New from the Springsteen archive: August 6th, 1984 – East Rutherford, NJ – Brendan Byrne Arena

After a strikingly good first night in the Brendan Byrne Arena, the Prodigal Son and his band of men (and now) women are back for their first attempt at smashing the bar they’d just set twenty-four hours earlier. It’s taken some time for this September Archive to be released, and it’s also been a little while since the project last transported us into the Born in the U.S.A. World Tour, but as has been clearly emphasised this year with the previous seven releases, some things are worth waiting for, and thankfully this show offers a lot that I’ve been waiting for.

Before we get to the first of several unique tracks on the night, though, there’s the matter of four songs that we’ve been lucky to hear already on the last two releases from 1984. “Born in the U.S.A.” and “Out in the Street” are our opening duo on this night, just like they were on August 5th and would be on August 20th, and we can be happy in knowing there’s a bunch of positives to the performances too. What’s instantly noticeable isn’t the quality of performance, but more the quality of crowd mixing, courtesy of one of the loudest reactions to date as Springsteen and The E Street Band enter the stage. The previous three releases from this tour have been criticised by few for sounding ‘flat’ as far as the audience participation is concerned, so this should suffice straight away. And if not, there’s a lot more excellent audience noise over the next three hours!
The titular track of the tour should more than suffice too, as while “U.S.A.” may be composed where Bruce’s vocal deliveries are concerned, when it comes to the instrumentals of The E Street Band, well, let’s just say that if the night one performance was the opening shot of the trees in Apocalypse Now, this one suggests that it didn’t take as long as September 27th, 1985 for them to burst into flames! As for The River track, unfortunately Bruce’s vocals aren’t quite as magical as the night before (I’ll take this in exchange for him sounding immense for the rest of the show), but that doesn’t stop The E Street Band from playing, and most importantly Patti Scialfa from sounding just as good, if not better, than on opening night. These two start the show strongly, and it’s staggering just how stronger this night gets as it goes on.

What’s interesting about “Spirit in the Night” as the third track in the set is that though we’ve already heard the performance from August 20th, this particular version is the first outing of the song since the Nassau Coliseum gig on December 31st, 1980. We can really feel the magnitude of the moment from the get-go too, with Clarence’s powerful sax leading into the slower organ and piano instrumentals of Danny and Roy that slow down the tempo and make the culmination to that three and a half year wait for the audience all the more enthralling. When the song kicks in, we get the first of many stunningly sang performances from Bruce on the night. For a song that was really a guarantee to be played in every gig from 1973 to 1980, here it is as a rarity, so that might explain why Bruce is approaching this more calmly, drawing out certain lyrics rather than singing them like the wild man we can hear in Passaic in 1978. Mind, that doesn’t stop him from making the odd mix up, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt seeing as it’s a tour debut and because the August 20th performance is, as I said in February 2019, so good that it’s definitive.

“Atlantic City” kicks off the Nebraska mini-suite on this night as it does on the opening and closing nights of the stand and though I can’t say it’s a better rendition than in Los Angeles just over a year later, this is undeniably mint. And funnily enough, one of the highlights of this version is near enough identical to a highlight in LA with Bruce’s howl of “debts that NO HONEST MAN CAN PAY!“, which is definitely more of a howl on this occasion, as he makes next-to-no attempt to sing this lyric. In addition to this we get an outstanding solo from Nils and one more instance of Bruce howling, with his direction for Max to “DRUM!” to end the song on a mighty note after the slow, “meet me tonight” build. Death, taxes, and fantastic live versions of “Atlantic City”, such is life!
This brings us to the first unique track on the release, the Archive Series debut of “Open All Night” as it was played on the Born in the U.S.A. World Tour, or as several fans will tell you, the way it should be played on any tour. This is, of course, the version with the famed intro where, after talking about making ham and cheese sandwiches and kissing his girlfriend, Bruce utters those immortal words spoken onstage up there with the likes of “Teenage werewolf” and “pyjammies:

And son, you’re in a lot of trouble.”

