The Live’r In The River (Tarantura TCDBOSS-2-1~3)
Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, CA, USA – 1 November, 1980
Disc 1: Born To Run, Out In The Street, Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Independence Day, Factory, For You, Two Hearts, Jackson Cage, The Promised Land, Prove It All Night, The Price You Pay, The River
Disc 2: Badlands, Thunder Road, No Money Down/Cadillac Ranch, Hungry Heart, Fire, Candy’s Room, Because The Night, Fade Away, Stolen Car, The Ties That Bind, Wreck On The Highway, Point Blank, Crush On You, Ramrod
Disc 3: You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch), Drive All Night, Backstreets, [Stagger Lee/]Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)[/Hail To The Chief], Jungleland, Sweet Little Sixteen, Detroit Medley/I Hear A Train/Wabash Cannonball
This release, containing one of the four versions to emerge of this recently-unearthed tape (all of which I hope to review in due course), brings us the third show from Springsteen’s four night stand at LA’s Memorial Sports Arena covering the dates 30 October – 3 November 1980 (there was no show on 2 November). Two songs from the show have surfaced before. Sweet Little Sixteen appeared on the Mosquito Records LP of various live tracks dating from 1975 to 1981 entitled Oh Boy! The same song and Prove It All Night were bonus tracks on the Doberman label’s CD-R release At The Opera House, which chronicled the show at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis on 18 October, 1980. The full show has never appeared before, though the Brucebase website suggests the release of a near-complete release:
“Two recording sources are known, an incomplete audience tape missing the first three songs, ‘Crush On You, and ‘You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch),’ released as ‘Prove It All Night.’ This tape cuts in during ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town.’ A second recording source is complete and entered general circulation from a first generation tape via JEMS in November 2014. This excellent quality recording was captured by legendary taper Mike Millard who is best known for his series of Led Zeppelin recordings. This recording is also available on three-CD set ‘Los Angeles 1980 3rd Night.'”
I have only found one other reference to Prove It All Night, and the website where I found it shows front and back inserts. Despite the rear insert displaying a label name and catalogue number (Doc Roc DR0479) I suspect this might be artwork to accompany a torrented version.
The concert gets off to the most thrilling start imaginable with a full-throttle performance Born To Run. The energy and the excitement continue with a jubilant Out In The Street, the first of eighteen songs from The River (only I Wanna Marry You and I’m A Rocker are missing from the show) and a sassy rendition of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, with the added mid-song sax solo characteristic of the tour. It is patently clear right from the off that this is going to be one hell of an experience and the already-ecstatic audience is delighted to hear Springsteen promise that it is going to be, “a real long show.”
The first sombre notes are introduced by a searing Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Then comes a moving Independence Day, which Springsteen briefly introduces by saying, “If you’re just about the age where you’re thinking about getting out of the house, finding a place of your own, this is, uh, this is for you then.” Entirely appropriately, the downbeat Factory follows, and during the introduction, Springsteen tells the audience that, “I remember that the only time that, when my father was a young man, the only time he got to leave home was to go to World War Two. And when he came back, he got married, he had me, he was only about 21 or 22 years old and as a really young man, he took on a lot of responsibilities. And I remember when I was a kid, he worked a lot of jobs that just took from you and didn’t give you barely nothing back, wasn’t worth it to get up in the morning to go there.”
For You, the only song played here from Springsteen’s debut LP Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., is played, as on the album, in the full band version, with its jarringly effective dichotomy between music and subject matter. Springsteen dedicates the song to, “a fella…I met…at a parking lot [who] asked me to do this song.” Then it is back to The River with the two up tempo numbers Two Hearts and Jackson Cage. During the latter song a seemingly forgetful Springsteen misses out a couple of lines of the lyrics.
