Tuesday, April 03, 2012
Restoring the Faith, Bruce Springsteen, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, 3/29/12
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, 3/29/12, Photo courtesy Backstreets.
My Bruce story begins at WECI-FM, the Earlham College radio station. Earlham is a small Quaker college, located in Richmond, Indiana. When Bruce Springsteen released his first album in early 1973, it slipped quietly into our record library without causing much of a ripple. In the fall of '73, Bruce released his second album, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. Dave (now of Direct Current Music), my partner in crime running the station, was off on an off-campus program that fall.
I remember listening to Wild & Innocent when we received it from Columbia Records, to determine what tracks, if any, would be good for airplay. I think I picked "Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" and "The E Street Shuffle". Even though these tracks sounded good, the album didn't really grab me then. My last two years of school, in addition to my Saturday night WECI show, I also worked at the commercial stations in town, WHON was an AM top 40 station complete with jingles; WQLK was an automated station playing the music of the 30s, 40s, and 50s.
Fast forward to June of 1975. My radio experience in Richmond helped me to get the job I wanted at an FM rock station in Central Pennsylvania. When I graduated Earlham, I started working at WRHY, Starview, PA. Starview had its main studio, transmitter and tower on top of a small mountain midway between York and Harrisburg. The owner of the station liked the idea of calling the station Starview and so he located a remote studio in a mobile home in the tiny village of Starview. I was hired full time to do evenings, 7pm - midnight.
On my first day of work I met the program director, Pat Richards, at the trailer and followed him to the mountaintop studio. It turned out that I was replacing him on the air and even though I was only supposed to observe him that first night, when we arrived and Steve Martin, the afternoon DJ (no relation), had put on his last record, Pat ushered me to the DJ chair and informed me that I was on the air in about two minutes. I don't remember much else about that first night except I do remember playing "Cut the Cake" by AWB.
When I got my feet on the ground at Starview, both of Bruce's albums were getting airplay and I began to gain an appreciation. In July, Starview began to advertise a Bruce Springsteen concert to be held July 26th at Kutztown State College located between Allentown and Reading.
In addition to my air shift, it was also my job to produce commercials to run on the station so I got the assignment to make the spot for the upcoming Bruce concert. It was the station's procedure to play a finished spot for the client over the phone to get approval before the spot aired. My Bruce spot was bounced back to me because the promoter wanted to hear "Kitty's Back" in the commercial. So I recut the spot with "Kitty's Back" and it went right on the air.
Kutztown, 7/26/75, Photo by Leslie Klempner via Brucebase
Life as I knew it changed forever on the night of July 26th, 1975. I went to the Kutztown Fieldhouse on a hot and steamy night, we sat on wooden benches, and I had my mind blown by Bruce and the E Street Band; actually I didn't do much sitting. I had been to a good many concerts at that point in time (about eleven years of shows, starting with The Beatles), but I had never seen anything like this. Bear in mind that Born to Run had not yet come out, and we were hearing those songs for the first time.
Even the songs we knew from the first two albums, all took on entirely new context seeing him do them live. There were lots of stories, both in between and in the middle of songs (like "Growing Up") and he would launch each new song out of the ending of the song before. His energy was phenomenal. My friend Dave, who had gone on to work in the record business in Indianapolis, had virtually the same experience that summer. I don't remember the venue but his conversion was every bit as complete as mine. Courtesy of the good folks at Setlist.FM we can see the setlist from that Kutztown show.
Incident on 57th Street
Spirit in the Night
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City
The E Street Shuffle
She's the One
Born to Run
New York City Serenade
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
A Love So Fine (The Chiffons cover)
One night in August that summer, shortly after I went on the air, Pat came rushing into the studio because he had gotten an advance copy of Born to Run from our Columbia rep. We then played the album in its entirety on the air. The album cover (vinyl, CDs were still years away) was really cool.
It was the cover we've come to know except it had no lettering except the name in script, just that iconic black and white picture of Bruce and Clarence against a plain white background. At the time, I may not have known how valuable it would become, but it still irked me when Pat wrote all over it with black magic marker. The album was pure magic beginning to end, and it got plenty of airplay. That fall Bruce made the covers of Time and Newsweek the same week, October 27th 1975.
