I met my wife in New Jersey in the spring of 1973, and one of the first things she did was play me an album by a Jersey kid named Bruce Springsteen. He only had one album at the time, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. — his second album, The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, wasn’t released until September of that year. I was, of course, impressed, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Bruce Springsteen is one of those artists for whom I like their early stuff the best. Eric Clapton and Joe Walsh are a couple of others that come to mind. Some artists seem to do their best work when they’re young and hungry. Springsteen’s Born in the USA album marked his ascent to the top of the music world; for me it’s a line of demarcation — my favorite stuff of his is what came before that.
My all-time #1 concert was when we saw Bruce and the E Street Band at McDonough Arena, Georgetown University (Washington DC) on December 6, 1975. The show was part of the Born to Run tour (it had been released that summer), and they played songs from the first 3 albums. They were AMAZING.
Three weeks or so prior to that, Bruce and the band played their first-ever show in London, at Hammersmith Odeon on November 18. For those of you up on your Springsteen lore, this was the night he spent some time tearing down ‘Finally London is ready for Bruce Springsteen’ posters before the show. The band was as excellent as I remembered them from the show we saw. There’s some extended jamming like they didn’t do in later years. Ever want to hear an extended solo from Roy Bittan on piano or Bruce on guitar? Check out Kitty’s Back. The show starts with the acoustic version of Thunder Road, with just Roy on piano and Bruce on harmonica. When Bruce played at London’s Hyde Park in 2012, he opened with the same song, and introduced it as the first song he ever played in London, referring to this show.
A DVD of this show was included with the 30th anniversary release of Born to Run in 2005, and the concert was then released as an audio CD in 2006. When I want to listen to some Springsteen, this is usually the one I turn to. I found the video on YouTube, so I include it here for your enjoyment. It’s a must-see for Springsteen fans, and also for those who want to know what’s the big deal about this guy.
My wife and I recently spent two enjoyable evenings attending rock-related events at our local movie theater. The first event was the showing of the documentary Springsteen and I; the second was for Grateful Dead Meet Up at the Movies 2013 for the showing of the concert film Sunshine Daydream. The really big screen and a pretty good sound system made for an enjoyable viewing experience.
Both events had extra material in addition to the primary films. Plus, before the shows, instead of the usual promos for movies you couldn’t pay me to see and other commercials, they had things that were relevant to the show we were about to see. (Amazing!) Among other things, before the Springsteen show they had a video of the band in concert and before the Grateful Dead show they had a film of some amazing tie dye fabric with the band playing in the background.
Springsteen and I
Springsteen and I was put together by Ridley Scott Associates. They sent out a request to fans to make a film about what the music of Bruce Springsteen means to them. The film is made up of films that were submitted in response. It’s primarily aimed at fans, and my wife (the Jersey girl) and I, having first seen him in 1975, would certainly qualify. We loved it. Here are some reviews. Searching for “Springsteen and I” on YouTube will find many of the submissions.
The emotions run the gamut from heartfelt to hilarious. There are people who talk about how Bruce has provided the soundtrack to their life. There’s one from a woman who danced on stage with Bruce during Dancing in the Dark. I liked the one from the mother who, when she’s chauffeuring her kids around, will only play Springsteen. The funniest one was from a guy who went to a show in Philadelphia dressed as Elvis, and was pulled up on stage to do an Elvis song with the band. Then there was the English guy who went to the shows because his wife is a fan, and complained that the shows were too long.
The documentary is about 1:15. After that, they showed some concert footage and then some additional film of Bruce meeting with a few of the people whose films were included in the documentary (including the guy who thought the shows were too long and his wife). A wish-that-were-me moment.
The concert footage was of 6 songs from the band’s show in Hyde Park, London, in the summer of 2012. Apparently it was televised in England and, as a result, the performance is available on YouTube. The highlight, by far, comes when Paul McCartney joins them to do a couple of Beatles songs at the end. I know that, for most of you, it’s just a couple of old guys playing. Bruce was about 14 when the Beatles first came out, so he had a ‘that’s what I want to do’ moment as a young kid watching them. When introducing Paul, he says that he’s waited 50 years to do this. The set list:
- Thunder Road (with just Roy Bittan on piano and Bruce on harmonica)
- Shackled and Drawn
- Because the Night (has an amazing guitar solo from Nils Lofgren)
- We Are Alive
- I Saw Her Standing There (with Paul McCartney)
- Twist and Shout (with Paul McCartney)
This is a film of part of a Grateful Dead concert that took place on August 27, 1972 in Veneta, Oregon. The concert was staged as a benefit for the Springfield Creamery, which was owned by the family of author Ken Kesey. The friendship between the Grateful Dead and Kesey and the Merry Pranksters is well-documented (particularly in Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test).
Since it was a relatively primitive time technologically, and due to cost, the show was recorded on 16mm video. They didn’t get the whole show, including the end because the sun went down and they weren’t able to film after sunset. Recently, the video and audio have been cleaned up using modern technology and they salvaged more of the video; that’s what we saw at the movie theater. In addition to the concert film, they also showed a documentary called Grateful Days, which talks about how the show was put together and has a number of interviews with people who were there that day. They are now selling this revised film at the Grateful Dead’s website, along with a 3-CD set of the complete concert, plus the documentary.
