This Time It’s for Real (Godfatherecords G.R. 336/337)
Disc 1: Ben Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA – 4 October 2008: The Promised Land, The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Thunder Road, No Surrender, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, Bruce’s Speech, The Rising, This Land Is Your Land; Ohio State University, Columbus, OH – 5 October, 2008 – Senator John Glenn Intro, Mr. Spaceman, The Promised Land, The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Thunder Road, Youngstown, No Surrender
Disc 2: Bruce’s Speech, The Rising, This Land is Your Land; Oestrike Stadium,Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI – 6 October, 2008: The Promised Land. The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Thunder Road, Devils & Dust, Used Cars, No Surrender, Bruce’s Speech, The Rising, This Land Is Your Land
As I mentioned in my review of Godfather’s Does This Bus Stop At Max’s? John Hammond signed Springsteen to Columbia Records in August 1972 with the expectation that he would develop a career as a folky singer-songwriter. The recording of Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ and the hiring of some of his existing musical associates to form what became the E Street Band seemed to dash that expectation. However, Springsteen has performed as a solo artist on numerous occasions during his lengthy career, most notably in support of the albums The Ghost Of Tom Joad and Devils & Dust. In addition to unofficial CD releases documenting these concerts, collectors are fortunate to have access to recordings of other one-off forays into solo acoustic territory, such as the Christic Institute benefit shows on 16 and 17 November 1990 and the brief appearance in support of the French organization SOS Racisme on 18 June 1988. (The second Christic Institute show, three songs from the first show and the SOS Racisme performance are all available on Crystal Cat’s Christic Night.) Now Godfather have brought us a 2-CD set of three solo appearances Springsteen made at rallies in support of Barack Obama’s candidacy for the US presidency.
In his speech on 4 October in Philadelphia (which he also delivers on the other days), Springsteen defined the “American idea” as “opportunity, equality, social and economic justice, a fair shake for all of our citizens.” He went on to claim that “I’ve spent most of my creative life measuring the distance between that American promise and American reality.” Though Springsteen displayed open contempt for Ronald Reagan’s attempt to associate himself with the popularity and status the former had gained by the time of Born In The USA, an overtly party political stance was avoided until the Vote For Change performances in support of Democrat candidate John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign.
Springsteen refers to this before playing Thunder Road, stating, “I tried this four years ago. This time we’re winning.” This comment presumably contributed to Godfather’s decision to call their latest release This Time It’s For Real (which, of course, is the Steve Van Zandt song that is the title track of Southside Johnny’s second album). Incidentally, I understand that production of this CD was initiated before the election, so Godfather took a calculated risk by deciding upon this title.
The first show, in Philadelphia, begins with a fine version of The Promised Land. The song embodies several of the attributes that pervade these performances as a whole. Springsteen is clearly operating within the folk music idiom here, shown by the style of his acoustic guitar playing, his extensive utilization of the harmonica and, at times, his vocal nuances. In The Promised Land, again setting the tone, there is a subtle modification of the tune to align it with the style of performance. The song also demonstrates that it is often Springsteen’s rock songs, written for full band, that work well as folk music.
The next number is The Ghost Of Tom Joad, which is faster than the album version. The more urgent and insistent rhythm of this rendition adds to the poignancy of the song. A style of performance which is reminiscent of Woody Guthrie also sits well with the song’s references to the main character in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath. By evoking the era of the Depression Springsteen creates a link with his speech, in which he laments the plight of Americans “who are today losing their jobs and their homes, who are seeing their retirement funds disappear, who have no healthcare, or who have been abandoned in our inner cities.” Thunder Road also works well acoustically, and the version here will doubtless remind many collectors of the early acoustic version from March 1975. (The studio version, described by the Brucebase website as “a haunting acoustic solo version – one of Bruce’s greatest studio performances,” is available on Godfather’s Running Out Of Innocence). No Surrender starts out very fast indeed but Springsteen abruptly slows down towards the end of the first verse. This anthemic number has the audience singing along in the latter stages. Having earlier referred to Philadelphia, which provided him with a very early fan base, as a “home away from home,” Springsteen introduces Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? as a song played “many, many times back at the old Main Point.” A rather lightly textured song, even in its band incarnation, it is another good choice for acoustic performance, as evinced by the version from March 1972 that was released on Tracks.
Springsteen’s lengthy and eloquent speech in support of Obama is followed by The Rising. This song also works superbly as a solo acoustic number, although it sounds slightly odd when Springsteen himself sings the backing part taken during the Magic Tour by Nils Lofgren. Having performed in a style that would have met with the approval of Woody Guthrie, Springsteen finishes the set with what is probably Guthrie’s most widely known number, This Land Is Your Land. As with performances of this song in the 1980s, Springsteen’s rendition here is slower than Guthrie’s own recorded version and features the audience chanting “yes we can!” at the beginning and the end.
Springsteen’s appearance at Ohio State University the next day begins with an introduction by former astronaut and US senator John Glenn and in response Springsteen cannot resist playing a few bars of The Byrds’ Mr Spaceman. The performance proper is substantially similar to that of the previous day, substituting Youngstown for Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? The song is given an effective performance, though it perhaps suffers from the lack of the violin and pedal steel guitar parts that enhance the album version.
The Ypsilanti performance is once again similar but features an extra song. Without either Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street? or Youngstown, this show instead adds both Devils & Dust and Used Cars. The former, dedicated to American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan whom Springsteen hopes will “return home soon and safely,” receives a sombre, affecting performance. Used Cars sees Springsteen in jovial mood. This song, of course, makes reference to the “brand new used car” being taken for “a test drive down Michigan Avenue.” As Springsteen jokes: “You can’t go wrong singing a song that has the name of the state in the song. It’s kind of a cheap applause-getter, but it works every time.” There is also a minor change to the lyrics which gains a big laugh through its “miscellaneous profanity.”
The first two performances come from mono audience recordings with full clear sound. I am aware that Godfather have subjected the tapes to some remastering to obtain the best sound quality and the results are excellent. The first performance, in particular, sounds stunning and mono sound is no handicap in solo acoustic performances. The third performance also clearly emanates from an audience tape so it was a surprise to hear a DJ at the end. I understand that it is believed to have been “broadcasted [sic] from a private radio capturing the show from an audience source.” Again, the sound quality is very impressive.
Godfather’s latest release is housed in the customary tri-fold sleeve with some very nice photographs taken during these performances. When the sleeve is opened photos from each of the shows are displayed one per panel. There are no sleeve notes as such, but Godfather reproduces Springsteen’s speech in the version from Philadelphia. Springsteen’s rapid return to solo performance after the full band Magic Tour is beautifully documented by Godfather here. Unless you have an insuperable aversion to Springsteen’s solo acoustic incarnation (or, I suppose, to his political stance) you will gain much pleasure from this release.
This is a really nice set with outstandind sound. I think the only complaint one might have is that as the performances are so short – just a few tracks at the time – it is difficult to get into that hypnotic feeling you could get, for instance in some of the great ’96 performances. This is of course just very minor nitpicking. If you can get hold of it I would recommend it!