Thanksgiving Night (Godfatherecords 690/691/692)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, USA – 27 November, 1980
Disc 1: Born To Run, Prove It All Night, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Factory, Independence Day, Jackson Cage, You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch), The Promised Land, Out In The Street, The Price You Pay, The River, Badlands, Thunder Road
Disc 2: Cadillac Ranch, Hungry Heart, Sherry Darling, Fire, Because The Night, Intro, I Wanna Marry You, Growin’ Up, Stolen Car, Wreck On The Highway, Point Blank
Disc 3: The Ties That Bind, Ramrod, Backstreets, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), I’m A Rocker, Jungleland, Detroit Medley
Bonus tracks: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, USA – 28 November, 1980: Racing In The Street, Drive All Night
In my review of No Nukes, Godfather’s release of the MUSE show played at Madison Square Garden on 22 September 1979, I quoted Dave Marsh’s contention that, “MUSE placed Springsteen firmly and permanently in the pantheon of American superstars.” The next stage of his rise to superstardom was the release of the double album The River and the subsequent tour. The tour lasted for a year and was the first to contain an extensive European leg.
The new album changed the tone and feel of the shows compared with those from the previous Darkness Tour. “With this new album, Springsteen and the E Street Band didn’t take themselves as seriously as they had on Darkness On The Edge Of Town,” argues Robert Santelli in Greetings From E Street: The Story of Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band, “Generally, the songs were lighter and less dense emotionally…Most important, the songs on The River were meant to be played live. They ached to be released from the studio so that they could flex their muscles in front of a live audience. A song like ‘Sherry Darling’ was a frat-party stomp, while ‘Ramrod,’ ‘I’m A Rocker,’ and ‘Cadillac Ranch’ got everyone on their feet and kept them there.” From a slightly different perspective, Deborah J. Johnson, writing in The Montclarion (the student newspaper of Montclair State University), states that, “surprisingly, cuts from this album play well live. Point Blank, Cadillac Ranch and the overplayed Hungry Heart, pick up some of the chemistry they seem to lack on the album.” (That Johnson is surprised by this might seem strange to Jimmy Guterman, who writes in Runaway American Dream: Listening To Bruce Springsteen, that, “The River is the one studio album by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band that sounds the most like their live shows.”) Marsh, dissecting the set list of the tour’s opening night in Bruce Springsteen: On Tour 1968-2005, wrote: “The set could be so boldly constructed because The River, two vinyl discs long, contains so much material suited for the stage. Among its twenty songs, the album contains every kind of musical performance Springsteen had done or alluded to since Greetings…Bruce less often played older rock songs on the River tour because now he had songs of his own.”
With a double album to promote, Springsteen’s concerts, already lengthy on the Darkness Tour, became longer still. Both Marsh and Santelli remind us that River Tour shows could exceed not merely three, but occasionally four hours. Santelli refers to, “marathon performances…exhausting for band and audience alike.” The show presented here, which, like the earlier MUSE shows, was held at Madison Square Garden, was a long one, containing thirty-one songs; the next night’s show exceeded that with thirty-four. Christopher Sandford, in Springsteen: Point Blank, reveals how the 1980 Madison square Garden shows attest Springsteen’s increasing popularity: “Such was demand, Springsteen could have sold out Madison Square Garden sixteen times. He settled for twice at Thanksgiving and again pre-Christmas.”
Thanksgiving Night is the first silver release of the first Madison Square Garden concert, though one song, The Price You Pay, appeared as a bonus track on Heart & Soul, E Street Records’ 3-CD set of the Arizona State University show of 5 November 1980. There has, however, been a torrented version of the complete show, Look Over The River (Zeke Production).
Appropriately, there is a certain celebratory feel to proceedings. The entire band, other than Springsteen himself, took the stage attired in three-piece suits and ties. Johnson writes that, “the festive mood of the crowd was overshadowed only by the exuberance of the Boss himself. Opening his show with his classic, Born To Run, Springsteen danced around [the] stage with all the pent up energy of a kid let loose in a candy store.” The audience reacts with entirely predictable enthusiasm at the song’s conclusion. The energy level remains high with Prove It All Night, shorn of the lengthy piano and guitar intro of the Darkness Tour, but featuring an extensive guitar solo later in the song. The audience expresses its collective delight both at the song’s conclusion and in response to Clarence Clemons’ sax solo and by the time the show reaches a wonderfully vibrant Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out the party is in full swing. “I think I’m seasick,” Springsteen is heard to say as the band finally halts after the opening three-song attack.