For about the next twelve years, Bruce was in his own league, at least in my book. He released one great album after another and all of his concerts were life changing experiences, culminating in Tunnel of Love, the album and tour. The shows kept getting longer and longer. When I saw him on The River tour, the show was nearing the four hour mark.
That show was especially memorable, in a dark way, because that was the night, December 10, 1980, that John Lennon was shot. There was no announcement at the show, but getting in the car afterwards, there was nothing but Beatles music up and down the radio dial, and it was quickly clear that something bad had happened. Legend has it that at the time John was shot, Bruce was playing "Point Blank". I don't really know if that's true but it is certainly within the realm of possibility.
After Born to Run, Bruce concerts became big business. He routinely filled big arenas, often playing multiple nights. Back in 1984, Born in the USA with its seven top ten singles launched Bruce into the stratosphere of the concert business. The Born in the USA tour was a worldwide affair, mostly playing stadiums. I caught the tour in August '85 at Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia. With the best outdoor sound system I had ever heard and a gargantuan stage with video screen, the Bruce show conquered the drawbacks of playing such a huge venue and he amazingly pulled off a meaningful music experience.
During the twelve years following Born to Run, I heard a great many more shows as I collected audio recordings and swapped them with collectors all over the world. Tape trading was way different then with no internet or PCs, tape lists were hand-typed, photocopied, and exchanged by mail. My collection was on reel to reel tape and shows were exchanged with cassettes in the mail. Today there is a vast archive of Springsteen concerts online, both on audio and video and some are available to trade and some can be downloaded.
Even though Tunnel of Love (1987) was a great album, it was controversial because Bruce used other musicians than the the E Street Band. The hiatus from the E Street Band continued through the Tunnel of Love tour in early '88. It was still a great show; this time I met Dave in Worcester, Mass. (Dave's record business career had taken him to New England). This show was bootlegged as Tunnel of Lust. I didn't know it at the time but this was my last Bruce show for almost 25 years.
Bruce's next albums came in 1992 when he simultaneously released Human Touch and Lucky Town. Although these albums had their moments, for me Bruce dropped back down to the world of mere mortals. From then through 2009's Working On a Dream, there were songs I liked a lot, but none of these albums rose to the level that would make me deal with the hassle of going to a big arena show. And even though the appeal of his records went up and down, the live audience continued to grow, making every new tour and every concert date a major event. I was content to remain on the sidelines of the Bruce juggernaut until this year.
When Wrecking Ball was released, I was initially reticent as I have been for most recent Bruce albums, you might say I had lost the faith. I don't know exactly why, but when Bruce's concert at the Apollo Theater was carried live on Sirius XM satellite radio I felt compelled to record it. I listened to the show live as it recorded and was completely blown away. This was more like the Bruce concerts from his first decade.
He talked to the audience like it was a revival meeting, his energy was off the scale, the setlist was full of great songs, old and new. The expanded E Street Band was in top form, the live mix sounded amazing over the satellite radio. Maybe it was the room, but Bruce seemed to rediscover soul music and best of all, even with the heavy themes of the Wrecking Ball songs, Bruce was having a huge amount of fun, and that is the one thing that seemed to me to be missing ever since Tunnel of Love.
I got a little of the faith back that night listening to the broadcast, and I started to really enjoy the Wrecking Ball album, I now consider it to be his best album since Tunnel of Love. Then came SXSW and I got some more of it back watching Bruce give the Keynote Address, live on the internet. I got some more of the faith back watching the YouTube videos and listening to audio recordings of Bruce's SXSW concert. At this point, if you haven't read last week's Bruce post, take time out now and follow this link to watch and listen to Bruce at the Apollo and SXSW.
Next, I went to the Bruce Springsteen exhibit at the National Constitution Center entitled From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen. My daughter had gotten tickets for us to go as a Christmas present and selected the date of March 23rd without any foreknowledge of all this Bruce activity. The exhibit is a must for all Bruce fans. It covers his whole life, from his first guitar all the way to the current day.
There is plenty to see, watch, and hear. There are lots of artifacts such as Bruce's car, guitars, clothes, and lots of songwriting notebooks. There are videos of rare performances there's even audio from Bruce's first band, The Castiles. When The Castiles did a cover song it sounded a lot like Vanilla Fudge doing "You Keep Me Hangin' On".
