The Roxy Theatre Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 851-52)
The Roxy Theatre, Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA, USA – October 17, 1975 (early show)
Disc 1: Intro, Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Spirit In The Night, Story Intro, Pretty Flamingo, She’s The One, Born To Run, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Backstreets, Kitty’s Back
Disc 2: Jungleland, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Goin’ Back, Detroit Medley
Bonus Tracks: The Bottom Line, New York, NY, USA – 14 July 1974: Jungleland, Kitty’s Back; The Bottom Line, New York, NY, USA – August 1975: The E Street Shuffle
Springsteen’s first step towards superstardom can be precisely dated to the period 13th August – 27th October 1975. Between 13th and 17th August Springsteen played a five-night, ten-show stand at the Bottom Line. (The early show on the 15th being the source of the first ever Springsteen bootleg.) These shows heralded the release on 25 August of Born To Run, which garnered levels of critical acclaim and commercial success far beyond those achieved by his first two albums. The four-night, six-show stand at the Roxy (16-19 October) served to highlight Springsteen’s new-found prominence, culminating on 27 October with both Time and Newsweek hitting the news-stands with his image on the front cover.
The first night was used by Columbia to promote Springsteen’s career by reserving a significant number of seats for music journalists and celebrities, including Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. Bob Harris, presenter of BBC TV’s Old Grey Whistle Test, noted the presence of David Bowie and George Harrison sitting with folded arms and talking through the first song, seemingly determined to be unimpressed. By the third song they were “hooting and hollering along” and by the time the band got to Pretty Flamingo the whole crowd had been won over. “Bruce left that gig a superstar,” concluded Harris. Springsteen had a different take on the show. He was apparently unaware of Columbia’s arrangement and only gradually became aware of the unusual nature of the proceedings by noticing a lack of the usual level of audience enthusiasm.
This scenario provided the title for the first bootleg of the next night’s early show, which was broadcast on KWEST-FM. After a rousing version of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, a clearly satisfied Springsteen prefaces Spirit In The Night by gleefully exclaiming, “Yeah…man…Ain’t nobody here from Billboard tonight.” Following Ain’t Nobody Here From Billboard Tonight (HAR) came further vinyl issues The Roxy (Impossible Records), Harley in Heat (no label) and Flat Top And Pin Drop (SODD). CD incarnations include Ain’t Nobody Here From Billboard Tonight (Moonlight), Backstreets (Chapter One) and The Roxy Road (Dynamite Studios), the last two, at least, being copied directly from vinyl. (Chapter One in particular was notorious for poor quality CDs featuring all the clicks and scratches found on the original LPs.) In 2004 the CD-R label Hot Stuff released its version, titled 9009 West Sunset (the address of The Roxy), claiming it to be “remastered and better than ever!” Now, finally, comes Crystal Cat’s version.
Springsteen and the E Street band turn in a barnstorming performance. The show opens with a superb slow version of Thunder Road which is virtually identical to the one from the early show on the 18th. (The latter being the undoubted highlight from the largely disappointing official compilation Live 1975-1985.) Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out is followed by a funky, sleazy rendition of Spirit In The Night and then by Springsteen’s superb performance of the Manfred Mann song Pretty Flamingo. The spoken introduction tells the story of a group of young men (Bruce and his associates) idolising a beautiful woman but being too shy to even speak to her. It’s funny, it’s poignant, it’s true. At the end, Springsteen claims he will track her down by hiring a private detective. Finally, he knows what he can say in order to impress her: “I know what I’m gonna say…I’m gonna tell her I’m in a band!” The set continues to focus largely on songs from Born To Run until disc 1 reaches its climax with an exuberant performance of Kitty’s Back. The song features a long jazzy piano solo from Roy Bittan, including an improvisation on Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So which I believe is unique among bootlegged versions. On disc 2 the epic Jungleland and crowd-pleaser Rosalita (which includes band introductions) bring the main part of the performance to a fitting end. The encore begins with Carole King’s Goin’ Back (a nice performance but bettered by Nils Lofgren’s version on the “authorized bootleg” Back It Up!!, which is now available officially on CD), before the Detroit Medley brings the show to a suitably raucous conclusion. Overall, this is fit to rank alongside that other highlight among unofficial recordings from 1975, the 5th February Main Point show (also available from Crystal Cat as Main Point Night, CC 729-30).
Crystal Cat’s sound really brings out the best in this performance. The sound is very clear and there is excellent stereo separation. This is heard to great effect on Pretty Flamingo, where it greatly enhances the vocal harmonies. It also brings out the interplay between Roy Bittan’s piano, Danny Federici’s accordion and Garry Tallent’s tuba on 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy). Clinton Heylin, in his bootleg history The Great White Wonders: A History Of Rock Bootlegs, wrote of this performance that the “Roxy show certainly had a lot more chops to it than the relatively tame ‘wall of sound’ beneath which Springsteen buried Born To Run.” I would argue that the title track in particular benefits from the production, which is why live recordings of it have been disappointing. Unable to reproduce the sound of the album version, live renditions have seemed muddy and indistinct. Here, the quality of the stereo sound overcomes this problem somewhat, separating the instruments and allowing, for example, the twangy guitar to be easily discernible. The audience can be heard quite loudly at times but in a relatively small venue this is never intrusive and adds to the atmosphere of the show.
There are a few minor flaws. There is a very low level of tape hiss which can be heard in quieter moments and a couple of very short examples of the stereo separation going awry so that instruments or Springsteen’s voice shift disconcertingly in the overall sound picture. Fortunately these only last a second or two. There is also a humming sound during parts of Kitty’s Back and Jungleland which may be the tape or may be a problem with the band’s equipment. There also seems to my ears to be a very slight drop in sound quality on disc two. However, overall this is an impressive achievement and a major upgrade to the Hot Stuff release, which has a higher level of tape hiss and is in mono.
The first two bonus tracks are possibly from the last night of the six-show stand at The Bottom Line during 12-14 July, 1974, at the time when the E Street Band featured keyboard virtuoso David Sancious and drummer Ernest “Boom” Carter. First up is an exciting performance of Jungleland, with some variation of lyrics from the later album version and a long instrumental section featuring a relatively fast saxophone solo, a slower guitar part and a jazzy, keyboard-dominated section. Then comes a superb Kitty’s Back, which is surely a contender for best-ever live version and features an exteded instrumental section with organ, piano, guitar and sax solos. The third bonus track, The E Street Shuffle, comes from the more famous Bottom Line stand of 13-16 August, 1975. It is an atmospheric rendition of the slow version, with a fine guitar solo from Steve Van Zandt. Unfortunately, the beginning is cut and we miss most of Springsteen’s introductory spoken “rap.” The bonus tracks come in excellent soundboard quality, although there is a minor glitch near the start of Jungleland.
This release comes in a slimline double case. The back insert features a rather indistinct shot of the band on stage (taken by an audience member at the show?) on the outside and a photograph of the exterior of the Roxy on the inside. The 20-page booklet features photographs from the time, reproductions of tickets and the Time and Newsweek covers, an article from Playboy and an article written by sound engineer Jimmy Iovine. It is printed on Crystal Cat’s usual glossy paper.
This is a classic performance and an historically important show. Crystal Cat have finally done it justice. Having also provided us with the definitive version of the Main Point concert, will the people behind the label complete a hat-trick of significant ’75 shows by turning their attention to the Bottom Line show? It is to be devoutly hoped that they do. This release is an indispensable acquisition for all serious Springsteen collectors.