Before the focus of Bruce Inc. shifts completely towards the classic era defining video release of The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts coming in November, the Live Archive Series returns – after a seemingly never-ending six week break – for a long anticipated fifth serving of the Magic Tour. And rather fittingly, it’s a tour release that nicely complements No Nukes as a celebration, and a farewell to the classic era, as from the end of this show, the E Street Band was never the same.
The Magic Tour has been represented interestingly in the Archive Series, focusing primarily of the 2008 leg with the previous three releases from that year highlighting the recovery of the Springsteen and the Band following the passing of Danny Federici, and the way in which they celebrated his life. The one release we currently have from 2007, November 19th from Boston, is also significant in regards to Danny as his final full show. This month’s release adds to that important night four months earlier by bringing Danny’s live performance story to a close, on account of being his final night playing with Bruce and the E Street Band. Having taken a leave of absence to seek treatment for melanoma after Boston, in March The Phantom’s prognosis wasn’t good, and very sadly, he’d leave us just under a month later on April 17th. That would be then, though, and on March 20th, 2008 Danny Federici was feeling like playing music! Making the trip to Indianapolis to tie up any loose ends, here he joins his friends for eight songs over the course of the show (in his classic “now ya see him now ya don’t!” fashion) that perfectly echo his and his bandmate’s stories over the years.
So, for the man whose hometown gave us the Flemington Furs advert on television, let’s see what this night in Indianapolis brings us!
While this night would ultimately be about Danny, it’s not until an hour into the show where he makes his welcome return, and upon entering the stage to that lovely instrumental of “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” – a song with lyrics that can aptly describe Dan and his fluid playing – Bruce gets us started in a rollicking manner, repeatedly perking us up with the emphatic, essential interrogative, “Is there anybody alive out there?!“. No matter the circumstances, on this night there is life in this band, and Bruce demands it from his audience too. He gets it, and in return the Conseco receive a thunderous “Night”, kickstarted by a spot on Clarence sax riff filled with the little nuances that could often be his downfall on this tour, an instant indication that everyone is going to be on top form tonight. That’s further stressed in this opener by the E Street Band playing like an incredibly well oiled machine, and the intricate riffs we’re able to note are helped greatly by Jon Altschiller’s mix – he may have upped his game for this one before we start praising Bob Clearmountain and his No Nukes mix to high heavens on November 19th. If there’s one drawback to this one, it’s Bruce’s vocal not being the strongest we’ve ever heard it, as his broken, tired tone doesn’t match the energy of the song’s protagonist. He’s motivated, though, alongside Little Steven, and that carries into “Radio Nowhere” – which is also preceded by a shout of “Is there anybody alive out there?!“, of course. An intense offering spurred on by awesome guitar, for what was missing in Bruce’s vocal in “Night”, I love the fluidity in his voice as he sings “searching for a world with some soul“, before Stevie steals the harmonies away from Soozie and Nils with his rousing deliveries of “pound in drums!” and “speaking in tongues!“, as well as an impressive contribution at 1:40. And even more impressive than that is The Big Man’s playing at 1:57, which is particularly smooth for what we might expect from him on this tour. It’s a damn good start for him, let’s hope it continues!
Something of an outlier in this rocking opening four-pack, “Lonesome Day” is very much the stand out given its context, before and after the show. A month later it would also be in the opening four songs, and while on that night the song provided acceptance and calming from Bruce to his band and his audience, tonight the song is equal parts an optimistic rallying cry with its calls of “it’s alright!” and “this too shall pass“, and a preparing of his fans for what is to come. Sparked into life by Steve’s guitar licks (0:38), the opening verse is the most impactful aspect of the song to me, as with Danny on our minds and in knowing his sometimes strained relationship with Bruce, to hear him sing “once I thought I knew… I didn’t really know that much; joke’s on me…” serves as an admittance of Bruce that he may have misjudged his friend in the past, and sometimes it takes a lonesome day away from them to realise and appreciate what you were potentially wrong about.
“Prove It All Night” replaces sentimentality with more rampant rock, and it’s a determined, focused rendition with superbly pulsating efforts from Max and Garry, in addition to fervent vocals from Bruce and Stevie (1:24), and there’s no greater example of the latter than their back and forth of “Yeah!” and “Alright!” from 3:16, culminating in that sweltering guitar coda. Mint.
