Bruce Springsteen – Turku Wrecking Ball Box (Crystal Cat Records CC 1059-1064)

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Turku Wrecking Ball Box (Crystal Cat Records CC 1059-1064)

Crystal Cat’s first Springsteen release for some while pairs the two shows of 7 and 8 May 2013 from the JK Areena in Turku, Finland.  The second show was released by Godfather as Good Night Good Luck Finland (which I reviewed in September 2013); the first show is new to disc.  Readers are referred to the Godfather review for details of the second night’s performance.

These are the only two shows which Springsteen has played at this venue and Glenn Radecki, reporting on the Backstreets website, gives some further context:

“Tuesday night, the Wrecking Ball tour ventured to its easternmost and northernmost point in Europe, on Bruce Springsteen’s first-ever visit to Turku, Finland for back-to-back shows. The HK Areena is notable for being the smallest venue the tour will play; with no seats sold behind the stage, this hockey arena had a reported capacity of under 10,000.”

Night 1F

Turku First Wrecking Ball Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 1059-1061)

HK Areena, Turku, Finland – 7 May, 2013

Disc 1: Intro: Big Boss Man The Pretty Things, We Take Care Of Our Own, Two Hearts[/It Takes Two], No Surrender, My Lucky Day, Wrecking Ball, Death To My Hometown, Hungry Heart, Intro, Spirit In The Night, This Hard Land, The River

Disc 2: Intro, From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), Pink Cadillac, Brilliant Disguise, Because The Night, She’s The One, Pay Me My Money Down, Darlington County, Shackled And Drawn, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Rising

Disc 3: Badlands, Land Of Hope And Dreams[/People Get Ready], Queen Of The Supermarket, Thunder Road, Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Outro: The Boss James Brown

Bonus Tracks: Afternoon Rehearsal, HK Areena, Turku, Finland – 7 May, 2013: Intro, We Take Care Of Our Own, Long Walk Home, Reason To Believe, Souls Of The Departed, [uncredited track] 

In common with the second night, the first music we hear is a brief excerpt of  Jimmy Reed’s Big Boss Man, played over the PA not in Reed’s original version but in the recording by The Pretty Things.  Springsteen then briefly addresses the audience in Finnish before the band launches into a vibrant rendition of opening track and first single from Wrecking Ball, We Take Care Of Our Own.  Two songs from the 1980’s, an animated Two Hearts, from The River (with a brief snippet of It Takes Two to finish) and a spirited No Surrender from Born In The U.S.A., ensure that a buoyant mood is maintained.  Things remain up tempo with My Lucky Day, from Working On A Dream, and then it is back to Wrecking Ball album for fine performances the title track and the martial-sounding Death To My Hometown.

The audience responds enthusiastically to the opportunity to sing along to Hungry Heart, which is succeeded by Spirit In The Night, an enjoyable enough version once it gets going, and effectively augmented by the horns, though marred, in common with other performances from this time, by the bloated opening section.

Springsteen dedicated the next number, This Hard Land, to the Finnish fan group of the same name and mentioned the book that the group had produced.  Caryn Rose, writing on jukeboxgraduate.com states that, “it’s this amazing hardcover book with each page or two pages stories and photos by all of the fans about how they came to Bruce’s music.  It was a lovely and much-deserved dedication.”

The first disc then concludes with what Radecki calls “a strong rendition” of  The River.

Disc two opens with three sign requests, the first being From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), a song which Springsteen donated to Dave Edmunds, whose own recording is well worth a listen.  The second sign request played was Pink Cadillac.  Rose, on jukeboxgraduate.com, notes that, “it was a great, hot, ‘Pink Cadillac,’ the horns were loud and swinging and with just a touch of raunch, and it was a pretty fun moment.”

Brilliant Disguise, the night’s sole tour premiere, was also a sign request, as well as being, as Brucebase notes, “the 190th song to be performed on the Wrecking Ball Tour.”  As Radecki notes:

“The big highlight via the signs was the return of ‘Brilliant Disguise,’ for the first time since late in the Magic tour.  Material from Tunnel of Love tends to get overlooked when Patti Scialfa is not on stage, but fortunately, her absence did not stop Bruce from selecting the sign for his 1987 hit.  The E Street Band (including the horn section) was up to the task of performing it with no rehearsal, and Bruce’s singing was both confident and passionate.”

Rose, on jukeboxgraduate.com calls it, “a clean, well-played version of this song,” and adds on Springsteen’s official website that it was, “powered by strong keyboard work from Roy Bittan.”  Bittan’ s piano also opens Because The Night before he gives up the spotlight to Nils Lofgren and his guitar pyrotechnics. There follows an energetic She’s The One, of which Brucebase notes: “The harmonica outro is dropped from ‘She’s The One,’ not to return during the tour.”