Springsteen precedes a suitably stirring version of The Promised Land with a lengthy speech railing against the activities of ticket scalpers, who were asking “outrageous amounts” (he suggests $200-250) for tickets for his shows and he suggests a course of action to the audience: “The only thing I’m saying is if you want to, you can do something about it. There’s a guy named Mellanby in Sacramento at the State Assembly. He’ll, he’ll reintroduce a bill that was introduced in 1977 that would make re-selling these tickets at these outrageous prices illegal.” He also tells the audience, eliciting cheers by doing so, that in New York it is illegal to sell tickets at any price greater than $1.50 above the face value. Willingness to pay inflated ticket prices may be explained by the fact that, as Robert Hilburn writes in Bruce Springsteen: Born In The U.S.A., “The River and the extensive U.S. tour that immediately followed its release made Springsteen not just a critical but also popular favorite with rock & roll fans across the country. No longer was he seen as merely an East Coast critical phenomenon.”
Then the audience gets a big surprise. As “BK for JEMS” writes on the Jungleland site, “out of the blue Springsteen resurrects what we (and even he) now call ‘Prove It All Night ’78.’ The long guitar and piano intro here is mesmerizing and for me this is a ‘Prove It’ for the ages. After playing it this way again two days later on closing night of the LA stand, Springsteen wouldn’t revisit ‘Prove It All Night ’78’ again until 2012.” It is a wonderfully strong and muscular performance, with a piano and guitar introduction which would not have been at all out of place had it been played during the Darkness Tour, helping to make it one of the many highlights of this show.
Next up is The Price You Pay, a song characterized by Patrick Humphries, in Springsteen: Blinded By The Light, as, “an epic song, in both ambition and achievement.” It had been premiered the previous evening, but that, as BK points out, “was with the original album lyrics. Tonight, for the first time, Springsteen restores his original third verse (‘some say forget the past…’) from early in the River sessions and later replaced for the take on the album. The song is performed in a striking acoustic guitar and accordion arrangement,” with the accordion, of course, played by Danny Federici. Three versions of the song were recorded on at The Power Station in New York City in June 1979, the third version being the one released on The River. The full lyrics of the verse, which is contained in the first two versions, are, as rendered here: “Now some say forget the past, and some say don’t look back/But for every breath you take, you leave a track/And though it don’t seem fair, that for every smile that breaks/A tear must fall somewhere, oh the price you pay.” The first of the three recorded versions also features Federici’s accordion.
A fine rendition of The River, poignantly detailing a failed marriage doomed by the combination of its origin in an unwanted pregnancy and difficult economic circumstances, is preceded by the short but quietly beautiful instrumental introduction, featuring pianist Roy Bittan, which was standard for this tour and this brings the first disc to a close.
The second disc kicks of with the last two songs from the first set, a surging, hard-driven Badlands and a full-band rendition of Thunder Road. Following these two classic Springsteen numbers, No Money Down, a Chuck Berry single from 1955, is employed as an introduction to the second set and, more specifically, to Cadillac Ranch. BK writes that, “another short-lived element that shines this evening is Chuck Berry’s ‘No Money Down’ used as a long intro to ‘Cadillac Ranch’ to start the second set. Bruce hams it up for a highly entertaining preamble that really gets ‘Caddy’ started.” To my mind, although No Money Down is indeed entertaining, the juxtaposition is not entirely effective due to the difference in tempo between the two songs.
A jaunty Hungry Heart features an extended introduction during which Springsteen briefly addresses the audience, but there is no audience singalong – a ritual which, as Dave Marsh points out in Bruce Springsteen: On Tour 1968-2005, began, “in Chicago, a week into the tour,” but which had clearly not yet become universal. Fire is suitably sultry and there is the customary pause (and rather a long one, at that) during the song, during which some on-stage antics obviously delight the audience. Then there is a dramatic change of pace with a blistering Candy’s Room, the show’s first tour premiere, and a splendid version of Because The Night which, like Prove It All Night, would have graced the Darkness Tour. The tempo slows again with what BK points out is, “the premiere of ‘Fade Away,’ with a lovely and lilting intro, the last song from the album to enter the setlist.” Appropriately, this is followed by an atmospheric performance of Stolen Car. The tempo changes which are such a noteworthy aspect of this concert also characterized the tour as a whole. As Christopher Sandford writes in Springsteen: Point Blank, “nearly every knees-up was in turn a set-up. Thus, Springsteen would gently deflate ‘Because The Night’ with the brooding ‘Stolen Car,'” or, as here, Fade Away.