With the Fieldhouse now up out of their seats, focus shifts to the typical tour tirade (at least one of them!) towards the government and their actions over the last eight years. A three song sequence beginning with “Gypsy Biker”, the extended reflective acoustic and mournful harmonica sets the mood, before Bruce’s deeply despondent vocal – with a touch of a voice break at 1:42 – tells us everything we need to know about his thoughts on the lives lost under the then-current regime. And if that wasn’t evoked to the greatest degree in his vocal, the vicious guitar solos from Stevie and Bruce at 2:07 and 4:09 respectively are utterly scathing. Indianapolis might be out of their seats, but Bruce is clearly intent on keeping them standing with playing like this!
That said, we get a moment of instrumental respite with the tour’s titular track, and we also get a few funny anecdotes with Bruce’s bemusement about the Red Garter still being around, his reference of a one-off Playboy appearance that I’m too young to know ever happened, and a shout out to Patti looking after the kids back home – “the kids were just taking the hash brownies out of the oven!“. Then, with a nod to the “the end… eight years of magic tricks“, we get a third fantastic rendition of “Magic” in the Archive Series. And as is the case on the Greensboro release, Soozie is superb in Patti’s absence, both on violin as notable in the intro, and in her vocals from 2:27.
It’s then back to the boisterous with a truly invigorating “Reason to Believe”. Picking up where last month’s Upper Darby 2005 release left off with the acquired taste bullet mic starting us off, we admittedly don’t get the most pleasant of sounds on the ear from 0:40 (you might want to lower your volume a touch). Thankfully the kick in from 1:58 is definitely pleasing as a riveting exhibition of the E Street Band, and I love how Nils and Stevie’s guitar resound in each ear as the song gets going. Bruce introduces the Band as the greatest little bar band in all the land at the start of the show, and this is definitely evidence of that. Awesome. Vocals-wise, I really like the swift way Bruce sings “struck me kinda funny!” and 2:43 and 3:29, and the way he contrasts this with a drawn out “find some reason to believe” at 3:40 is effective in highlighting the sudden shift from laughing through tears to feeling total resentment. The finale from 6:12 is effective too where it concerns letting it all out, and believe me, there’s nothing unpleasant about this sequence. An immense finale.
Now, I’ll admit Bruce saying “let me see the signs” and Max starting that stirring drumbeat got a me a little anxious, as I still haven’t recovered from the horror of those “Yeah!” cries on the St. Louis release. So while this version of “Rendezvous” mightn’t be a delight to everyone, it feels extra delightful to me on account of those calls being nowhere to be heard. Mind you, I’d be surprised if this one wasn’t loved by all, as it’s absolute magic with Max on rapturous form. He keeps that form going into “Because the Night” as well, at times overshadowing Nils during his solo (3:02; 4:01), in another potent E Street exhibition. I really like Bruce’s vigorous deliveries of “when I’m in your hands” (0:38) and “they can’t hurt us now” (2:38), but as Nils and Max make fully apparent, this is all about the instrumentation, and whether it’s Garry pulling the strings or Clarence providing us with another stellar solo at 2:02, there’s an abundance of examples.
It’s a similar story for “She’s the One”, which is immense, thanks once again to Max and the intricacies of Roy’s playing on the piano (1:14, 2:37), but it’s the audience who are the surprise stand out here. Up to now they’ve been invested and we’ve been able to sense how well they’re pushing Bruce and the Band forward, but they haven’t been loud like they are here. It makes for an even more communal performance, and a thoroughly enjoyable listen.
Also more than enjoyable than usual is “Livin’ in the Future”, which begins with ‘confirmation’ of the good time the audience are having in response to Bruce’s “Are we having fun yet?“, and a reiteration of the usual governmental tirade we can hear on the four other tour releases. Then, a slight misstep! From Roy! Not to worry, the second bite of the cherry brings success and he makes up for any and all mistakes with his playing at 4:07. The latter is just one example of a very solid E Street performance that, alongside Bruce’s tender, hushed vocal – which is also calming in taking us out of the realities of this moment – makes the strongest shout for this being the most thrilling rendition of the song released so far.
Up to this point of the show, he’s been somewhat overshadowed by the quality of instrumentation happening elsewhere onstage, but what must be stated is the imperative role played by Charlie Giordano during Danny’s leave of absence, and since Danny’s passing. With Danny joining the Band for the next twenty minutes, Charlie steps aside to quite simply let The Phantom do the business, and it’s into “The Promised Land” we go! From the denial of “none of this has happened yet” to the acceptance of “I believe in the promised land“, it’s unsurprising just how inspired the vocals from Bruce, Stevie, Nils and Soozie are throughout this one, and their energy is matched by Max, who is more than earning the ‘unstoppable’ tag Bruce gives him towards the end of “American Land” later on. Having said that, it is of course Danny we’re listening out for during this one, and while he’s typically striking, most of all I love how he just slips in through the guitar and sax at 2:27. That ability to pop up and squeeze in anywhere is what earned him his tag many years ago, and we’re lucky that he hasn’t lost a step on this night. Always a communal effort, especially on this tour as can be heard on the releases of Tampa and Greensboro, there’s even more purpose from 4:20 tonight, and whether the men and women onstage knew this really would be the last time or not, they’re definitely playing with that mentality.
