Next in the order of Bruce Springsteen’s studio records should be Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Rest assured, I’m not skipping Darkness, but I am skipping three other studio albums. Instead of doing reviews for The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Human Touch and Lucky Town, I am instead reviewing three live performances – Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 (from the Born To Run 30th anniversary boxed set), Live In New York City ‘01 and London Calling. Since the Hammersmith Odeon concert happened in between Born to Run and Darkness, I’m just filing the review where it belongs in chronological order. The Darkness review will be up in next week’s batch.
If you read the last review in this series, about Born To Run, you probably noticed that I liked that record quite a bit. I wrote that I think it’s the best record of all time, so it should come as no surprise that I think Bruce Springsteen’s best touring days came after the release of that album. Many people subscribe to the opinion that Springsteen and The E Street Band were even more impressive after the release of Darkness On The Edge of Town, but I don’t think anything can compare to Springsteen’s performance at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in 1975.
Born To Run was released the same year, and the Hammersmith Odeon concert was part of the band’s first trip overseas. It was only with the release of that record that Springsteen became a true worldwide mainstream artist, but his popularity escalated quickly and the Hammersmith Odeon concert went down as the stuff of legend. A CD/DVD of the performance was released as part of the Born To Run 30th Anniversary boxed set, featuring a 16-song set that runs just over two hours. In The Boss’ later stages, he and the band became known for playing three- and four-hour sets, with some of the most spectacular performances coming overseas. But it’s my opinion that Live At Hammersmith Odeon is Springsteen’s best performance.
The set featured six songs off of Born To Run (everything except “Night” and “Meeting Across the River”), including a phenomenal opening performance of “Thunder Road.” Springsteen takes the piano and performs the track on his own, one of the most personal and intimate performances of that song, which has seen many renditions throughout the years. Springsteen followed up with “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” which got the entire band in the swing of things. It’s the only live track that clocks in under four minutes, and it’s followed by two older songs in “Spirit In the Night” and “Lost In The Flood,” which both hit much harder as live songs than they do on-record. Springsteen’s theatrics on the DVD version can’t be missed, as he makes a large performance intimate by involving the crowd in the storytelling.
The rendition of “Born To Run” here is somewhat safe compared to what Springsteen does with the song nowadays, but it’s preceded by the best live rendition of “She’s The One.” That track is where I’d recommend a first-time listener begin with this live record, as the harmonica introduction is something that Springsteen hardly ever brings into live sets anymore. Epic versions of “The E Street Shuffle” and “Kitty’s Back” highlight Live At Hammersmith Odeon, with the latter chiming in at over 17 minutes.
After “Kitty’s Back” is where the bulk of the concert kicks in, as none of the six songs that come after it clock in at under six minutes. The live renditions of “Jungleland,” “Rosalita” and “For You” are essentials, with the fantastically catchy cover of “Detroit Medley” providing a solid change of pace.
If someone who is unfamiliar with Springsteen asked me what they should check out first, I would be tempted to place this live concert DVD ahead of Born To Run. He takes the six best songs from that album and flushes them out, with older tracks getting even better treatment. The best part of Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle is how those songs ended up taking on their own forms through live performances. There are versions of “For You” and “Lost In The Flood” from Greetingsthat make the album versions of those tracks seem boring – which is saying something. Springsteen has never been the highest-selling artist, even when he was perhaps at the height of his popularity with Born In The U.S.A., but since the very beginning of his career he was known as a dominant live presence. In the seven times I’ve personally seen him live, it’s been nearly impossible to put into words what I’ve experienced – and the band was even better when they were younger. For diehard fans of The Boss and for complete rock’n’roll newbies alike, Live At Hammersmith Odeon is as close to required viewing as it gets.