Then comes the melodic, Searchers-influenced The Ties That Bind, title track of the shelved 1979 album which eventually appeared due to what Springsteen once referred to as, “the magic of bootlegging.” (The latest incarnation of The Ties That Bind will reviewed shortly.) The mood becomes subdued again with Wreck On The Highway, a song which, according to Humphries, “acts as an iconic coda” to The River, on which, “Springsteen displays his strengths. It is stripped down to the bone, lyrically and musically.” Point Blank opens with the dramatic instrumental introduction, begun by Bittan and also prominently featuring Max Weinberg’s shimmering cymbals, which characterizes performances of the song during this tour. This sublime, brooding rendition is excellent though, as I have argued before, the song suffers from the thematic and lyrical changes imposed since the Darkness Tour. Then comes a trio of the vacuous rockers from The River, Crush On You, Ramrod and You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) which, despite their lack of substance, serve, in a live environment, to keep the audience excited.
The disc break occurs during this trio so that You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) opens disc three, though for some reason we get several seconds of the opening of the song (fading quickly part way through the first line of the opening verse) at the end of disc two. Yet another change of pace follows with an achingly tender and utterly gorgeous rendition of Drive All Night and this in turn gives way to what BK calls, “an especially motivated ‘Backstreets,'” with an impassioned vocal performance from Springsteen which includes a brief wordless vocalise as an introduction.
A splendidly high-spirited Rosalita is prefaced by the opening lines of Stagger Lee, sung by Clarence Clemons. This popular American folk song concerning the murder of Billy Lyons by “Stag” Lee Shelton in 1895 was first published in 1911. First recorded in 1923 by Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, the song was a US number one hit for Lloyd Price in 1959. Many Springsteen fans will doubtless be familiar with Southside Johnny’s take on the song included on the live Reach Up And Touch The Sky double LP (though it was omitted from the single-disc CD release). Hail To The Chief is the official Presidential Anthem of the United States. The music was written by English violinist and Surrey Theatre conductor James Sanderson around the year 1812. He originally set verses from Sir Walter Scott’s poem The Lady Of The Lake, though these were later supplanted by lyrics written by twentieth-century American lyricist Albert Gamse. An instrumental excerpt is played at the end of the band introductions where Springsteen introduces Clemons by saying: “Last but not least. How can I say it ? King of the world. Master of all things. Now, come next Tuesday, I think it´s time we put a Big Man in the White House on the ‘rock and roll, improve the economy and save your soul’-ticket. Mr.Clarence Clemons on the saxophone, the next president of the United States.”
The encore begins with a magnificent performance of the epic Jungleland, featuring a tremendous saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons. Then Jackson Browne takes the stage for the tour’s only performance of another Chuck Berry cover, Sweet Little Sixteen (a US number 2 hit in 1958), a song which has yet to appear again at an E Street Band show. Springsteen had previously joined Jackson Browne on stage at the Forum for a performance of the song, together with Stay, on 24 August 1980. The show then ends riotously with the Detroit Medley. In addition to the I Hear A Train section (during which, as Marsh writes, Springsteen, “calls out the tour stops like a crazed conductor”), the performance also includes an unsuccessful stab at Wabash Cannonball, a nineteenth century American folk song originally titled The Great Rock Island Route, rewritten by William Kindt as Wabash Cannon Ball in 1904 and recorded by The Carter Family in 1929 (though not released until 1932) and Roy Acuff in 1936. As described by BK, “the ‘Detroit Medley’ also includes a very brief attempt at ‘Wabash Cannonball,’ but even Bruce admits: ‘Hold on a minute, band, let’s try that one more time, because I don’t have it yet. Give me that E again. Not only do I not have, I think we’re gonna forget it,’ and back into ‘I Hear a Train’ they go.”