Wells Fargo Center, 3/29/12, Photo by Jennifer Kates
All this set the stage for what happened next. A few nights before the Philadelphia concerts on the Wrecking Ball tour, my other daughter called and asked, would I go if she could get tickets to the Bruce Springsteen concert. I said yes and on Thursday night we were seated in one of the VIP suites at the Wells Fargo Center for the second of two sold out shows. We had a great view of the arena (photo above).
Photo by Jennifer Kates
I could never have anticipated this happening in 2012 but Bruce gave as great a show that night as I have ever seen him give. My faith is now fully restored and I'm back, solidly in the fold. I'll mention some of the ways that this concert was incredible, as you watch nine of the best videos of the show from Youtube. When you consider that the next morning you could turn on the computer and read a complete account of the show with setlist, pictures, and video on Backstreets.com, and consider that within 24 hours Youtube was rife with videos shot from every angle of the venue, the impact of the technology that we sort of take for granted, is huge.
When I first saw Bruce at Kutztown, there were no personal computers, there were no cell phones, if you took a picture it was on film and the only way to take a meaningful picture at a concert was to use an SLR with a long telephoto lens, and if you tried to record the show you were carrying a portable cassette tape recorder. With that in mind, check out how the concert began and stick with this video through the first minute or two of crowd anticipation, it's a good one.
We'll get into the details of the show and look at the setlist in a minute, but first watch this video of "My City Of Ruins". This is the one where he talks to the crowd and this will tell you everything you need to know about Bruce having fun like the old days. Later some of the videos are stage close-ups but this clip not only has great sound, but the wide perspective shows you the arena set up nicely and gives you a good sense of how Bruce can command such a large room.
It was an incredible show, lasting three solid hours with no break, most songs kick-starting as the previous song ends. Bruce and the band were all in top form and the sound was about the best I've ever heard in a big arena show. The Apollo show was flat out stunning in its quality but Bruce gave a full hour more at both Philly shows. Historically, Bruce as always done something extra special for the Philadelphia crowds; Philadelphia was the first city to really get behind him when he first started out. A big reason for that, was WMMR DJ Ed Sciaky, who played Bruce on the air from the first. The late DJ was my radio mentor. Bruce came down to play the Main Point in the early days before the E Street Band was formed.
In addition to his trademark high energy performances, one way he makes the show special for Philly is to play some old songs that are not necessarily part of the current tour. He did that again both nights in Philly and treated the crowds to songs so old and rare that the Bruce faithful could not believe their ears. The first night in Philly he did "Seaside Bar Song" a tune that predates his first album and as it ended he launched right into "Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street".
The second night was full of surprises, but no Bruce fan in their right mind ever expected to hear him do "Thundercrack" but he did, and there is a video of it below; I'll tell you more when we get to the song. Meanwhile, here is the first chestnut he pulled out near the beginning of the show, "Night" from the Born to Run album.
We Take Care of Our Own
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Jack of All Trades
Prove It All Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Streets of Philadelphia
We Are Alive
Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Reading the setlist you can see what a great set this was. All the new songs from Wrecking Ball sound great live and the set was quite generous with the classics. Before you see "Thundercrack", some background is in order. Before Bruce was signed to Columbia Records, he was in a group called Steel Mill and later the Bruce Springsteen Band. Their big song was 'Thundercrack"; it was sort of a precursor to "Rosilita". When Bruce was signed and they began doing "Rosilita", "Thundercrack" was retired from the live set.
He has never recorded it, and to my knowledge, he has never (or rarely ever) played it live in the E Street Band era. If you get the 35 year anniversary edition of Born to Run, it comes with a DVD documentary on the making of Born to Run. Also on this DVD is a bonus, Live at the Ahmanson Theater, Los Angeles, 1973. That performance includes tow early songs, "Wild Billy's Circus Story" and "Thundercrack". To explain what happened I'll throw it to Backstreets.
"We're gonna take you back to the Main Point," Springsteen announced, locating a girl holding a request sign he professed to having seen the night before: "Please play 'Thundercrack' for my Dad in Iraq." The audience participation favorite is "still a good one," as Bruce commented at the song's conclusion. "That was our showstopper."