The introduction from Meadowlands ’92 is similar, and the one from Freehold ’96 is virtually identical, but as we well know, song performances with The E Street Band are different gravy and listening to Bruce tell this story as Nils plays the acoustic in the background makes for a version of the song in the Archive Series that, finally, feels just right. That goes for the performance of the song too, and having mentioned those outings from 1992 and 1996, I’d be remiss in not quickly mentioning the big band Seeger version released in August and the differences in Bruce’s delivery of the lyrics. As you’d expect there’s less swagger and wildness in how he sings this compared to in 2006, and instead there’s a youthful vigour, complemented by some damn good harmonica playing, that you could argue will end up being the heart and soul of this entire show.

The Nebraska sequence is brought to a close with the album’s title track, and I couldn’t blame you for not immediately realising that this was the version culled for Live 1975-85, because it sounds strikingly different. In contrast to the boxset the instrumentals in the background such as Max’s thudding drumbeats, Garry’s bass and Danny’s glockenspiel can be heard a lot more prominently, but on the other hand the harmonica solo from Bruce we can hear on the 1986 live album is conspicuous in its absence. I’ve never given much thought to the overdubs that many fans have said hindered Live over the years, but I suppose I can appreciate where they’re coming from now after hearing the differences in both of these tracks.
What’s also unique about this in comparison to the boxset is the monologue prior to the song where Bruce talks about the invention of new technology bringing the world closer together, but how people are becoming even more distant and isolated from what’s real, including their work, community, government and family. In the end, “you just explode.”
That monologue is the reason I find the placing of “Trapped” right after “Nebraska” so fascinating, as while the former focuses on letting yourself slip away into madness and has an antagonist unrepentant of his actions, Bruce could be using “Trapped” here to suggest that when someone is on the brink of exploding, there’s still a little piece of them trying to set them on the right path, far away from that of destruction. If you have a similar or different thought on whether these two songs connect or not, feel free to let me know in the comments.
Similarly to “Nebraska”, “Trapped” is another song that was used on future compilation albums. It didn’t feature on Live, but rather the We Are The World charity album in 1985, and the bonus disc of Bruce’s own Essential album in 2003. It’s a fantastic version too, where Bruce sings in a very impassioned manner, and is given great backing from Patti, Max and Danny. It’s unlikely to top the Meadowlands ’81 version released back in May, but it’s a rendition that I’m glad has finally been given the context of its full show, rather than remaining hidden on a bonus disc.

The ending sequence of the first set begins with a terrific version of “Prove It All Night”, one that feels a lot looser than many of the tighter and more intense performances available on other releases. Still, that doesn’t prevent us from getting one hell of a guitar solo to close the song out from 3:36, and given how much more acclaimed the guitar playing from 1978 has been than any other era, it truly stunned me how good this was. An unexpected gem on this release!
“Glory Days” starts with a laugh from Bruce to get things going, then we get a surprisingly shorter version of the Born in the U.S.A. track in comparison to the other three tour releases. There’s still some chatter with Bruce restating his dislike for high school, giving a commanding “LET’S GET TO ROCKIN’ NOW!” (Thankfully there’s no “I’m gonna tickle your little tootsies“) and my favourite aspect of these ’84-85 versions where Bruce tells us “I hear that clock tickin’ away…”. Clarence is also a highlight during this outro, acting as a perfect replacement for Little Steven by providing the “uh-ohs!” and other Stevieisms to make for a delightfully amusing addition to Bruce’s rant on mortality, before being the highlight during a splendid performance of “The Promised Land” courtesy of the sound and power of his sax solo from 2:44. That’s not to sell Bruce’s vocals or the harmonies from Patti and Nils short, this is simply just one instance of The Big Man stealing the show – and it won’t be the last time on the night either.

This is a song about old cars. ‘Cause old cars never die, they just break down all the time!

