Spanish Harlem Incident On Philly (Masterpiece ESB 11174A-B)
Tower Theater, Upper Darby, Philadelphia, PA, USA – 1 November, 1974
Disc 1: Incident On 57th Street, Then (S)he Kissed Me, Spirit In The Night, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, The E Street Shuffle, Born To Run, Spanish Harlem, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, She’s The One, Jungleland
Disc 2: Kitty’s Back, New York City Serenade, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), A Love So Fine
Spanish Harlem Incident On Philly brings us the first of two concerts at the Tower Theater on 1 and 2 November 1974, following hard on the heels of Springsteen’s debut at the venue on 20 September. Brucebase notes the recent appearance of an, “audience tape, first circulated in January 2013 via JEMS and recorded by The Big A. An almost complete tape, with just one small tape-swap edit in the 21-minute ‘New York City Serenade.'”
“The 2-1/2 hour set was an interesting combination of new material, old material, and old material done in a new way,” according to a review by Lew O’Neil in The Villanovan, the student newspaper of Villanova University, “It was the perfect syntheses [sic] of a band with explosive musical ability and a talented, charismatic leader.” The show opens with a splendid rendition of Incident On 57th Street, featuring Springsteen, new E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan (still unfamiliar enough for O’Neil to refer to him as “Bittner”) and violinist Suki Lahav, whose playing added an extra dimension to the live shows in late 1974 and early 1975, most notably at the legendary Bryn Mawr performance of 5 February 1975 which is available on Crystal Cat’s Main Point Night. The trio are then joined by the rest of the band who, as O’Neil puts it, “launched into a pounding version,” suitably gender-transposed, of The Crystals’ 1963 hit Then He Kissed Me, the song’s last performance of the year. This is followed by Spirit In The Night, “featuring,” as O’Neil writes, “the subtle, solid sax of Clarence Clemons. It was a bit slowed down so Springsteen could emphatically pronounce every word.” However, it is only when the events narrated in the song reach their denouement that Springsteen slows things down significantly. Thing move up-tempo with an exuberant Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? The performance here clearly qualifies as, “one of the gung-ho versions which would prove such a highlight at the 1973-74 shows,” mentioned by Clinton Heylin in E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days Of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. The E Street Shuffle is presented in its slow incarnation, with a fairly lengthy instrumental introduction but without the spoken “rap” familiar from Bryn Mawr. The song, in O’Neil’s estimation, “lost its shuffle with another slowed down version which by now, quite honestly, dampened the excitement.” It is not an assessment with which I would agree; moreover, O’Neil makes no reference to the intervening song, leaving the reader to assume that two slower numbers were performed consecutively.
O’Neil comments that, “Springsteen finally let the band loose with their performing of a couple of new, unrecorded numbers.” The first of these is presumably the energetic performance of Born To Run, though his review does not specifically mention the song.
Next up is Springsteen’s sublime rendition of the Ben E. King hit from 1960, Spanish Harlem, which the notes on the Jungleland website (by “BK for JEMS”) sums up as, “lovely…’Spanish Harlem’ is a true lost gem and the performance
here is majestic.” This is the last of Springsteen’s four known performances of the song, all dating from 1974. Of Springsteen’s version Brucebase comments:
“Because it was only played and captured on tape but a few times (and never as a soundboard or FM), Springsteen’s cover of Ben E. King’s ‘Spanish Harlem’ has not gotten its due. Like ‘Incident on 57th Street’ and ‘I Want You’ it served as a showcase for Suki Lahav and the beautiful, sweeping arrangement sounds uncannily like the opening bars of a song he would release as an original six years later, ‘Wreck on the Highway.'”
Brucebase goes on to say that,”it’s also the last known outing for ‘Spanish Harlem,’ likely replaced by Bob Dylan’s ‘I Want You’ the next night, as Springsteen notes playing the song at the Tower a couple of days later during a radio interview with WMMR-FM Ed Sciaky.” However there are enough incomplete and unknown setlists from late 1974 and early 1975 to make further performances of the song entirely possible.
Following Spanish Harlem we get what Heylin calls, “a blast of bravado,” in the shape of It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City. Brucebase maintains that, “this show is the first known appearance of the infamous ‘police siren’ sound effect prop,” familiar from its appearance at the end of Incident On 57th Street at the Bryn Mawr concert but, “known to be utilized on this night and also at several shows in November and December at the end of ‘It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City.'” However, it is not heard on this recording. There is a cut after the song but it does just about reach its conclusion before the cut occurs.
