Review Summary: Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band rock into the night in this uneven set of hits and misses. Perhaps a good glimpse of an artist emerging but once again nothing special, we are still waiting for a definitive Bruce live set. And Live '75 isn't it.
Always one of the most electrifying performers in rock n roll Bruce Springsteen built his reputation in the music business as a live performer. Before there was MTV and large commercial endorsements and internets and a video on youtube or myspace, a performer still had to travel town to town to get his music heard and sold. Much may be the case today, also. But today an audience is much more likely to of been exposed to live music via so many different media outlets the edgy excitement that used to come with going to a live music event
might be somewhat less then it used to be.
Always notoriously critical of live music being delivered any other way but live
, Bruce Springsteen has released just five live recordings in his 34 years of making records. One was an accident, another wasn't supposed to happen at all, another was based around a previous DVD release, one EP, and the disc I'm currently reviewing. Not exactly stellar output from someone who is arguably one of the top five live performers in the history of rock n roll. Some might even dare say a definitive
rock n roll performer. Whatever the pros and cons of it though, Bruce Springsteen refuses to believe a full live performance by he and the E Street Band can come close to being captured properly by cameras, tape, or modern technology. Live music is a live experience. As in alive
. Perhaps his opinion" Perhaps a self-fulfilling negative before he can prove himself otherwise" But Bruce Springsteen And The E Strret Band Live At The Hammersmith '75 does a pretty good job of stating his case for the real thing and not something you sit at home and listen to on the couch.
The familiar will recognize the opening strains of "Thunder Road" right off the bat, with Bruce taking a turn on piano and harmonica until finally joined by soft bass and glockinspiel. You can hide 'neath your covers and study your pain/Make crosses from your lovers/ Throw roses in the rain/Waste your summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets" Bruce poetically pleas, trying to win the affection of the one he longs for. It's a touching and tender ballad, but not what Springsteen has come to do on this night. Striking up the band Springsteen and company throw themselves headlong into the next track, the powerful and soulful "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out". Reminescent of the best of Motown and Philly soul, The E Street Band just three years old and this young man from Jersey show they have been schooled right in R&B 101 and kick out this jam with everyone joining the party. Bruce calls out band members to step up and give him the juice and they deliver hard. "Clarence" he screams. "Band"! "Hit it"! And they are spot on. "Step It Up"! "Raise your hands"! And if you didn't know any better you'd swear Bruce was a black boy from the heart of Chicago with his big bluesy voice and gruff howl.
Another piece of blue-eyed soul comes dancing along next with the whimiscal and nostalgic "Spirit In The Night". And good as it is, it's also the first time on record Bruce's aforementioned argument in favor of live music being kept live is clearly given weight. The bridge of the song is extended, as Bruce often did in his live material back then. And although he may have the audience with him, the listener at home gets a bit lost. This song, soulful and rocking up to this point, comes to a dead stop at the bridge as Bruce breathes out a few lyrics and proceeds to crawl around the stage looking for his beanie before the band kicks it back up even higher then before. And while this might work fine in an arena of 10,000 watching your every move and perhaps over a few listens at home or in your car, after a bit more listening it just falls flat. In a live performance this is what is called "a moment" On record it simply feels like a moment too long. And their are one too many of them on this album. And with the plodding, slow tempo "Lost In The Flood" following, things seem to come to an abrupt end while they were just getting started. Not a bad song, and a glimpse of Bruce's early social concience, Lost In The Flood nonetheless loses much of its drama after repeated listenings and is fairly generic hard rock in every way. Placed elsewhere on the album and the flow could of been kept, as a joyous and rootsy "She's The One" comes steam rolling along next followed by a pre-anthemic and lively "Born To Run". But as it is the combination of Spirit In The Night and Lost In The Flood simply serve early notice of what is wrong about this record.
And so it goes for two hours of frustrating moment after frustrating moment as Springsteen and his fine group of players bring it hard and bring it loud, but also bog you down with material really meant only for the stage. Cuts originally intended to be seven or eight minutes in length certainly excel here, as that was the way the songs were originally intended. The lengthy and heart breaking "Backstreets" with its tale of youthful romantic dreams torn away and the desperation that follows, and the epic ten minute classic "Jungleland" both succeed here. By way of passionate performance and the songs being as they are on record they come off the same live as on the just released "Born To Run" album. Cinematic, bold, and lyrically advanced far beyond Springsteen's then 25 years, these tracks show Bruce to be the gifted songwriter he is recognized as today. Likewise the seventeen minute (yes seventeen minute) "Kitty's Back" is just as successful as Bruce and band turn this into a long jam that includes an extended jazzy bridge that eventually turns into what Kittys Back has always been. A thinly disguised tribute to Van Morrison's "Moondance". And gracefully and skillfully it becomes Moondance before making an about face and heading back to where it started. So basically what we get is a three song jam of music that takes the listener higher and higher, whereas on his other extended outings we simply get crowd teasers. And unless you were in the crowd chances are it will be lost on you. The nearly quarter hour "E Street Shuffle" includes a three minute
intro of nothing more then piano doodling until Springsteen turns this studio rave up into an ill advised sleepy blues number, and his beautiful ballad "4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" is dragged out for dramatic effect that never quite reaches the listener at home, however maginficiant it may of been on this night. Close perhaps. Unfortunately close isn't enough.
But for as many missteps as this album has it has just as many brilliant ones that show this young artist eager, alive, and ready to take the Rock n Roll world by storm. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) with its rock and soul rythmn and persistent lyrics of a guy asking a girl to take a chance on him is just plain fun, uproarious, and certainly a Springsteen fan favorite. Likewise his now well worn Detroit Medley of "Devil With The Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly/C.C. Ryder, etc" is a kick in the pants of uplifting soul, hard charging rock, and gloriously unhinged musicians playing as though their lives depend on it. And the spirited and rockin' cover "Quarter To Three" closes things out on the high note fans have come to know and expect of Springsteen for the past 35 years. Good deal.
Unfortunately its not quite enough to raise this album to nearly the heights one expects of a performer like Bruce Springsteen. Perhaps an interesting glimpes of a then emerging artist or a treat for the die hard, uninitiated, or curious, this album (like all of Springsteens live recordings to date) is simply a frustrating taste of an artist doing what he does best from a perspective that doesn't serve the artist. Bruce Springsteen knows where live music belongs. His three hour, sweat soaked, blood on the floor marathon shows are stuff of true rock n roll legend. But outside the arena for which they are intended the enormity of the event is just too big to box up and put to disc, leaving a bitter taste of disappointment in ones mouth when all is said and done. Their are moments of greatness here, but also a few too many moments which are best left for the moment. Recorded on what Bruce has long considered an "off night" for himself and the band and thus never released, listening to Live At The Hammersmith '75 you would never guess it, as the band is alive, Bruce is on top of his game, and the album roars like thunder. Nevertheless without your arse planted in a seat and in flesh and blood, this reviewer can't help but feel half the fire is lost from the stage to the tape to the record to my stereo. And no matter how loud I turn it up, how naked I am while dancing on my living room floor, or how passionate I am about this artist and his music, my comfy sofa at home is no place for live
rock n roll.