Spare Works (Godfatherecords G.R.487)
Sha La La (Comcast Theatre, Hartford, CT, USA – 19 August, 2009), Expressway To Your Heart (Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Hempstead, NY, USA – 4 May, 2009) , I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide (TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, MA, USA – 21 April, 2009), Seventh Son (Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC, USA – 2 May,2009) , The Dark End Of the Street (Ratinan Stadion, Tampere, Finland – 2 June,2009), Little Bit O’ Soul (Ford Amphitheater, Tampa, FL, USA – 12 September, 2009), You Never Can Tell (Comcast Theater, Mansfield, MA, USA – 23 August, 2009), Mountain Of Love (Comcast Theater, Hartford, CT, USA – 19 August, 2009), Roll Over Beethoven (Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO, USA – 25 August,2009), Like A Rolling Stone (Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA, USA – 19 May, 2009), Then She Kissed Me (Bank Atlantic Center, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, USA – 13 September, 2009), Hang On Sloopy (Comcast Center, Mansfield, MA, USA – 23 August, 2009), The Wanderer (Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, IA, USA – 21 September, 2009), You Really Got Me (John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA, USA – 5 May, 2009), Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man (Palace At Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, MI, USA – 13 November, 2009), I Fought The Law (Estadio Municipal De Foietes, Benidorm, Spain – 30 July, 2009) Burning Love (Comcast Center, Mansfield, MA, USA – 22 August, 2009), Da Doo Ron Ron (United Center, Chicago, IL, USA – 20 September, 2009), Wild Thing (XL Center, Hartford, CT, USA – 24 April, 2009), My Generation (Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, PA, USA – 8 May, 2009), Rockin’ Robin (United Center, Chicago, IL, USA – 20, September, 2009), (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, IA, USA – 21 September, 2009)
This new release is Godfather’s third compliation from Springsteen’s recent double-headed touring schedule. First came the 3-CD set Something In Those Nights (reviewed by gsparaco), subtitled “Magic Tour, 3rd Leg Gems” and containing a mix of Springsteen originals and covers. Secondly, the label released Born To Be Wild (reviewed by me), a single disc subtitled “Magic Tour, 5th Leg covers.” Like the latter, this first compilation from Springsteen’s most recent tour (subtitled “Highlights From Working On A Dream Tour Covers”) is a solitary disc featuring cover versions only. Bearing in mind the number of covers played, this release is hardly comprehensive, and Godfather’s rationale for the choice of repertoire is explained in the sleeve notes: “Finally, we have to take note that since we had to make a selection, we’ve decided to highlight not only the rarity of the cover, but also the quality of the recording and the fact that we didn’t release it [on] any of the shows already available at Godfather Records.”
The performance of requests prompted by signs presented by audience members grew during the Magic Tour, and the signs themselves became more frequently produced and more elaborate. They requested both Springsteen originals (often early or obscure songs) and covers. Springsteen also changed the direction of shows with “audibles,” songs performed on the spur of the moment, the titles of which he called out to the band himself. This led to the tour being characterized in the sleeve notes to Godfather’s Paris, Don’t You Lose Heart (already reviewed) as the “Jukebox Tour.” Springsteen has also suggested that the obscurity of some of the numbers requested has been a deliberate attempt to stump the band, but that the E Street Band’s ability to play anything thrown at them has only served to cement their reputation as the best “bar band” in the world.
The number of audience requests and audibles represents both a continuation of, and a departure from the Magic Tour: a continuation because the band still played such songs frequently; a departure due to the fact that it was done extensively from the beginning of the tour. Even band members seemed surprised by this. As Nils Lofgren claimed in an interview reproduced on the Billboard website, “with the new album and everything, I didn’t expect to get to this point, with all the audibles and improvisations, until much deeper in the tour.”
