New Release: Bruce Live in Philly 1975

by Steve Spohn
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BrucePhilly SongMango.comThe third installment of Bruce’s recent archive releases brings us to New Year’s Eve 1975 at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, PA, just southwest of downtown Philadelphia. Sourced from the original 24-track tapes recorded by engineer Jimmy Iovine (the future Interscope Records mogul and co-founder of Beats Electronics) ensured a vibrant, full-bodied transfer. It is also worth noting that Bruce’s top sound guys Toby Scott and Adam Ayan are doing a great job polishing these archive releases. It’s hard to believe these tapes are 40 years old. The music is so bright and clean it soars right out of the speakers.

This release covers the last of four shows in Philly, which ended the 1975 Born to Run tour. It was a wild, seesawing tour that saw the band on the verge of being fired from their record label to Bruce being featured on the cover of Time and Newsweek in the same week. The City of Brotherly Love was already (in 1975) a hotbed of Bruce fanaticism, and in many ways it is still one of the best places to see him perform.

TowerTheatreJodiCobb SongMango.com

The Tower back in the day [photo Jodi Cobb]

The previous 1975 archive release was from London – performed a little over a month earlier. Bruce and the band played well enough, but overall, I thought the show was a little stiff and not expressed to its full potential. This gig from the Tower catches the band playing super tight and firing on all cylinders. There is no holding back. They pour their hearts and souls out. They leave everything they’ve got on that stage.

Famed Philadelphia disc jockey Ed Sciaky from WMMR, a very early supporter of Bruce and the band, does the introduction. After acknowledging the decked out audience members in tuxes and gowns in the front row, Bruce opens with a raging version of “Night.” You can clearly hear Danny Federici’s organ in the mix (not something that always happens), which adds a layer of complexity and intensity to the song. The night starts off rocking with Clarence scorching his sax early and often. (Editor’s Note: The high-resolution music files, FLACs, from the album have been compressed into MP3s so that SongMango can provide players, like the one below, to give you an idea of the sound and the quality of the band’s performance.)

“Night” – holding on for your life…

After only one song – a real cooker – Bruce completely slows things down. The roller-coaster ride has begun. The band eases into a stunning, slo-mo version of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” in what would be one of the highlights of the evening. It simmers with subdued, yet immense, power. Sounds like the calm before the storm. Bruce belts out the vocals and holds the long notes like he’s laying down the RNR gospel from the mountaintop. The audience is enthralled with this laid-back take on the classic rocker. The interplay between the piano and guitar is remarkable, almost mystical in its vibe.

“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” – an amazing take on this classic

Bruce, Danny and Clarence in '75

Bruce, Danny and Clarence in ’75

A similar version of the song was circulating in low-quality bootleg form when I was a kid (more years ago than I care to remember), but now that it’s been professionally restored to the original sound quality, you have to wonder why he hasn’t done this incredibly soulful slow version more than just a couple times in 1990. Newcomer Roy Bitten shines, playing delicately expressive piano as a backdrop to Bruce’s plaintive singing. Hearing this version as a kid stopped me in my tracks, to interpret and rework a song so radically was something well out of my realm of thought. Creative interpretive bursts like this are what drew me to Bruce, and perhaps to the magic of live music in general.

BruceYoung SongMango.com“Spirit In The Night” is next, and the show starts to slide into a comfortable groove that will continue for the balance of the evening. After a decent “Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street,” Bruce tells a story about growing up with his Dad. With haunting background music, including Clarence on alto saxophone (I think), he talks about his Dad sitting in the dark kitchen at night in front of a black-and-white TV. Bruce was terrified to come home after 1:00 a.m. because that’s when the fights would start about his long hair and what he was going to do in his life. It’s the perfect, “we can all relate” build-up for his launch into The Animals 1965 classic, “It’s My Life.” Very powerful stuff. All the simmering rage and defiance of youth bottled up in an 8-minute Rock-N-Roll song. Remember Bruce was still in his mid-20s at this point.

“It’s My Life” – Bruce sings it like he means it

Here’s footage from 1976, likely from Philly, too:

Next is “She’s The One” with a fiery harmonica intro that gets everybody clapping their hands – my favorite of the different lead-ins the band does for this song. It’s an uptempo version of the song, featuring a ripping sax solo from Clarence.

