Rocking Down The Giants (Godfatherecords G.R. 451/452/453)
Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, USA – 2 October 2009
Disc 1: Wrecking Ball, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, No Surrender, Outlaw Pete, Hungry Heart, Working On A Dream, Darkness On The Edge Of Town Introduction, Badlands, Adam Raised A Cain, Something In The Night, Candy’s Room, Racing In The Street, The Promised Land, Factory
Disc 2: Streets Of Fire, Prove It All Night, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, Raise Your Hand, I’m Goin’ Down, Be True, Jailhouse Rock, Thunder Road, Long Walk Home, The Rising, Born To Run
Disc 3: Cadillac Ranch, Bobby Jean, American Land, Dancing In The Dark, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Bonus Tracks: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, USA – 30 September, 2009: Wrecking Ball, Meeting Across The River, Into The Fire; 3 October, 2009: Jersey Girl; 8 October, 2009: Human Touch, 4th Of July. Asbury Park (Sandy); 9 October, 2009: Tougher Than The Rest, The Last Time
As Godfather’s title for this release suggests, Springsteen was here to say goodbye to the venerable old stadium, with a five show stand spread across the period 30 September-9 October 2009. This is alluded to by Springsteen, not just in his opening remarks, but through the performance of a new song written especially for the occasion, Wrecking Ball, debuted at the opening show and receiving its second performance here. In the song Springsteen assumes the persona of the stadium itself, which, fortified by its illustrious history, spits defiance in the face of the demolition engineers. The E Street Band is joined by trumpeter Curt Ramm, who is most prominent on the two faster instrumental sections which I found to be the most enjoyable facets of the song.
Commentators have been quick to pick up on the way in which the song’s theme seems to have a personal relevance. Village Voice writer Patrick Doyle identifies it as “a menacing, autobiographical number.” Writing about the first performance a few days earlier in the Music Mix section of the Entertainment Weekly website, Simon Vozick-Levinson states that, “Springsteen seemed to be taunting the eroding force of time itself…(And was he really just talking about the stadium, or did I detect a more personal note of 60-year-old rock’n’roll defiance in there too?)” The Pitchfork website concurs, surmising that the song is “dedicated to the old building, living, dying [and] turning 60,” as does the Rolling Stone website in its reference to Springsteen “clearly singing about his own life just days after his sixtieth birthday.”
This defiant refusal to submit to the ravages of time clearly also infuses the early part of the set, which is intensely spirited. After Wrecking Ball, the band, most effectively augmented by Ramm’s trumpet, launches straight into a wonderfully ebullient, crowd-pleasing performance of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. The momentum is maintained by a speedy, vibrant No Surrender and a fleet and punchy Outlaw Pete. Hungry Heart, with its opportunity for audience participation, and a vivacious Working On A Dream, prolong the high spirits clearly inculcated into the audience. Even the normally tedious house building metaphor in the spoken section of the latter song seems appropriate in this context, and when a happy-sounding Springsteen says, “sounds good!” at the end of Hungry Heart, it is impossible to disagree. These early songs were typical of a performance which saw the band, as Dante Cutrona reports on the Backstreets website, “powering through a balanced set that, at times, was both loose and intense.”
However, as Cutrona continues, “tonight was all about Darkness On The Edge Of Town…Darkness was the evening’s highlight and emotional centrepiece.” This was the album’s second full, in-sequence performance (the first being at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ, in tandem with Born To Run, on 7 May 2008). and it proves a powerful experience. In his introductory speech, Springsteen comments on the importance of Darkness, released after a three year recording hiatus, and the significance of some of its songs as mainstays of the live set over a thirty year period.
The band then tears into a vigorous rendition of the album’s opener, Badlands, that characterizes the performance of the whole album, and it is during the false ending here that Springsteen inserts his perennial rallying cry of “is there anybody alive out there?” Adam Raised A Cain is characterized by impassioned lead and backing vocals, together with some searingly intense guitar work and the touching Something In The Night also features a strong vocal performance from Springsteen. A furious Candy’s Room reveals some hoarseness in Springsteen’s voice and the beginning of the guitar solo is horribly off-key. This is a great shame, as the conviction with which the song is played should have resulted in a tremendous version. We then reach what was, in the far-off days of vinyl, the conclusion of side one with Racing In The Street. Roy Bittan’s hauntingly mellifluous piano is simply stunning, and the entire performance is achingly poignant. This is a performance to rank alongside Passaic, NJ on 19 September 1978 where a superb rendition of this classic number was yoked to Thunder Road by Bittan’s piano and Springsteen’s unforgettable spoken introduction to the latter song. Godfather’s booklet notes correctly identify the song as the highlight of the Darkness section of the show: “And more than anything else ‘Racing In The Street.’ Probably the best rendition ever done of this classic, with Roy enhancing any note with his touch and and the outro going on forever.” Similarly, the Point Blank website comments that, “the highlight of highlights came with ‘Racing In The Street,’ possibly the most beautiful song on the album, performed in such a sublime way that night, with a never ending instrumental finale where the whole band shone like a diamond.”
The original side two kicks off with an energetic and thoroughly enjoyable The Promised Land, followed by an appropriately restrained Factory, with its succint and moving account of the indignities of “the working life.” Unfortunately, disc 1 ends here, so that we neither get the whole of Darkness on one disc nor a break that corresponds with the changeover point of the original record. A taut and sinewy Streets Of Fire therefore begins disc 2 and this is followed by another superb rendition of Prove It All Night which includes, in Cutrona’s words, “an incredible, searing solo by Nils Lofgren.” Doyle agrees, stating that this is “as dramatic as the song gets, all fuzz and Nils Lofgren-generated feedback.” The album sequence is rounded off with an excellent performance of the title track that somehow manages to be both sombre and spirited. As the point Blank website states, each of the songs from the album was performed with fury and passion, with conviction and intensity.”
