About three months ago, this blog posted an entry about Bruce Springsteen’s new live download website, live.brucespringsteen.net, and its second and then-most recent release, the Aug. 9, 1978, show from the Agora Theater in Cleveland.
The live Springsteen site went online last November to make available to the public many of the historic Springsteen concerts circulating as bootlegs, to engineer them professionally, and to sell them at competitive prices. The Agora show was one of the most famous and revered shows from 1978’s legendary Darkness On The Edge Of Town tour. Taken from two-track pre-FM soundboard tape reels, the Agora show was remastered but not remixed. The sound quality was still a clear upgrade from the available bootlegs.
About six weeks after the Agora show hit the market, live.brucespringsteen.net released a 1975 New Year’s Eve show from the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa., just outside Philadelphia. The Born To Run tour is not as famous as the Darkness tour, which is and always will be the gold standard for Springsteen tours, but Bruce’s reputation as an electrifying live performer was long established by 1975. The BTR tour is legendary in its own rite, and the New Year’s Eve show from the Tower was recorded professionally by The Record Plant’s remote recording trucks for a possible live album. A superb-sounding nine-track bootleg of the show has been in circulation for decades, but the live Springsteen site’s official release is the entire show, 18 songs, completely remixed from the original 24-track tapes by Toby Scott at Thrill Hill and mastered by Adam Ayan at Gateway Mastering. As great as the Agora show turned out, this was the first true gem from live.brucespringsteen.net, a tremendous performance from a legendary Springsteen tour, superbly recorded, mixed and mastered.
On March 25, live.brucespringsteen.net went the New Year’s Eve route again and this time hit the holy grail. Springsteen’s show from the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on Dec. 31, 1980, has to rank near the top of anyone’s list of Springsteen’s most legendary concerts, nearly four hours of powerful, jaw-dropping, high-energy music. The message boards on the backstreets.com website recently did an informal poll to name the 20 greatest Springsteen live bootlegs, and this show, from the first leg of the River tour, finished seventh. It easily could have been second or third, although in fairness every show on the list was truly great. There were no booby prizes.
The 1980-81 tour was in support of The River, the double album Columbia released earlier that fall. “Hungry Heart,” the first single from The River, jumped straight into the charts upon release and became Springsteen’s first top 10 hit, creating tremendous demand for concert tickets. Consequently, the River tour was the first time Springsteen played exclusively in arenas and stadiums. That had to be a major adjustment for the band, especially after the incredible success of the Darkness tour, played almost entirely in clubs and theaters, yet Bruce and the E-Street Band made the transition to bigger venues seamlessly. The River tour was just astonishing, and you need look no further than the New Year’s Eve 1980 show for overwhelming proof.
The Dec. 31 show at the Nassau Coliseum was the band’s third there in a four-night span — they didn’t play on Dec. 30 — and all three shows were recorded professionally by The Record Plant, again for a possible live album that was still years in the future. Soundboard recordings of all three shows have been in circulation for years, yet the sound quality of all three bootlegs leaves much to be desired. The mix was muddy in places with the vocals occasionally buried, the sound levels were inconsistent, the tapes needed occasional pitch correction from wow and flutter, and there are cuts, breaks and dropouts in all three recordings. The New Year’s Eve bootleg was clearly the best of the three, but this official release is such an enormous sonic improvement from the bootleg that it almost defies description.
Springsteen has often been quoted saying that the best versions of the songs from Darkness On The Edge Of Town were done live in concert because the band still didn’t know its way around a recording studio and didn’t learn to capture its stage sound on tape until The River. Well, you can make the same argument about the songs from The River. As great as that double album is, the 12 songs from that album played during this concert come alive in performance in ways that the studio versions don’t even approach.
The sound quality of this download is not quite as good as the 1975 show from The Tower Theater — the guess here is that sound quality was easier to capture at the cozy 3,000-seat Tower Theater than in the massive 17,000-seat Nassau Coliseum — but this is a superior performance than the Tower show. The sound quality of both compares favorably to the Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 album, and is more than good enough for commercial release. Both are clearly superior to the show from The Agora, which was really good.
It seems that with each release, the folks from live.brucespringsteen.net outdo themselves, although they’ve set the bar extremely high with this one. No matter what they release next, the live Springsteen site is an indispensable resource for serious Bruce fans. Even if you already have the bootlegs — and many of you do — these releases all are huge upgrades, and at $9.99 for mp3’s and $12.99 for lossless (other formats also are available), you just can’t go wrong.
A word to the wise, here. CDR copies of these shows now turn up regularly on eBay for $40 and $50 a show. Clearly there is an immeasurable lack of shame in this world, and as P.T. Barnum so wisely noted, there is no shortage of suckers in the world, either. Save yourself some grief and some cash and don’t be a sucker. Go to live.brucespringsteen.net, download the real thing for a fraction of the cost, and then rock your everlovin’ ass off.