The Italian Dream Box (Crystal Cat Records CC 949-56)
This boxed set from Crystal Cat contains the three Italian concerts played by Springsteen in July 2009 and already released by Godfatherecords. The Godfather issues have already been reviewed and readers are directed to the existing reviews for comments on the quality of the performances. This review will concentrate on comparative issues of bonus tracks, sound quality and packaging.
Roma Dream Night (CC 949-51)
Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy – 19, July 2009
Disc 1: Intro: Once Upon A Time In The West, Badlands, Out In The Street, Outlaw Pete, No Surrender, She’s The One, Working On A Dream, Seeds, Johnny 99, Atlantic City
Disc 2: Raise Your Hand, Hungry Heart, Pink Cadillac, I’m On Fire, Surprise Surprise, Prove It All Night, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Promised Land, American Skin (41 Shots), Lonesone Day, The Rising, Born To Run
Disc 3: My City Of Ruins, Thunder Road, You Can’t Sit Down, American Land, Bobby Jean, Dancing In The Dark, Twist And Shout [/La Bamba], [Outro: Once Upon A Time In The West]
Bonus track: Stade de Suisse, Bern, Switzerland – 30 June 2009: I Fought The Law
The first 3-disc set in the box presents the Rome concert of 19 June, which I referred to in my review of Godfather’s Late Night Special as a “fine performance with some outstanding highs.”
The Crystal Cat version features a solitary track from the Bern show of 30 June, I Fought The law, a performance described by Stan Gergen on the Backstreets website as “fun and frenzied.” Godfather has the advantage here with six bonus tracks from the Dublin show of 12 July (Night, My Lucky Day, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Spirit In the Night, Trapped and Jungleland). As I pointed out in my review, these are very good performances, especially of Trapped and Jungleland, and, with the exception of a little muddiness in the first two tracks, the sound quality is very good indeed. These songs are not absolutely essential acquisitions but they are most enjoyable.
Roma Dream Night begins with an excerpt from Ennio Morricone’s score from the film Once Upon A Time In The West, which sounds very fine though with some fairly prominent audience noise. Fortunately, when the concert itself begins, the audience noise decreases while, after a slightly shaky start, the quality of the sound does not. The opening song, Badlands, has a visceral impact, with plenty of presence, a good bottom end with Garry Tallent’s bass heard clearly, and a fair degree of clarity. However, the balance is a little awry, with Springsteen’s voice overly dominant. This gets better as the song progresses, and the problem may emanate from the in-concert sound rather than from the taper. The next song, Out In The Street, is similarly punchy, with good instrument separation though the sound lacks a little clarity. By the time we get to Outlaw Pete, however, the spound is stunningly good, and (with the exception of the next song, No Surrender, which sounds slightly muffled) it remains most impressive for the rest of this set. The seven song sequence from Seeds on disc 2 to I’m On Fire on disc 3 sounds superb. American Skin (41 Shots) and My City Of Ruins (dedicated here to the people of the earthquake ravaged city of L’Aquila) also sound quite splendid and this greatly enhances the poignancy of these songs. Even the more raucous encore numbers come across extremely well, without congestion of the sound, and this greatly adds to the enjoyment of listening to this set. Indeed, there are three or four songs here, of which Raise Your Hand is the best example, that sound so good that they could almost be mistaken as being from an official release. Only the bonus track, I Fought The Law, disappoints; there is plenty of prescence, but Springsteen’s voice is not caught well and the audience noise is intrusive.
I described the sound of Godfather’s version of the Rome show as “very good indeed…full and detailed…[with] a pleasing depth and presence.” In common with the Crystal Cat set, songs such as Outlaw Pete, American Skin (41 Shots) and My City Of Ruins sound superb. However, as I also stated, occasionally the sound “becomes marginally louder and coarser,” and I made reference to “some minor balance problems.” Overall, I prefer Crystal Cat’s sound, although the difference in sound quality is perhaps less evident here than in the case of the other two sets.
This set comes in a transparent thick jewel case with double sided front and back inserts. The front shows Springsteen onstage with Max Weinberg, with the screen behind them displaying a night sky and moon design reminscent of the cover of Working On A Dream. The outer side of the rear insert shows Springsteen onstage with arms raised, together with the track listing. The inner sides of both inserts show the band onstage during American Land with the screen displaying the band’s name. Opening the front of the case you find a twenty page booklet featuring a series of superb onstage photographs, track listing, band personnel and hand written set list. There is also a photo of fans outside the stadium which additionally features a reproduction of a ticket and backstage pass. Finally, the booklet features Leonato Colombati’s account of the concert from the Backstreets website. In the rear section of the case is a tri-fold insert. When unfolded, the outside shows onstage shots depicting Springsteen’s mother, Adele and aunt, Edie who came up to dance during American Land. The inside reveals a panorama of the inside of the stadium one hour before the show. The booklet and inserts are printed on Crystal Cat’s usual sturdy, glossy paper. The label sides of the disca also bear full colour photos with Springsteen alone on disc 1, with Steve Van Zandt on disc 2 and with Nils Lofgren, Clarence Clemons and Weinberg on disc 3. As with other Working On A Dream Tour releases, these are natural photos rather than the quirky, styliized designs used for the discs of Magic Tour issues.
