Bruce Springsteen – Winterland Night (Crystal Cat Records CC 471-73)


Winterland Night (Crystal Cat Records CC471-73)

Winterland, San Francisco, CA, USA – 15 December, 1978

Disc 1: Intro, Badlands, Streets Of Fire, Spirit In The Night, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Factory, The Promised Land, Prove It All Night, Racing In The Street, Thunder Road, Jungleland, The Ties That Bind

Disc 2: Intro, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, The Fever, Fire, Candy’s Room, Because The Night, Point Blank, Mona/Preacher’s Daughter, She’s The One, Backstreets, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

Disc 3: Intro, Born To Run, Devil With The Blue Dress On, Good Golly Miss Molly, C.C. Rider, Jenny Take A Ride, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Raise You Hand, Quarter To Three

Bonus Tracks: Paramount Theater, Seattle, WA, USA – 25 June, 1978: Growin’ Up, The Promise, I Fought The Law; Masonic Temple, Detroit, MI, USA – 1 September, 1978: Heatbreak Hotel, Lost In The Flood, Adam Raised A Cain, Chimes Of Freedom

In 1979 ( or possibly early 1980) I acquired my very first bootleg recording, thereby gaining my first experience of a live Springsteen concert.  The 3-LP set I discovered on a London market stall was called Live In The Promised Land (Slipped Disc Records/Piste Disques) and it contained the majority of Springsteen’s Winterland Concert of 15 December 1978.  I was overwhelmed by the quality of the performance and with good reason.  Crystal Cat’s booklet calls this “a performance that is commonly regarded by many Bruce Springsteen fans as one of the all time classics.”  The Killing Floor Database  states that “the performance was one of the best ever.”  Lynn Elder, author of the early 1990s Springsteen bootleg CD guide, You Better Not Touch, is particularly effusive when writing  about Great Dane’s later CD incarnation of the show:

“One of the most important shows Springsteen ever performed, and one of legendary status among fans, this boot captures Springsteen in his prime…The performance is simply monumental and must be considered one of Springsteen’s best ever.  An essential item for any Bruce fan to own.”

Live In The Promised Land appeared in three packages: a box, a gatefold sleeve and a single sleeve.  It also spawned several copies on various labels, some in very shoddy packaging.  However, there was also an LP version of the full concert, the 4-disc Winterland (no label).  The show  was released on CD in 1989 by the Great Dane label as Live In The Promised Land and reissued the following year in improved sound quality in their Master Plus series.  There was also a version on the Golden Stars label entitled Live At Winterland, which I believe was a copy of the original Great Dane version.  The CD-R Santa Claus In Winterland (Alternative Edge Productions) was also a knock-off of the Great Dane release.  The Brucebase website mentions a further version of the show called Prodigal Son At Winterland – 25th Anniversary Edition.  Although this is more recent than the Crystal Cat version under review, I have no further knowlege of this release.

Unlike Great Dane, Crystal Cat’s release includes a DJ from KSAN-FM welcoming the listeners from the various radio stations also broadcasting the concert.  This is followed by Bill Graham’s introduction, in which he asks the audience to welcome “the chairman of the board, the great one – Bruce Springsteen.”  (Having had to suffer the negative consequences of excessive hype on more than one occasion already in his career, one wonders whether Springsteen would have been pleased by being described in such terms.)

The show itself begins with a thunderous rendition of Badlands, which heralds a slew of songs from Springsteen’s then-latest LP Darkness On The edge Of Town.  Seven of the first eight numbers come from the new LP (the exception being a boisterously enjoyable Spirit In The Night).  Tougher, darker and bleaker than Springsteen’s earlier albums, it has often been described as a more “adult” work (as opposed to the “adolescent” Born To Run).  This harder edge comes across very effectively in the renditions of Badlands, Streets Of Fire, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Factory and The Promised Land, all of which are played in performances very close to the LP versions, but with even greater fire and energy (or, in the case of the slower and quieter Factory, more poignancy).  The renditions of Streets Of Fire and Darkness On The Edge Of Town are particularly impassioned.

Having been greatly impressed thus far, I was stunned by what came next.  Prove It All Night opens with some melodic mid-paced piano from Roy Bittan and then, after a brief spoken introduction, continues with a superbly played guitar solo from Springsteen which builds in intensity until it culminates in an explosive opening to the song itself.  At the end of a stirring performance further guitar work brings this eleven-minute number to a triumphant conclusion.  The song was played regularly in this fashion on the Darkness On The Edge Of Town tour but this is the finest version I have heard.

An excellent rendition of Racing In The Street follows, featuring mellifluous piano from Bittan, whose playing provides a bridge into an equally fine full-band performance of Thunder Road.  The epic Jungleland brings the first set, though not the first disc, to a close.  The second set is too long to fit on one CD and so Crystal Cat  end disc one with its first song, an enjoyable performance of the then-unreleased The Ties That Bind.

Disc 2 begins with a spoken introduction to Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.  Springsteen relates the story of how he and Steve Van Zandt, carrying their guitars and amps home from a gig, run into Santa Claus himself.  Judging by the deep-voiced “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and the audience cheers Santa is played by a thinly-disguised Clarence Clemons.  The band then launch into the song itself with great gusto, producing their best live rendition of an admittedly throwaway number. This is followed by  a smokily atmospheric rendition of The Fever with Danny Federici’s organ, Roy Bittan’s piano and Clarence Clemons’ saxophone combining to great effect.  Fire continues in a similar vein and then the tempo changes with the breathless Candy’s Room and an inspired seven-minute Because The Night.  Much as I enjoy Patti Smith’s lighter and more melodic version (described in Angus MacKinnon’s New Musical Express review as “a near perfect single”), it must be said that Springsteen takes the song to a different level.  With a harder edge than the Smith recording, this version features further superb guitar work from Springsteen – a slow opening features an effective combination of guitar and piano and a faster guitar solo appears later in the song.

