I was lucky enough to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band five times before Born To Run was released, in Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia, in New York City at the Bottom Line club and the Academy of Music, and at the Westbury Music Fair, a theatre in Jericho on Long Island. I was reminded of this last occasion today when my Melody Maker review of the show popped up on Rock’s Back Pages, so I’m taking the liberty of cut and pasting it into Just Backdated.
I remember the occasion well. I was driven there by Peter Philbin, Columbia International’s RR guy, a big Bruce fan who became a good friend of mine when I lived in New York as MM's US Editor. Weirdly, the gig was on a revolving stage in the centre of a room that held about 1,800 people. I don’t think it was sold out. The other thing I remember was that the place was run by Italian gangsters, and that the backstage area was patrolled by these olive skinned men in dark suits and ties with bulging shoulders, all of whom looked like extras from The Godfather. Philbin recognised this before I did and advised me not to make eye contact with them. We went backstage to chat with Bruce after the show but, as ever, he was tight-lipped, pre-occupied with the issues surrounding the release of Born To Run, of course. I wasn't to know this as the dispute between his manager Mike Appel and future producer and manager Jon Landau had yet to break out into the open.
Here is the review I wrote for Melody Maker, virtually unchanged. (I still think ‘Sandy’ is one of the most moving songs he has ever written by the way.)
Bruce Springsteen, an artist whose talent has inspired respected critics to fawn like teenage groupies, took over the revolving stage of the Westbury Music Fair last weekend and showed yet again why one critic opined that the future of rock and roll rested on Bruce's bony shoulders.
Eschewing the usual sleeveless tee-shirt in favour of a rumpled rugby sweater, and abandoning his fifties style shades, he led his band through a two and a half hour set that included a couple of two-song encores. Or was it three? By that time Bruce had virtually boiled over and taken the audience with him. Details get a little hazy at times like this.
Since I last saw him, Bruce has found a new drummer, Max Weinberg, and piano player, Roy Bittan, and added a shapely violinist called Suki Lahav who not only improves the aesthetics of the set, but also adds considerably to the crushing atmosphere that Springsteen, street poet extraordinaire, is capable of creating. Unfortunately, I was informed, it was her last gig with the E Street Band.
(I found this picture on line, the only one I could find with Bruce and Suki on stage together)
Springsteen's material alternates between whispered verses about kids growing up in New York and the surrounding area, and hard driven rock music propelled for the most part by Clarence Clemons, the giant black reed player, who rasps through his three horns in that old King Curtis manner.
As a guitarist, Springsteen is more of a rock and roller than romantic poet. But his crazy movements back and forth, deliberately knock-kneed at times, are always fun to watch. This time, he jumped up rather precariously onto the organ midway through his encore of Presley's ‘Wear My Ring’.
For me, the highlight of the set was not so much the hysterics at the end, but Bruce's first encore, the super-emotional ‘4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)’ with its French accordion and whispered passages about boardwalks, beaches and sea-side bars. Bruce altered the words slightly so that Hells Angels came riding in at one point, but ‘Sandy’ remained essentially intact, one of the most moving pieces he has written.
He’s overdue for a third album, and Columbia are scratching their heads about what to do with their prodigy from Asbury Park. On Sunday’s showing, it’ll just be a matter of time before Springsteen is acclaimed by the people as well as the critics.