Bruce Springsteen – The River Live (Original Master Series)

brucespring-river-live-oms3-300x231The River Live (Original Master Series)

Memorial Sports Hall, Los Angeles, CA, USA – 1 November, 1980 (discs 1-3); The Center Coliseum, Seattle, WA, USA – 24 October, 1980 (discs 4-6)

Disc 1: Born To Run, Out In The Street, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Independence Day, Factory, For You, Two Hearts, Jackson Cage, The Promised Land, Prove It All Night, The Price You Pay, The River

Disc 2: Badlands, Thunder Road, No Money Down/Cadillac Ranch, Hungry Heart, Fire, Candy’s Room, Because The Night, Fade Away, Stolen Car, The Ties That Bind, Wreck On The Highway, Point Blank, Crush On You, Ramrod

Disc 3: You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch), Drive All Night, Backstreets, [Stagger Lee/]Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)[/Hail To The Chief], Jungleland, Sweet Little Sixteen, Detroit Medley/I Hear A Train/Wabash Cannonball

Disc 4: Badlands, Out In The Street, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Factory, Independence Day, Jackson Cage, Two Hearts, The Promised Land, Racing In The Street, The River, Prove It All Night, Thunder Road

Disc 5: Cadillac Ranch, Fire, Sherry Darling, Here She Comes Walkin’/I Wanna Marry You, The Ties That Bind, Wreck On The Highway, Point Black, Crush On You, Ramrod, You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch), Stolen Car, Drive All Night

Disc 6: [Stagger Lee/]Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Jungleland, Born To Run, Detroit Medley/I Hear A Train, Raise Your Hand

Discs 1-3 of this six-disc set contain the Mike Millard recording of the Los Angeles show of 1 November 1980.  I have already reviewed the Tarantura and no label versions, entitled The Live’r In The River and Los Angeles 1980 3rd Night respectively and readers are directed to those reviews for further details.  In common with Los Angeles 1980 3rd Night this release has noticeably less hiss than The Live’r In The River and, overall, the sound is very similar though, to my ears, the sound on the no label release has marginally more presence.

Discs 4-6 come from the concert in Seattle on 24 October 1980.  The show first appeared on a CD-R release entitled Big Boss Man And Big Man, which derives from a higher-generation tape than this new release (which comes from the master) and is missing four songs – Cadillac Ranch, The Ties That Bind, Wreck On The Highway and Raise Your Hand.  Prior to the appearance of The River Live, however, both shows appeared on a six disc CD-R set entitled The River Tour: Seattle & L.A. 1980 (Midnight Dreamer).  As far as I am aware only five songs from the show appeared on vinyl, on the LP The Boss At His Best (Black & White Records), these being Jackson Cage, Two Hearts, Racing In The Street, The River and Prove It All Night.

The show opens with a muscular, energetic rendition of Badlands and then a breezy Out In The Street is the first of sixteen songs (including ten in a row in the latter part of the show) from The River to be played (only I’m a Rocker, Fade Away, The Price You Pay and Hungry Heart are omitted).  The joyous mood is maintained by Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, which contains the added mid-song sax solo played during this tour but then it changes completely with a rugged and earnest Darkness On The Edge Of Town

The poignant Factory is, as so often, prefaced by an introduction concerning Springsteen’s relationship with his father. Here, during a relatively brief version, Springsteen says that, “my father’d come home from work, he’d sit in the kitchen in the dark, he would just drink a six-pack of beer and get up the next morning and go back to the job.  So, if your folks have worked their whole lives at a job that they hated…this song’s for you.”  Entirely appropriately, the next song is Independence Day in a rendition which “Wayne Darlington for JEMS,” in notes on the Jungleland website, considers “sublime,” and which soulcrusader78, posting on the Greasy Lake forum, contends is “very powerful.”  Again, there is a spoken introduction.  Extending the theme of the previous intro, Springsteen says that, “it wasn’t until I got into, into music and rock’n’roll that, that I understood that, that things didn’t have to be the way that they were, they could be better and that there was chances out there to take, if you had the guts to take ’em.”

