When the definitive history of rock'n'roll is written, this album and film will be seen as a central artefact, and proof - if proof is needed - that Bruce Springsteen is simply the greatest live performer of our time. No other act comes close to the levels of such sheer exuberance, excitement, and sheer musical excellence displayed by The Boss and the E-Street Band performing at the peak of their considerable powers.
The CD and DVD box set release features 13 pulsating performances performed over two nights at the legendary No Nukes concerts, with a star-studded bill featuring Luminaries such as Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Petty, The Doobie Brothers, Crosby, Stills and Nash. However, there was never any question of who was really the top of the bill. It also saw the awakening of a political consciousness, and from here in, Springsteen began to take a much more visible stand on social and political issues.
Lovingly restored and re-mastered, it has been edited and assembled by long-term Springsteen go-to director Thom Zimny, from the original 16mm film. It features 13 stellar performances, ten never before seen from the Musicians for Safe Energy (MUSE) gigs in Madison Square Gardens in 1979.
I remember watching ‘Rosalita’ live on the BBC’s ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’, and thinking this guy is the real deal. The energy, the playful interactions with Big Man Clarence Clemons, and the sheer joy involved in the performance seemed to set the man apart. No one I had ever seen before or since was so all-engrossing, and I was totally hooked. This film continues that high. At times the cameraman can simply not keep up with the on-stage antics, as The Boss jumps from Roy Bitten’s piano and runs behind Max Weinberg’s drum kit.
So much to enjoy and revel in here. Stevie Van Zandt’s solo on ‘The Promised Land’, Roy Bitten’s piano intro on ‘Jungleland’, Clarence Clemon’s sax and presence everywhere. The rough and raw nature of the footage simply adds to the indefatigable and dynamic complexion of the night. Springsteen is at his charming and charismatic best, as he hits new heights with the incredible E-Street Band.
All human life is here; the wisecracking vaudeville comic selling life insurance to those in the audience with weak hearts, “or if you fall from the cheap seats”, before sashaying with Clarence across the stage and tearing into ‘Quarter To Three’, the deeply felt human tale of teenage pregnancy, economic necessity, and the struggle for dignity that is so tenderly expressed in the exquisite ‘The River’, complete with that yearning harmonica. The song is seen by many Springsteen aficionados as the beginning of a new phase in his songwriting, a move towards a more narrative-focused drive, a process that would lead to albums such as ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’, and ‘Devils and Dust’. Delivered here, it is an emotional cry for a better life for everyone.
But that lies ahead of the man. For the most part, this is party time Bruce. From a man who turned 30 on the second night and declared “I’m officially over the fucking hill”, this is a fun-filled, rip-roaring, laugh aloud, grinning from ear to ear ride. As rumours continue to persist of a return to touring following last year’s stunning ‘Letter To You’, this is a joyful reminder of what we have all missed.
Glory days indeed!