Out On A Midnight Run (Godfatherecords G.R. 473/474/475)
1st Mariner Arena – 20 November, 2009
Disc 1: Wrecking Ball, Prove It All Night, Hungry Heart, Working On A Dream, Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Night, Backstreets, Born To Run, She’s The One, Meeting Across The River, Jungleland
Disc 2: Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, Spirit In The Night, Green Onions, Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, The E Street Shuffle, For You, Radio Nowhere, My Love Will Not Let You Down, Long Walk Home, The Rising, Badlands
Disc 3: Ramrod, Hard Times [Come Again No More], Land Of Hope And Dreams, American Land, Dancing In The Dark, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), [(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me)] Higher And Higher, Glory Days[/Louie Louie]
For the penultimate show of the Working On A Dream Tour, Springsteen returned to Baltimore after a very lengthy absence. “We haven’t played here since 1973, I think,” he recalled, referring to a show he played in support of Chicago. (The show was at the Civic Center on 2 June, 1973.) Jimmy Guterman, in his book Runaway American Dream: Listening To Bruce Springsteen, reminds us that Springsteen’s time supporting what he rather unkindly calls “the flatulent jazz-rock outfit” was not a happy one. He does confess that the band members themselves are remembered warmly by Springsteen, though audiences gave him a hard time and he was even booed at a couple of the shows. Springsteen here recalls a fan in Baltimore in1973 shouting, “hey, man, we didn’t come here to see you,” and elsewhere he has referred to it as “a soul destroying experience.”
Although Springsteen reassured the audience that the E Street Band would only be “shutting down for a little while, but we will see you in the future,” it seems not everyone was convinced. “With question marks surrounding the post-tour future of the E Street Band,” maintains the anonymous writer on the Backstreets website, “a palpable feeling of finality coursed through tonight’s performance of Born To Run – the very real possibility of finality, if not finality itself… Springsteen confirmed it was on his mind too, at the end of the album sequence: Born To Run – for the last time.”
Born To Run is the link between Godfather’s two latest Springsteen releases. The label’s last three sets brought us complete performances of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, The River, The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle and Greetings From Asbury Park N.J., but the classic third album was missing. Godfather have rectified that omission with both this and Mansions Of Glory (Cleveland, 10 November 2009) featuring complete performances of Born To Run.
The now-customary opener of Wrecking Ball features some modified lyrics for local consumption (“But tonight Baltimore is going up in flames”). The performance here is a trifle pedestrian, so that the fast instrumental sections featuring Curt Ramm’s trumpet provide even more of a contrast than usual. The band then launches into an inspirational Prove It All Night. Clarence Clemons’ sax solo is greeted with loud cheers from the audience and the song concludes with a superb guitar solo from Nils Lofgren which may well be his best ever on this number. A notably high-spirited and extremely enjoyable Hungry Heart features some enthusiastic and tuneful singing from the audience at the beginning and extensive sax work from Clemons at the end. Springsteen’s crowd-surfing exploits during the song are greeted with delighted cheers This is followed by Working On A Dream, still featuring the house building speech, which closes the show’s introductory section. Springsteen sounds genuinely pleased to be in Baltimore and his delivery of the monologue is so effusive that, for once, it did not constitute the usual longueur.
Then we get Born To Run, which Springsteen tells the audience is “the record that started a lifelong conversation between you and me.” Then we hear the familiar but nonetheless frisson-inducing harmonica intro to Thunder Road, all the more welcome when the listener knows that the whole album will follow. The song receives a fine, but perhaps slightly stolid performance, with the audience, as usual, contributing a brief vocal part though the ending is marred by one horrendously off-key moment from Clemons. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out then erupts in a welter of high spirits, with the audience immediately singing along and the song benefits greatly from Ramm’s presence, which gives the song more of a flavour of the album version, and from the contribution of the backing vocalists. An energetic performance of Night, concluding with an unflawed sax part from Clemons, leads straight into Roy Bittan’s piano introduction to the closing number of the original LP’s first side, Backstreets. It is a poignant performance with an impassioned vocal performance from Springsteen, and a fine guitar solo. We are even treated, not to the full “Sad Eyes” interlude but to something approaching it, as Springsteen sings: “Just you and me, baby/Just you and me, darling/Until the end/[wordless vocalise]/Come a little bit closer/Like an angel on my chest/Like an angel on my chest/Like an angel on my chest.”
At this point, of course, in those long-ago days of vinyl, we would have to get up and go to turn the record over; here, however, the band immediately launches into Born To Run, the effect of which is oddly disconcerting. The song is played with tremendous bravura and features the now-customary huge mid-song climax. After its triumphal ending we get a wonderfully spirited She’s The One, featuring some wild harmonica at the end. At one point, referencing the Bo Diddley song that he used to play in tandem with She’s The One, Springsteen is heard to say “Oh, Mona.”A splendidly atmospheric Meeting Across The River is beautifully enhanced by Curt Ramm’s trumpet part and it leads into the epic album closer Jungleland. The performance is superb. With Soozie Tyrell in the band we benefit from the violin part at the song’s opening and the guitar and sax solos from Steve Van Zandt and Clarence Clemons respectively are splendid. Max Weinberg’s mighty (pun entirely intended!) drumming effectively acts to propel the saxophone solo forward. The moment where the sax dies away to be replaced by Roy Bittan’s tender piano part is, as it should be, simply magical and it provides the perfect prelude to the song’s denouement: “Beneath the city two hearts beat/Soul engines running through a night so tender/In a bedroom locked/In whispers of soft refusal/And then surrender/In the tunnels uptown/The Rat’s own dream guns him down/As shots echo down them hallways in the night/No one watches as the ambulance pulls away/Or as the girl shuts out the bedroom light.” Despite those gunshots the song heavily implies that the Magic Rat survives – at the very end we are told that the characters who populate the world of this song, “wind up wounded/Not even dead/Tonight in Jungleland.” Denied the glory of death (it is surely significant that that no one watches the ambulance leave), they suffer the ignominy of survival and continued existence. The ending therefore acts as something of a counterweight to the romanticism found earlier in the song, and this is conveyed most poignantly in this performance.