Torino Dream Night (CC 952-54)
Olimpico de Torino, Turin, Italy – 21 July, 2009
Disc 1: Loose Ends, Badlands, Hungry Heart, Outlaw Pete, Working On The Highway, Working On A Dream, Murder Incorporated, Johnny 99, American Skin (41 Shots), Raise Your Hand, Travelin’ Band
Disc 2: Drive All Night, Two Hearts [/It Takes Two], My Love Will Not Let you Down, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Promised Land, My Hometown, Backstreets, Lonesome Day, The Rising, Born To Run
Disc 3: Land Of Hope And Dreams, American Land, Glory Days[/Louie Louie], Dancing In The Dark, Twist And Shout[/La Bamba], [Outro: Once Upon A Time In The West]
Bonus tracks: Bergenhus Festning, Bergen, Norway – 9 June, 2009: Back In Your Arms; 10 June, 2009: The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Boom Boom, Cover Me, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
The Turin show is described by the Point Blank website as, “mega exciting. Nine set list changes, six tour premieres and an ecstatic performance.” Consequently it is well worth having in additon to the Rome show.
Torino Dream Night features five bonus tracks from Bergen, the first, Back In Your Arms from 9 June, and the rest from the following evening. Recorded at the Hit Factory on 12 January 1995 for possible inclusion as an extra track on Greatest Hits but omitted, Back In Your Arms features on the Blood Brothers DVD. It eventually emerged on Tracks and there is an alternative studio take on the superb 3-disc compilation, Deep Down in the Vaults (E. St. Records). The song begins with a lengthy monologue by Springsteen concerning infidelity. “Have you ever blown a good thing?” he begins, explaining that a very long time before he did precisely that by having “sex with my ex,” which then meant that he had “to perfect the art of begging” to his partner. In his account of the show on the Backstreets website, Ivar Noer contends that this monologue was first used as in introduction to Fade Away at the Stockholm show of 4 June. However, there was a precursor at the June 2 show in Tampere, Finland. On Springsteen’s official website, Laura Tuominen-Lozic states that, “Bruce gave [James Carr’s The Dark End Of The Street] a true soul vibe, asking if the crowd if there were any men stepping out on their women, or vice versa. He admitted to having been guilty of the same ‘many, many, many, many, many years ago.'” The performance of Back In Your Arms itself is gorgeous, with a superb vocal from Springsteen. Noer calls it “the highlight of the evening…very soulful…a masterful performance.” Bo Persson, writing on Springsteen’s official website calls it “a very soulful and majestic version, and tonight’s finest vocal performance – Bruce’s singing was out of this world, with both Nils and Steve adding shimmering harmonies.” Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the song itself (as opposed to the performance) is the way that it really does sound like a classic soul song.
The first song from the 10th is an excellent performance of the Ghost Of Tom Joad, which works superbly in this intense full-band incarnation. The song makes its biggest impact when the E Street Band have Tom Morello in tow, not just for his amazing virtuosity on the guitar but for the way his idiomatic vocal contribution enhances the song. This rendition, however, is the best non-Morello version I have heard, helped by some stunning playing from the band’s collective guitarists, including, in Noer’s words, “an out-of-this world guitar solo” from Nils Lofgren. An effective but slightly ragged Boom Boom then brings back memories of the Tunnel Of Love Tour. A sprightly and most enjoyable Cover Me, with another impressive contribution from Lofgren, is succeeded by a high-energy, triumphant Rosalita. Overall, this is a very worthwhile collection of bonus tracks with Back In My Arms and The Ghost Of Tom Joad as clear standouts.
The Godfather release, Gran Torino, is again more generous, adding the seven songs from the Frankfurt show of 3 July which were broadcast on Sirius Radio. These are Outlaw Pete, Seeds, Ramrod, Point Blank, Lonesome Day, Hard Times (Come Again No More) and Dancing In The Dark. These have the advantage of broadcast quality sound and Outlaw Pete, Seeds and Point Blank are exceptional performances. Indeed, I would rate this rendition of Point Blank as the best post-1978 performance of the song that I have heard. Having said that, the endings of some songs merge with the beginnings of those that follow, to disconcerting effect. (Do you really want to hear Ramrod segue into Point Blank?) Furthermore, all of these songs also feature on the free bonus disc that comes with Crystal Cat’s Frankfurt Dream Night, so that anyone who owns that set will find their presence on the Godfather title immaterial.