In my review of the opening night I mentioned how the four songs following “The Promised Land” tell the story of Springsteen’s father, and we get a repeat of that here. However, alongside that context there’s a focus on community that is really emphasised within “My Hometown”. Before we get to the U.S.A. album closer though it’s “Used Cars” up first, and there’s a lot to enjoy in this one. I really like the way Bruce alternates from singing and speaking lyrics for a greater impact, and standing out in particular are the ways in which he recites, “he’s telling us all about the break he’d give us if he could, but he just can’t“, and my favourite moment of the song: “I wish my dad would just hit the gas, and let out a cry, and tell ’em all they can just kiss our asses goodbye” (1:32 – 1:42). There’s an evident sense of relief in the way he sings “goodbye“, as Springsteen had pretty much won that lottery he sings about a few moments later, and these ten nights in the Meadowlands are living proof of it.

As mentioned, “My Hometown” focuses more on community than just family, with Bruce referring to the monuments built to honour those who fought in the Battle of Monmouth, as well as the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, and how all of these contributed to helping him further understand and appreciate where he was from and important the past is to build a good future. That said, what’s most interesting about this introductory monologue to me is him mentioning a publicity photoshoot for his first band, The Castilles. Had this been released at the start of September it potentially would have passed me by, but given how that photo of Bruce and his bandmates wearing those “make-believe snakeskin vests” has been doing the rounds lately after popping up as an Easter egg in the music video for Bruce and The E Street Band’s newest single, “Letter To You“, we get another one of those moments where a Springsteen Archive release from years back correlates to something relevant in his current, or recent, ventures. It all almost overshadows the song itself, which is – like most versions of “My Hometown” are – played to perfection. If you’re listening to the song with earphones in, listen to Nils’ subtle guitar licks from around the 2:10 mark, they contribute a lovely tenderness to Bruce’s wistful vocals.

“Badlands” thrills the audience as the penultimate song of the set with the guitar playing (check out Nils’ finale from 4:53 – 5:03) and harmonies of Patti standing out greatly. There’s also Bruce delivering the “same old played out scenes” line in a nicely drawn out manner to go alongside his superb vocals. The four versions of “Badlands” we’ve now got from this tour are all relatively similar, but they’re undoubtedly captivating and where some versions from later years can seem like a chore to play, that’s never been the case with these. Depending on how many more releases can be expected from 1984-85, long may it continue!
“Thunder Road” then brings the first set to a close, and for as good as the performances of “Badlands” are from this tour, “Thunder Road” is always that little bit better. So full of vibrancy, this track further highlights the excellent efforts of mixing in the audience, as their participation from 1:04 is one of the clearest and loudest I can recall hearing on official releases of the song. It’s also another exhibition for The Professor, who drives the song forward with absolute consistency and little moments of magic thrown in for good measure – listen to those keys played from 3:04, wow! Very noteworthy contributions from Patti and Clarence benefit the song throughout, but the final fantastic standout for me in this one has to be Bruce’s alerting, but calming “SO COME ON climb in” just before the finale. The swift change from loud to soft tells us that he’s urging Mary to get in, but in the end it’s her decision to make and he won’t judge. An outstanding way to end what is really an outstanding first set.

After embracing his inner De Niro by asking the audience, “You talkin’ to me?” Bruce and The E Street Band kick the second set off in just as lively a manner as they did the night before, mixing it up a little with “Cadillac Ranch” kicking off proceedings. It’s not completely different to the other available versions from the tour, but we get our fantastic example of wild Bruce due to his cries of “CADILLAC” (3:36) when the tempo has been lowered and we’re on the brink of a raucous finale. That finale, of course, seemingly gives the audience in attendance a great moment between Bruce and Clarence, and though this is where audio-only recordings seem inferior to an official DVD like Tempe ’80, for example, thanks to the Tempe version of the song, we’re able to get an idea of what they’re getting up to and what the audience are losing their minds over during this finale.
The excellent quality of audience participation continues with “Hungry Heart”, and while there are a few other versions where the audience can be heard as clear as day, I can’t think of too many that are, to steal Bruce’s grading, A+. What also gets top marks on this one is the outright performance, with Bruce’s vocals being otherworldly, and The E Street Band doing a damn good job in the background, Max, Patti, Roy and Clarence in particular. “Now lay it on the line.”