It is appropriate that the emotionally-charged Jungleland brings the first disc to a close, allowing the listener to take a breather before the next song, the infectiously jolly Waitin’ On A Sunny Day. The girl invited to sing sounds (ands looks) older than some of the other youngsters who have contributed and she introduces the sax solo with a cry of “take it, Big Man!” A sinuous Spirit In the Night follows and then, rather oddly, considering that this is the penultimate show of the tour, the instrumental Booker T. And The M.G.’s number Green Onions makes its debut as the sign collection song.
The first request played is a lively rendition of the perennial festive favourite Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town. Thisis succeeded by a funky and frenetic E Street Shuffle, a little ragged but great fun. Strangely, neither the Backstreets website nor Godfather credit Ramm with an appearance on this song, though Clemons is clearly not playing the horn part alone. Next comes another early number, For You, which is given a solo rendition here. The piano playing may leave a little to be desired (Springsteen says he is on “dangerous ground here. I only semi-know what I’m doing) but he turns in a superb vocal performance to enhance the emotional impact of the song. The band then ups the tempo with fast-paced renditions of Radio Nowhere and My Love Will Not Let You Down.
Together with Springsteen himself, Steve Van Zandt then contributes a tremendous and highly-praised vocal performance to the latter stages of Long Walk Home. Phillips refers to “Bruce feeding off Steve at the end, and rightly concludes that this constitutes “a magnificent performance.” The Point Blank website calls the rendition “exciting…with Van Zandt exploring his most soulful side with some terrific vocals.” The Backstreets writer is most impressed of all, writing: “Building on Steve’s solo vocal turn at the end, Bruce began a gospel call-and-response with his old friend, the kind of intimate, spontaneous moment that both depends on and displays the level of wordless communication these guys have developed over so many years.”
The penultimate song of the main set is, as so often, a splendid version of The Rising. Drawing the main set to a close in place of Born To run is Badlands, which receives a wonderfully tempestuous performance, with a false ending and enthusiastic audience participation. It would have been stunning anywhere else in the set, but as a set closer it cannot quite provide the same sense of exhilaration as Born To Run. Fittingly, this closes the second disc.
The final disc therefore begins with the first encore number, a fun, high-energy Ramrod. The Steven Foster song Hard Times (Come Again No More) features the backing vocalists to great effect and they also serve to enhance Springsteen’s magnificent take on the gospel train redemption song, Land Of Hope And Dreams. Guterman maintains that, “the song ranks among the greatest of all Springsteen compositions, a not-too-neat summation of the lyrical and musical themes he’s explored for most of his career.” As usual, this splendid performance ends with a snippet of People Get Ready.
American Land, of course, features the band intros and the now-customary input from Ramm, but there is a surprise, too, as Max Weinberg’s daughter Ali guests on accordion. Spirits are kept high with vigorous renditions of Dancing In The Dark and Rosalita, the latter again featuring Ramm. Ali Weinberg returns to add tambourine and vocals to the ever-impressive Higher And Higher, which which features fine contributions from the backing vocalists and from trumpeter Ramm. Phillips reckons it “the finest moment” of the show and, as if that were not enough, the band concludes by rocking out on Glory Days, which ends with the now-customary instrumental snippet of Louie Louie.
Overall, this was, according to the Point Blank site, “an enthusiastic and powerful show, full of energy.” Phillips concurs, referring to it as, “an energetic feel-good show.” It was, as the absence of bonus tracks on this release attests, a long show, too, lasting for the best part of three-and-a-half hours.
The show was recorded by the same taper responsible for the Atlanta, Vienna and Buffalo concerts, so collectors who have acquired Godfather’s releases of those shows will have some idea what to expect. The sound is full and clear and, while it is not not absolutely top-drawer, it is nonetheless very fine indeed and makes this release an enjoyable listen. The packaging is, of course, Godfather’s usual tri-fold sleeve, featuring numerous onstage photographs, including shots of Ali Weinberg and the young girl who sings on Waitin’ On A Sunny day.
There is also a booklet with the customary “Joe Roberts” notes (with troublesome brother Franky having fled to Canada, the Highway Patrolman clearly has time on his hands!). I stated in my review of Godfather’s release of the final show of the tour in Buffalo (Greetings From Buffalo, N.Y.) that, despite the fantastic performance, I nonetheless wanted something more “overtly valedictory,” rather than the “feel-good” show provided. Here, on the penultimate night, the emphasis on energy, enthusiasm and fun are entirely appropriate, and these qualities, coupled with a splendid complete performance of Born To Run and numerous other individual highlights, make this release well worth acquiring.