Springsteen performed two of his classic albums in sequence last night in the Count Basie theater. I'll be honest from the get go. When I saw the set list I didn't know what to think of it. I still don't. I am not a fan of artists doing their albums in sequence live. To me it reeks to much as a classical recital. R&R is supposed to be something else, something that pushes the boundaries, an art form that is relevant, relating to the here and now. Lou Reed recently toured behind the "Berlin" album, ruining on stage what once was a masterpiece. I was affraid that Springsteen might be disappointing doing something of the same thing. I feel that performances of this kind reek too much of nostalgia, an d too little of what an artist is about in the here and now. Springsteen has always partly been driven by a desire to be true to his art. Is a recital truthful? I have difficulty answering that question. Of course you can count on the mighty ESB to always deliver and give a mighty performance, that isn't the problem. The question is if they can deliver two classic albums and live up to the expectations of fans who have been waiting to hear this for thirty years. In the case of "Darkness on the Edge of Town" including Springsteen himself. It is no secret that he was never satisfied with the way the album turned out and has been talking about recording it live almost from the day the album was released.
So the question is if this performance lives up to his and our expectations. It wont surprise anybody that the Red Bank performance doesn't. This isn't the majestic performance fans have created in their minds over the years, nor could it be. The recital of our fantasies is put together out of the best of the performances he's given over the thirty years he's been touring behind the material. Any current performance he'll give is bound to have moments where it doesn't live up to our mental picture. But perhaps this performance shouldn't be judged in that light, by those high standards. What I am listening to is a very solid rendition of a collection of songs that we all seem to agree upon. "Born To Run" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town" are the corner stones of his career. And I admit he still does them justice. Springsteen still delivers the material with a fervor. He sings every song like he still feels every word, is still able to give them new meaning. The band plays the material with a youthfulness that is uncanny and funnily enough, they play some of the songs better these days than they did during the legendary '78 tour. The E-Street Band is tighter than it has ever been, which helps songs as "Badlands" tremendously. But even though they play the hell out of the songs, you can't help but think back to the intro the Boss used to do before tearing into "Prove It All Night".
Maybe its the setting, the E-street Band back in the theater. The whole show, the circumstances almost forces your memory back to a time thirty years ago. But that is exactly where this evening sits uneasy with me. From the sounds of it the people in the Count Basie Theater got an amazing show, yet I cannot bring myself to enjoy this recording as much as I do an average Magic show. No matter how many killer solos Nils throws at this material, no matter how well the horn section works, how good Springsteen's voice is or how many solos Clarence nails, it does not live up to my expectations nor does it really bring back the shows thirty years past. I keep wondering if the show would have been better if the material played would have been more representative of his entire career. The Basie show would have been an excellent opportunity to throw us some real curve balls, although you may argue that this is indeed the mother of all curve balls, but maybe you understand what I'm getting at. Rare songs, rare covers, mixed with new material, stories that relate to the here and now, stories of Danny Federici, I can't help but miss that in this show.
This is undeniably nit picking from a fan who wasn't there though. As this recording illustrate, the Basie wasn't about to spoil their fun with concerns as these. The band is giving a hell of a show and seems to be getting an equal response. How could they not, small theater Springsteen is a rarity, the Boss crowd surfing even more so. Funny thing is, this recording even sounds like a classic audience tape. Some of the old warts are back that were missing from the arena tapes. People clapping out of time up front, sound drops, chatter, it is all there. The band sounds a bit distant, but a lot less hollow because of the acoustic. Theater tapes carry a lot less echo. This tape is a nice representation of an oddity in Springsteen's career. Fun to listen to, but nothing that will find you throwing out those classic albums with the trash. And lets be honest, how many bootlegs will you find these days that end with "Raise Your Hand"!
"Street Of Fire"
Download "Darkness on the Edge of Town" here
Download "Born To Run" here
Download the encores here
The official Count Basie Theater site
Recording: 3 out of 5
Show: 3,5 out of 5
Artwork: 3 out 5
Note: here's an alternative link to the entire show in one batch, courtesy of BTX.
Crystal Cat released their version of that already legendary Red Bank show Springsteen did at the Count Basie theater. Since it is a beefed up version of the recording that has already been floating around you can let it pass you buy. Crystal Cat really botched this one up. They made it into a two disc release. "Thunder Road" actually comes at the end of the first disc, destroying the concept of the show. I'm glad I got this one for free and didn't shell out my hard earned cash on a silver disc copy.
Get the Crystal Cat Red Bank release in mp3 here