“Dancing in the Dark” follows, with the wheels for a good performance set in motion by Danny’s organ and Max’s crisp drumbeats, and while he might have been overshadowed the night prior by Clarence’s outro and Nils’ “Even if we’re just dancin’”, there’s absolutely no doubting that this particular performance belongs to Bruce for his vocal efforts. I don’t know what was in the water he drank during the intermission, but we’re lucky he got stuck into it and those notes he hits from 4:01 are utterly sublime.
And just when you think “Tenth” is going to belong to Roy, then Nils, then Garry, and then Clarence, Bruce starts singing. Unlike those 2014 shows I’ve been reviewing lately he most certainly doesn’t sound exhausted in this one, but rather immaculate. So immaculate, that it has me thinking again if this could be the best sang version of the song ever. Just when I thought I’d solved the ‘greatest “Tenth”” conundrum with acceptance of Tempe ’80, it might be back to square one.

“No Surrender” was the second and final song performance taken from this show for Live 1975-85, and while there are no dedications to Tex and Marion Vinyard or Little Steven as was the case on opening night, Bruce’s intro seems to suggest he has his friend in mind. Knowing that Stevie left The E Street Band because he’d helped get Bruce to where he believed he should be in the music business, Bruce’s comments about “No Surrender” being a song about “trying to hold onto something” immediately gets us thinking about Steve, but it’s when he mentions he lucky he’s been to find something he was good at, and to have his dream come true where we can understand that he’s starting to truly understand his friend’s reasons for leaving and appreciate that they’re both happier and better off than they were when they first met many years before. Consequently, while the performance of the song on opening night was coated in sadness and uncertainty as to whether Stevie would ever play with Bruce onstage again, this night’s rendition is sang with triumph – not the same kind he’d sing with on August 20th knowing his friend was in the building – but there’s a strong sense of “we did it, Stevie” throughout these four and a half minutes.

“Because The Night” kicks off a lustful trio, and though it doesn’t sound as brooding as the version from Los Angeles in September ’85, it’s just as good with sublime instrumentals (from Bruce and Nils in particular) and vocals from everyone involved. Between the two main vocalists, Patti brings more power to the song, while Bruce adds the passion, whether it be in his delivery of “out in the hot sun, meet me now ’til the morning comes” or his reaffirmation of “because the night, the night, the night” (5:34). Just over half an hour in, and the second set may immediately be better than the first.

In the beginning, there was a place called the Garden of Eden, there was a man, there was a woman, there was an apple, there was temptation, there was sin… and parked curb-side, there was a pink Cadillac.

The lustful trio continues with “Pink Cadillac”, where Garry’s bass is very prominent in the introduction before Roy’s piano stands out above the rest during the actual performance of the song. It’s well performed and well built up, but quite similar to the night before, with the odd difference – “I know I’m gonna go to Heaven. Now, the band… don’t pack your overcoat, pack your Bermuda shorts!“. “Fire”, on the other hand, is one of the best moments of this entire release with Garry unsurprisingly setting the tone for this lustful finale right away. Bruce then proceeds to sing with some of his finest vocals of the entire show – make sure to check this out to hear how he sings “’cause when we kiss…”, “you say you want to be alo-one” and “It’s burning in my so-oul“, and while you’re doing that you might as well hang about for the female demographic in the audience loudly singing the chorus, and for Clarence’s booming baritone. Similarly to “Caddy”, because of the Tempe DVD we’re able to surmise what it is that has the women in the audience swooning as much as they appear to be from the two minute mark. Forget Winterland #2, this is the version that should have been on Live 1975-85!

