Bruce Springsteen – Working On A Field (Apocalypse Sound AS 176)

Working On A Field (Apocalypse Sound AS 176)

Glastonbury Festival, Worthy Farm, Pilton, UK – 27 June, 2009

Badlands, Prove It All Night, Outlaw Pete, Out In The Street, Working On A Dream, Johnny 99, Because The Night, Waitin’ On a Sunny Day, The Promised land, The River, Born To Run, Thunder Road, American Land, Glory Days[/Louie Louie], Dancing In The Dark, The ’59 Sound

Bonus material: Pinkpop Festival. Landgraaf, Netherlands – 30 May, 2009: Badlands, Working On A Dream, Born To Run

Apparently, Springsteen has consistently turned down invitations to appear at the Glastonbury Festival, so what changed his mind in 2009?  It was, at least in part, the influence of the man described by Springsteen as “my brother-in-arms” and “one of greatest rockers of all time,” the late Clash frontman Joe Strummer.  The Observer Music Magazine for June 2009 reproduces a fax sent by Strummer to journalist Mark Hagen, in response to being asked for his thoughts on Springsteen for a television project.  Strummer writes that, “Bruce is great…his music is great…Bruce is not on an ego trip,,,there’s only great music, lyrics & an ocean of talent.  Me?  I love Springsteen.”  According to festival organizer Emily Eavis, “I did an eight-page document about the festival for Bruce with quotes from Joe included…I’ve never done anything like that for anyone before.  It’s going to be an amazing couple of hours.”

Unfortunately, Springsteen’s “amazing” performance was not broadcast in its entirety, either on television or radio, though most songs received some exposure.  The breakdown is as follows:

Main set: Coma Girl, Badlands (2), Prove It All Night (4), My Lucky Day (1), Outlaw Pete (4), Out In The Street (4), Working On A Dream (4), Seeds (1), Johnny 99 (5), The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Raise Your Hand, Because The Night(3), No Surrender, Waitin’ On A Sunny Day (2), The Promised Land (2), The River (4), Radio Nowhere (1), Lonesome Day (1), The Rising (1), Born To Run (2) 

Encores: Hard Times (Come Again No More), Thunder Road (2), American Land (2), Glory Days (2), Dancing In The Dark (2) 

Key: 1 – radio broadcast (in part or full) live on BBC Radio 6; 2- television broadcast live on BBC 2; 3 – television broadcast the next day on BBC 4; 4 – BBC Radio 6 and BBC 2; 5 – BBC Radio 6 and BBC 4 

As can be seen, Springsteen made no attempt to tailor his performance to a festival audience, playing the kind of set familiar from other dates on the tour.  Luke Lewis’ account, from the website of the British music paper New Musical Express, refers to “the ‘hits’ being stubbornly withheld,” due to this being, “a proper fan’s set.  It wasn’t pitched at the curious, or those looking for a drunken singalong.” Janine Gibson, editor of the website of The Guardian newspaper, concurs.  Ignoring repeated calls for Born In The U.S.A, Springsteen “instead…did a set which was almost perverse in its determination to eschew anything a festival crowd might know, in favour of a purists’ paradise.”  In short, argues BBC News music reporter Ian Youngs, “it was not a greatest hits show.”

Some festival-goers who were not hardcore Springsteen fans clearly found this a little too much.  As Lewis goes on to say, “The Twitter updates.. were telling.  ‘Thunderous!’ ‘Magnificent!’ ‘Glorious!’, they started.  Then half an hour later…’Bored now.  When’s he going to play “Born To Run?”‘ There was a feeling of collective deflation.”  Dorian Lynskey’s Guardian review  points out that the consequence of such feeling was that “parts of the field…thinned out dramatically” as the lengthy set progressed and Classic Rock writer Hugh Fielder agrees, stating that, “beyond the gaze of the TV cameras interest apparently waned sharply.” 

Some, however, were clearly more impressed, as Joe Richardson maintains on the Backstreets website: “Bruce followed Kasabian…and it was an intense, crushing pit.  It was impossible for most Kasabian fans to get out without being pulled out by security, so they decided to stay.  Despite not really wanting to be there, most of the young, non-Bruce fans wound up completely focused on Springsteen during the set and in awe of him by the end.”  Richardson’s contentions are supported by responses to questions from Youngs, to be found on the BBC News website. For example, twenty-eight year old Siobhan Farmer said, “I wasn’t a fan before but he certainly puts energy into it,”  and her best friend, Anna Burgess, 23, agreed, stating, “I knew nothing of Bruce but it was the best gig of the festival so far.  His passion made it.  It was brilliant.” These more positive statements are supported by the evidence of the DVD itself, which clearly shows what Guardian reviewer Dafydd Goff refers to as “the immense rippling sea of arms and forest of flags,” many of which belong to “younger fans who first encountered the spirit of [Springsteen’s] music channelled through bands such as Arcade Fire, the Killers and Gaslight Anthem.”

