Review Summary: An interesting show both for the short-lived line-up featured as well some early versions of some later classics, "Live at the Mainpoint" has some excellent performaces, but also many that are improved upon in later live releases, making it not quite defi
Bruce Springsteen is an undeniable legend when it comes to live performances. Playing marathon tours across the world, packing night after night with just about all the hits, a good number of deeps cuts, whatever new material he's promoting, and still taking about 5 or 6 requests and doing a few covers in the span of one show without even taking a break and doing it all with more energy and enthusiasm than any major star I've ever seen. The fact that the man is now in his 40th year as a recording artist and he's still playing the longest and most daring shows of his life is just a testament to his power as an entertainer.
With such a reputation, it's hard to remember that at one point Bruce was just the leader of a regular rock and roll band, playing bars and small clubs every night and fighting for their chance at success. These have been documented somewhat over the years with both his box set "Live 1975-85", featuring many performances from his legendary 1978 tour but unfortunately cutting down and overdubbing many, as well as the incredible "Live at the Hammersmith Odeon" which documents his first show in Europe after the release of the successful "Born To Run" album. While these are adequate releases, it's disappointing that there isn't more live Bruce available commercially from the early days, especially since many shows from this time were captured in pristine soundboards for radio broadcasts.
This brings us to "Live at the Mainpoint 1975", a bootleg recording taken from a concert originally broadcast on WMMR in Philadelphia in 1975. The concert has long been legendary among fans of Springsteen and is always considered one of those essential shows that everyone needs to have along with the Bottom Lince Club in 1975, the Winterland in 1978, Nassau Coliseum in 1980. While all of those other shows are amazing, particularly the Winterland '78, I find the Mainpoint show to be the most interesting just because it documents the band in a place that nothing else ever has. For one, concert pre-dates the release of "Born To Run" by 6 months and thus presents several songs from that album in their working stages, as well as being one of the only recordings, and the only soundboard one, to capture the band when it still had violinist Suki Lahav as a member. So even on paper, it's easy to see that this is a special kind of recording, but just give it a listen and you'll see how special it really is.
After Ed Sciaky gives a clearly admirable introduction the band opens with the phenomenal "Incident on 57th Street", long their most underrated song and a rarity as an opener. The song is rendered beautiful with just a solo piano and some highly emotive vocals by Bruce, an arrangement that's been revived by Springsteen in recent years, but it's perfected with Lahav's wistful backup vocals and leads played on violin, lost forever after she left and leaving this as the one of the definitive versions (if you don't mind audience recordings, the version from the Boston Music Hall in 1977 is my favourite).
"Mountain of Love" follows, a cover of an early rock and roll song, typical of early Springsteen shows. It's rollicking and fun and a musical party and acts as a good way of setting a more layer back mood after the highly emotional start. Next is "Born to Run", the classic of Bruce's catalog, played very professionally and close to the record without dragging out too much as would be expected for a song that had just been recorded and is probably unfamiliar to the audience. "The E Street Shuffle" was the (partial) title track from Bruce's second album, but here it's played in a slowed down, soul influenced rendition with a funny intro where he tells the story of how he met saxophonist Clarence Clemons. The slow version is good as a mid-set slowdown but I feel like this rendition isn't quite that refined, and though lacking the story, the version from the Hammersmith Odeon later that year is vastly superior.
As I mentioned, as the album was still being recorded, the songs from "Born To Run", besides the title track, are different than how they would end up. This is first seen next on "Wings For Wheels", the original title for the classic "Thunder Road". The music and melody is the same but the lyrics aren't quite as refined yet and this rendition lacks the passion of some later ones (any of the solo piano ones from later-75 are definitive). Another cover follows it with "I Want You" from Bob Dylan's "Blonde On Blonde". It's one of the weirder choices for a cover that I've seen Springsteen do, but this version again benefits from the beautiful violin work of Lahav. "Spirit In The Night" is up next and it never really fails to please. It's just a fun, showstopping kind of song that you can really get into the groove of.
The next work-in-progress song is "She's The One" which interestingly enough actually contains lyrics that would later evolve into some for "Backstreets". The Bo Diddley beat really keeps it driving though and the funky, syncopated breakdown in the middle is one of the great moments that never made it onto the album that makes this such a fun listen.