“She’s The One” – no matter where you sleep tonight

Then he hits “Born To Run” (which I’ll skip over since it’s pretty standard). It’s story time again with “Pretty Flamingo,” a minor hit made famous by Manfred Mann in 1966. Bruce tells a story about he and Miami Steve sitting on a porch and the prettiest girl would walk by them every day. They tried to get up the nerve to talk to her. Bruce abbreviates (screws up) the story, but in the end they never did talk to her, they just called her “Pretty Flamingo” as she walked on by.

“Pretty Flamingo” – we’ve all known one

“It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City” brings the x-factor, complete with a guitar war between Bruce and Miami Steve that builds to a frenzied crescendo. I love this song, and this performance of it is one of the show’s major highlights. The other newcomer Max Weinberg plays great drums on this track, and you can hear his kick-drum perfectly as he keeps the pulsing beat. With lyrics like these, the song captures early-70’s NYC street life as well as any social or cultural critique:

The devil appeared as Jesus through the steam in the street
Showin’ me a hand even the cops couldn’t beat
I felt his hot breath on my neck as I dove into the heat
It’s so hard to be a saint
When you’re just a boy out on the street

“Hard To Be A Saint” – one of the hottest versions ever

A crowd-pleasing “Backstreets” and then onto a foot-stompin’ version of Harold Dorman’s “Mountain Of Love.” I love hearing Bruce (and apparently I’m not the only one) calling “Professssssor” for Roy to play, then “the Big Man” for Clarence, then “my turn” for his guitar solo. Bruce’s vocals are just awesome, and you know everybody inside the Tower Theatre that night was on their feet dancing.

“Mountain Of Love” – put your hands together

Bruce performing the song in Buffalo on April 13, 2012:

“Jungleland” brings the intensity, and Rosalita explodes with it’s heart-thumping lead-in, the band intros and a snippet from “The Theme from Shaft” to end the main set.

Before the first encore, someone gives Bruce a bottle of booze for New Year’s (it’s unclear what he does with it). A perfectly balanced “Sandy,” a much-needed ballad to let the crowd catch it’s collective breath. Starting in 1975, Bruce’s vocals began evolving into a “big-room voice,” and it’s on full display in this version of “Sandy.” I’ll never understand the “Bruce can’t sing” nonsense. Listen to this track, and tell me that.

“Sandy” – a stellar vocal performance

Bruce and Miami Steve

Bruce and Miami Steve

After Bruce checks the clock to see how close midnight has come, the band launches into the “Detroit Medley,” which includes the New Year’s Eve countdown that ends in a deep dive into musical mayhem.

Coming back for another encore, Bruce informs the audience that Miami Steve celebrated a little too much on stage, he is laid out upstairs and that he’ll need to go back down to Miami to recuperate. Since Steven had left the previous night’s show with the flu, it’s possible it was more about his health than the New Year’s Eve celebrating. Minus Steve, the band plows through the Gary U.S. Bonds classic “Quarter To Three.” Frankly, it’s a sloppy version, probably due to a combination of alcohol and Steve’s absence on stage.

Here’s video of “Quarter To Three” from 1975 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London:

For what most folks thought would be the final encore, a beautiful, dazzling piano intro to “Thunder Road” brings the sloppy playing to an emphatic end. It can’t be overstated just how clear and crisp this release sounds, and Bruce’s singing and Roy’s piano exemplify the point. It’s just the two of them on this version – completely mesmerizing the audience.

“Thunder Road” – all the promises will be broken

As balloons continue to be popped, Bruce brings back the band (minus Steve), and they knock everybody out with The Beatles’ rocker, “Twist and Shout.” There’s nothing anti-climatic about this one.

That’s it. There ain’t no more.

It’s a shame that most people won’t hear this show even if they are fans, as this archive series seems only to be reaching hardcore fans. This was originally recorded for a live album for release in 1976 – a time when live albums were very much in vogue. Hard to say what that release would have done for his career, but at least it’s out in the world now. Who knows, maybe someday they’ll  release the color video they have in their vaults of this show.

You can download the audio here.

Steve Spohn is a former Saturday Night Live and Nickelodeon Television executive. Growing up near Princeton, NJ, led to a musical addiction, with WMMR in Philly and WNEW in NYC providing the daily dose. When not attending or planning to attend Bruce Springsteen concerts, he's plugging away as a screenwriter in Beverly Hills. Reach Steve at SSpohn@SongMango.com.

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