The Night He went Down to the River (Apocalypse Sound AS 187)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, USA – 8 November, 2009
Wrecking Ball, The Ties That Bind, Sherry Darling, Jackson Cage, Two Hearts[/It Takes Two], Independence Day, Hungry Heart, Out In The Street, Crush On You, You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch), I Wanna Marry You, The River, Point Blank, Cadillac Ranch, I’m A Rocker, Fade Away, Stolen Car, Ramrod, The Price You Pay, Drive All Night, Wreck On The Highway, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, Atlantic City, Badlands, Born To Run, Seven Nights To Rock, Sweet Soul Music, No Surrender, American Land, Dancing In The Dark, Can’t Help Falling In Love, [(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me)] Higher And Higher
Apocalypse Sound’s sister label Godfatherecords has released this concert on CD as Into The River We Dive (already reviewed). Now we have the show on DVD, and it represents a departure for Apocalypse Sound because it is an audience-shot release, a move justified by the importance of the show, which Springsteen says will be the only occasion on which The River will be played in its entirety. As the sleeve notes state: “On this night, where the past met the present, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, lifted the veil, lifted themselves, their music and their audience. Bruce may be wise to let this performance stand alone, because it’s one that even he probably can’t replicate. No doubts, this is a night to remember. For this reason, Apocalypse Sound has decided to abandon (but just for a moment) his cult of pro-shot footage to release this camera-mix document: it’s a show that goes straight to the heart and having it in hand is really something we could not even think it would be possible a few weeks ago. Now, really we can’t ask for anything more.”
The first thing that the viewer notices is the fact that several cameras (whether unofficial or official via screen shot) are in operation here. During the opening number, Wrecking Ball, we see a lot of Springsteen in close-up from a central camera. There is also much footage shot from an audience camera high up and to the left, as we look at the stage. (This seems to be the only direct-from-the audience footage; I presume that there was a second camera in the audience utilized for the screen shot footage which gives this release its multi-camera aspect.) There are clearly cameras at or near floor level both to the left and right and there is also footage shot from behind the stage. For much of the time the cameras are static, though not always. The one in front of Springsteen, for example at times swivels left and right to highlight other band members and the one high up sometimes zoom in or out. There is a pleasing mixture of long shots and close-ups and a large amount of the footage appears to be from screen shots. The audience camera work is largely well focused and steady. The editing is very well done, switching between camera angles, audience and screen shots and close-ups and long shots in a way that enhances the performance, and we get to see other band members (and the audience) at appropriate moments, in addition to Springsteen himself. During the latter half if the concert, however, the camera high up on the left is overly predominant. There are opening and closing titles informing us of band name, venue and date and title of this release, and the closing titles also name the band members individually. At intervals “Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band: The Night He Went Down To The River” appears for a few seconds at the bottom left of the screen. The sound is very good, with enough clarity and detail to add to the enjoyment of watching this show. One minor caveat: there is a momentary pause during Ramrod, due, I presume, to the disc changing layers.
This DVD makes the show even more of an enjoyable experience than the original CD release. As readers will know, I am not a great admirer of The River as an album, but I am certainly prepared to admit that the rather vapid “rockers” contained on it can be exciting in a concert setting, and being able to see as well as to hear the performance further enhances their appeal. The high energy and sheer fun of songs such as Out In The Street, You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) and Cadillac Ranch, for example, come across splendidly here. We also get to see some nice individual moments lost on a sound-only recording, for example Springsteen in comedy mode, clutching Steve Van Zandt tightly around his neck as he vociferously complains about his girlfriend’s mother in Sherry Darling, and in touchingly romantic mood as he dances with Patti Scialfa during I Wanna Marry You. The terrific encore performances, from Sweet Soul Music onwards, are also hugely enjoyable now that they can be seen as well as heard. This applies particularly to the closing number, Jackie Wilson’s Higher And Higher.
This release comes in Apocalype Sound’s trademark tri-fold sleeve with a clear plastic tray on the central panel to secure the disc. The sleeve is adorned with numerous onstage photographs, together with track listing, band personnel and the usual “Joe Roberts” notes. In my review of Into The River We Dive (which readers should consult for more detailed comments on performances of individual songs) I stated that “the performance here makes a far better case for this collection of twenty songs than the original record.” This DVD release, by adding a visual dimension, makes this live performance an even more attractive proposition for Springsteen collectors, and fully justifies Apocalypse Sound’s decision to “abandon…his cult of pro-shot footage.”