Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Boot Tracker; September 26th 1996, Ann Arbor, MI

I reviewed an old Ev2 Ghost of Tom Joad tour bootleg earlier this week which I thought to be superb. I'm glad to announce that Ev2 repeated his trick with his new release. Though just tape is just a notch below the Austria bootleg I reviewed here earlier, with a few shifts in the sound 'color', not quality, I dare say this is again essential downloading for fans of the tour, maybe even a fine addition to your collection period. Amidst the guitar violence of Magic, a step back is very welcome indeed. I'm the kind of fan who has a hard time settling on which persona of Springsteen I enjoy most. In earlier posts I mentioned I'm a big fan of the young punk of '75, but there are days I derive as much from the reflective and brooding adult that brought us this tour. Almost as a negative to the Born to Run tour, these shows were not about the exorcism of R&R, but more about the confronting and uncomfortable side of the genre. Here Springsteen tears at the scabs, opening the wounds that scar the American dream.

The showmanship with which he does that is masterful. The Ghost of Tom Joad was the accumulation of a fifteen year obsession with all things Steinbeck and Guthrie. Springsteen tapped into the image of the latter while using the prose of the first. Slicked back hair, a goatee and just his guitar to help him carry his songs, Springsteen tried to evoke the image of him going from town to town, telling stories set to music. We were meant to think, or at least get the impression, that at the end of the show he'd simply pack his guitar in his case and hobo along on to the next town. I think this is the main reason why the shows didn't feature a piano or any other instruments. The show master tried to trick us into believing this wasn't a show at all but a genuine continuation of the Folk tradition. Springsteen even pays explicit homage to his favorite Okie in this show by playing Guthrie's "Tom Joad" in stead of his updated version of the song.

To a certain extent, the image he tried to convey was real of course. Much of the Tom Joad material tapped into the Folk tradition of bringing the stories and struggles of regular Americans. Songs like "Galveston Bay" about the Vietnamese refugees settling in Texas, or "Sinaloa Cowboys" about the two brothers caught up in drug trafficking, are real life events fictionalized. Though the protagonists in Springsteen's songs might never have actually existed in the form they take in the song, their stories are real everyday experiences of people living in America. They're not quite biographies but not quite fiction either. Next to the Nebraska songs of the mid-west, it becomes apparent how these immigrant tales are part of a larger story Springsteen has been trying to tell us, of how the American dream is not always a promise and certainly not a reality for a lot of Americans, new and old. He taps on the forces in society that prevent a group of American from even getting a fair shot at the dream. Music confronting the establishment, if that's not R&R, I don't know what is. For those in doubt, Springsteen serves up a few saucy tunes instilled with that Rockabilly fire. With "Red Headed Woman" and "Does This Bus Stop on 82nd Street" Springsteen winks at us as if to say "yes folks, I'm still in the R&R business".

In this particular show that message is cemented by two songs in particular. First there is the hard rocking "Murder Inc", undone from its guitar violence its message never sounded more biting and vicious. Second there's "Reason to Believe", here in a strikingly different arrangement that forebodes the current John Lee 'Boogie Chillun' Hooker infused Magic take on the song. In my mind "Reason to Believe" is one of Springsteen's most clever songs, open for multiple interpretations. The meaning those lines take not only differs from interpretation Springsteen gives it in a given tour, the meaning of those lines continue to shift within the song as well. They can take on the form of venomous cynicism just as easy as they can be an expression of admiration. Here it alternates between the first and biting anger with how America can drag its dreamers down in the pitfalls of society, or worse, how some people in society have become expendable in the eyes of others. Amidst all these hard confrontations the closer of the show, "Promised Land" brings some comfort. In a soft pulsing hypnotic rhythm the song feels somewhere between a prayer and a feverish dream. Although it taps into the desperation of protagonists on the Tom Joad album, it also taps into their resilience, their ability to keep believing.

"Reason to Believe"

MP3 File

Download the full show in mp3 here
A small request, use mp3s for personal use only. Keep them in your iPod or on your computer but never use a mp3 based CD in a trade. The quality of mp3s deteriorate rapidly every time a CD is ripped. Using high quality music files such as FLACs is essential in keeping the trading pool healthy.

Recording: 4,5 out of 5
Show: 5 out of 5
Artwork: 4,5 out of 5


Anonymous said...

Ann Arbor, not Ann Harbor ;)

SoulBoogieAlex said...

Oops! Thanks ;-)

Anonymous said...

When you write that Bruce was trying to evoke an image do you mean that he was posing? I think that he was just a guy tying to play music. Tickets were thirty five bucks, to see Bruce in an intimate theater, way under priced! but thats Bruce. Also even though he only played guitar it was more fitting, I hate when he plays keyboards.I saw him in Lowell Ma which was near the end of the tour and he lightened up by then.

SoulBoogieAlex said...

Posing has a negative connotation to me, I wouldn't want to use that word in relation to the Joad tour. But I do think Springsteen creates his image very consciously.