In these days of mobile phones and YouTube immediacy, most of us take for granted these days that a live performance will somehow, somewhere, someway be documented for the universe to re-live and enjoy over and over for eternity. For some people, the concept has become so commonplace and second nature, its almost shrug-worthy. It wasn't always this way. Back in the pre-digital days, especially the days before the Internet, there was no YouTube.... there was no streaming... there was no file-sharing. Instead, there was a deep, rich underground of collectors of non-commercially available music which became a vital supplement to the regular albums and singles and B-sides by our favorite artists. To get this music, people traded copies dubbed from reel-to-reel tapes and cassettes with one another. It was a truly social media, in that sense...
I talked about this concept in my review of an earlier live Bruce Springsteen show which you can read about by clicking here. But in short, this type of underground recording passion started well before the rock era, particularly among hardcore fans of opera and classical music as well as in jazz from the 40s and 50s... But it escalated in the 1960s and into the 70s as recording technology got smaller and better quality. It also escalated significantly as passionate groups of Baby Boomer fans following the likes of Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead and New Jersey's Bruce Springsteen began to sneak their portable recording gear into shows, sharing the sometimes dubious out-comes with one another in the weeks and months after the event. These documents presented essential alternate insight to the music of their favorite artists.
Fortunately Bruce fans no longer have to search far and wide to find good quality recordings of some of these vintage concerts since -- like The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam before him -- Mr. Springsteen has graciously begun opening up his archives in the last several years. I have reported on some of these releases before and they are wonderful.
One of the latest releases is a prime addition to the archive: a pair of soundboard recordings from the woefully under documented 1977 tour, some of which apparently have never even circulated among fan-made audience recordings from the period. That period between Born To Run and the 1978 release Darkness On The Edge Of Town was especially fertile and Bruce tried many new ideas on the live stage including a stirring rendition of "Backstreets" with a spoken word middle section culminating in a chilling accusation: "you lied!"
These two shows from Albany and Rochester in upstate New York mark the beginning of the spring 77 tour and showcase then-new tunes which would remain unreleased for many years including the great rocker "Rendezvous" and a gorgeous early piano and vocal version of "The Promise." Those two songs showed up eventually on the album called The Promise (which I reviewed for a now defunct publication), a collection which presented an alternate vision for the music Bruce had written during this time period but which didn't fit the feel and storyline beneath Darkness On The Edge Of Town, and thus thus remained unreleased.
We get to hear on these tapes -- for the first time -- a fun party rocker called "Action in the Streets" spotlighting the Miami Horns and Clarence Clemons on Saxophone, a tune performed a bunch during 1977, but which disappeared after that time. This song fits neatly alongside later gems like "Sherry Darlin'" (from The River) and tracks Bruce wrote for Gary U.S. Bonds like "This Little Girl" as well as the instrumental "Paradise by the C" (which eventually saw the light of day on the multi-disc live boxed set from the mid 1980s). On the Rochester show we also get to hear a fun version of Eddie Floyd's "Raise Your Hand."
The sound quality on these recordings, captured on cassette from the sound board as mixed and recorded by front of house tour engineer Chas Gerber, is generally excellent and very enjoyable with a minimum of hiss, a good sense of dynamics and quite nice instrumental detailing. There are occasional cuts to some songs due to tape flips -- remember 90 minute cassettes only had about 45 minutes of music per side at that point in time -- but between the two shows you get a complete snapshot of all the new music. I think between the two recordings I'm leaning toward the second night from Rochester in terms of fidelity and performance, especially on the rarer tracks like "Rendezvous," "Action..." and the epic 14-minute "Its My Life." The band seems to play everything at more stately pace this night, and overall the band is tighter.
It is also important to note that these recordings were transferred to digital and restored by John K Chester and Jamie Howarth of Plangent Processes, a company and technology which we have written about a lot here at Audiophilereview. These high definition downloads are available in 192 kHz, 24-bit resolution as well as DSD128 (Double DSD) files. Both shows are available for download at live.BruceSpringsteen.net as well as on CD download and even in high-resolution formats.
Rochester and Albany 1977 are essential listens for both the casual and hardcore Springsteen fan, no doubt.