BTR 30th Hammersmith Odeon DVD

There’s an adage among fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It’s basically that, no matter how many times you’ve seen them, the best concert you’ve ever been to is the last one of theirs you saw. That thought came to mind as I was watching the DVD of their 1975 concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in London that’s part of the Born to Run 30th Anniversary box set.

A little personal historical perspective may be appropriate. My recollection is that most mornings in the winter of 1975-76 started with a hot cup of coffee and dropping onto the couch at the same time the Stanton cartridge in the Technics direct drive turntable met the opening track on side two of Born to Run. (Remember, this was the days of vinyl so there actually was a side two. This leads to a tip of the hat to the package designers for the remastered CD as the sleeve in which it is enclosed is an exact duplicate of the original album cover and interior and the CD itself looks like a vinyl record.) The opening riff of “Born to Run” would blast through the JBL L-100 speakers and your attitude and the morning immediately began to improve. By the time we got to “Jungleland” closing that side, we were ready for The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle — both sides. Coffee, cigarettes (since halted) and Springsteen. There could be no better way to kick off the day for a few college guys more intent on music and fun than school.

With that in mind, what’s key here is the Hammersmith Odeon performance is in November 1975. Thus, the tunes off Born to Run are the “new” songs. Equally important, this is the beginning of the E Street Band with which most people are familiar and we still hear today — Clarence Clemons (who is outstanding in this performance), Stevie Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, Danny Federici, Roy Bittan and Garry Tallent. To be able to see a young Springsteen and this garage band extraordinaire almost exclusively perform songs deeply ingrained in my musical being brought countless goosebumps.

From the opening performance of “Thunder Road” through the end, we see a Springsteen who lends true emotion and meaning to the songs. We also see a band that is already tremendously tight and has no problem converting the multiple layers of the Born to Run studio tracks into a stunning wall of sound. Moreover, they and Springsteen feel free to play with the music. For example, the version of “The E Street Shuffle” is down tempo and entirely different than its recorded version. About two-thirds of the way through there’s a string of “Kitty’s Back,” “Jungleland” and my all-time favorite, “Rosalita” done inimitably and making me want to stand and applaud in my own house. Bruce and the band also play homage to good old American rock ‘n’ roll with a couple covers. Finally, it’s almost impossible to describe Bruce’s solo piano performance of “For You” in the encore that gives the tune an entirely different feel.

Audio of this concert has floated around for years and, in fact, the entire concert was aired on Sirius’s “E Street Radio” channel about two weeks ago. Yet that just doesn’t compare to the effect of combining the aural with the visual. I was riveted and am deeply thankful someone somehow had the foresight to film this concert and that the footage remains today.

The DVD makes clear Springsteen’s place in rock music over the last 30+ years. And it not only reinforces what I have said for a number of years — Springsteen and the E Street Band are the world’s greatest live rock ‘n’ roll band — it shows this may have been true in their early years as well.

Kids flash guitars just like switch-blades,
Hustling for the record machine
The hungry and the hunted
Explode into rock ‘n’ roll bands

“Jungleland,” Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

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