Monday, March 10, 2008

Springsteen In Buffalo & Nashville Memories

"There's just one thing that you need to know about Bruce Springsteen: that after forty years in the trenches, he still plays like it matters. That when he hits the stage with the 'best little bar band in the world,' Bruce and his fellow E Streeters still perform like they have something to lose, like they're auditioning for history, like they're not happy until every fan in attendance is exhausted, drenched in sweat and unable to dance another minute. The Boss would have it no other way…"

That's how I began my Harp magazine website review of the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show in Buffalo, New York on Friday night. My wife Tracey and I braved a snowstorm that eventually dumped nearly two feet of snow on West New York from Friday night through Sunday morning, driving an hour-and-a-half into downtown Buffalo with crappy visibility to catch The Boss in concert. It was our first big rock-and-roll show since moving to WNY from Nashville and it got me thinking about some of the memorable Springsteen shows that I witnessed in Nashville through the years.

The first appearance that I can find record of for Springsteen in Nashville was a two-night stand in January 1974, opening for blues guitarist Freddie King at a long-gone club by the name of Muther's Music Emporium. I never went to any shows at the club, but Muther's had a reputation for featuring some hotshot young talent on its stage. Kiss first played Nashville at Muther's a few months after Bruce did. This was one of Bruce's first big national tours and he performed with a number of odd booking choices – opening for Black Oak Arkansas, for instance, in Ohio while headlining in Virginia with the Goose Creek Symphony and the Charlie Daniels Band opening two different shows.

According to legend, Springsteen's manager Mike Appel booked the last-minute Nashville shows when he found out that CBS Records was having a sales convention in the Music City and that most of the label executives were staying at a hotel near the club. Appel had flyers for the shows delivered to every room at the hotel, and supposedly invited close to 200 of the label's sales and marketing people to the 300-seat club to witness Springsteen perform live. Sadly, few if any CBS personnel attended the shows and it seemed, after only two albums, that the future Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member's career would be short-circuited before it began. The label was pretty ambivalent about Springsteen at the time, much like Capital EMI was about Jason & the Scorchers when EMI had its sales convention in Nashville in 1986 or so.

I was a bit too young to have seen the Springsteen show at Muther's, and I didn't really become familiar with Bruce until later in '74 when WKDF-FM began playing a pre-release single of "Born To Run." I ran out and picked up Springsteen's first two albums and quickly became enamored with his music. Oddly enough, that Muther's show from 1974 is available as an Italian bootleg album; more people have probably heard Springsteen's 10-song set from that night on vinyl and CD than were actually there!

The first time that I actually got to see Springsteen in concert was at the Grand Ol' Opry House near the old Opryland theme park, back in 1976. The venue holds around 4,500 I'd guess, and it was around half full the night of April 28, 1976. The Music City had yet to embrace Bruce and I managed to score first row tickets, on the left side of the stage. They were great seats and even though I don't remember exactly how long that Springsteen played, I do remember that my girlfriend at the time, Tammy, wasn't enjoying herself as much as I was, and she wanted to leave during the intermission. Of course, I made her stay until the bloody end (for which she was none to happy)!

When Bruce rolled back around a couple of years later, touring in support of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, I was involved with Thom King's Take One Magazine. Thom was (and is) an old high school friend of mine and he published what could arguably be considered the first alternative newspaper/magazine in Nashville, a important precursor to the Nashville Scene. I don't recall who among my friends attended the July 21, 1978 show at the Municipal Auditorium, but I know that Thom and I were there, and I seem to remember that we had pretty good seats. Elvis Costello was also at that show, watching from the low-level seats to the left of the stage, and we could see him from our groovy floor seats. Costello had a sour look on his face all evening and we wondered why he wasn't enjoying himself more.

The best Springsteen show that I've personally ever seen was on February 26, 1981 at the Municipal Auditorium, the tour for The River album. This show also provided me with my best Springsteen experience. Tickets went on sale one Saturday morning in December, and my brother Billy C (a/k/a "Kid Kasual") and I decided to sit on line all night at Harding Mall. I hit the mall's north entrance near the old Port O' Call store shortly after the mall closed at 9:00 PM and found around a dozen people already there; Bill joined me shortly thereafter. By 10:00 PM or so around 20 of us hardcore faithful were dug in for a long, cold night (temps were in the teens by morning).

