Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Masters: Bruce Springsteen - Best Live Albums

RtBE loves listening to new music and prides itself on keeping tabs on up and coming artists but in 2019 we are also going to have a monthly spotlight on legendary artists who we really love. We are calling this series The Masters. It will focus on the best albums, live records, transcendent shows and other odd ways we appreciate the artists and their contribution to music, culture and our formation.
For October The Masters focuses on Bruce Springsteen

While it took a few studio records for Springsteen to completely nail his style, he was a must see live act from his very first days playing, giving it his all when the band members may have out numbered those in attendance.

Live Springsteen is legendary. Whether it is just him and a guitar, constructing a Broadway show, sitting in with a pick-up bar blues outfit or fronting the mighty E-Street Band, Springsteen is a beast on the stage, giving it his all and then some. Ben Stiller even did a sketch on this, love the filling up the ketchup bottle, but it is true, he gives everything to his fans.
RtBE has seen him a bunch (some contributors to the site have caught him A LOT) and there has never been a bad or remotely off show. Same goes for any of the live albums as he has not put out a bad one, even though some of them get more spins than others.

However, until recently there hadn't been many live album releases. Like a lot of older artists in the digital age, Bruce is using the internet to release archival shows and this allows us to have a much more robust section to choose from. Unlike other Masters focused artists who will release seemingly odd/random shows, Springsteen's archival releases tend to capture the best of the best, and while many longtime fans had bootlegs of these shows, now they are "official" and get improved audio; a nice upgrade. 

Again this list is meant to start conversations not end them, so without further ado let's get to racing in the streets...

5. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Live in New York City (2001)

This comeback of the E-Street Band won a bunch of Emmy's for HBO but the album itself seems to be a bit forgotten. This release and the reuniting of the band has propelled the group into the 2000's and set a template for their huge arena shows around the world.

The setlist and tracking for this live album also mixes things up a bit with some underrepresented tunes from the Bosses live catalog. The opening blast of rock and roll of "My Love Will Not Let You Down", "Prove It All Night", "Two Hearts" is dynamite all before one of RtBE's personal favorites "Atlantic City" gets an airing with the gorgeous mandolin work from Stevie Van Zandt.

While "American Skin" never really caught on or went anywhere it proved that Springsteen was still crafting protest music even as the rock and roll was getting supped up to massive heights. A crashing "Lost In the Flood" is a doozy and the delicate full-band-back-in-this-together closer "If I Should Fall Behind" closer is a nice touch.

The classics like "Born To Run", "Badlands" and "Jungleland" were all mega, proving the band had not lost it's classic touch, but the standout show stopper is the gospel influenced "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" which just might be the best version of this tune allowing Bruce and the band to strut their stuff and engage the MSG crowd. We were going to put a video of that up, but "Atlantic City" is just too good to pass up...

4. Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band Hammersmith, Odeon London '75 (2006)

A historic concert in the Bosses career, it was his first European show and the E-Street band arrived with massive hype. This night was the first of a four concert run and the Boss and the boys were scared and playing for (they at least felt) their career. The tension made for a hell of a show. RtBE came across this one as part of the 30th Anniversary Born To Run release, but the live album alone was officially released in 2006.

The group had just debuted their magnum opus and were up to the monumental task. Opening with the piano based "Thunder Road" and never looking back they took over London and then all of Europe. "She's the One" gets some blues harp to open by way of Mississippi before the explosive "Born To Run" is wound tight and to the point while "Saint In the City" goes big and nails it.

The band still had a lot of it's expansive Wild & Innocent... left in them and some of the best tunes on this night come from that period as "Kitty's Back" contains nods to Van Morrison's "Moondance" and the non-funky "The E-Street Shuffle" morphs into Sam Cooke's "Having A Party". Even "Rosalita" gets spruced up with "Theme from Shaft" and "Come A Little Bit Closer Now".

The band is hitting all of the right notes, wrapping up the night with their "Detroit Medley", "For You" and "Quarter To Three" the band was on fire and while the DVD footage (and full setlist/show) is the best way to experience this show, the live audio album delivers the goods.   

3. Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band Nassau Colosseum 12/31/80 (2015)

This show came to us back in the day via cassette, but thanks to the Springsteen archives it has been cleaned up and officially released; this concert is a monster. A thirty eight (38!) song show that covers all the bases on The River Tour as The Boss blows out Long Island on New Years Eve.

The group let's it all hang out and plays excellently throughout. Almost four hours of music kicks off with a triple shot of Night songs ("Night", "Prove It All Night", "Spirit In The Night") cementing that the night time was the right time this New Years Eve. Speaking of the switch over from 1980-81, Springsteen starts up "Midnight Hour" before stopping it mid song for a countdown into the New year, only to kick off '81 with a bombastic "Rosalita".

This show has it all up until this point in Bruce's live career, covers, lesser known cuts, deeper album tracks, big hits and lots of them. Two Christmas covers even get trotted out for NYE to celebrate the holiday spirit.

You can't really ask for more from Bruce and Company as they wrap up with their "Detroit Medley", "Twist & Shout" and "Raise Your Hand" getting what had to be a tired crowd up and moving. Nassau New Years Eve is Exhibit A of The E-Street band giving it their all.

2. Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band The Agora, Cleveland OH 1978 (2015)

Like the Nassau show at three on our list, this first came to RtBE as a bootleg and what a blast of crackling energy it was to hear for the first time. The boot was titled Summertime Bruce, and once the radio DJ in Cleveland introduces Springsteen things are off and running.

The opening "Summertime Blues" is a gas as it slams into the pumping "Badlands" which is a blaring version that gets the blood boiling. Each song in this set is top fucking notch as the band is clicking on the Darkness on the Edge of Town Tour. Every song is a beast and while we will get to number one on our list in a second, this is the best individual show we have heard from top to bottom. In ranking these if your personal preference is The River, you may rank Nassau ahead of this one but RtBE just loves the totality of this concert. 

Each song is a highlight, but ones that jump out are a passionate "Darkness on the Edge of Town" a blazing "Prove It All Night" with gorgeous intro, the killer story of "Tenth Ave Freeze Out", "Sherry Darling" and the smoking end of the set run of "Not Fade Away>Gloria>She's The One", "Growin' Up", "Backstreets", "Rosalita". Dynamite, excellent live album that got a great archival release from Bruce and the boys.

1. Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band Live 75-85 (1985)

The biggest and best. The first live album Springsteen ever released to insanely massive hype and it delivered. Taken from all aspects of the bands career and arraigned (mostly) chronologically, it proves that even with his earlier tunes, like on "Hard To Be A Saint", Springsteen was big time.

Our rankings landed on a live show from each tour behind The River, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Born To RunBorn In the USA tour didn't make our list proper, but it could be argued that this triple is a good representation from that tour on its own.

From the piano based "Thunder Road" which starts the triple album to the Tom Waits cover "Jersey Girl" that closes it, there is not a bum note. Versions of some of the shows we mentioned above seep into this collection including "4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy)" from Nassau, but the band and the Boss seem to be on almost every night htey ever play so that is no surprise. Powering through killer meaty rock riffs ("Adam Raised A Cane", "Badlands", "Born In The USA") sexy jaunts ("Fire"), swinging shore jaunts ("Paradise By the C") bombastic dramatic flair ("Because The Night") moving folk ("Johnny 99") everything gets its proper due.

The live setting lets Bruce show off his skills as band leader as well, telling multiple stories on tracks like "This Land Is Your Land", the powerful father son relationship on "The River" and the autobiography put fourth on "Growing Up" which is the ultimate version of this song.

The cover of "War" is a blast as is the lesser known "Seeds" and the rollicking "Cover Me" as the full band explodes. There was a focus on Born in the USA songs and these all hold up well, all though, maybe dropping one (say "Bobby Jean") for the bands cover of "Who'll Stop The Rain" might have been a cooler move.

That said, you can still slap on any of the three CD's or five LP's and find joy at any point of this collection. With Bruce it is hard to say something is definitive, but if you are only buying one Springsteen album, this is the one, studio, live or anything. 

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