“Danny” chants bridge us from the Darkness staple to the old old school, and we go back to the beginning with a track Indianapolis couldn’t be happier about. With mesmerising work from Danny and Roy, and an always welcome scream from Bruce, “Spirit in the Night” shines, stimulated by the sultry sax of The Big Man. What’s interesting about this one is that it isn’t the manic performance we’re used to, and instead it’s rather subdued, as if everyone inside the Conseco Fieldhouse is savouring this moment, and the thirty-five years of history that comes with it. Adding to that is the softer, youthful way Bruce sings “the night was bright…” from 4:11, before drifting back to his current self at 4:32 in a sequence that busts the space-time continuum and transcends eras. There’s magic in the night, and anything is possible!
Bringing Danny down to the front of the stage for a song “we couldn’t let him get away without playing“, Bruce teases the attention Dan’s getting tonight by telling the audience, “He’s gonna be bugging me for a raise!“, and they follow this with the obvious selection on the night, Danny’s song, “Sandy”. With just the two of them starting us off, we get a gorgeous blend of guitar and accordion that makes for summertime in March, and it’s no surprise that a truly wistful vocal soon accompanies it. Similarly to “Spirit”, this one is also prolonged in the way it’s played (1:29 onwards) and the theme of “forever” throughout the song becomes more real than ever. Now, thanks to the Live Archive Series, this does indeed live forever. Several years later, Bruce would tell us in his autobiography, “Born to Run”, that “Sandy” was opted for by Danny when Bruce asked him what he fancied playing, going on to state;
“He wanted to play once more the song that is, of course, about the end of something wonderful, and the beginning of something unknown and new.”
With a reassuring shout that “He’ll be back!” (a lot sooner than many inside the Fieldhouse may have thought), we find ourselves in the home stretch of the main set with the tour defining five-pack. “Devil’s Arcade” is up first, and it’s solemn, with Charlie’s organ sounding really grave on this night. And that aura only increases with Soozie’s chilling violin (0:48) segueing us into a masterful performance – brimming with stunning guitar (2:32; 4:24) and that incredible build (3:07) – one that emphasises this as some of Bruce’s very best songwriting in the twenty-first century, but after “Sandy” it leaves us more understanding than ever as to why the Band later requested it be dropped from the setlist. On its own, this one may stand out as a better performance than both Boston and Greensboro, but in the scope of this show, it’s very bleak.
There’s nothing bleak about what follows, but the urgency of “The Rising”, as evidenced in the 2:00 guitar solo and the building “sky of…” sequence from 3:36; and rampant atmosphere of “Last To Die”, fulled by its storm of guitars and genuinely unstoppable Max Weinberg, are certainly inspired by “Arcade”, and its highly emotional context on this evening.
Though the opener of this five-pack offers an argument, the stand out is “Long Walk Home”. Sang with more urgency – and a fascinating sense of worry in Bruce’s voice – I love how the anger slips out at 1:27 when he sings “all rank strangers“. The fear and fury he feels for his country, and himself at this moment is telling. He’s helped out well here by Indianapolis, who are mint in their participation when called upon to sing, as well as Nils, which isn’t a surprise given how good he sounds on the Greensboro release from November 2020. However, where Nils would win the harmonies battle in that performance in April, this one belongs to Little Steven. Stepping into the spotlight courtesy of a lovely Roy intermezzo, his solo is staggeringly good from 4:40, and in this moment he lets loose his own angers and anxieties, and whether these are more in relation to his country, or to one of his friends, the additional perspective we’re given from a member of the E Street Band other than Bruce is very important.
Ending the main set in emphatic fashion is “Badlands”, and if your volume is still turned down after the start of “Reason to Believe”, you’ll want to turn it all the way back up for this titan track. Highlighted once again by Stevie (1:54), an immense intensity from Bruce, Max and Clarence, and a flurry of false finishes, this one is cleansing in how invigorating it is. A thunderous delight.