Then comes what Darlington refers to as a “propulsive” Jackson Cage.  Greasy Lake poster Early North Jersey goes so far as to argue that the renditions of Jackson Cage, The River and Crush On You are, “maybe the best versions I’ve heard.”  Jackson Cage is nicely complemented by the next number, a sprightly Two Hearts and this gives way to the anthemic The Promised Land.  Racing In The Street is another “sublime” performance in Darlington’s estimation, with a splendid contribution from pianist Roy Bittan.

Next up is a stunning performance of The River which Darlington considers “gut-wrenching” in its emotional intensity.  The song opens, as was usual on this tour, with a brief piano intro from Bittan.  Springsteen dedicates the song to the Lost Highway Band, with whom he had played the night before, performing Route 66, In The Midnight Hour and possibly Gloria.

As Brucebase notes:

“In town a day early, Bruce bumps into Phil Hamilton, singer for the Montana-based Lost Highway Band.  Due to perform that night at Seattle’s Old Timers’ Cafe, Hamilton invites Bruce along.  That night Springsteen ventures out of the Olympic Hotel alone in the evening, walks a couple of blocks and pays the $1 cover charge to get in and listen to the band.  Sat at the end of the bar, Bruce listens to the set before borrowing a guitar and joining the band in a three-song, 15-minute set, although it’s not certain that ‘Gloria’ was played.  The following night, Springsteen dedicates ‘The River’ to the band.”

Presumably the band was there to hear the dedication, as Springsteen also provided Hamilton with four tickets for the show.

A vigorous rendition of Prove It All Night, with some blistering guitar work, is followed by a full-band performance of Thunder Road, which closes both the first set and disc one.

Disc two and the second set open with an energetic Cadillac Ranch and continue with a performance of Fire which Greasy Lake poster the calvary reckons to be the”best version of Fire I’ve heard.”

Then we get the ten consecutive River songs.  “If you are a fan of The River, boy are you in luck,”  states Darlington, “the second set especially offers a River tour de force with all the heavy hitters brilliantly represented in a ten-in-a-row onslaught.”

The first is Sherry Darling, a song made for live performance, and this vivacious rendition is far more enjoyable than the sterile album version, with its forced and artificial “party noises.”  Next up is a splendid I Wanna Marry You with a spoken introduction which is itself a prelude to the Here She Comes Walkin’ section.  The intro is somewhat reminiscent of that used for the classic 1975 intro to Pretty Flamingo:

“I used to live in this house that was on the main street, one of the main streets in town, it was a street called South Street and, and every day around 5.30 used to be this girl who used to walk by.  I was about 18 or, I was 18 years old, I used to sit on the porch and she had a couple of kids and she was a lot older than me, and I was always afraid to go up and introduce myself to her, so day after day I would sit out there and we would try to think of ways of attracting her attention.  So, I remember I went down, I worked one summer, I went down to Western Autostore, bought this guitar for 18.95, learned ‘Twist and Shout’ – that’s the easy one – you just got a guitar, try ‘Twist and Shout,’ that’s  pretty…three chords.  And she come walking by and I’d start strumming those chords, she wouldn’t even look over.  Then Clarence, he used to try riding by on his bicycle with no hands, playing a saxophone.  Nothing, never worked out, moved away, never met her again, never saw her again.  So you get older, you think that you forget people like that, people that you only saw for like….passing by in a car or you see ’em on the street corner, but for some reason you never do a lot of times.  Big Man, remember that girl?”

The opening trio of the extended sequence of songs from The River concludes with a vibrant The Ties That Bind, but it is the latter seven songs of this “ten-in-a-row onslaught,” beginning with Wreck On The Highway, which particularly excites Early North Jersey, who writes that, “Bruce held your mood in the palm of his hands…From brutal and introspective to comedic awesome rock and roll and back again in the course of 7 songs….and people would sit for Wreck and PB and go crazy during the rockers when it was appropriate.”  The calvary concurs, stating that, “he’s not just riding a wave, he’s controlling the tide.  That section is my favourite precisely because it shouldn’t even be tried, but he tries it and triumphs.”