A riotous performance of Pay Me My Money Down is described by Radecki as follows:

“The crowning moment came during ‘Pay Me My Money Down’ when, during Charlie Giordano’s accordion solo, Bruce started personally and individually directing every member of the band (save Roy and Max) to the front lip of the stage in one big line.  Seemingly unsatisfied with the sheer number of people, he went to the side of the stage to retrieve a half-dozen fans.  Once everybody was in place, Bruce took his position at the front and led everyone in a dance line, making an entire lap of the pit, to the great amusement of the crowd.” 

Even Rose, not a fan of the song, was won over, writing on jukeboxgraduate.com that:

“It’s not that I hate this song particularly, I just find it banal and a complete throwaway.  However, the horns just transform it.  They play; they dance, they sing. Tonight, Clark Gayton completely cracked Bruce up when he came down the front and started copying Bruce’s side-step moves with aplomb; then Curt Ramm came down and started doing likewise.  Then you had all the horns down front, playing and dancing, and before you know it, Bruce is lining up the entire E Street Band (with the exception of Max and Roy) along the front of the stage, and bringing a handful of fans along to bring up the rear, and there is a second line marching down the stage, through the mid-floor barrier, and then back down the side and onto the stage again…The great horn arrangement and riff turns it into a great party and I have made my peace with this number; it is what it is, and the horns redeem it thousandfold.”

Then comes what Rose calls a “fun” version of Darlington County.  This is followed by a splendid rendition of Shackled And Drawn, which gives Cindy Mizelle a chance to shine in her vocal slot.  The child plucked from the audience also sings pretty well on Waitin’ On A Sunny Day (though without the audacity to replace the lyrics from the song with his own rap as the boy chosen on the next night did!).  An uplifting rendition of The Rising then concludes the second disc.  At the start of the third disc a stirring Badlands gives way to Land Of Hope And Dreams which, as so often, wraps up the main set in fine style.  The song concludes with the customary snippet of People Get Ready.

The encore opens with a solo acoustic rendition of Queen Of The Supermarket, a delayed sign request, as Radecki narrates:

“Bruce was bemused by a ‘Queen of the Supermarket’ sign, recalling its performance in Ottawa last fall by noting that ‘the only people who request this song work in supermarkets!’  The request would be deferred to the beginning of the encore, when it was played solo acoustic, with Bruce in strong voice.”

An assured full band rendition of Thunder Road follows and then the encore concludes with ebullient, crowd-pleasing performances of Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, the last of which opens with the band introductions.  Finally, the concert over, we hear James Brown’s The Boss played over the PA.  In common with the second show (where we only get a couple of seconds rather than the whole song), this is not separately tracked.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this show and the performance is very good indeed, though not, by Springsteen’s exalted standards, great.  Among the highlights for me were the show opener We Take Care Of Our Own, the requested quartet of From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), Pink Cadillac, Brilliant Disguise and Queen Of The Supermarket (which works well as a solo acoustic number) and the effervescent performance of Pay Me My Money Down.  Unfortunately, Born In The U.S.A. outtake Cynthia, though on the printed setlist, remained unplayed.

There is also a very nice bonus in the shape of the songs from the soundcheck (or “afternoon rehearsal” as Crystal Cat has it).  First up is an incomplete version of show opener We Take Care Of Our Own, which comes across as rather less spirited than the version from the show.   (The “intro” merely captures the fourteen seconds immediately preceding the start of the song.)  Much more satisfying are complete renditions of Long Walk Home, Reason To Believe ( which breaks down briefly as Springsteen is heard to say “forget how it goes”) and Souls Of The Departed.  None of these songs were played during the show, nor did they appear on the printed setlist.  An uncredited thirteenth track contains a couple of minutes’ play through of the guitar part from Souls Of The Departed.


Night 2F

Turku Second Wrecking Ball Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 1062-1064)

HK Areena, Turku, Finland – 8 May, 2013

Disc 1: Intro: Big Boss Man The Pretty Things, I’ll Work For Your Love, Long Walk Home, The Ties That Bind, Out In The Street, Atlantic City, Wrecking Ball, Death To My Hometown, Hungry Heart, Blinded By The Light, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, Ain’t Good Enough For You, Wages Of Sin

Disc 2: Intro, The River, Youngstown, Murder Incorporated, Johnny 99, Open All Night[/Chicken Shack Boogie/Don’t You Just Know It], Shackled And Drawn, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, Lonesome Day, Badlands, Racing In The Street

Disc 3: Born In The U.S.A., Born To Run, Dancing In The Dark, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, American Land, Outro: The Boss James Brown

Bonus Tracks: Afternoon Rehearsal, HK Areena, Turku, Finland – 8 May, 2013: Intro: The Band Listening To And Jamming To The Official Version Of  Wages Of Sin, Wages Of Sin, Wages Of Sin, Wages Of Sin (Repeating The End), Wages Of Sin, Ain’t Good Enough For You, Ain’t Good Enough For You, Ain’t Good Enough For You (Repeating The End), Instrumental Jamming

The first night may have been a very good rather than great performance, but, as I stated in my review of the Godfather release, the second night was a “phenomenal show” and I quoted at some length the comments of Radecki and Rose, two commentators effusive in their praise both for the overall performance and for the choice of songs played (with only ten songs having been performed on the previous evening).  It is a performance which deserves a place in every Springsteen collection.