"Growin' Up" is next, and it's short and sweet, if a little uninteresting considering the energy of the live setting (they later improved this come 1978 when Bruce started incorporating long stories into the intro and bridge of the song, including everything from getting a motorcycle accident as a teenager and having his father forcefully cut off his hair to urinating in his desk at Catholic school and telling the priest it was because he was a werewolf).vvLike "Spirit In The Night", "It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City" is just one of those early, high energy Springsteen classics that always rips and sort of helps make up for the dull rendition of "Growin' Up".
Next up is "Jungleland", one of the highlights of the show. Again, the lyrics are vastly different from the final version at times, mostly for the worst, but here much of the music is different as well. The intro is slightly altered and not quite as slick, but having Lahav's violin playing along with Roy Bittan's piano in the intro creates that majestic, Western styled opening that we hear on the album perfectly, always missing since then without a violinist in the band. Another notable difference is that reversal of solos, with Clemons taking a quick-paced, R&B styled sax solo and Springsteen taking the longer, drawn out and distant guitar solo. While Springsteen is a great player, Clemons' solo on the album is so legendary, probably his finest moment, that it's hard to hear anything else there. It makes up for it though at the end of the solo when guitar, violin and saxophone all perform in unison a beautiful lead melody over the background keyboards, creating a beautiful, emotional peak for the song and presenting a truly sublime moment that I absolutely wish had made it to the final version of the song.
The jazzy "Kitty's Back" is always a good end of main set kind of song, being the closest the E Street Band ever had to a jam song. It's extended past ten minutes and features a wicked organ solo from Danny Federici, as well as more guitar soloing from Springsteen, improving from "Jungleland", and Clemons honking along a sweet, funky solo like it's what he was born to do. By the time the chorus finally comes back in, things are truly rocking. The only thing that brings it down is that there is a definite drop in quality here, presumably just from an equipment fault (it was being recorded on the spot after all; any mistake was irremovable). This is a real shame because it continues through the entire climax of the show, the staggering 20 minute rendition of "New York City Serenade", another underrated masterpiece from their early days. Like "Incident On 57th Street", it's been rearranged to incorporate Lahav's violin as a central part, making it even more beautiful than the album version. It features a long middle section with some fantastic hushed vocals from Springsteen that slowly crescendo to the end of the song, taking the listener on something of an emotional journey and ending the main part of the show perfectly. I think it's probably the best performance on the whole album.
The encore begins in a fun fashion, as it should, with Bruce handing the microphone through the crowd so that they can say hello to their friends over the radio. One of the things I love about this show and other early Springsteen ones is that with the smaller venues, there is a greater level of interaction with the crowd which Springsteen uses to its full ability, bringing everyone into the spectacle. This has always been one of the best parts of Springsteen as a performer and with so many years of practice, he now has the uncanny ability to make 50,000 people in a stadium feel like they're all part of the show. "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" kicks in after this. With it's high energy sound, only improved live in concert, and sing-a-long chorus, "Rosalita" is the ultimate party song and it's not to want to just jump up and dance to it. "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" is just as romantic as ever and Federici's accordion playing always gets me into it, and the follow up of "A Love So Fine", medlied with "Shout" is a great, high energy way to end the show. But as per usual with Bruce, the end never seems to come.
Encore number two kicks in with Bruce by himself, singing and playing piano on "For You", another long and emotional tune. The rendition is good, but again there's a better one from the Hammersmith Odeon show. Ending it all though is a cover of Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA", a terrifically fun rock and roll song that works well as an ending.
All in all, "Live at the Mainpoint 1975" is classic Bruce Springsteen. The great performances on many tracks, alternate versions of songs and rare band line-up make it a must have for diehard fans, and it's even possible to be enjoyed by some more casual ones. I wouldn't say any of the songs benefit from the less refined lyrics, and for many songs these aren't the best performances they would ever have, but it's still a classic and if anything fascinating show to listen to.
(P.S. - My edition, a 4-LP vinyl set from some label in Europe, also contains four bonus tracks, "Thunder Road", "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out", "Pretty Flamingo", and "Backstreets" all recorded at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles in later 1975. They're all fantastic performances and definitely a nice bonus, and it makes me also recommend, if you have the means, any shows from this Roxy run, which I actually prefer to the more popular Bottom Line run)