The next number, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, is dedicated to “the Mad Dog,” presumably a reference to original E Street drummer Vini Lopez and the more sombre mood is maintained with a performance of another Darkness song, Factory (prefaced, as so often, by a reminiscence about Springsteen’s father) and the first from The River, a moving Independence Day. Springsteen stays with the new album for a splendidly energetic Jackson Cage, one of my favourite songs from the album, and follows this with a high-octane delivery of one of the album’s rather vacuous rockers, You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).
The band returns to Darkness On The Edge Of Town for a stirring rendition of The Promised Land and then it is party time again with the crowd-pleasing Out In The Street. What is a tremendous first set hits its high spot with a wonderfully atmospheric performance of The Price You Pay. As elsewhere on the River Tour, the song features an alternative third verse: “Now some say forget the past, and some they say don’t look back/But for every breath you take, you leave a track/And though it don’t seem fair, for every smile that breaks/A tear must fall somewhere, yeah the price you pay.” This verse initially appeared in two alternative versions of the song recorded during the River sessions at The Power Station on 21 June and 25 September 1979. The album’s title track follows, topped-and-tailed, as elsewhere on the tour, by a brief and rather beautiful piano and keyboard part. The song is given a hauntingly poignant performance, which is another highlight of this concert. The next song, Badlands, has received better performances, the version here coming across as oddly hurried at times. Disc one and the first set end, as they began, with a classic song from Born To Run, this time the quintessential Springsteen number, Thunder Road.
Disc two opens with Max Weinberg’s drumming introducing an energetic Cadillac Ranch, the best of the more up-tempo River songs. Then comes Hungry Heart with the customary audience rendition of the opening verse. (It took very little time for this practice to establish itself, as Marsh explains: “Fans, not Bruce, generated the one important piece of new stage business. Live, ‘Hungry Heart’ began with an instrumental-only verse. In Chicago, a week into the tour and with ‘Hungry Heart’ all over the radio, the crowd sang the missing lyrics. Bruce stuck out his mic to amplify them and a ritual was born. It soon took place every night.”) Sherry Darling follows and is dedicated to members of the audience from New Jersey. The song always fares well in a live setting, and this excellent rendition bears out Guterman’s description of the song as an “effortless sounding party.” A smouldering Fire is introduced as “a sad song” concerning “violent sex and unrequited love.” It contains a lengthy mid-song break and an extended vocal turn from Clemons, and whatever high jinks occur on stage during this interval are met with rapturous applause from the audience. This is followed by a superb guitar-fuelled Because The Night, “one of the ultimate stadium rockers,” according to the Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen website. Johnson is clearly impressed by both songs, arguing that, “one highlight of the show was Springsteen’s performance of Fire and Because The Night…hearing them was quite a treat.”
The next song is I Wanna Marry You, which is prefaced by a lengthy, part-spoken and part-sung introduction, which is substantial enough for Brucebase to list the song as, “Here She Comes – I Wanna Marry You.” The spoken part harks back to the past, being similar to the spoken introduction used for Pretty Flamingo (best heard on the performance from the Roxy on 17 October 1975 available on Crystal Cat’s The Roxy Theatre Night, already reviewed). This concerns a younger Springsteen sitting on his porch watching the girls walk home from work, but being too shy to introduce himself to any of them. The sung part, featuring Springsteen, Clemons and Steve Van Zandt, conversely, points toward the future, later being used as an introduction to the Tunnel Of Love number, All That Heaven Will Allow. (A splendid version from Stockholm on 3 July 1988 can be heard on the Q Sound release Summernight.) This section concerns desire for a specific woman, with lines such as, “here she comes walking down the street…she’s looking so fine…someday I’m gonna make her mine.”
Growin’ Up is dedicated to John Hammond, and is described as, ” a song that I, that I auditioned with to get my record contract.” The song’s spoken interlude is a variant of the story where Springsteen’s car gets a flat tyre on a back road at night, which then leads to an encounter with extra-terrestrials seeking directions to the New Jersey Turnpike. As it is Thanksgiving, however, the version of the tale presented here has a seasonal twist, beginning: “It was a cold Thanksgiving night. Me and Clarence and Steve…we were driving down this old back road going to Hank’s Turkey Farm to steal some turkeys.”
