In 1975, Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band stepped out onto the stage of the Hammersmith Odeon in London. Yes sir, London was “finally ready for Bruce Springsteen.” The thing is, the good people of London had no idea what was about to hit them. Like a freight train powered by a thousand engines, Springsteen steam rolled the audience on that fateful night. For almost two and a half hours, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band showed those Brits how the Americans do rock ‘n’ roll. And he did it all while wearing a funny green hat. This is Springsteen before he was a legend, up close and personal. Live at the Hammersmith Odeon.
This concert is, plain and simple, two hours and ten minutes of pure energy. Even during the slower songs, there is an unmistakable vigor flowing through the band. And at the center of it all stands Bruce Springsteen. Looking every inch like the rock and roll icon we know today, he shows off his skills as a frontman, sounding in some songs even better than he does on record. Springsteen opens up this concert incredibly strongly, and doesn’t let up for quite a while. The powerful one-two punch of “Thunder Road” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” to open up the concert was a great move. This version of “Thunder Road” isn’t the rocker on Born to Run; instead, it is a beautiful piano driven piece. Springsteen’s voice is haunting, full of a longing that is never completely satisfied. After the soft, uplifting opener, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” kicks in and knocks you flat on your back, a great showcase of Springsteen’s gruff vocals.
And on it goes. Throughout the night, the E Street Band put on a great show, full of that American exuberance that was necessary if they wanted to succeed. The band members all play wonderfully. Roy Bittan practically steals the show with his superb piano playing, showcased perfectly on “Jungleland” and “Lost in the Flood.” It would be a sin not to mention Clarence Clemon’s prolific saxophone work, as seen in his legendary “Jungleland” solo. Max Weinberg’s drumming is incredibly energetic and Steven Van Zandt’s guitar work completely dwarfs anything that Springsteen does with his Telecaster. Indeed, that is the one complaint I have with the musical portion of the band. You have to sit through four songs before Springsteen even touches his guitar. While this might not seem like a huge problem, he is known for his guitar playing, and it would have been nice to see him play a little bit more. A few of the fans present on that night felt the same way, as one of them shouts “Pick up the guitar!!” when Bruce puts it down after the band plays “Born to Run.”
As far as the quality of the band, this is one of the best live DVDs I have ever seen. Everything sounds perfect, and although the picture is understandably grainy, it’s not so bad that it warrants any complaints from me. As I mentioned before, some songs sound better live than they do on record. The “Spirit in the Night” that you hear on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. is a slow, jazzy song; in this concert it has been transformed into a faster rock song that I would much rather prefer to listen to, despite the lag in the middle. “Lost in the Flood” is more enjoyable in this concert than the original recorded version as well. Roy Bittan adds in a melancholy piano intro, and Bruce gives his most impassioned vocal performance of the night on this song, ranging from quiet crooning to rage-filled shouting. The extra ending added on to “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album.
The concert is not without its flaws, though. This is best exemplified during “The E Street Shuffle” and “Kitty’s Back.” These are two of the band’s jam session songs, and they completely fail to hold my interesting for very long. “Kitty’s Back” is seventeen minutes of pure frustration, as most of the band members are allotted a few minutes to showcase their instrumental capabilities. There are enjoyable moments, sure, but most of the song is just boring, and Danny Federici’s two and a half minute organ solo is just plain pretentious and self gratifying. “The E Street Shuffle” suffers from many of the same problems. “Born to Run” is great, but it fails to live up to the standard that was set on the record of the same name. Other than that, the concert is virtually flaw free.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s performance at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975 is live music how it should be. It’s hard-hitting and beautiful all at once. At times the performance is so personal that it feels as if you could just reach out and touch the performers; other times the rock is brought on so strong that you can’t even get up out of your seat. As far as live performances go, this concert is legendary, and for good reason. Bruce Springsteen is someone that should be looked upon as a hero by anyone who is a fan of rock ‘n’ roll. He made the music how it was meant to be played, and throughout his three decade career, he hasn’t let up once. Despite the few missteps, this DVD is superb and I strongly recommend it.