I wept with joy this afternoon at the release of yet another Bruce Springsteen concert from the vaults. Springsteen hooked up with nugs.net near the end of 2014, and released two stellar concerts within a few weeks’ time. (Rolling Stone gave a 5-star review to The Agora, Cleveland 1978, saying “This is simply the greatest live LP this greatest of live rockers has ever officially released.” I agreed until now…) I’m not kidding when I say I cried – the Tower Theater show was recorded on New Year’s Eve, the final performance of the Born to Run tour. We’ve had Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 (recorded six weeks earlier) for almost ten years now, since the 30th anniversary of the Born to Run album. It was a stellar document, but Tower Theater is better. So much freaking better.
I’ve never heard the slowed-down version of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out Springsteen does here. It’s a stunner, even more so knowing he’s been performing the song for the past two years as tribute to saxophone player Clarence Clemons, now deceased. When Springsteen gave the keynote address at SXSW in 2012, he cited The Animals as his primary influence: “It’s my life, I’ll do what I want. They were cruel. They were cruel, which was so freeing. It was so freeing.” His rendition of The Animals’ It’s My Life in this concert is astonishing.
Born to Run is the eighth song in the set – an overworked encore since forever, but on this recording it’s fresh and vital; new, and so fast – it runs a brisk four minutes. Other rarities include Pretty Flamingo – written by Mark Barkan, with a long spoken introduction (musically the same as the E-Street Shuffle intro from Hammersmith Odeon), Harold Dorman’s Mountain of Love, and an encore that includes Detroit Medley, Quarter to Three, Thunder Road, and Twist and Shout.
Springsteen likes to say lately that his band has never been better – certainly, they can play almost anything now, and there’s something exciting about throwing away the setlist night after night. Today’s band is everything he always wanted – a full horn section, violin, and three dedicated backup singers. But. His 1975 band was a lean six plus himself. If he says they’ve never been playing better than now, it may be true. But. There’s something undeniably thrilling about the 26 year-old Bruce, traveling around the country in a packed cargo van, going for broke in the name of rock and roll salvation. He left it all on the stage, and this recording proves it. Essential listening.