Unfortunately, the acoustic opening number, Strummer’s Glastonbury-referencing, Mescaleros-era Coma Girl was not broadcast.  The DVD therefore begins with an explosive Badlands, played “for Joe” and it clearly demonstrates that there were many people in the audience who knew what and where to sing along.  When Springsteen asks, “is there anybody alive out there?” the question is answered with rapturous affirmation.  The early momentum is kept up by the next song, Prove It All Night, which features a second, impassioned guitar solo from Springsteen at the end.  According to Dan French on Springsteen’s official website, “it was clear this title would define Bruce’s approach to the set, determined to impress the thousands who had never seen him live.”  This start to the show certainly did continue.  As Mark Warham states on the Backstreets website, it was, “a very high-velocity, high-energy show.  Bruce stormed through it as if racing against a tight curfew (which he was).  No space for any slow numbers.”

Passing over My Lucky Day, this release then presents us with Outlaw Pete.  There are several fine versions of this song on recent CD releases and it is satisfying to have the added visual dimension.  The slight pause before the slow, quiet section which describes Pete’s fate (for which Springsteen dons a black stetson) is greeted by substantial cheering and applause, and we also see that Springsteen is already drenched in sweat.  Near the end of the song Springsteen makes his first descent of the steps at the front of the stage to approach the audience and and is greeted by numerous arms reaching out to touch him.  A boisterous, crowd-pleasing Out In The Street follows, and this in turn gives way to Working On A Dream.  The usual tiresome house-building speech, characterized by Goff as “a bit hammy and contrived,” is prefaced by Springsteen saying how pleased the band are to be at “beautiful, rain-free Glastonbury.”  He then goes on to say that, “I’ve heard about it.  I’ve heard about it.  I’ve heard about it.  Now I’m seeing it.” 

Seeds is unfortunately absent, so next up is an energetic Johnny 99 featuring the now-customary train whistle vocals and a fine guitar solo from Steve Van Zandt.  The Ghost Of Tom Joad and the sign-collection song Raise Your Hand are omitted, so the next number is a rousing Because The Night, which features Springsteen and Nils Lofgren squaring up to each other to trade guitar licks rather than the usual Lofgren solo.  At the conclusion of the song we see Springsteen clutching a sign requesting No Surrender while calling for The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon to join him on stage.  However, we do not get the song itself.  Instead, Springsteen takes up an acoustic guitar for Waitin’ On A Sunny Day which prominently features Charlie Giordano’s organ part.  In the absence of a convenient cute child, Springsteen gets the audience to sing collectively.  At the end of the song, he leans back into the audience with a huge smile on his face.

A stirring rendition of The Promised Land is succeeded by a restrained and poignant version of The River, which has the audience singing much of the first verse, and also features a wordless vocalise from Springsteen at the end.  Richardson describes an “amazing moment” during the song, “when Bruce was actually smoking – steam rising off his body – which showed the crowd how much effort he was putting in.  That moment sealed the performance for most of those around me.”  It certaining provides an arresting moment on the DVD.  Radio Nowhere, Lonesome Day and The Rising are passed over as the broadcast proceeds straight to the set closer, a triumphant Born To Run.

The encore’s opening number, Hard Times (Come Again No More) is omitted, but the other four songs are here.  First comes a fine full-band Thunder Road and this is followed by a barnstorming American Land.  The show ends with what the Backstreets website describes as “the huge crowd-pleasers,” Glory Days and Dancing In The Dark, the former of which ends with a few bars of Louie Louie.  During Glory Days we get another hammed-up moment as Springsteen feigns concern over the fact that it is “curfew time” and Van Zandt reassures him that it is “Boss time.”  In this instance,however, it was seriously curfew time.  The Daily Mirror newspaper reported that Springsteen broke “the 12.30 a.m. curfew by nine minutes .  [Festival organizer Michael] Eavis will be fined £3,000. but he said it’s worth it. ‘The last nine minutes were spectacular.  It was probably the best show of his life.'”  That may be an exaggeration but, as this release demonstrates, it was a very fine performance.  Goff states that “it’s hard to deny the Boss’s sheer passion and conviction,” concluding, “High point: Hard to say, there were so many.”  Even Lynskey, who is clearly not an admirer of Springsteen, cannot deny that “Springsteen’s sheer passion and energy are something to behold,” and he also comments that, for the converted at least, “it must be thrilling stuff.”

There is a very appealing bonus from Glastonbury in the shape of one song from the performance by The Gaslight Anthem, broadcast on BBC3.  Springsteen joins Fallon and his bandmates for a furiously-paced rendition of their best song, the title track of their second album, The ’59 Sound.  I will be amazed if this performance fails to win the band numerous new converts.  The DVD then ends with three songs from the Pinkpop Festival, broadcast by Dutch TV, a visceral Badlands, a charming Working On A Dream and a thrilling Born To Run, all of which feature Jay Weinberg on drums.

As the performances from both festivals derive from television broadcasts, we obviously get professionally recorded sound and multi-camera footage. The menu allows the viewer to play all,  opt for Glastonbury or Pinkpop or to access individual songs.  The two BBC4 songs from Glastonbury are inserted into the running order so that the correct sequence is maintained.  Apocalypse Sound‘s usual tri-fold packaging, with a clear plastic tray on the central panel, features photographs and associated artwork from the festivals.  There have already been several very worthwhile CD issues of concerts from the Working On A Dream Tour, not least from Apocalypse Sound’s sister label Godfatherecords, and this excellent release now provides collectors with an essential visual supplement.

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