Serenade To Rome (Godfatherecords G.R. 924/925/926)
Rock In Roma Festival, Ippodromo delle Capannelle, Rome, Italy – 11 July, 2013
Disc 1: Intro: Once upon a Time in the West, Spirit in the Night, My Love Will Not Let You Down, Badlands, Death to My Hometown, Roulette, Lucky Town, Summertime Blues, Stand on It, Working On The Highway, Candy’s Room, Mona/[Not Fade Away/]She’s the One
Disc 2: Brilliant Disguise, Kitty’s Back, Incident on 57th Street, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), New York City Serenade, Shackled and Drawn, Darlington County, Bobby Jean, Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
Disc 3: The Rising, Land of Hope and Dreams[/People Get Ready], Born in the U.S.A., Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Twist and Shout, Shout, Thunder Road
Serenade To Rome brings us a recording of Springsteen’s first-ever show at Rome’s Ippodromo delle Capannelle (though guitarist Nils Lofgren had played the venue over three decades before with Neil Young). The concert was part of the Rock In Roma festival and the support act was The Cyborgs, described by the Brucebase website as, “an Italian electro-blues twosome.” Promising an “epic night ahead,” Lofgren had stated on Facebook that the band had been “working on Rome surprises,” an the choice of songs here was, in the estimation of Backstreets writer Ermanno Labianca, a major factor in the success of the performance:
“After…the two fabulous sets delivered in Germany [in Mönchengladbach and Leipzig, both released by Godfather and already reviewed]…Eleven songs from the first four albums, plus ‘Roulette’ written in 1979, made this 25th show of the 2013 tour a superb, highly unusual set…Then add ‘Summertime Blues,’ which had been a set opener during the Darkness on the Edge of Town series of concerts; Bo Diddley’s ‘Mona,’ a steady companion for ‘She’s the One’ back then; and The Isley’s [sic] Brothers’ ‘Shout’ and ‘Twist and Shout,’ and you have more than half the set’s songs written prior to 1980 – and still only a rough idea of how inspired was Bruce Springsteen during his fourth and last Italian show this summer.”
The concert begins with Spirit In The Night, which, “Bruce starts singing,” as Brucebase states, “while he is still off stage.” “It’s not that ‘Spirit in the Night’ is at all a rarity,” writes Labianca, “during this 2012/2013 tour it has been frequently played – but as an opener, it immediately establishes a level of intimacy and soul power at the same that it makes you expect the unpredictable.” I confess that I was unconvinced by the use of Spirit In The Night as a set opener, especially given the song’s now-customary overblown beginning. Things rapidly improve after this unusual start, however. As Leonardo Colombati writes on Springsteen’s official website, “the one-two punch of ‘My Love Will Not Let You Down’ and ‘Badlands’ was just the warm-up for an energetic first part of the show.”
A fine performance of the martial-sounding Death to My Hometown is one of only two songs from Wrecking Ball to be heard in Rome. It is followed by the second outing in four days for the rarely played Roulette, “recorded in 1979,” as Brucebase states, “just days after the Three Mile Island disaster that the song references.” Labianca reckons it to be a, “hard-edged, astonishing” performance. Then comes an equally welcome Lucky Town (also played in Leipzig four days previously), one of two rather ordinary songs from the decidedly substandard HumanTouch/Lucky Town albums (the other being Better Days, the opening number of Lucky Town) that, in my opinion, were turned into classics by the much-maligned “Other Band.” Roulette and Lucky Town provide the excitement of what Labianca calls a, “powerful, guitar-driven segment.” Then it it time for Springsteen to collect the sign requests from the audience. This results in, “an incredible request-fest,” as Labianca describes:
“When Bruce starts staring at the many signs held forth among thousands of arms, the first titles that he reaches for are ‘Girls in Their Summer Clothes,’ ‘Summertime Blues,’ and ‘Stand on It.’ While the first one doesn’t make the show, the other two work very well together. The rockabilly flavor of the Eddie Cochran classic is perfect as a bridge to ‘Stand on It,’ which in 1985 backed the ‘Glory Days’ single and was an evident tribute from Bruce to that rock ‘n’ roll era – especially to Jerry Lee Lewi’s [sic] ‘killer’ piano style. A request from, ‘Gaia and Andrea’ to celebrate their wedding anniversary, ‘Stand on It’ is delivered with a sonorous horn section: first Jake Clemons, then Curt Ramm and Clark Gayton take solos before the rest of the quintet explode like we’re in a crowded 1940s ballroom.”
The “rockabilly flavor” is kept up by Working On The Highway, which is succeeded by a blistering Candy’s Room. Then the first disc of this set ends strongly with a performance of She’s the One which is prefaced by extracts from both Mona and Not Fade Away, the latter appearing more prominently despite not featuring in the track listing.
Disc two opens with another request, Brilliant Disguise, which I found most welcome as I have a high regard for the Tunnel Of Love album. Unfortunately, the planned complete album performance of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle is truncated. We do, however, still get to enjoy four songs from the album, including the three which constitute the original LP’s second side.
