It is rare I run into a bootleg that is new to me but completely blows me away. The Ghost of Tom Joad tour is something that had been a rough 15 years in the making I guess. Ever since he started working on Nebraska he suddenly held a group of songs that weren't all that suitable for arenas, let alone stadiums. Yet his venture into solo acoustic shows came slowly. This is a man who was used to getting back by a ten piece R&R orchestra, going solo is a huge leap from that. Solo acoustic there's no hiding yourself behind that big wall of sound. I can imagine the Boss experienced quite a bit of stage fright when it came to taking that plunge. Slow steps were taken before this tour happened, going through the 1986 Mountain View benefit first. That Bridge School show was a delightful yet ramshackle acoustic performance, still backed by Danny and Nils. By the time Tunnel of Love came along the plunge became inevitable. That brilliant group of songs never really found their groove with the hard rocking E-Street band. Springsteen was clearly developing a second body of work that could benefit from a more stripped down approach.
Springsteen could have gone with the safety of a small combo, but after the uneasy Lucky Touch tour it was time for a radical different approach. Though he had briefly reunited the E-Street Band in '95, he was still looking for a validity outside of that format. So a radical step was taken, as a negative of his Rock shows he stepped out on stage alone. Something he hadn't done since brilliant two niter in 1990 for the Christic Institute benefits. Where at those shows he had thrown a piano in the mix, during the Tom Joad tour it would just be that lonely figure with his guitar and a few stories to tell. The new album, a continuation of the theme first touched on Nebraska, was the backbone of the tour. The contemplating, subdued nature of that album set the tone of the shows. The Ghost of Tom Joad didn't rely on the Rockabilly riffing some of Nebraska's songs took refuge in. This was naked story telling, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. The songs had to carry the shows all by themselves.
As this fantastic Vienna performance testified, Springsteen succeeded remarkably well. The sound on this recording is amazing, hard to believe its an audience tape at times. There are moments where you can actually hear Springsteen's fingers sliding over the guitar, hear his gasps for air in between lines. It is almost as if he's there, performing in your living room. This was the final leg of the tour, with Springsteen clearly deep into the spirit of it all. The performances in that final leg were in my mind a bit better balanced out than the early Tom Joad shows. Old and new material is mixed better here and Springsteen captures your attention from start to finish because of it. Rousers like "Adam Raised a Cain" or "Murder inc" kick some life back into the show, balance out the reflections of the Joad material. Springsteen clearly in a chipper talkative mood here in Austria. Sharing both stories of him growing up in New Jersey and given his insights into the immigrant dilemma. As in the music, Springsteen goes for bare nakedness in the tales he spins. On no other tour you'll find him being as frank as he is here during "Freehold". By the time the main set closes with "No Surrender", nobody's doubting that his acoustic persona is as much a part of his R&R promise as the E-Street Band is. This one is an essential for you Tom Joad collection, if not an essential period!
Download the full show here
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Recording: 5+ out of 5
Show: 5- out of 5
Artwork: 4.5 out of 5
Read Will Percy's interview with Springsteen for DoubleTake Magazine here.
Note: this recording is part of a four disc Ev2 release containing two shows. The first show on that two parter, Berlin 1996, is not included here.