Since 2014, the relentless Bruce Springsteen has been releasing old concert recordings through his website, and so far, they’ve not disappointed. With runtimes exceeding the two and three hour marks, these records are not just excellent value for money, but convey a very genuine musical experience; Bruce live, you see, is a marvel to behold. The sheer energy of these shows is unmatched by any performer, living or dead, and the E Street Band comprises some of the finest musicians ever to have toured. That they just keep going is testament to their marathon excellence. Whether the show was recorded in 1975 or 2005, the fiery power of the band is formidable; the songs, as catchy today as at their debut performance.
In a move not dissimilar to this opening of the Boss’ extensive archive, every show of the 2014 High Hopes tour was also released for download on Springsteen’s website, a marketing device that’s been employed again for his ongoing 2016 tour. The die-hard amongst you particularly must make no mistake however – this seemingly cynical, systematic upchuck of $9.99 live albums week on week, is in fact, anything but…
This year’s tour is in support of the recent reissue box-set The River: The Ties That Bind, which sees Springsteen’s 1980 double-LP re-mastered and presented in tandem with various outtakes and alternate cuts that didn’t make the record. This format has manifested itself in a live setting such that Bruce charges through the entire double album (plus a few bonus tracks), before a back catalogue selection that runs for nearly as long as The River itself. Here’s the rub, collectors – the show is different every night as songs are dropped and reintroduced into second half.
The upshot of this format anyway, is that the shows are very long. The most recently released show (and the one I’ve chosen to review here) is the longest of the tour so far, clocking in at a truly epic three hours and forty-three minutes. That’s no bad thing though – Springsteen’s exuberance is never, ever tiresome. This particular show is also significant as the last ever to be played at Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena – the venue, one the Boss’ favourites, is being demolished imminently. Bruce, naturally, was given the honour of gigging the joint on its last three nights. “Ready for the last jump at the dump?” he crows at the start.
For the duration, as at every show on this tour, Springsteen’s stage presence is exemplary, and the adrenalin pumps for hours at a time, slowing for no one. His boyish sense of humour and husky realism are as superbly real as in his studio cuts, perhaps more so for their exhibition in raw, unproduced context of the stage, in itself a marker of just how outrageously proficient the E Street Band have become as an act. Frequently, the hits portion of the set is dominated by deep-cuts and rarities, requested by the audience and performed on the fly, sometimes for the first time in years, often to fantastic lengths – the rendition of Jungleland on this album is over eleven minutes long.
The playing is also the tightest you’re likely to hear, ever. Add to this the fact that the songs are as solid as the heartland values on which they are built. It’s a fail-proof formula, and if my obsessive need to obtain every one of these shows in its entirety isn’t confirmation of this then…well…what is? Better only than the resolute solidity of this record generally is its consistency as part of a series – every gig released on this tour has been unquestionably excellent, now particularly, with the mixing issues from the first few shows resolved. Even here, I’m only offering a review of Live At Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena somewhat arbitrarily, as it’s the latest one – you ought really to check out all these shows. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this has now ceased to function as a review of Live At Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena – go forth and lose hours, days, weeks to this thing. You simply have to – you must.
**puffs on Ventalin**
…and so there you have it. If you’re reading this, you’re most likely already a fan who requires no instruction as to why Bruce Springsteen is a good investment of your listening time. If for whatever reason, you are a newcomer to Bruce, I’d suggest that there’s no better place to start than with these live shows – they demonstrate a performer who remains consistently in his prime, pushing the apex of his greatness with every power chord and growling rock chorus. Stylistically, it’s about the most refined slice of straight-up rock ‘n’ roll Americana you’re ever gonna get. It’s good, pure stuff this – no heightened analysis required, no ‘emperor’s new clothes’ subtext re-reading. Just kick back and relax – you’re in the company of someone special with these records. After all, Bruce Springsteen is a god amongst men – it’s not heresy, it’s just rock ‘n’ roll…
Watch the show here.
Buy the live album here.