Point Blank is given a hugely atmospheric reading beginning with the highly dramatic piano and cymbals introduction characteristic of this tour.  Then we get a trio of the more vacuous rockers from The River in the shape of Crush On You, Ramrod and You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).  Such songs make more of an impact live than they do on disc, and Darlington calls the performances “potent.”  Echoing the comment of  Early North Jersey, fellow Greasy Lake poster Joeinator97 writes, of Crush On You that, “it’s maybe the best version I’ve heard!” and the calvary adds, “I agree with you.  Big, dumb, fun.  A great version.”

Things become decidedly more subdued with a haunting rendition of  Stolen Car and a beautiful version of Drive All Night, before a splendidly rambunctious Rosalita concludes the second set.  The song, of course, contains the band introductions, complete with the usual snippet of the Theme From Shaft to represent Clarence Clemons, who opens the song by singing a snippet of Stagger Lee.  Unfortunately, there is not room for the song on the second disc, so it appears at the start of disc three.

The encore begins with an impressive performance of Jungleland.  A frenetic Born To Run is followed by a tumultuous Detroit Medley which includes the I Hear A Train section and the show then concludes with an effervescent rendition of Eddie Floyd’s Raise Your Hand.

The source for this release is a JEMS torrent from RS’s master tape.  Darlington’s notes on Jungleland  refer to RS as, “an experienced taper and Deadhead (he recorded hundreds of shows in and around Seattle, Boston and Southern California) who…had arguably the best commercially available gear at the time.”  Despite this, as Darlington notes, “every copy of the show I ever tracked down was hissy and very bass heavy, which explains why Seattle ’80 has never been considered a quality recording.”  Even when RS provided the master tape, a problem remained – the recording is overwhelmingly bass-heavy, “like no Springsteen audience tape I have ever heard before,” says Darlington, due to the fact that, “RS and others in the Dead taping community started experimenting with what they called a Bass Box EQ.”  Modern technology has been utilized to alleviate that problem somewhat, though there are still issues derived from the making of the recording.  As Darlington explains:

“Happily, 2014 offers amazing tools to mold audio like this in ways that would have been difficult in the analog realm.  RS’s masters were captured at 24/96 and working with iZotope Ozone, after considerable trial and error, I was able to shape and rein-in that bass, while still leaving Seattle ’80 with low-end oomph most audience tapes never offer.

RS was surrounded by a boisterous audience, but using iZotope RX, many of those hoots, hollers, wolf whistles and the like were tamed.  He was positioned in the upper deck, very close to the PA, so much so that when he moves off axis from the PA on occasion, the soundstage shifts dramatically, something you might notice more in the second set.  Audience chatter remains in some places and there is more clapping along than one might like.  On the whole, however, neither of these proves particularly detrimental.  You will also hear several seconds of distortion at the start of the show before the levels get set properly and it takes two or three songs for both the in-house mix and the microphone position to lock in.  The second set also starts bizarrely, as Bruce’s lead vocal mic goes out for the entirety of ‘Cadillac Ranch,’ and some part of the PA is down for a portion of the song as well.”

There are also a small number of cuts.  The Promised Land is mared by a mid-song cut and both the Detroit Medley (which suffers from some distortion early on) and Raise Your Hand are shorn of their openings.

Despite these issues, Darlington is clearly pleased with the end result:

“With all those caveats noted, the mastered Seattle ’80 is a special recording indeed.  Is it the best all-around audience recording from the River tour?  We leave that to you to decide.  However, I can guarantee you will hear things on this recording you have never heard before.  There is almost HD clarity and instrument separation for long stretches on these tapes, allowing the listener to tune in and fixate on individual elements like the synthesizer on ‘Drive All Night’; the chiming 12-string guitar on ‘I Wanna Marry You’; and the sound not just of Max’s snare drum, but quite distinctly of his stick hitting it.  Pick a song and a band member, and you should be able to follow their discrete part closely.  For fans of Roy Bittan, this tape is a special treat: his playing is especially well-represented in the mix.”