All the time they were playing it, I kept thinking to myself "I don't believe they're playing this". To pull out a song that old and to work out a perfect sounding arrangement for such a large band in only one day is a feat unto itself. Enjoy "Thundercrack".
When Clarence Clemons died last June, it left Bruce with the question of how to fill the gaping hole in his band; Clarence, as Bruce's counterpart on stage, the Big Man was so much more than just a sax player. For this tour, Bruce supplemented the E Street Band with a full on horn section, a violin player, and backup singers. Playing sax in the horn section was Jake Clemons, Clarence's nephew, and he played the sax parts beautifully. Bruce paid tribute several times to Clarence and also to Danny Federici, the E Street Band's deceased organ player . With some facts from Wikipedia, here is the complete band personnel for the Wrecking Ball Tour.
The E Street Band:
Bruce Springsteen: lead vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, harmonica
Roy Bittan: piano, synthesizer, accordion
Nils Lofgren: rhythm guitar, lead guitar, pedal steel guitar, acoustic guitar, accordion, background vocals
Patti Scialfa: background vocals, some duet vocals, acoustic guitar, occasional tambourine
Garry Tallent: bass guitar, rare background vocals, rare tuba
Steven Van Zandt: rhythm guitar, lead guitar, mandolin, acoustic guitar, background vocals, occasional featured lead vocal
Max Weinberg: drums, rare tambourine
Soozie Tyrell: violin, acoustic guitar, percussion, background vocals
Charles Giordano: organ, accordion, electronic glockenspiel, rare piano, occasional background vocals
Curtis King: background vocals, tambourine
Michelle Moore: background vocals, tambourine, duet vocal on "Rocky Ground"
Clark Gayton: trombone, percussion
Edie Manion: saxophone, percussion
Curt Ramm: trumpet, percussion
Barry Danielian: trumpet, percussion
Jake Clemons: saxophone, background vocals
Everett Bradley: percussion, background vocals
Soozie Tyrell's violin sounded especially good on "Wrecking Ball" (the song) and it combined nicely with the E Street horns to make the Irish sounding "Death to My Hometown" really come alive. The next video is "Trapped", a Jimmy Cliff song that was also a nice surprise; Bruce first covered this many years ago.
I couldn't find a good video, but one of the best surprises of the night was "Streets of Philadelphia". This beautiful song from the movie Philadelphia is one that I've never heard him do live. This was the first appearance of "Darkness On the Edge of Town" on this tour. Somehow this song keeps getting better and better through the years.
The two Wilson Pickett songs he did at the Apollo have remained in the set for this tour, now known as the Apollo Medley. When you watch this video, you will see one of the several times Bruce went down into the audience to sing. He had a small platform in the middle of the floor and at one point with his back to the stage and outstretched arms he allowed himself to fall backwards into the crowd and crowd surfed all the way back to the stage.
Once again, from Backstreets: The family affair continued, as Bruce introduced his mother ("She’s almost 90!" he exclaimed), sister and a dozen or so other relatives — "the whole clan" — who were sitting at stage right. "My mom knows a little about this," he said, introducing "Rocky Ground."
"Rocky Ground" sounds great on Wrecking Ball, but it's even better live. Tonight it kicked off the encore. This video has a nice close to the stage view and great sound.
It was an encore for the ages, as "Rocky Ground" ended, Bruce said, "Alright Philly, here we go" as the band launched into "Kitty's Back". The entire horn section and most of the band all took solos in this epic fifteen minute version. The band sounded awesome on this jazzy classic from the second album; I've always hoped that jazz inflected material might surface again in his repertoire. It hasn't yet, but "Kitty's Back" sure sounded good.
Because it was the second song of the encore and because it was so long, it seemed as if the show would be over at its conclusion. But no, as "Kitty's Back" was ending, they ripped into a full throttle "Born to Run" and the place went nuts. As if that wasn't enough, as "Born to Run" ended, on came "Dancing in the Dark". In the following video you can see Bruce bring his mom onstage to dance with him. When that song was done, they weren't, and the finish was a killer "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out", complete with another tribute to Clarence.
When he got to the line "When the change was made uptown And the Big Man joined the band", the band stopped and Bruce reached up and pointed his microphone toward the sky and waited while the crowd cheered for what seemed like several minutes. When it was all over, Bruce had made good on all the promises he laid out at the beginning of "My City of Ruins".