Next up are two “new, unrecorded numbers” which O’Neil does specifically comment on. First there is She’s The One, described as, “one of the big funkiest tunes featuring and [sic] exciting exchange between Clemens’ [sic] sax and Springsteen’s guitar.” This is followed by what he considers to be the best of the new songs, “a brilliantly diverse composition entitled ‘Jungle Land’ [sic],” which brings the first disc to a close. Of the three new songs, all of which, of course, finally ended up on Born To Run, BK writes:
“‘Born to Run’ also returns to the set for its first known appearance since August and two days later, Bruce would play the studio version for Ed Sciaky’s listeners on WMMR. This is one of but a handful of recorded performances of the song from ’74. Also previewed from Bruce’s next album are embryonic versions of ‘She’s the One’ (complete with the explanatory Bo Diddley beat intro) and ‘Jungleland.’ Both feature myriad lyric changes from their eventual released versions and ‘Jungleland’ benefits marvelously from Lahav’s contributions.”
Disc two opens with Kitty’s Back, turned, as was usual at the time, into a long, loose jam. O’Neil was mightily impressed, commenting that:
“All hell breaks loose with a flawless version of ‘Kitty’s Back.’ This is where Springsteen comes on strong, with the high-energy controlled insanity of the E Street Band. Tasteful solos by keyboard men Danny Federici on organ, and Bittner [sic] on piano were great additions to the number. This is Springsteen at his best.”
Then comes the superbly atmospheric twenty-one-minute performance of New York City Serenade. The unfortunate cut resulting from the tape change comes just after the nineteen-minute mark. The main set concludes with what O’Neil calls “another knock-down number,” Rosalita, a literal and metaphorical show-stopper which, as Heylin states, “back in the day, made sparks fly every night.”
The encore begins with the wistful, nostalgic 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy). In Songs, Springsteen writes that he, “used the boardwalk and the closing down of the town as a metaphor for the end of a summer romance and the changes I was experiencing in my own life,” and the song, here as elsewhere, has what Heylin calls, “that end-of-season, end-of-pier feel.”
The concert concludes in a rather more up-tempo fashion with A Love So Fine. The song was a modification of the earlier So Young And In Love (later released on Tracks) and it was performed on numerous occasions between September 1974 and September 1975. The song was also recorded during the Born To Run sessions in October 1974 and Heylin speculates that it was originally intended as the B-side to the Born To Run single.
This is a terrific show, which O’Neil rightly refers to as a, “brilliant display of musical energy and talent.” BK considers that:
“The best news of course is that this is a show you haven’t heard before from such a fascinating period in Springsteen’s career, when you could get ‘Jungleland’ into ‘Kitty’s Back’ into ‘New York City Serenade.’ Hearing the early Born to Run songs is also a treat, as are the cover songs.”
BK gives the following details on the sound source:
“JEMS is pleased to release another previously uncirculated recording of an historically significant and otherwise unheard show…
Our new friend The Big A recorded this one on, as he calls it, ‘a standard-for-the-time, no-frills, fat-paperback-sized Radio Shack-type tape recorder with a built-in mike’…the Tower was recorded on two tapes (a 120 and a 60) and the sound quality, while not excellent, is…quite listenable. The 120 minute tape ends during ‘New York City Serenade,’ which picks up again on the 60 minute tape, but for whatever reason (two different tape brands/formulations), the sound changes noticeably on the second tape. In mastering, we’ve attempted to match the sound of the second tape to the first.
The tapes themselves were in remarkably good shape considering their age, and as we often do in these situations, we re-shelled them (i.e. we cracked the original tape shells, took out the tape itself and put the old reels into newer cassette shells that run smoother) to optimize playback. There’s a bit of brittleness in the high end, especially in louder passages, but we’ve done our best to manage that and get the most out of the source.”
Despite the limitations suggested above, I found the sound to be very good for the period and eminently listenable, with, overall, a pleasing fullness and clarity, despite the “brittleness at the high end.” The audience noise is quite loud at times, though it is such that it adds to the atmosphere of the show. The enthusiastic audience are clearly familiar with the majority of the songs (to the point that one audience member makes a request for And The Band Played), which is unsurprising as Springsteen was popular in the Philadelphia area from an early point in his career, largely due to the championing of his music by Sciaky on WMMR. There are a couple of audience members close to the taper (so close that it is entirely conceivable that one of them may be the taper) who frequently discuss aspects of the performance, and they can be heard very prominently; mercifully, however, they do confine their comments almost entirely to the intervals between songs and they are therefore not too intrusive.
The packaging of this release is fairly simple, with the discs being housed in a slimline jewel case. The single-sheet front insert and the rear insert bear onstage shots from the era and the back of the rear insert displays the track listing and the band personnel. There is a limited edition, numbered sticker.
There has been a plethora of releases of excellent 1970s shows in the past few months, as my reviews attest, and this one now joins that list. In terms of both performance and sound, Main Pont Night remains the benchmark for a Lahav-era show, but Springsteen collectors will want to supplement it with this fine newcomer.