They may not have the whole concert on video, but what they do have is outstanding. The band was in fine form that day. The only gripe I have is that since filming ended because of darkness, we don’t get to see Sugar Magnolia, Casey Jones and One More Saturday Night. The other thing you get from the concert film plus the documentary is a sense of the culture that the Grateful Dead were a part of. The Springfield Creamery was part of the then-new organic food movement, and you see how caring for the earth is part of the movement too.
Click here to listen to an audio recording of the (complete) show. This is from the Grateful Dead Internet Archives, which has two types of recordings — audience microphone and sound board. The link is for a sound board recording, which can only be streamed. If you want to download the show, search on the site for “1972-08-27″ — there are also audience recordings of this show. And, in case you are wondering, the site has a recording of just about every show the Grateful Dead played during their 30-year career.
I also found an older video of Sunshine Daydream on YouTube, which is linked below. It is definitely worth watching, but it’s less than what we saw in the updated version that was shown in the theater. There’s at least one more song that they were able to restore in the revised version of the film, and, while I didn’t watch every minute of the YouTube version, I didn’t see any of the “naked hippies dancing” part. You can still see and hear how great they were that day. We’ve ordered the DVD/CD package.
Anyone who is a fan of the Conan O’Brien TV show (link for original show here) is familiar with trombone player Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg. You may not know about his history before the show. He got started as a member of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The Jukes were part of the New Jersey scene that included Bruce Springsteen (who gave La Bamba his nickname). In fact, E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt was a member of the Jukes in the early days. That also explains how La Bamba knew E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg, who recruited him for the Conan O’Brien Show band.
Below is a link for the Jukes’ song When You Dance, written by Springsteen and Van Zandt, which first appeared on the 1977 album This Time It’s For Real. This shows that La Bamba had a flair for comedy 35 years ago. At the beginning of the song the band is chanting “La Bamba, La Bamba, …” while La Bamba does a crazed elephant impersonation on his trombone. It’s hilarious and it’s a great song; give it a listen:
I went to a lot of concerts in the 70s and 80s. That covers the time from when I started college (actually fall 1969) through the time my wife and I became parents in 1987. Suddenly the logistics were more complicated and there were more things going on, so we haven’t gone to as many since that time.
When I think back over all the concerts I’ve gone to, there are two performances that stand out for me as the coolest things I’ve seen. There were others concerts I enjoyed more overall, but these two performances were amazing.
I saw the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble during my freshman year in college, so this was during the 1969-70 school year. Their performance of the Chuck Berry classic Roll Over Beethoven blew me away. The band was started by students at the Juilliard School (link to school website), so they were of course outstanding at classical music. They sat down as a string quartet (2 violins, viola and cello) and started a Beethoven piece. Then, one of them picked up an electric guitar and played the Chuck Berry riff that starts the rock song, and they all switched instruments and became a rock band. They went back to the string quartet for the bridge, then back to the rock band to finish the song. The playing, in both formats, was very impressive. For me it focused on how musicianship can make rock music more enjoyable to listen to — it’s more than just getting your hair and your attitude right. There was an energy that made their performance special. When I listened to their records later, their playing seemed to restrained by comparison, that energy was missing.
At a Weather Report concert in the early 1980s at Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia, Maryland, I saw bass player Jaco Pastorius play Jimi Hendrix‘ Purple Haze as a bass duet — WITH HIMSELF. He set two speakers facing each other with a guitar stand in between. With the first bass he played the repeating notes (octaves?) that start the song (click here to refresh your memory). He set the bass between the speakers so that the notes repeated in a loop. Then he picked up a second bass and played the lead of the song. I found it mind-boggling that not only could he play it on a bass but that it sounded just like the Hendrix original. I don’t think he sang, and I don’t remember anything about the end of the song. It was that WHAM moment at the beginning of the song that stuck with me.
In addition to being awesome performances, another thing they have in common — unfortunately, in this case — is that there doesn’t seem to be video available. At least not that I could find. So all I have to share with you is the memory. I hope you have also experienced a magical in-concert moment like these.
My favorite singer is the answer to an interesting bit of trivia — In all of the Led Zeppelin albums, there is only one song that has a vocalist from outside the band. The singer is Sandy Denny and the song is The Battle of Evermore. As I stated in my Introduction to this blog, I listen to the voice as an instrument, and I think Sandy Denny’s voice is just beautiful. Listen to her duet with Robert Plant:
Sandy Denny was best known as the lead singer for the folk rock band Fairport Convention (she was a member of the band from 1968-70 and 1974-75). Fairport Convention are, according to their Wikipedia biography, “widely regarded as the most important single group in the English folk rock movement. Their seminal album Liege and Lief is generally considered to have launched the electric folk or English folk rock movement, which provided a distinctively English identity to rock music and helped awaken much wider interest in traditional music in general.”
Here are videos for two traditional folk songs from Liege and Lief that showcase her wonderful singing. The first is English folk ballad Matty Groves, about an adulterous affair that ends badly:
Tam Lin is a Scottish ballad about a man who is a captive of the faeries and the woman who rescues him:
Sandy Denny was also an accomplished songwriter and musician. Best known of her compositions is Who Knows Where the Time Goes, which was a hit for Judy Collins and has been covered by many others. Here’s a video of Sandy performing her song:
I didn’t find a lot of live footage of her, but I did find this clip of her performing 3 songs while accompanying herself on piano and guitar — North Star Grassman and the Ravens, Crazy Lady Blues and Late November. The first song is the title of one of her solo albums.
Sadly, she died young, at 30. She left behind an impressive body of work, and that wonderful voice that we can listen to.