Dedicated to those out there with a good friend, “Bobby Jean” is another vocal masterclass from Bruce, and it also contains remarkable contributions from Danny, Nils, Garry and The Big Man to finish it off. For as good a performance as this is though, Bruce really did a disservice by positioning it here in the setlist, only to be overshadowed by the next track.
As I’ve noted, this show is a really really good example of Bruce Springsteen’s vocals on the Born in the U.S.A. World Tour, and that makes me all the more happy for this release to feature “Racing in the Street”. I’ve been craving an official release of the song from 1984 to 1985 for so long, just to hear Bruce nail it vocally in the best possible audio. And this delivers. Oh my God does it deliver. If I’m being critical, it’s too short, and if I’m being overly positive it still might be the best version of the song I’ve ever heard. I wasn’t overly pleased with the July 9th, 1981 version released back in May (I’m sure you’ll be stunned to know it’s grown on me with repeated listens), citing the contrasts between the instrumentals and Bruce’s singing as the main factor. Thankfully the efforts of Bruce, Roy, Max, Danny and the other four E Streeters on this night combine to make a performance that is tender, romantic, sorrowful, and an immediate Archive Series essential. It’s a must must listen.

There’s a little café, on the other side… of Hoboken…

With a tremendous snippet of “Come a Little Bit Closer” beforehand, fresh with a tweaked lyric for the occasion, “Rosie” comes out for just the sixteen minutes on this night (Her mother and father must have had hell on about those extra sixty seconds the night before) and it’s a very fun version that sees Bruce once again “forget” the “winners use the door” lyric, needing help from Clarence and everyone else in the process, as well as giving the wildest introduction for Roy that I’ve ever heard (“That’s dedication, dedication!), before introducing Clarence in what I sincerely hope is not the closest this Series comes to August 20th, 1981:

“‘C‘ is for Cool, which grows and grows, ‘L‘ for his Loop which comes and goes, A‘ is ’cause he’s the Apple of my eye, ‘R‘ is because he’s the king of the world, he’s still just a Regular kind of guy… (C, L, A,R,) ‘E‘ is ’cause he’s Everything near and dear to me, ‘N‘ is ’cause there’s Nothing like him and there’s never ever gonna be, ‘C‘ is for that C-note he owed me since 1963, ‘E‘ is for Everything else, you put that all together, what’s that spell?…”

At sixteen minutes long, this “Rosie” might be another that finds itself getting looked over in favour of the song prior and the song following, but it’s good to know that it’s a fine performance with a fair amount different to night one and night ten.

Come on everybody, clap your hands! Yeah you’re looking good, gonna sing you a song, it won’t take long, can’t think of the rest!

Always one to outdo himself, the “Come a Little Bit Closer” introduction for “Rosalita” is topped with a quick reciting of the opening lyrics of Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again” – What does this release not have!?! And if that’s not enough, Bruce and The E Street Band top that with a performance that blows what I thought was the definitive from Wembley 1981 out of the water, and then some. Bruce’s brilliant vocals aren’t the main ingredient towards making this magnificent either, because this performance is a perfect example of what you happens when you put an organ, a keyboard, a glockenspiel (or all three) in front of Phantom Dan Federici and give him the freedom to play whatever he feels like. That lad from Flemington, New Jersey was in a league of his own.
Not to say “Jungleland” feels underwhelming after the energy of “Rocker” and the awe-inspiring thrill of “Racing in the Street”, but there’s nothing you can really say about this performance of the Born to Run album closer other than it’s extraordinary, and that can be said about every version of the song.

All it was kind of saying to me was, let freedom reign.

