and the DJ.
The session was broadcast by WGOE-FM using a remote link with Alpha Sound Studios. This was necessary as the station did not have a studio large enough to accomodate the band, despite the absence of Vini Lopez. The small audience included Al Tellone, who played baritone sax at Springsteen’s 31 October 1973 Main Point gig, and an Alpha Studios employee who had played with Springsteen, contributed to the first album and who was soon to join the E Street Band, pianist David Sancious. Mike Appel, Springsteen’s then manager, took possession of the master tape, thereby ensuring that the station was unable to rebroadcast the show. However, one fan’s off-air recording did circulate in tape form. This is often referred to as being from an AM broadcast, despite the name of the radio station. I know of no bootleg LP or CD of the complete tape but one song did make it onto disc. You Mean So Much To Me Baby appeared on the LP Resurrected (Lonely Records) in poor quality and later in somewhat better, though still limited, sound on the CD Radio Waves (Great Dane). (The Great Dane release was copied on CD-R by Alternative Edge Productions as Boston Serenade.) According to the Brucebase website “a low generation copy of the entire original master tape first surfaced…in the early 1990s.” This tape was used by E. St. Records when they included a hugely upgraded version of You Mean So Much To Me Baby on their superb 3-CD compilation Deep Down In The Vaults.
Brucebase goes on to say that, “the complete master tape in perfect sound quality finally emerged…in early 2007.” The timing of the Crystal Cat release would therefore suggest that this version of the tape is the source for their new CD, which in turn would imply an advance in sound quality, however small, on the E. St. release. To my ears, however, there is no discernible difference between the two labels’ recordings of You Mean So Much To Me Baby. Nevertheless, the sound quality of the tape used by Crystal Cat is excellent. (Incidentally, this version of You Mean So Much To Me Baby was originally intended to appear on Springsteen’s official career retrospective, Tracks, but was one of twenty-seven songs omitted when the project was cut from six CDs to four.)
This release features the usual Crystal Cat glossy artwork, including an 8-page booklet with photographs and articles from the time and a separate reproduction of an Alpha Recording Corporation monthly news-sheet noting that the broadcast “received very favorable response from listeners and sponsors.” Also as usual, the discs themselves feature full colour artwork. This is another very desirable release from the Crystal Cat label.