One guy pulled his truck up to the entrance and opened the doors so that we could all hear his stereo. We listened to Springsteen albums until sunrise, singing and drinking coffee and beer and eating donuts and Krystal gut-bombs that some of our friends had brought to help us through the night. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a communal effort that we all enjoyed. Sometime during the night, we each took a number and agreed among ourselves that nobody was going to cut in front of the 20 of us that had braved the elements to be first in line. Sure enough, some assholes showed up between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM when the tickets went on sale and tried to muscle their way in, but we held 'em off! WKDF-FM showed up around 7:00 AM with coffee and donuts and sausage-biscuits.

The show itself was incredible, one of Bruce's four-hour marathons. We had a great time! Since Bill and I had maxed out on the number of tickets that we could each buy, we had most of an entire row to ourselves; Bill's girlfriend Amy, my brother Greg and the big man himself Willie J all witnessed the show.

The last Springsteen show that I was able to see in Nashville was the Born In The USA tour (program picture above) that was held in Murfreesboro on December 9, 1984 at the Murphy Center, which was larger than the Municipal Auditorium. I don't remember the exact details, but I seem to believe that we had an insider at Ticketmaster or something 'cause we managed to snag an entire row on the floor at the arena and filled it with friends and family. The stage was round and open on all sides so that everybody could see the band, and I remember that we could see some friends on the other side of the stage during the show. It was another incredible Springsteen performance, around 3-1/2 hours long and highly rocking! A very posh bootleg vinyl box set was released of this show! Although I'm not sure who put it out (among my connections in the audio underground), it was a limited edition of 400 copies with posters and the entire show spanned three picture discs.

Sadly, the Nashville area didn't get to see Springsteen on either the Tunnel Of Love or the Human Touch tours during the late-80s and early-90s. In fact, best as I can tell, it was twelve years between Springsteen shows for the Music City, as the solo acoustic The Ghost Of Tom Joad tour hit the Ryman Auditorium on December 12, 1996. I tried to get tickets and had the cash in hand, but in the smaller venue they moved quick, and I had no inside connection to score even a pair of tickets. Four years later, Springsteen and the E Street Band returned for their "reunion" tour on April 12, 2000 but that time around I simply didn't have the cash to attend. Writing for Live! Music Review at the time, I got a nice bootleg of a different show from the 1995/96 acoustic tour, and thanks to some friends in low places, I acquired a good copy of the April 2000 Nashville show burned onto three CD-Rs as well.

Nashville lost out on tours for Springsteen's The Rising (2003) and Devils And Dust (2005) albums, and I don't see a Nashville date scheduled for the current Magic tour, either. It speaks volumes that Nashville's concert promotion is so poor that the city has hosted only two of seven tours from one of the biggest performing bands on the planet over the last 20 years (and let's face it, a Springsteen show is pretty much a stone cold surefire sell-out). Springsteen fans are forced to travel to Memphis or Atlanta to catch a tour. Lucky for me, The Boss seemingly schedules a Buffalo or Rochester (or both) show for every tour!

Through the years, I've also been lucky enough to catch Springsteen shows in Detroit ('78 & 1980), Chicago (1980) and Cincinnati ('80 again); in fact over the course of nine months (1980-81), I managed to see Springsteen and Bob Seger, another favorite, each perform four times in various cities, including Nashville. The Springsteen shows in Nashville are by far my favorites, though, and they stand among the best rock & roll performances that I've ever seen.

Sitting in HSBC Arena on Friday night in Buffalo watching Springsteen and the E Street Band, I couldn't help but relive all those great Nashville shows...

(Thanks to the Killing Floor database of Springsteen tour dates for exact show info)

Some musical goodies for you all:
"Because The Night" (mp3 from Buffalo 03/07/08)
"Rosalita" (mp3 from Nashville 01/29/74)

(Right click on the mp3 link with your mouse and choose "save as" to download to your computer)

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