However, this new release has two advantages over Good Night Good Luck Finland.  The older release has eight well-chosen songs from the previous night’s show, though of course we get the whole show here on discs 1-3.  This new release has the advantage, albeit a rather more limited one, of again including the rehearsal/soundcheck songs.  Ain’t Good Enough For You and Wages Of Sin are, in their different ways, highlights of the show – but the point is that they are in the show.   In contrast to the first night’s soundcheck, which yielded three songs (out of four) which were not performed, here we get multiple versions of two which were, including over nine minutes of “The Band Listening To And Jamming To The Official Version Of  Wages Of Sin.”  The “Instrumental Jamming”  soon goes beyond Ain’t Good Enough For You to the extent of even including a few seconds of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibiton and Springsteen can be heard praising the quality of the sound that he hears.  During Ain’t Good Enough For You Springsteen can also be heard to say, “excellent job on From Small Things and Pink Cadillac,” suggesting that they also formed part of the soundcheck; if so, it is a shame that they were not recorded. Despite these obvious limitations, it must be said that the complete versions of Wages Of Sin have a beautifully haunting quality and the inclusion of the soundcheck does make for a satisfying completeness.

The more significant advantage is the upgraded sound. I wrote of Godfather’s audience recording:

“There is a decidedly harsh edge to the sound, particularly in the earlier stages of the show, which  I found grating, especially at high volume, and listening to this release does require some measure of tolerance…despite the phenomenal performance, the sound of this release makes it one for the dedicated Springsteen collector rather than the more casual fan.”

In the second of two posts on CMR announcing this release Stuart quoted a “press release” which states:

“The source tapes for this release are previously unavailable IEM/Soundboard type recordings mixed with audience recordings similar to this labels previous releases from 2013, and may be the best sounding yet, no mean feat considering the very high standard of those previous releases!”

Both shows have spectacularly good sound, exceptionally well-balanced and with all voices and instruments clearly audible, and it is particularly pleasing to finally have the stunning second show in a recording which makes listening to it an unalloyed pleasure.  The sound of the rehearsal/soundcheck songs is also excellent save for a very occasional “fuzziness” (similar to radio interference).

This new release comes with Crystal Cat’s usual stellar packaging.  Each of the two three-disc sets is housed in a thick jewel case and each has a generous booklet (thirty-two pages for the first night; twenty-eight for the latter).  As well as a plethora of onstage shots there are, as is customary with this label, a variety of other photos – of fans inside and outside the venue, setlists, tickets for the show and so on.  The booklets also contain the track listings, band personnel and Radecki’s accounts of the shows.  The booklet for the second night even reproduces the words of the rap sung by the boy from the audience during Waitin’ On A Sunny Day.  There is also a third twenty-page booklet with many more photos and a list of Wrecking Ball Tour dates.  Opening this I found inside a final single sheet insert with a shot of Springsteen siting in a chair playing guitar on one side and a map of Europe on the other – perhaps to assist in locating Turku, not the most well known of European cities.  All inserts and booklets are printed on Crystal Cat’s usual high-quality glossy paper.  Further onstage shots appear on the discs themselves.  The whole is contained in a handsome card slipcase with a posed photo of Springsteen on the front and an onstage shot of him on the reverse flanked by the track listing.  The overall effect is stunning and puts many official releases to shame.

There are some minor quibbles regarding the production and packaging of this set.  In addition to the uncredited track mentioned above, the track called Instrumental Jamming on the last disc is included on the track listing on the insert and booklet but not on the slipcase.  Also, some of the timings in the track listing are incorrect and the last few seconds of Instrumental Jamming is inexplicably banded separately from the rest.  However, all this is essentially inconsequential and will in no way detract from the great pleasure of listening to this fine set.

Overall, Turku Wrecking Ball Box is another fabulous release from Crystal Cat, with excellent performances, extremely impressive sound and gorgeous packaging.  Both concerts are well worth having and it is always a pleasure to have a set which brings together successive performances from the same venue, but, make no mistake, the real prize here is the opportunity to experience the superb second show in hugely improved sound quality.

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