First up, Kitty’s Back gets it first performance in Europe since Belfast in December 2007 and the first in Italy since June 2003 in Florence. As so often in live performance, the song becomes a long, loose jam, with plenty of soloing, including some quite splendid playing from the horn section. This marvellous and thoroughly enjoyable performance clocks in at sixteen minutes and Godfather’s booklet notes do not exaggerate too much in contending that, “‘Kitty’s Back’ alone could make the night.” As if that were not enough, there follows an excellent rendition of Incident on 57th Street which, as on the album, segues into Rosalita (Come Out Tonight). Lastly, there is New York City Serenade, the performance of which, with the addition of a string section of seven violins, is described by Colombati as follows:
“The fourth performance of ‘New York City Serenade’ of the 21st Century, obviously a tour premiere, broke the hearts of all 35,000 gathered in the Eternal City. I’ve never heard this song played so well: for the piano intro Roy followed the score, coloring the jazzy original of David Sancious with his romantic touch, and a string section from the Roma Sinfonietta (Morricone’s orchestra) helped the band wrap up this unforgettable present that Bruce wanted to give to his Italian fans. Some magic happened when he was singing ‘hook up to the night train’ and a night train actually crossed the railway at the right-hand side of the hippodrome – a real surprise!”
Perhaps the real surprise was simply that the song was performed at all. As Brucebase points out: ” Tonight is the first time it has been played outside the United States, and only the second time since 1975 that the four Wild & Innocent songs have been played in the same set.” Labianca gives the following information about the string players:
“This stunning, long-awaited European debut is enriched by the Roma Sinfonietta, a string section directed by Leandro Piccioni, a group of musicians whose collaborations rank from Michael Nyman to Quincy Jones, and from Roger Waters to, last but not least, Ennio Morricone, whose C’era una volta il west (Once Upon a Time in the West) serves as the walk-in and walk-out music for this incredible night at Le Capannelle.”
After these surprises, the rest of the setlist is, as Colombati points out, “standard,” though there is still much enjoyment to be had. Shackled and Drawn, beginning with some call-and-response with the audience, features the usual excellent vocal contribution from Cindy Mizelle. A beefy Darlington County, nicely augmented by both the backing singers and the horn section, features a violin part from Soozie Tyrell. It is succeeded by the anthemic Bobby Jean and disc two then concludes with Waitin’ on a Sunny Day, which features the customary vocal contribution from a youngster drawn from the audience and a singalong part for the audience at the beginning.
The third disc opens with the last two numbers from the main set, the usual strong performances of The Rising and Land of Hope and Dreams, the latter ending with the usual snippet of People Get Ready. The encore opens effectively with a monumental Born in the U.S.A. and a barnstorming Born to Run. Next comes Dancing In The Dark, during which Springsteen invited up onto the stage (among others) a young woman whose sign stated that if he were to do so, her boyfriend would ask her to marry him. Unsurprisingly, this culminated in an onstage proposal which was, of course, accepted. The encore concludes in fine style with Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and a suitably joyous Isley Brothers double-header of Twist and Shout and Shout, the former of which contains the band introductions, though the show is still not over as Springsteen returns to the stage alone for a solo acoustic rendition of Thunder Road.
The latter part of the show may is summed up thus by Labianca:
“From ‘Shackled and Drawn’ (Cindy Mizelle’s contribution and her interplay a là Merry Clayton makes me think of this as the ‘Gimme Shelter’ of our times) to the very last note of the acoustic, intense ‘Thunder Road,’ Bruce manages to turn what may look like a regular show ending into a triumph.”
Serenade To Rome is sourced from an excellent full, clear and dynamic audience recording, which is clearly the best of those utilized for Godfather’s five recent Springsteen titles. Posters on the Jungleland website have largely been impressed with the sound, as well as the performance. Comments include: “Very nice sounding recording of one of the highlights of the tour!…I don’t think too many people will be disappointed with this one.” (hobbes4444); “God this sounds amazing!!!” (davide2002); “sounds nice (borobri); “sound[s] great” (romasb); “Sounds very good” (pooh23); “Great recording of a great show” (werner_su); “very very good. Almost awesome.” (AndreaWozzup) and “easily one of the highlights of the 2013 European tour. Thankfully, it’s been captured in very good quality on this Godfather set.” (gruffgordon).
Serenade To Rome comes with Godfather’s trademark tri-fold card sleeve with numerous onstage shots and the track listing on the reverse. There is also an eight-page booklet with further onstage photographs, list of band personnel and the usual “Joe Roberts” notes and a mini-poster with an onstage shot of Springsteen and Jake Clemons on the front and further photos on the reverse, together with a list of all the 2013 European dates . This is a terrific show and Colombati goes so far as to contend that it is, “the best show of the Wrecking Ball Tour.” For non-completists and those collectors whose budgets will not stretch to all five of Godfather’s recent Springsteen releases, this release is most definitely the one to go for.