Following “Jungleland” we get a quick shout-out for Elvis Presley and the impact his music had on Bruce as a child when it would play through the radio, and this leads into a loud version of “Born to Run”, which is, fair enough, the only way it should be played, but still a surprise. Back in May I claimed the August 5th performance was the second best of tour versions released from the Archive, so of course today I’m going to knock that one down in favour of this, which has the advantage of sounding just as good with far superior audio quality. It’s been mentioned frequently how there weren’t too many shows from this tour recorded in multi-track, and with this release we’ve learnt that only four concerts were professionally captured on multi in 1984, so it’s unlikely we’ll get a version of “Born to Run” from this year that tops September 27th, 1985, but we’ll see how good August 19th is when that rolls around eventually.
Springsteen’s greatest anthem of independence transitions flawlessly into one of the most potent political anthems Mick Jagger and Keith Richards ever wrote with “Street Fighting Man”, with its origins emanating from police brutality and civil uproar. Written and recorded in 1968, it was just as relevant during this performance in August 1984, and very annoyingly it’s still highly relevant in September 2020. Another instance of the Archive Series and the performances it brings us finding a way of relating to our current situations, this is a really good Archive Series debut with Patti’s backing vocals standing out alongside Max’s drumming and Nils’ guitar instrumentals. And believe me, that “summer’s here and the time is right for fightin’ in the street” lyric doesn’t half get stuck in your head, so get ready to be singing it all day after hearing it!

He’s referenced Elvis, he’s covered The Rolling Stones, and with “Twist and Shout” as the finale, never mind The Top Notes, Bruce is essentially covering The Beatles to give us a cool insight to his musical icons at the finish line. While the night one performance was eight minutes long without an interpolation of “Do You Love Me?”, this one featuring the Contours’ track is just over ten minutes and I’m fine with that as it’s not excessively long in the same way Los Angeles ’85 can be. It also helps that this is a nice, easy listen to end the show, and in not reaching levels of overkill, it makes you all the more excited to hit replay.

Unsurprisingly similar in setlist to the night before – and also the final night – there are more than enough unique tracks featured on this one to make it a fresh listening experience in comparison. For a year where Springsteen and The E Street Band played well over one hundred gigs, another release from a stand where we’ve already had two releases can be frustrating. As mentioned above though, there were only four shows from this year recorded in multi-track and they all happened to be from the Brendan Byrne Arena (it evidently wasn’t as easy to professionally recorded back then as it is today) and while that doesn’t rule out Bruce Inc. having soundboard recordings in that vault, at the moment we can only wait on August 19th.
Having said that, the chances of us getting multiple renditions of “Open All Night”, “Nebraska”, “Fire”, “Racing in the Street”, “I’m a Rocker” and “Street Fighting Man” from this tour in future are evidently slim, so that’s all the more reason to be grateful for this release!

Rating: 9.1/10

Kieran’s recommended listening from August 6th, 1984 – Meadowlands, NJ:
Spirit in the Night“, “Atlantic City“, “Open All Night“, “Nebraska“, “Trapped”, “Prove It All Night“, “My Hometown”, “Thunder Road”, “Hungry Heart“, “Dancing in the Dark“, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out“, “No Surrender”, “Because The Night”, “Fire“, “Racing in the Street“, “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”, “I’m a Rocker“, “Born to Run”, “Street Fighting Man” and “Twist and Shout”.

You can download the second night of the 1984 Brendan Byrne Arena stand here.

As I mentioned at the end of my previous Springsteen blog post, it’s been confirmed that the First Friday era is no more. The releases will still pop up, but we just don’t have a set date to look for them, and while it’s a shame to see this particular season of the Archive Series end, it can’t be denied that we have a lot to play while we’re waiting for the next one and want a quick break from this most recent release.
And in the unlikely event we happen to get tired of replaying these live releases by, let’s say, October 23rd, Springsteen’s newest album Letter To You will be released on that date and I’m really looking forward to listening to it and writing about it.

I’m hoping to be back posting in the next week or so with a review of Springsteen and The E Street Band’s first night in Perth from 2014, I hope to see you then, and in the meantime, thanks for reading!

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