BRUCE - New York Palladium, November 1976

Here’s my review, word for word, as I wrote it in 1976...

It may rain or snow, and the temperature in New York might even drop below freezing point this weekend, but so long as Bruce Springsteen is playing downtown at the Palladium the next few days won't be so bad. And for those lucky enough to have obtained tickets, the days grow ripe with anticipation.
         Few artists in rock have suffered the burdens that Bruce Springsteen has borne on his none-too-square shoulders. He was branded a hype because of the monumental publicity he received, publicity he didn't instigate, and now he's in the throes of a million-dollar lawsuit after a tiff with his manager.
         Prevented from making a follow-up album to Born To Run, he's out there playing – and playing with all the enthusiasm and, if you'll pardon the superlative – the brilliance that caused all the publicity in the first place.
         Springsteen began the first of a six-night stint at the New York Palladium on Thursday evening. All six nights have sold out which, for the benefit of those who consider him to be a flash-in-the-pan, is the equivalent to selling out a show at Madison Square Garden. Flashes in pans don’t sell out the Garden.
         But Bruce doesn't do things like that. I'll wager a pound to a penny that in a year's time, when Springsteen is even more popular than he is now, he won't be playing at the Garden. He'll just do 12 nights at the Palladium instead.
         On Thursday he delivered 17 songs, five of them encores and three of them new and, apparently, ready to be recorded. He started an hour late, but the delays were soon forgotten as he tore into a set that epitomised everything that a rock show should be: great tension, dynamic vocals, visual action, much more than technically proficient instrumentals, and lighting that was stunning.
         Let's deal with the new songs first. 'Rendezvous' is a rocker that had Bruce buckling at the knees with excitement; 'Something In The Night' is a slower piece, with minimal backing (brass, piano and tambourine only), highlighted by a muted trumpet solo; and 'The Promise' is a moving tale of growing up in New Jersey that seems oddly autobiographical. Bruce sings it straight from the piano with just glockenspiel for accompaniment.
         Also "new" is a fearless version of the old Animals' hit, 'It's My Life (And I'll Do What I Want)', which opens with a piercing, echo-ridden guitar solo by Bruce and moves into a monologue about a conversation with his father before sliding into top gear and hitting the song proper. It follows on the tradition of 'Pretty Flamingo', which isn't included this time around.
         By the third number of the show, 'Spirit In The Night', Bruce had left the stage and jumped into the audience, singing as he walked up the aisle with only a roadie to protect him from straining arms; a calculated risk but a shrewd move to gain audience approval. He repeated the gesture often.
         'She's The One' has now taken on an even stronger Bo Diddley rhythm. It opens with a long, sliding solo by Bruce and meanders off into those tried and tested rhythms; at one point I thought he was about to slip into 'Mona', but he didn't. Other tracks from Born To Run – '10th Avenue Freeze-Out', 'Thunder Road', 'Backstreets' and 'Jungleland' – were all offered with variations on the recorded versions.
         For some tunes an enlarged brass section (introduced by Bruce as the Miami Horns) was brought up, although Clarence Clemons, Bruce's gigantic black horn player, is as forceful as ever in his role as King Curtis reincarnate.
         The E Street Band, tight yet flexible, still pack a punch that Bruce can't do without. It does seem, though, that Miami Steve (Van Zandt) is taking a lesser role, allowing Springsteen to do more soloing on guitar as well as lead the band. Bruce's old, battered Telecaster never sounded better, rippling with rich tones in the mid-range instead of the screeching treble that so many rock guitarists rely on all too much.
         'Rosalita', extended to about 15 minutes, closed the show, though Bruce came back for two encores, the first a three-song marathon and the second a two song segue. 'Sandy', sung harsher and with new lyrics to a couple of the verses, opened the marathon with its regular accordion accompaniment, followed by a couple of oldies, 'She's Fine, Fine, Fine' and 'Raise Your Hand', the old R&B standard.
         Throughout his career Springsteen has always managed to breathe life into oldies almost forgotten. No exception here: the E Street Band transformed themselves into a good-time, kick-ass show-band and delivered with all the panache of Geno Washington's Ram Jammers.
         'Born To Run' closed the show, making a late appearance in the programme, almost as if the star was reluctant to play his biggest-ever song.
He'd been on stage two hours and by this time both the audience – they'd been on their feet most of the time – and the band were pooped. The house lights rose to an exhausted, rather limp, ovation, and it was over.
Bruce Springsteen is no hype. He may not be the future of rock and roll, but he is the most engaging, exciting and enthusiastic performer in rock right now. It'll take more than lawsuits to dampen his spirits, and that is something for which we can all be thankful.

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