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Springsteen at His Best

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.

Rock at the Movie Theater

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)


Sunshine Daydream

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.

Great Moments in Rock – La Bamba (Richie Rosenberg)

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:

Click here to listen