In a sentiment echoed in Godfather’s booklet notes, Cutrona argues that whereas the “show staples” such as Badlands, the Promised Land and Prove it All Night “received a new vitality when played in the original album context,” the more rarely played songs such as Adam Raised A Cain, Something In The Night and Streets Of Fire were delivered with “a renewed vigor and almost draining emotion, almost appearing at times that the Boss had pushed himself to the point of exhaustion. Maintaining the passion and intensity of an album like Darkness in the spacious Giants Stadium was no easy task, but it was evident from the start that Bruce and the Band realized their challenge, and they rose to the occasion.”
At the end Springsteen called those band members who played on Darkness to the front of the stage, not forgetting to mention Danny Federici. He can then be heard on the CD light-heartedly telling them to “get your asses back on those instruments and get back to work.” This signals a change of emphasis away from the emotional intensity of Darkness, and, omitting the customary hard times trilogy, the band goes into Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, which features a vocal contribution from the audience as a whole and then what Doyle refers to as a “tone-deaf-but-sweet little girl.” A soulful instrumental version of Raise Your Hand is then played during the sign collection and first up is I’m Goin’ Down, which Doyle considers a highlight, followed by a vivacious rendition of one of my favourite non-album tracks, Be True. “We do try to play something we’ve never played before,” says Springsteen before the next request, Jailhouse Rock. “The song simply rocked live,” writes Cutrona, “and sent the crowd into a frenzy, dancing along with its swingin’ beat.” A fine performance of the enduring classic Thunder Road then gives way to Long Walk Home, receiving, as Cutrona reminds us, “a long overdue reprise in the set since its lone appearance in the March rehearsal shows in Asbury Park.” Glenn Radecki, on Springsteen’s official website, contends that, “‘Long Walk Home’ in particular, was a gale force wind of fresh air in the set,” both generally for its “powerful performance” and, in particular, for “Stevie’s vocal spotlight.” The Rising, impressively played as so often in recent shows, then leads us to the set closer, a jubilant Born To Run, for which Jay Weinberg replaced his father, Max, on the drummer’s stool. This appropriately ends the second disc.
The encore begins with an animated rendition of Cadillac Ranch, my joint favourite, along with Out In The Street, of the rather vacuous rockers from The River and high spirits are maintained by Bobby Jean and a raucous American Land. Dancing In The Dark, full of its usual vitality, then leads to the show’s closing number. a ferociosly energetic yet good-humoured Rosalita, dedicated to the absent Patti Scialfa. The Point Blank website sums up the show as, “the Darkness night, and a show for the ages…There’s no doubt this show will rank as one of the best E Street Band concerts in years, immediately reminding us of the great St. Louis concert during the Magic tour. A colossal show.”
As a bonus, Godfather provides a series of thoughtfully-chosen songs from the other Giants Stadium concerts. The first of these is another version of Wrecking Ball, from the opening show of 30 September. Although this duplicates the release’s opening number, it is presumably included because it is the song’s premiere performance, a nice touch. It is better played and better recorded than the version from the main show, factors which also make it well worth having. Curt Ramm’s trumpet also enhances the next track, an atmospheric Meeting Across the River, played as part of the complete performance of the Born To Run album. Springsteen’s vocals also contribute to an excellent rendition of this song. Lastly from the 30th we get a sombre and moving Into The Fire, which begins in a subdued fashion with just Springsteen’s vocals and acoustic guitar. From the show on 3 October there is a fine performance of Tom Waits’ Jersey Girl. The penultimate show of the stand provides a rare outing for Human Touch/Lucky Town material in the shape of the title track from the former album. It is described on the Backstreets website as “a definite high point of the night and an all-too-rare chance for the E Street Band to bring their power to one of Bruce’s ’92 compositions. It killed.” From the same show there is a nostalgic 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), dedicated, of course, to Danny Federici. Lastly, there are two song from the final Giants Stadium show of 9 October. The first of these is Tougher Than The Rest, which receives an excellent performance and features a prominent vocal contribution from a returning Patti Scialfa. As with Human Touch and Lucky Town, material from Tunnel Of Love has been very infrequently played recently and this is the only song from the album played during the Working On A Dream Tour. which is regrettable as I consider it to be one of Springsteen’s finest albums. Closing the third disc is a hugely enjoyable performance of The Last Time, played in response to a sign with a picture of the Rolling Stones’ famous lips and tongue logo. As Radecki reminds us on the Backstreets website, the song receives its first performance since the final concert of the Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour, thus providing an appropriate conclusion to a release which showcases the Darkness album.
Although there is a little lack of clarity at the start, particularly with Wrecking Ball, overall the sound is very good, though not outstanding, and many of the songs, such as Something In The Night and Racing In The Street, sound very fine indeed. The sound quality of the bonus tracks is also very good and, from Jersey Girl onwards, excellent. This release comes in Godfather’s usual high-quality tri-fold packaging with numerous onstage photographs. There is also a booklet with the customary notes by Joe Roberts, based in part on Cutrona’s comments from the Backstreets website. The very good sound, well-chosen bonus tracks and fine packaging increase the desirability of a release which centres on an excellent principal show which contains a superb performance of Darkness On The Edge Of Town. As some of the comments that I have quoted above attest, it is one of those shows which you listen to and wish you had been able to attend. To paraphrase Spingsteen, get your asses out there and buy this CD!