So, how has a recording of a Springsteen show by, as BK puts it, “the legendary taper Mike Millard, AKA Mike the MICrophone, best known for his masters of Led Zeppelin in and around LA circa 1975-77,” taken so long to appear? He goes into some detail, and I give an abbreviated version here:
“14 first-generation tapes (ten cassettes and four reels) were sent by Millard to SG, the beloved S in JEMS, in the mid-’80s after the pair had met in person in Orange County on two occasions…Millard sent SG a box of tapes. I remember having it my hands in 1986 at SG’s house, right after it arrived in the mail. But that was the last time I ever saw the box. It disappeared…Several months ago, WG, a long-time collector friend of SG, contacted him and said, ‘I found a box of tapes of yours when I was moving furniture.’ Sure enough it was the Millard tapes and more. Turns out WG borrowed the tapes and some other SG masters after a Dylan show in 1986 and the box wound up misplaced and forgotten about by both parties, only to be rediscovered 28 years later.”
BK’s comment on the sound quality of the tape is:
“As for the work of the esteemed Mike Millard, the recording doesn’t match heady heights of his absolutely best work, like our recent Dylan posts on DIME and THOSE Led Zeppelin tapes from the Forum. He’s not right on top of the PA as he so often is and the tape needed more work in mastering than a Millard tape typically requires…That being said, the more I worked on the tape the more I liked it.”
The sound may lack a little in dynamics and clarity compared with Millard’s very best work and you can hear that he is, indeed, “not right on top of the PA.” Sound quality is, nonetheless, very good overall and there is a clear improvement in depth and dynamics beginning with the fourth song Darkness On the Edge Of Town, where the sound gains more clarity and punchiness, and, to my ears, there is further improvement in the second set. The slower, quieter songs also have a tendency to sound better and these factors result in quite splendid sound on songs such as Wreck On The Highway and Point Blank. There is a some noticeable hiss, which is more prominent during the better-sounding songs.
Writing of the River Tour, Robert Santelli, in Greetings From E Street: The Story Of Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band, writes:
“Eager to please old fans and make disciples out of new ones, Springsteen and the band pushed the limits nearly every night, with shows that went on for three – and sometimes four – hours…The sheer number of songs played, the range of emotions explored, and the between-songs stories told by Springsteen…took the shows far beyond the usual rock concert. Each night turned into a hard-driving demonstration of how and why Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had become the best rock act on the road.”
Perhaps this may not apply to every single concert from the tour, but it certainly applies to this hugely enjoyable, high-energy show, which will be particularly appreciated by fans of The River due to the performance of so many songs from the album. Moreover, there are some splendid renditions of earlier material, such as Prove It All Night, Because The Night, Backstreets and Jungleland. BK contends that, “if you love The River, this is a show for you…a fantastic show…Bruce is giving his all in this marathon and 34 years later, it absolutely holds up.” Posters on the BigO site are also impressed. TDC calls this, “a magnificent recording of my favourite in his prime,” while KCorsi enthusiastically contends that, “this is epic!!” Commenting at greater length, Mr. Jimmy writes:
“Another chestnut from the vast vault of Springsteen yore. His studio LP’s from back when he truly was The Boss are among the best ever put down on acetate, hands down. But, and it’s a mighty big but, to have his live performances with the real E Street Band from the days of ‘Born To Run,’ Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ and ‘The River’ is something else altogether. Springsteen with his E-Streeters in this era I believe were the best able to perform their stuff live, transcending their studio music into a real rock’n’roll experience lasting longer than 3 hours, better than anyone else. To have a Mike The Mic show is something else even beyond that. There are quite a few Springsteen shows from these tours worth having. This is one of the very finest that goes to the top of the list.”
Tarantura’s version of this fine show is packaged in an attractive gatefold sleeve of thick, glossy card featuring several onstage shots of Springsteen and band members, some monochrome and some in colour. Three of these photos are reproduced on the discs themselves, which are housed in differently-coloured paper sleeves with soft plastic windows which allow the discs to be seen. The customary Tarantura sticker appears on the front cover and there is a very small round sticker on the reverse showing the individual number in a limited edition of one hundred. The front cover and the discs bear the subtitle, “The Lost And Found Mike The Microphone Tapes Vol. 6,” in reference to JEMS’ series of recently-rediscovered Millard tapes. It has taken a long time for Tarantura to issue its second Springsteen title (I favourably reviewed the first, Loose As A Goose, containing the show from the Boston Music Hall on 29 October 1974, in June 2011), but it has certainly been worth the wait.
Thanks for reviewing this (I just received #55/100) – I hope it doesn’t take so Long until the next release…