As Danny returns for the encore, Bruce takes a quick moment to shout out Gleaner’s Food Bank and their tireless commitment to those struggling in Indiana. Then, with a dedication to Danny comes an ode to friendship, and the normally cathartic guitar, organ, piano and drums of “Backstreets” are a level above here. The same song Bruce would use to start the night in Tampa on April 22nd following Danny’s death, there’s undoubtedly a personal connection between the two where it concerns this song, and that only increases the emotional fervour of this rendition. While I love the magic Roy sprinkles into the song at 3:01, it’s from 5:18 that’s most captivating. The way Danny’s organ is stressed is equally gutting and awe-inspiring, and that voice break we can hear from Bruce at 5:49 is emotionally overwhelming. “Backstreets” is a song with many faces, and it often drifts from being a song of friendship, to a song of betrayal depending on how the evening (or our mood) is faring. This version is enough to lean it in the direction of the former, forevermore.
For (only) a twelve minute detour from the fragility of time to the essence of rock and roll, we head down to the back of the alley for a sublimely sleazy “Kitty’s Back”. Sang with a strong vocal, and being just long enough to spotlight Danny and every other member of the Band – with time to spare – I think for the lovers of “Kitty” the only downside here is that it isn’t half an hour longer. Still, in the time it’s allocated we’re able to enjoy that “she left to marry some *Max Magic*” moment of essence at 1:12, hear an additional example of Clarence on the top of his game (both on sax and vocally, 10:44), swoon at those 9:24 harmonies that sound like they’re straight off The Wild, the Innocent, and marvel at Danny’s carnival sounds at 10:37. As always with “Kitty”, it’s one where we’re bound to notice something new with every listen, and whether it’s the first or one hundred and first, it’s going to be an enjoyable journey.
Time for the magnum opus, and while it can sometimes be difficult to find new words for “Born to Run”, this one is special. Similarly to “Backstreets”, the significance isn’t lost on Bruce, and we can hear his voice breaking at 2:31, but in contrast to its album brethren, here we can just about surmise the joy on Bruce’s face as it happens. And even more than that, where 3:39 is often a cathartic moment to experience, many other instances pale in comparison to this one. It’s the last time, and as Bruce sings “we’ll get to that place we really want to go“, all of a sudden this man and his band are in their twenties again, playing with the same fearless, romantic optimism that brought them to the dance. If you happen to need, or simply want another example, keep listening, and hear Bruce sing “baby we were born to run” at 4:24. Oh how they ran.
And it’s not over yet, as we have the buoyant double shot of “Dancing in the Dark” and “American Land” to see us out. “Dancing” sees Garry thrive, commanding the song like we’ve very rarely heard (2:29, 3:39), but as tends to happen, Garry’s work is outshone when Clarence steps up for his solo at 3:45. Yes, there’s a minor misstep from 4:51, but make no mistake, from 2007 to 2009, Clarence Clemons had his bad nights, and he had his good nights. This was a damn good night for him, and the spring in his step has evidently rubbed off on his bandmates. After the organ of the most imperative figure on the night swirls from 5:23, “American Land” sees Danny brought up front for the final time, alongside Charlie for a good old fashioned accordion duel (how else would you want to go out!?), and though this song may lack sentimental value given the context of the night, I don’t think Danny Federici wanted anything more than to just say farewell alongside his blood brothers and sisters.
A night that celebrates the legacy of Danny Federici and the E Street Band, March 20th, 2008 is a significant release in Springsteen’s Archive Series. Not significant in how it represents Magic, the tour and its touring tracks in abundance (though there are six of them in the setlist), but more so in how it ties Danny’s final full show in Boston in November 2007, and the first show following his passing in Tampa in April 2008 together, completing a trilogy I’m sure none of us expected upon the Series’ inception in 2014. A show featuring a truly impressive, inspired Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performance, particularly that of Clarence Clemons, this night may lack rarities, and it may not be a truly famed night akin to St. Louis five months later, this one is about the history shared between the men and women onstage, and that’s expressed vehemently in the performances of songs that may on any other release just appear standard. From “Lonesome Day” to “Born to Run”, Indianapolis 2008 stresses the relationships and the history of the E Street Band, ending a hefty chapter in the classic lineup’s history, while straightening out that blank page for the story they’re still writing today.
Kieran’s recommended listening from March 20th, 2008 – Indianapolis, IN:
“Night”, “Radio Nowhere”, “Lonesome Day“, “Prove It All Night”, “Reason to Believe”, “Rendezvous“, “Livin’ in the Future”, “The Promised Land“, “Spirit in the Night”, “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)“, “Devil’s Arcade“, “Last To Die”, “Long Walk Home“, “Badlands“, “Backstreets“, “Kitty’s Back”, “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark”.
You can download the fifth Live Archive Series release from the Magic Tour here.