Reunion Tour (Scorpio (UK) – 66)
Value City Arena, Jerome Schottenstein Center, Columbus, OH, USA – 17 November, 1999
Disc 1: [Meeting In The Town Tonight/]The Ties That Bind, Prove It All Night, Two Hearts[/It Takes Two], Darkness On The Edge Of Town, The Promised Land, My Hometown, The River, Youngstown, Murder Incorporated, Badlands, Out In The Street
Disc 2: Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out[/It’s Alright/Take Me To The River], Downbound Train, She’s The One, The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Born In The U.S.A., Backstreets, Light Of Day[/Hang On Sloopy/I’ve Been Everywhere]
Disc 3: Bobby Jean, Born To Run, Thunder Road, If I Should Fall Behind, Land Of Hope And Dreams, Ramrod
The latest Springsteen release from Scorpio (UK), the unimaginatively titled Reunion Tour, brings us one of the later concerts from the first American leg of that tour. The show begins with the brief Meeting In the Town Tonight intro which sees Springsteen introduce the performance in mock preacher mode, before things get underway properly with a rather lacklustre rendition of The Ties That Bind. Prove It All Night has rather more energy and dynamism, as does Two Hearts, which concludes with a snippet of It Takes Two. An appropriately sombre and moving Darkness On The Edge Of Town and a stirring The Promised Land are followed by a suitably poignant rendition of My Hometown.
The modified version of The River which we hear next is one of the triumphs of the Reunion Tour. The performance starts with a saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons, followed by Springsteen’s own harmonica part. Slower and more subdued than the original version, the 1999 reworking is extremely atmospheric and features steel guitar and accordion parts. A wordless vocalise emerges near the end, before the song concludes, as it began, with saxophone and harmonica.
Youngstown is also significantly reworked for this tour. “All the implications of the album arrangement turned into a hard rock explosion, its edge almost metallic,” writes Dave Marsh in Bruce Springsteen: On Tour 1968-2005 of the new full-band version, which he first witnessed earlier on the tour in Milan. It is my favourite song from The Ghost Of Tom Joad, as is it for Nicholas Dawidoff, who writes in The New York Times Magazine:
“For all of Springsteen’s potent skills as a musician and performer, his lyrics are what bring the real drama to his shows. The best of his songs have all the tension and complexity of great short fiction. ‘”Jungleland” and “Meeting Across the River” pack as much punch in a few minutes as I got into “City of Hope,” which is a whole movie,’ says the film maker and novelist John Sayles. The same might be said of Springsteen’s best song on the ‘Joad’ album, ‘Youngstown.’ Nominally the story of the bitterness a family of iron scarfers feels after the big blast furnace they call Jenny closes, the song also expresses Springsteen’s most familiar theme, the juxtaposition of a mythical America where anything is possible with the crushing reality of a country that keeps letting hard-working people .”
Next comes Born In The U.S.A. outtake Murder Incorporated, a song described by Christopher Sandford, in Springsteen: Point Blank, as, “scorching…one of this best songs that winter [1981-82].” A rousing rendition of Badlands and an exuberant Out In The Street then bring the first disc to a close.
The second CD opens with an extended version of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out augmented by excerpts from The Impressions’ It’s All Right, a hit single taken from their eponymous debut album written by Curtis Mayfield, and Al Green’s Take Me To The River, a 1974 single also included on Al Green Explores Your Mind. The song becomes bloated as Springsteen interpolates a speech in mock preacher mode which then leads into the band introductions. As Out In The Street and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out are played without a clear break, there is some repetition at the end of disc one and the start of disc two, which could easily have been avoided with a more sensible disc break.
Downbound Train, played as Springsteen says, “by request,” is nicely done with added accordion and this is succeeded by vivacious She’s The One with an effectively spare opening section. The Ghost Of Tom Joad comes in a beautifully restrained performance, again featuring an effective accordion part. Born In The U.S.A. is played in a highly effective, slowed-down acoustic version featuring Springsteen alone with twelve-string guitar and it is succeeded by an excellent rendition of Backstreets.
