Summertime Bruce (Godfatherecords G.R. 299/300/301)
Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy – 25 June 2008
Disc 1: Summertime Blues, Out In The Street, Radio Nowhere, Prove It All Night, The Promised Land, Spirit In The Night, None But The Brave, Candy’s Room, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Hungry Heart, Darlington County
Disc 2: Because The Night, She’s The One, Livin’ In The Future, Mary’s Place, I’m On Fire. Racing In The Street, The Rising, Last To Die, Long Walk Home, Badlands
Disc 3: Girls In Their Summer Clothes, Detroit Medley, Born To Run, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Bobby Jean, Dancing In The Dark, American Land, Twist And Shout
This is another of the five Magic Tour shows released simultaneously by Godfather a few weeks ago, all of which I hope eventually to review. It contains the latest show from a venue that has proved eventful for Springsteen and the E Street Band. The review elsewhere on this site of the Godfather version of the 1985 show (also available on Crystal Cat) points out that Springsteen considered it one of his best five concerts. The 2003 show, also highly rated and also available on both labels, is noted for having taken place in torrential rain.
Many of those who have seen the shows and heard the CDs are in no doubt that the Magic Tour has delivered some of Springsteen’s best performances, and the man himself seems highly satisfied with his efforts. Karl Birthistle’s acccount of the show on Springsteen’s official website states that, “We are privileged to be seeing what many believe to be possibly the best E Street Band performances; as Bruce himself has said, they are currently at a peak.” Paolo Fumagalli, writing about the show on the Backstreets website agrees, commenting that “This one was full throttle – it’s been years since I’ve seen Bruce so charged, excited and powerful.”
In contrast to the downpour of 2003, this concert was played in searing heat. At three hours (with 29 songs played), it was the longest Magic Tour show to date. Kicking off with Summertime Blues (which in Amsterdam a week earlier had made its first appearance for twenty-seven years), this was a concert in which an excited audience showed a determination to play a prominent vocal part from the beginning.
As with other Magic Tour shows, the opening is a fairground-style recording of the British music hall song from the 1860’s, The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze, a song Springsteen has, rather improbably, performed (at the Seeger Sessions Band’s public rehearsals in April 2006). Then we hear Max Weinberg’s introduction to Summertime Blues closely followed by Springsteen’s introductory remarks to the audience. Springsteen has made a point of saying something to European audiences in their own languages, but seems more comfortable in Italian than in other tongues (doubtless due to having a mother whose maiden name was Zerilli). “Is it hot enough?” he says, “Well, tonight let’s make it even hotter!” Then come the twangy opening bars of the song on guitar which the audience respond to with gusto.
After Summertime Blues, the audience continues to wordlessly vocalise to the tune of Out In The Street. A rather vapid piece, both musically and lyrically, in its studio incarnation, the song comes alive as a live crowd-pleaser. Played with tremendous bravura, the song features a long coda with vocal contributions from Nils Lofgren, Clarence Clemons and a packed stadium. The set is only two songs old and it is already very obviously party time. Without a break, the band launch themselves into Radio Nowhere, the melodious opener to the Magic CD, and in my opinion the album’s best song. This is immediately followed by Prove It All Night which is greeted by huge cheers and is played with tremendous energy.
Prove It All Night opens what Godfather’s booklet calls “a wonderful dive into [the] 70’s and 80’s,” which continues with Spirit In The Night, The Promised Land, None But The Brave, Candy’s Room, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Hungry Heart, and Darlington County. The songs from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album are particularly impressive, partially due to the performance and partially due to the quality of the songs themselves. As usual, Springsteen gives the audience members a chance to sing the first verse of Hungry Heart before commencing vocal duties himself, and they respond enthusiastically.
The rarity among these songs, in terms of live performance, is None But The Brave. This medium-paced song was recorded during the Born In The USA sessions (during the first phase of recording on 1st March 1982 according to the Killing Floor database but during the third phase between April and June 1983 according to the Brucebase website). First performed at one of Springsteen’s Christmas shows with other artists in Asbury Park on 5 December 2003, the song’s only previous Magic Tour performance had been in Vancouver on 31 March 2008. The song sounds more like a number from the early 1970’s than the early 1980’s, which may be deliberate. In the booklet to The Essential Bruce Springsteen, where the song finally received an official release, albeit on the limited edition bonus disc, Springsteen writes that it is “set in the bars and ’70s circuit in Asbury Park.”
The 70’s and 80’s songs continue on disc 2, beginning with a superb version of Because The Night which features a stunningly individual guitar solo from Lofgren, who, according to the CD booklet notes, was “dancing and flipping all over the stage.” An equally animated rendition of She’s The One, during which Springsteen’s harmonica gets a lengthy workout, is succeeded by Livin’ In The Future, the most political of Springsteen’s recent songs. The spoken introduction tells of recent actions of the US Government, such as “illegal wire-tapping” and “the rolling back of civil liberties” which, when he was a child, Springsteen’s parents assured him “happened someplace else.” This gets little reaction from an Italian audience not directly affected by such activities, although at some American concerts Springsteen has been booed by audience members not sharing his political views.
The mood lightens for the next song, Mary’s Place, one of the highlights of The Rising. Like None But The Brave, the song has a certain feel to it which seems to locate it in an earlier era. “Are you ready for a house party?” asks Springsteen as it begins and the performance conveys precisely such an atmosphere, the audience again enthusiastically singing along. Unexpectedly, the performance is effectively enhanced by a brass section, which remains unacknowledged both by Springsteen and the CD booklet notes, and which contributes only to this song. After I’m On Fire, which saw Springsteen, as at other Magic Tour shows, seated as close as possible to the audience, we are treated to a superb version of Racing In The Street, distinguished, in Birthistle’s words, by its “stunning, masterful, majestic beauty.” As always, the highlight of the song is Roy Bittan’s wonderful piano playing. Following a return to more recent times with The Rising, Last To Die and Long Walk Home the main set ends, as so often recently, with another strong performance of a Darkness song, Badlands.
The encore begins with the gentle Girls In Their Summer Clothes and them the band shift into overdrive with the Devil With The Blue Dress Medley, Born To Run and Rosalita. Apparently Van Zandt brought Springsteen’s attention to a banner in the audience requesting the Medley and he announces the song by saying, “For You! Third balcony up! Get a light on these people.” It is a storming performance and the momentum continues with Bobby Jean and Dancing In The Dark. Then comes what has become the traditional Magic Tour showstopper, both literally and metaphorically, American Land, here augmented at the end by Clarence Clemons’ tin whistle. The show should have ended here but the band defied the city mayor’s 11.30pm curfew by unexpectedly returning to the stage to delight the audience with the tour premiere of Twist And Shout.
As pointed out by the Backstreets website this concert was affected by “distorted sound, particularly at the beginning of the show.” This is also acknowledged in Godfather’s booklet. Overall, the sound of this release is good though not outstanding. It is slightly distant and lacking in depth, as might be expected in an audience recording from a large open air stadium. Sometimes, as with Because The Night, there is some congestion and the sound is rather muffled; at other times, as with Racing in The Street, it is much clearer. One positive aspect is the way the contribution of the audience is captured, which enhances the atmosphere without being overly intrusive and there is enough clarity and detail to make this an enjoyable listening experience.
Godfather’s packaging is outstanding. The usual trifold sleeve features some superb photographs from the show and the booklet contains notes and futher concert photographs. Both have the title in the colours of the Italian flag – a nice touch. This is a well-produced release of a superb concert and it is therefore warmly recommended to Springsteen collectors.