The sound quality here makes a tremendous impact from the start. It perhaps lacks the last ounce of pin-point sharpness and, unlike the Rome release, there is nothing here that could quite be mistaken for an official release. However there is splendid depth and presence, clear separation of voices and instruments and, again, a marvellous “punchy” feel that gets over the atmosphere of a live occasion and makes songs such as Born To Run utterly thrilling. It occurred to me while listening to disc 2 that these qualities reminded me very much of the work of the late and justly admired taper Mike Millard. As with the Rome release, the encore songs come across splendidly and, overall, I found the Turin show a joy to listen to. As to the bonus tracks, the sound on Back In Your Arms and The Ghost Of Tom Joad is particularly stunning, enormously enhancing the impact of these songs. The other songs from the 10th also sound fine but are not quite a match for The Ghost Of Tom Joad.
My review described the sound quality of Godfather’s Gran Torino as “very good…an enjoyable listen,” though I also pointed out that it is “not quite a match for that label’s Rome release, Late Night Special.” Clearly, therefore, the Crystal Cat version of the Turin show takes the honours for sound quality.
Again housed in a transparent thick jewel case, the front insert of this set features Springsteen on stage with Van Zandt and Garry Tallent. The inner face shows him with an accordion-playing Roy Bittan. The outside of the rear insert shows Springsteen raising to the audience the stetson worn during Outlaw Pete; the inside depicts fans outside the stadium and a ticket for the show. There is again a twenty page booklet with numerous onstage photos, including some superb close-ups, a shot of some relaxed looking fans outside the stadium and ome of a rather glum-looking Jon Landau. Also in the booklet are the track listing, band personnel and the Backstreets account of the show by Ermanno Labianca. The tri-fold insert opens to reveal photos of Springsteen on stage and a stall selling merchandise, together with the hand written set list. The other side shows a panoramic view of the inside of the stadium taken, as Crystal Cat very precisely tells us, fifty-eight minutes before the show. The photographs on the discs themselves show Springsteen onstage with Stave Van Zandt on disc 1 and alone on the other discs.
Udine Dream Night (CC 955-56)
Stadio Friuli. Udine, Italy – 23 July, 2009
Disc 1: Tarantella Napoletana, Sherry Darling, Badlands, Hungry Heart, Outlaw Pete, Darlington County, Somethimg In The Night, Working On A Dream, Murder Incorporated, Johnny 99, No Surrender, Raise Your Hand, Summertime Blues, Be True, Streets Of Fire
Disc 2: My Love Will Not Let You Down, Waitin’ On a Sunny Day, The Promised Land, American Skin (41 Shots), Lonesome Day, The Rising, Born To Run, Born In The U.S.A., American Land, Bobby Jean, Dancing In The Dark, Twist And Shout, [Outro: Once Upon A Time In The West]
The Point Blank website refers to this third Italian show as “a high intensity performance, with plenty of crowd pleasers, rarities and tour debuts.” It features an unusual arrangement of Sherry Darling with three accordions and the tour premieres of Summertime Blues, Be True, Streets Of Fire and the full-band version of Born In the U.S.A. As with the Godfather release, For A Kiss and A Smile, the Crystal Cat set fits snugly on to two well-filled discs so there are no bonus tracks.
The sound is similar to that from the Turin show, with a pleasing depth and presence, good balance and nice separation of voices and instruments, although overall the sound from Turin is more impressive. I described the sound of the Godfather issue as “very good indeed,” and it is again similar to but not quite the equal of its sister release from Turin. As with Turin, the Crystal Cat version is preferable.
Udine Dream Night comes in a slimline double jewel case. The rear insert shows Springsteen onstage being soaked with water from a sponge by Van Zandt on the outside; he is alone onstage on the inside. The booklet has sixteen pages and the front cover shows a close-up of Springsteen in silhouette wearing his stetson. Once again there are plenty of onstage shots (including a montage of photographs of Clarence Clemons) and some from the video screens. The booklet again has the track listing, band personnel and Backstreets website essay, this time written by Mauro Regis. The tri-fold insert shows shots of Springsteen both onstage and off on one side; on the other there are photographs of fans inside and outside the stadium, together with the hand written set list. Disc 1 bears a shot of Springsteen onstage with Bittan; disc 2 has Springsteen alone.
The three sets are housed in a very handsome slip case, the front cover of which shows a happy looking Springsteen leaning on a classic car. This is an extended version of the photograph used on the free bonus disc that comes with Frankfurt Dream Night. The gravelly blue-grey surface of the road is extended to form the background of the whole box. The top and bottom are otherwise unadorned and the rear features the track listing for the whole eight discs. The spine, which has the title, show locations and catalogue number, together with another photograph of Springsteen in his stetson. The blue-grey background continues into the inside of the slip case, which features two identical shots of Springsteen playing his guitar, cut off just below the shoulders and above the knees. Curiously, these are reproduced in the style of the photos from the Magic Tour discs.
This is a marvellous release featuring fine performances, excellent sound and beautiful packaging. In my review of Crystal Cat’s Frankfurt Dream Night I stated that only the somewhat disappointing sound prevented that release from assuming the position of “the outstanding document of the Working On A Dream Tour so far.” The Italian Dream Box, however, achieves that accolade with consummate ease. The three sets are available separately, and if you only want to acquire one of the shows then Rome is the one to go for. My advice, however, is to treat yourself to the boxed set – you will not be disappointed.