Light Of Day, which concludes the second disc, is one of my favourite songs from the official MTV [Un]Plugged CD and DVD releases. This energetic version includes an apparently unplanned excerpt from Hang On Sloopy, a song released as a single by soul group The Vibrations and a US number one hit for The McCoys a year later. The only other E Street Band performance came on 16 December 2002 at the same venue, where it was included in Glory Days. The performance also includes I’ve Been Everywhere, which was was written by Australian country singer Geoff Mack in 1959, and made popular by Lucky Starr (Leslie Morrison) in 1962. It is little more than a list of (originally Australian) toponyms. Hank Snow had a US country music number one with an American/Canadian version, also in 1962, and New Zealand and British/Irish versions have also been recorded, Starr being notable for having recorded all four versions.
This is followed by Bobby Jean, characterized by Sandford as Springsteen’s “distinctively fond” farewell to the soon-to-depart Steve Van Zandt. Then come a thrilling Born To Run and a full-band Thunder Road.
The next two songs are highlights both of this show and the tour as a whole. I found the version of If I Should Fall Behind on Lucky Town entirely undistinguished. Here, however, as elsewhere on the tour, the song is transformed into something truly exceptional. During this slower version Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons each take a vocal turn in an expression of solidarity and companionship, Marsh commenting that the Reunion Tour performances of the song exemplified, “a commitment between friends.” Land Of Hope And Dreams, which shows “Springsteen at his most movingly idealistic,” according to Entertainment Weekly writer Chris Willman is also given a stunning performace. “The song ranks among the greatest of all Springsteen compositions,” argues Jimmy Guterman in Runaway American Dream: Listening To Bruce Springsteen. The show then concludes with a high-spirited performance of Ramrod.
I have seen this release referred to as a “soundboard” but I believe it derives from an IEM source. Notes on the Jungleland site accompanying the Ev2 torrent of the show, an IEM/audience mix entitled Ticket To Promised Land, state that, “the IEM source [uploaded ‘a long time ago’] had some clicks/crackle at some points,” and such extraneous noises are evident at times on Reunion Tour, the sound of which is also characterized by the rather distant-sounding audience. As to quality, I found that the sound, while clear and with easily discernable separation between the voices and instruments, was initially rather lacking in dynamism. The balance also leaves something to be desired during the early numbers. Listening to the first proper song, The Ties That Bind, one immediately notices, for example, that Springsteen’s voice is too prominent and detached from the instrumental backing (which exposes some vocal inadequacies) and that Garry Tallent’s bass is also rather prominent, while Clarence Clemon’s saxophone solo is recessed. There is some improvement as the disc one progresses and by the start of disc two sound quality has improved significantly, with a more natural balance (though Tallent’s bass is still well to the fore at times) and, overall, a fuller and more dynamic sound picture, which greatly enhances one’s listening pleasure.
The three discs are housed in a glossy trifold sleeve with several onstage shots of Springsteen and band members. The three bright green inner sleeves each have a portion of the notes on one side and the label’s scorpion emblem on the other, and the latter is reproduced on the label sides of the discs themselves.
The Jungleland notes accompanying the Ev2 version say of this concert that, “the band did a lot of great shows during the Reunion tour, and this is one of the shows that stand out – not any ‘too’ exciting setlist, but excellent performance.” It was one of the shows notable for the absence of Patti Scialfa, who was suffering from a perforated eardrum (which Springsteen mentions before My Hometown) so that, as the Jungleland notes state, “Bruce had to swap in songs that didn’t require a female backing vocal.” Despite this limitation, there are numerous highlights here, most notably The River, Youngstown, Born In The U.S.A., Backstreets, Born To Run, If I Should Fall Behind and Land Of Hope And Dreams. However, as I pointed out in some detail in my review of Godfather’s A Family Affair, I have some reservations about the Reunion Tour despite recognizing that the band performed extremely well. Overall, therefore, though I found much to enjoy here, I would consider Reunion Tour, like A Family Affair, to be a worthwhile, though by no means an essential, acquisition.