BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND
The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts (Sony)
MYTHOLOGY AND SELF-PERPETUATING HISTORY have always been crucial to Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. Including, it should be noted, calling this live album (and DVD if you want the full package) “the legendary”. But for some of us, for a long time, mythology was all we had.
Before ever seeing him live, long before even being a fan really, there were things that were “known” about Bruce Springsteen but not really understood from this corner of the world. At least beyond the exuberant live footage of one song, Rosalita, which Donnie Sutherland would regularly sneak on towards the end of Sounds on a Saturday morning and leave us gobsmacked, even if we weren’t sure we were buying in completely.
He put on long shows; he put on full-body-commitment shows that would see him all over the stage and all over that huge sax player of his; he and his band were like human jukeboxes with deep wells of soul, garage rock and other classic ‘50s and ‘60s styles, to augment his own songs; he probably was as American, for all that meant, as anyone and anything we would likely encounter.
Reading reports at the time of the spectacular shows he did over a couple of September nights at the No Nukes Concerts in Madison Square Gardens, organised by musical activists like Jackson Browne, all this was reinforced. And then it was rubbed in when it became clear that while a few Springsteen songs were included in the film of the event, that was all we would get of the E-Street Band on tape or film. The rest of it would pass into myth.
Perhaps annoyingly, but really not that surprising, the latest release from his vaults - now available in multiple formats, not just as a resource for fans to download – lives up to the legendary tag. Lives up to the myth.
It finds the classic lineup in full control of songs from the two career-defining albums which had preceded the shows (Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town), throwing in a couple of songs which would a year later appear on the double album The River, pumped up with a jigger full of old school rockers, and one old original, Rosalita (naturally).
The twin keyboards of Roy Bittan and Danny Federici are best served by the remastered sound, their significant contributions, sometimes obscured by the flamboyance of guitars and sax, full frontal and colouring everything. But really, the whole band is primed and unrelenting, and given the set lengths were a fraction of their regular show that makes sense. They probably went out afterwards and played a bar set somewhere.
There’s so much energy in Badlands and Born To Run, you might expect the more intense songs would see passion take a back seat by comparison, but The River is gutsy and open, and The Promised Land is almost as compelling. Even on record, without the visuals. As for the “Detroit medley” and the rest of the history tour? Well, don’t expect to sit and listen.
“I can’t go on like this. I’m 30 years old! My heart’s starting to go on me,” Springsteen pleads during the breakdown six minutes into a raucous, sped up cover of Quarter To Three. But with the equivalent of a James Brown casting off of the cape, he does go on. Rock’n’roll’s gonna kill me Ma but I just can’t stop.
Of course, he couldn’t. Wouldn’t. The myth wouldn’t allow it.
A version of this review was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.