The mood turns sombre again for disc two’s three closing songs, Stolen Car, Wreck On The Highway and Point Blank. What Guterman calls the “bleak intensity” of Stolen Car is underlined by the song being followed by the desolate Wreck On The Highway. As Marsh writes in Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen In The 1980s, the two song’s protagonists, “are past the point of holding out…their lives are so grim.” Point Blank benefits from an atmospheric performance, though, as I have previously argued, the change of lyrical emphasis compared with the version played on the Darkness Tour weakens the emotional impact of the song. As with other River Tour shows, however, the song gains a striking introduction, featuring Roy Bittan’s piano, Danny Federici’s organ and shimmering cymbals from Weinberg
The final disc opens with a sprightly The Ties That Bind, followed by a boisterous Ramrod. A wordless vocalist then introduces an intense Backstreets. The second set then concludes with a triumphant thirteen -minute Rosalita, featuring the band introductions, a verse sung by the audience and, at the beginning, Clemons singing a few lines from Stagger Lee, a song first published in 1910 (though clearly already well-known) and recorded many times, most notably by Lloyd Price in 1959.
The encores begin with a joyous I’m A Rocker, which Springsteen prefaces with a couple of lines from Chubby Checker’s Let’s Twist Again. Then comes a fine performance of the epic Jungleland and, finally, a barnstorming twelve-minute Detroit Medley which includes Springsteen name checking various cities in the I Hear A Train section. Lastly, disc three is filled out with two very welcome bonus tracks from the following night’s show in the shape of Racing In the Street and Drive All Night.
Thanksgiving Night derives from what is, overall, a good-to-very good audience recording. (A note on the torrented version on the Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen website, apparently taken from the Jungleland site, rates it a “good sounding audience tape.”) The sound of the first couple of songs is rather deficient in substance and lacks a little clarity, but things pick after that and the sound of the rest of the show has much improved dynamics and better definition. Some songs, such as The Price You Pay and The River, sound very good indeed. Audience noise from the vicinity of the taper can be heard quite often, though it is not overly intrusive. The Lebanese Tribute To Bruce Springsteen website notes of the torrented Look Over The River that, “Disc 2, track 07: end slightly cut [and]Disc 3, track 02: end slightly cut.” However, on Godfather’s Thanksgiving Night the endings of both songs (I Wanna Marry You and Ramrod) are intact. As for the bonus tracks, the sound of Racing In The Street is better than that of Drive All Night, which is a little muffled. Unfortunately, both are marred somewhat by the level of audience noise.
This release comes in Godfather’s usual tri-fold sleeve, the front of which features an onstage shot of Springsteen and Clemons taken from the show itself. The rest of the packaging features further onstage photographs and reproductions of promotional material for the tour and the show, together with a ticket and backstage pass. the sleeve also reproduces Johnson’s article and the usual “Joe Roberts” notes.
Thanksgiving Night is a thoroughly enjoyable listen. The band seems determined to have a good time and the audience are in celebratory mood from the start. It is easy to imagine leaving the show with similar feelings to those of Ralph, who writes on the Greasy Lake website that, “it was a River tour show extraordinaire. Bruce was hot…It was the typical four hour Bruce roller coaster of emotions that took us there and back. When the show ended, everyone in NY was outside the Garden and just kept singing all night long. It was a night to remember…Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Live at The Garden. How many things in your life are that good?” Johnson particularly cites “the rapport the Boss has with his audience” which is “the thing that makes any Springsteen concert such an intensely triumphant experience.”
Johnson is not entirely uncritical, however, stating that, “the concert did have some problems with pacing; Springsteen’s slower ballads did seem to be strung in bunches rather than mixed in evenly among the rockers. While this provided everyone with a well deserved period of relaxation, it often seemed like forever until the hard driving, energetic rockers brought the crowd to its feet again.” Though listening to the show on CDs may be considered a different experience from that of attending the show, I must say that I did not find this to be in any way a problem and Sandford (albeit writing of the tour in general, rather than this individual show) also has a different perspective on the juxtaposition of material: “Not that the tour was all testosterone-crazed mayhem. Nearly every knees-up was in turn a set-up. Thus, Springsteen would gently deflate ‘Because The Night’ with the brooding ‘Stolen Car.'” Although I Wanna Marry You performs this fuction after Because The Night and Stolen Car serves to “deflate” the vibrant Growin’ Up, the principle holds good here.
Overall, then, the lengthy and exuberant performance makes Thanksgiving Night a release which is well worth acquiring and which will surely give much enjoyment to Springsteen collectors.