Friday, 10 May 2019

Bruce Springsteen - Live At Hammersmith Odeon (1975)


Recorded live in 1975

This was Bruce Springsteen's first tour of Europe and this was the first gig of that tour. The British music press had hyped it up with the now legendary "finally London is ready for Bruce Springsteen" posters, which the artist himself allegedly went around tearing them down wherever he came across one. By his own admittance, this hype had led to he and the band being as nervous as they could be when they stepped out on to the wooden Hammersmith stage boards on November 18 1975. Despite that, it does not show in the sound, or in the actual performance, although Springsteen does his level best to look completely incongruous by wearing a huge tea-cosy woolly hat and sporting an Al Pacino as "Serpico" style beard. He hardly looked like the "future of rock 'n' roll" as journalist and future manager Jon Landau had dubbed him after this gig. Springsteen himself has never been too happy about this show, preferring the return one on November 24.

It is an excellent live album though, with surprisingly good sound quality considering its date. Outstanding in fact. There is a very convincing argument for this being Springsteen's best official live album. Certainly it is as far as I am concerned.

After a slow, piano-based opener in Bruce's contemporary version of "Thunder Road", the band kick in to "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" and it is clear this is going to be something special. Springsteen shows his influences by including several brief "hint" snippets of rock classics in various songs during the set. Many of the songs are lengthy, extended versions, with the E St. Band on fire and you have to say that nobody had really done anything like this before. This was 1975 and this was nothing like David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Elton John or Queen. Springsteen was taking rock 'n' roll romanticism and musical history and updating it to the present day, but it was far more than simply a revivalist show, it was definitely pushing boundaries. The white soul dreams of David Bowie's 1974 "David Live" are taken even further on the saxophone-driven "Spirit In The Night" and "The E St. Shuffle" is almost reminiscent of Van Morrison's "It's Too Late To Stop Now" from the same year. Like Morrison on that album, this is a singer in complete harmony with his band, while simultaneously controlling them like a general. This album is up there with Morrison's as examples of ground-breaking live offerings from the period. Indeed, the lengthy piano improvisation in the middle of "Kitty's Back" owes more than just a little inspiration to Morrison's "Moondance". On this track, as on others like "E St. Shuffle" and "It's Hard To Be Saint In The City", there are considerable jazz influences, a bit of funk in there on the latter, too.

It is a bit strange listening to the album now and realising that "Born To Run", played at sixth track in, was just another track off the new album, which had been released three months previously. It was not the show-stopper it would be on the next tour, three years later. The dramatic "Lost In The Flood" from Springsteen's debut album, seems to get a better audience reception. Not surprising, though, as it's great.

The ad hoc feeling of the encores "Detroit Medley" and Gary US Bonds' "Quarter To Three" is simply energising and exhilarating, even now. This was Springsteen at his most essential, raw and unpolished. For me, this is the best of him. 1975-1978. You can't beat those years.


1. Thunder Road
2. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
3. Spirit in The Night
4. Lost in The Flood
5. She's The One
6. Born To Run
7. The E St. Shuffle
8. It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City
9. Backstreets
10. Kitty's Back
11. Jungleland
12. Rosalita
13. 4th July Asbury Park (Sandy)
14. Detroit Medley - Devil With A Blue Dress On/See See Rider/Good Golly Miss Molly/ Jenny Take A Ride
15. For You
16. Quarter To Three


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