Like the version of Prove It All Night the next song, Point Blank, is one of the highlights not just of this set, but of Springsteen’s entire recorded live work.  After an superbly atmospheric introduction featuring Bittan’s piano backed with Max Weinberg’s shimmering cymbals and Clemons’ triangle, the song, driven by Bittan’s haunting piano, delivers a shattering account of life lived in poverty and in the grip of drug dependency.  The song made its debut at The Roxy in Los Angeles on 7 July 1978 and Springsteen explained that it concerned a couple he knew who had to work two jobs a day to avoid having their house repossessed.  However, there is also a clear theme of drug use (“And so you stumble out into the morning/Searching for your usual fix”). According to Patrick Humphries and Chris Hunt in Blinded By The Light this was the result of  “a girl friend’s drug addiction”.  The harrowing nature of the lyrics comes from the sense of utter hopelessness.  As Springsteen went on to say at The Roxy, it is “a song about being trapped and not being able to get out”  – and, even worse, not even being able to comprehend who is responsible for your plight (“So you go home and you pack your pistol/And you go out looking for someone/But, girl, can’t you see they got you caught in the middle?/You don’t know where to aim your gun”).  The version of this song on The River, as well as being inferior in execution, dilutes the emotional impact by introducing a relationship break-up theme (prompted, according to Christopher Sandford in Point Blank, by the ending of Springsteen’s relationship with Lynn Goldsmith).

She’s The One follows, prefaced, as often, not just with Mona but with a brief excerpt from Springsteen’s own The Preacher’s Daughter.  The performance culminates in the “I Get Mad” section, which Humphries and Hunt list as a discrete song.  Then comes the third stunning highlight of this concert, a heartfelt Backstreets which features the most impassioned and poignant version of the spoken “Sad Eyes” interlude.  Having been betrayed by his lover in the  number itself (“But I hated him and I hated you when you went away”) the song’s protagonist meets his ex-lover long after the relationship’s end, which culminates in an almost unbearably sad reminiscence (“You promised you’d never leave without me…like everything else from those days, you promised…and you lied”).

Astoundingly, Springsteen then introduces Rosalita as  “the saddest song we’re gonna play all night.”  The conceit here is that Rosie has left him and that he is on “a nationwide hunt [for her] disguised as a rock and roll tour.”  After the genuine emotion of Backstreets, this comes across as unbelievably crass.  Fortunately, the song itself, replete with band introductions, brings the second set to its usual triumphant conclusion.

The encores consist of  raucous versions of Born To Run and the Devil With The Blue Dress Medley, followed by  exuberant renditions of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out and (after a pause and some DJ comments) Eddie Floyd’s Raise Your Hand.  The concert should have ended here and the disc contains parting comments from the DJs.  However, Springsteen and the band returned unexpectedly to perform a wild version of Quarter To Three – or did they?  The song is lacking its beginning, which is commensurate with everybody (even recording engineer Jimmy Iovine) being caught by surprise but the sound is quite different from that of the rest of the show.  It seems, in fact, that the final song was Twist And Shout.  One audience member recalls: “Finally he came back alone, and the band finally trickled out and Bruce said, ‘We’re off the radio now, but I’ll do one more for you guys.  This is the first song I ever learned to play on the guitar,’ and then Twist And Shout.  A great version too.”   In addition to the fan’s conviction (“I was there and I’d stake my life on it.”), Humphries and Hunt confirm that Twist And Shout was indeed the first song Springsteen learned how to play.  The current consensus, therefore, is that Quarter To Three comes from another, unknown source.

Crystal Cat fill out disc 3 with a thoughtful collection of bonus tracks from two other 1978 concerts.  Two of these are distinctive: an early version of Dylan’s Chimes Of Freedom, which would not be played again until June 1988 and what the booklet notes describe as “a one off (in terms of recording at least!) Darkness tour solo piano version of Lost In The Flood (its last ever performance to boot!)”.  The highlight, however, is a moving performance of The Promise which features excellent playing from Bittan and does, as the booklet claims, “send shivers down your spine.” Though I am not sure that I would agree with the claim that this is the definitive version, it is certainly a contender.

The quality of the sound on these CDs is excellent.  According to the booklet, “this release offers the finest sound quality that this show has ever been graced with, transferred digitally from the radio station master reels and mastered with the customary care and attention!”  The sound is not absolutely perfect, however, but this seems to be more to do with the sound balance achieved by Iovine during the recording.  As the Killing Floor Database states: “This release was not taken from the same tape as the GDR release.  The sound is PERFECT, even if not perfectly mixed, so that some instruments lose something.  Anyway, surely the best quality you can get for this show by now.”  The CDs are housed in a thick jewel case with a trifold booklet.   The photos appear to be from the actual concert (though this is not specified) and the discs themselves are printed in colour.  This release is exemplary in every way and it should be a key component of every serious Springsteen collection.

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  1. I traded my original numbered LP boxset of this show for a set of four TSP Rolling Stones EP-CDs at a record fair at Foothill College back in the day…


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