Many writers have suggested that the frequent requests have served to fill out shows containing few songs from the new album. There have been differing theories to account for the paucity of new material. The Philadelpia Enquirer, the San Jose Mercury News and Rolling Stone all suggest that Working On A Dream quickly found itself out of step with the times. As Don DeLuca of the Philadelpia Enquirer writes, “Bruce Springsteen may well have miscalculated earlier this year when he released Working on a Dream, one of the most hopeful and downright happy sounding albums of his career just as a cratering economy was rendering the songs of struggle and strife that are his stock in trade more resonant than they have sounded in years.” Shane Quillen of the San Jose Mercury contends that, “Springsteen faces the tough task of hyping a new romantic pop record while simultaneously offering hope and support to a wounded nation – not an easy task.” Andy Greene, of Rolling Stone, says that, “one can assume Springsteen made this call because his catalog addresses the economic meltdown much better than an album about relationships. The hard times are addressed directly with a block of songs mid-show that includes ‘Johnny 99’ (about a man reduced to crime after losing his job), ‘Seeds’ (about family forced to live in their car) and ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ (about the last depression) [sometimes replaced by Youngstown]. In the encore they covered the 1854 Stephen Foster tune ‘Hard Times Come Again No More.'”
This theory, although attractive, appears flawed. Despite the frequent renditions of the songs mentioned by Greene, the shows have largely been high-spirited, fun affairs and the requests have contributed heavily to that situation, as the material on this CD attests. It is therefore unsurprising that Phil Kloer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggests “that this seems to unofficially be the Havin’ a Blast Tour, with surprise cover tunes, unexpected lesser-known cuts and a sense of youthful enthusiasm.” Consequently, the alternative theory, which cites the lack of quality of the new songs, seems more plausible. This idea has been voiced by Scott Mervis of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, who argues that, “the strange thing … is that the ‘Working on a Dream’ tour no longer seems to be about ‘Working on a Dream.’ Although the record debuted at No. 1 on the charts, it doesn’t seem to be a favorite among Boss fans, and Springsteen, always the savvy showman, has chosen not to shove it down anyone’s throat.” Whichever theory one chooses to believe, it is undeniable that this situation has created a a fruitful source of material for a compilation such as this.
Spare Works includes only one or two songs from each featured show. Unlike the arrangement of Born To Be Wild, songs from the same concert do not appear together. Opening the disc is the Manfred Mann song Sha La La, which the Point Blank website points out is played “for the first time since 1975.” It it perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that Lou Masur, writing on Springsteen’s offical website, tells us that, “the band almost decided they couldn’t do” the song. The performance of this fast-paced song is, as might be expected, a little ragged but great fun. The momentum is kept up by the Gamble-Huff classic recorded by the Soul Survivors in 1967, Expressway To Your Heart. The song had been soundchecked earlier in the day, Springsteen claiming that he was sure that someone would request it, and this helps to ensure that the performance is, in the words of the Backstreets website, “absolutely delightful,” with some effective backing vocals. Things get a little more recent with ZZ Top’s I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide. “I think I used to play this in a bar in Asbury Park,” says Springsteen. (He also performed it with the E Street Band in Philadelphia on 15 August, 1984.) After a hesitant start, it chugs along nicely, with some boogie-woogie piano from Roy Bittan, followed by organ and saxophone solos.
We then get some fifties rock and roll with old Willie Dixon number, Seventh Son, a first performance, with another idiomatic piano part from Bittan and some twangy guitar. The song also gives the backing vocalists a chance to contribute. This is followed by a superb rendition of Jimmy Carr’s The Dark End Of the Street, which some may remember as a musical highlight of Alan Parker’s film The Commitments. The song features a version of the spoken part used shortly afterwards as a prelude to Fade Away and Back In Your Arms (see my review of Crsytal Cat’s The Italian Dream Box). Here is appears mid-song, and Springsteen says that it is based on a rap from Clarence Carter’s version of the song. This wonderful performance is a definite highlight of this release. “Bruce gave the song a true soul vibe,” maintains Laura Tuominen-Lozic on Springsteen’s site. This is followed by a vivacious rendition of The Music Explosion’s 1967 hit Little Bit O’ Soul (which was originally recorded by British band the Little Darlings in 1965).
Two of the next three songs are Chuck Berry numbers. Reminding us of E Street Band performances of the early 1970s, Charlie Giordano plays accordion on You Never Can Tell, a song receiving its second of two performances on the tour (the first being in Bilbao on 26 July). The song was performed at the Agora, Cleveland on 3 June, 1974, a performance available on Godfather’s Where The Four Winds Blow (already reviewed). This faster version, which also features a violin solo from Soozie Tyrell, is another highlight of this CD. A rousing performance of Harold Dorman’s Mountain of Love keeps us firmly rooted in the early part of Springsteen’s career, reminding us of the classic Bryn Mawr show of 5 February, 1975 (available on Crystal Cat’s Main Point Night, already reviewed). Then we return to Berry with a vibrant Roll Over Beethoven, which Backstreets writer Chris Phillips contends was “a late shot of adrenaline” in a largely disappointing show. Bittan gets further opportunities to shine on both of these songs.
Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone gets its first E Street band performance here, with a prominent organ contribution and an enthusiastic audience with no qualms about singing along. This was the first Dylan song Springsteen ever experienced. As he said During Dylan’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1988, “I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody’s kicked open the door to your mind.” Having taken us into his formative years, Springsteen then returns us to the early performing history of the band with a joyful rendition of The Crystal’s Then (S)he Kissed Me. This, of course, features most famously in the legendary Bottom Line concert of 15 August, 1975 (which has just reappeared on the no label release, Vintage Broadcast ’75, to be reviewed shortly). Possibly, though he did not mention it, Springsteen was minded to play the song due to the recent death of its co-writer Ellie Greenwich. The McCoys’ number 1 hit from 1965, Hang On Sloopy, which begins rather suddenly, is another high-spirited performance with effective backing vocals.
Dion’s classic The Wanderer was, acccording to Backstreets website contributor Selvin Andrade, “the highlight of the requests section” of the Des Moines show. The sign for this stated, “The Wanderer…Stumped?” It seemed that the band very nearly was, Springsteen needing nearly four minutes of discussion (fortunately not included here) with Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren and Roy Bittan to work out how to perform the song! After a storming performance the song, which clearly delights the audience, a triumphant Springsteen tore up the sign! This is followed by another first, and another tremendous performance, the band’s premiere rendition of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me, in a very heavy version.
Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man comes from Auburn Hills in the Metro Detroit area of Michigan and honours local musical hero Bob Seger (the “Detroit Medley” was also played). Springsteen has performed the song on only one previous occasion, at the same venue on 18 August, 1992. He plays the distinctive keyboard opening on guitar, though this suffers from another clipped start. The performance comes across as distictly ragged, especially at the beginning. Then comes I Fought The Law, the Bobby Fuller Four number now perhaps more associated with The Clash, which receives a vigorous performance drawn from the Benidorm show, where it unexpectedly appeared during the hard times trilogy between Johnny 99 and Youngstown.
The Elvis Presley number Burning Love is a terrific, good-natured performance, “tight as a drum and a ton of fun,” according to the anonymous Backstreets writer, and “pure fun,” in the words of Adam Hurtubise on Springsteen’s site. A second Crystals song Da Doo Ron Ron, is another joyous performance and, surpringly, the lyrics are not gender transposed. This time Springsteen did make reference to the passing of co-writer Greenwich, though his words are not heard here. Wild Thing is another E Street Band premiere. According to the anonymous Backstreets writer, “Max [Weinberg] was all over the Troggs tune, which was, yes, wild…and Bruce was spot-on with the vocals, milking the pauses for all they were worth.”
The Who classic, My Generation is rough but tremendously energetic, complete with idiomatic stuttering vocals from Springsteen. As Backstreets’ Dante Cutrona writes, Garry Tallent “seemed to relish the chance to take on John Entwistle’s bass line.” This is followed by the Bobby Day number (which I assume most people associate with the Jackson Five), Rockin’ Robin, with sax and organ solos from Clarence Clemons and Charlie Giordano respectively. Finally, comes a rendition of the Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction from Des Moines on 21 September. This had been played once before, in Greenville, SC, five days before. During an interview on radio station WRXT on the morning of the Des Moines show, Steve Van Zandt referred to the Greenville performance as “one of the greatest moments of our career,” but this version is pretty impresssive too. Doubtless Nils Lofgren, a well-known admirer of Keith Richards, was also delighted by the chance to play the song.
This release comes in Godfather’s usual packaging, featuring a tri-fold sleeve adorned with several posed off-stage photograph of Springsteen. The track listing appears on the back of the sleeve and again inside, this time with details of the songwriters and original performers. There is no booklet, but there are brief sleeve notes by “Joe Roberts.” The sound quality, of course, varies somewhat but it is largely very good indeed and sometimes excellent, adding to our our enjoyment of Springsteen and the band “havin’ a blast.” As I concluded in my review of Born To Be Wild, it would unrealistic to regard a compilation disc of non-original material as an esssential purchase. Nonetheless, this would make a hugely enjoyable supplement to the recordings of complete shows that collectors will doubtless already possess.