Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
“Not Fade Away”
Passaic Night bootleg, 1978
My relationship with Bruce Springsteen is rather mixed; I consider myself a fan, despite my near hatred of a huge chunk of his recorded catalog. I have nothing but adoration for his first two records, but once he developed the “power croon” for Born To Run I find it tough to get into the studio work. There are exceptions; for example, I love The River, but it’s the most varied of the big canonical albums. I also adore Tunnel of Love, a record with nary a croon nor a blast of E Street bombast.
But for all my problems with his studio work I am enthralled with him as a live performer. I have a days worth of live bootlegs on my computer, and have listened to at least another weeks worth that I didn’t keep. Personally, I prefer a single show over a compilation of live recordings, but his Live 1975-85 is arguably the definitive Springsteen release.
I wish there were more quality recordings from before the breakthrough in 1975, but alas they are few and far between. However, from then on it seems almost every show has been recorded and bootlegged, and the best shows have been passed around for literally generations. One of those quintessential Bruce recordings is Passaic Night.
Recorded by the Record Plant mobile truck, the first night of the three night stand at the Capitol Theater is nearly unbeatable. Featuring perhaps the finest versions of the songs “Racing In The Street” and “Thunder Road”, the Passaic Night bootleg is front to back an absolute stunner. The band is in top form throughout, and is loose in only the way the tightest of bands can be. There is a telepathy that develops between musicians that make every change, every whoop of excitement, not a hiccup to fear but one to anticipate with pleasure. To be as extemporaneous as the E Street band takes loads of talent, hours and hours of practice, and the willingness to aim for the stars yet sometimes miss the sky.
But despite the presence of cracking takes of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”, “Kitty’s Back”, “The Fever” and more, for some reason I keep returning to this sparse, pulsing take on Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”. It strips the Bo Diddley beat back to its very bones, and Bruce stalks above it like a panther. He starts those first couple of verses with a touch of Mick Jagger’s cocksure strut, but it isn’t him, and the drop down into his soft purr is seductive. When Bruce picks up the guitar and makes with his best Link Wray impression I can’t help but be entirely won over by it. It’s only a curio in his long history, but one that catches the ear and charms like few others.
A few quick notes: I edited this because it runs immediately into “She’s The One”, and the ending felt abrupt. Secondly, over at One Week//One Band, Dave Bloom and company have done a cracking job talking about Bruce. Truly a must read if you’re a fan. Thirdly, there is a bunch of video from the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour on youtube, and watching him perform this cut at the Agora in Cleveland is revelatory. The strutting panther I hear in the vocals is visually present on the stage.