Posters on Jungleland are clearly impressed with the sound quality of this show.  JoeRoberts74 comments:

“Have listened to a few songs. Jackson cage is fantastic, the best aviable [sic] live recording of the song??  You can hear Steves [sic] backing vocals very clear and it really brings something to the recording. Independence day is also one of the best recordings I have heard with spoken intro.  Just love it.  Unbelivable [sic]…After having listened to 1/2 of this recording I think it’s the best one from the whole River tour. Even compared it to Nassau Coliseum and I think this one is superior. You can hear each band member, and the clarity is just amazing.”

Equally impressed is slowburn, who writes: “Yes, the audience and the ‘ambience’ heard on this recording is almost perfect. Sure there are a few warts hear [sic] and there but overall this is a great representation of a River show…I can’t ever recall hearing stuff like the background vocals so perfect in the mix. Both on fast songs like Sherry Darling and slower like I Wanna Marry You…I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Clarences [sic] sax sounding as beautiful on any recording.”

Other comments include: “an incredible sounding recording” (Ragpicker); “it sounds amazing” (N345595); “I’m listening to this recording on headphones right now and it’s just like being present at the show as it takes place!” (ThunderRoad33) and “Great sound on this, especially on the slow songs.” (OscarF).  Brucebase also comments favourably on the sound: “The quality of this recording is generally excellent, and ranks as one of the better tapes from the tour. The clarity and separation are particularly noteworthy.”

Darlington calls this performance, “a classic River show from early in the tour when the material is still being road-tested and the set taking shape, making it all the more fascinating and fresh.”  The calvary is also impressed, contending that Seattle constitutes, “a fun show…awesome…It’s a perfectly balanced show. The fun parts are fun, the big noise parts are big, and the melancholy and brooding stuff, Is just right, not so heavy that it kills the vibe, but still impassioned and heartfelt.”

The show also has an historical significance entirely unrelated to the performance.  For two hours before the show, Charles R. Cross, his girlfriend and her sister handed out copies of a four-page tabloid devoted to Springsteen, with the front page containing an account of the Seattle show of 20 December 1978, which Cross had also attended – Backstreets magazine was born.  Intriguingly, Cross, writing in his introduction to the Backstreets book Springsteen: The Man And His Music, is adamant that this activity caused him to miss the show’s opening number, Good Rockin’ Tonight, though I have come across no other reference to the song being played.  However, the tape begins with the last pre-show song played over the PA and a reaction from the audience which clearly indicates that Springsteen and the band have arrived on stage and then there is clearly a cut before we hear Badlands, so it is entirely possible that Good Rockin’ Tonight did indeed open the show, especially considering that  there are three known performances of the song during concerts played in October 1980 – Chicago (11th), St Louis (18th) and Oakland (28th), the latter of which saw the song employed as the show opener.  Cross even mentions listening to a tape of the show and his words imply that the song is included on the tape.

This release is attractively packaged in a six-way jewel case enclosed in a card slipcase, both featuring the same two posed photos of Springsteen on the front and back.  These were taken during the photo sessions for The River, the latter being the same shot as appears on the front of another recent release, The Ties That Bind.  The front cover shot will be familiar to some collectors from the front of the 1990s CD of outtakes from The River, Down By The River.  The inserts and the thirty-six page booklet feature a variety of posed and onstage photographs of Springsteen and band members.  The photo utilized for the front of the booklet, showing Springsteen and band members hamming it up on stage in Philadelphia on 8 December 1980, may also be familiar from the rear of Down By The River and the front of the no label release of the Philadelphia show, Philadelphia Special (reviewed by gsparaco in August 2011).  The booklet also contains an extensive essay celebrating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the release of The River. The set features the label’s usual gold discs.

Overall, The River Live contains two excellent shows from the early part of the River Tour in impressive sound quality, making it a very desirable release.  With the Seattle concert, which sounds particularly fine and which, in my estimation, is the marginally superior performance, being unavailable elsewhere on factory pressed CDs, even those collectors who possess other incarnations of the Los Angeles show may find themselves hankering after this splendid release

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