My final review for this spectacular box set. It's my favorite item. Redoing the entire record live in front of no audience is a unique concept. No one cheering you on. No distractions. Which is good because the dead silent environment retains the isolation and starkness of the album. Now the band is only playing to themselves. They've celebrated these songs with countless people over thirty years, now they've reconvened to celebrate the songs with one another. As you may know, playing albums from start to bottom isn't something new. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band have gotten very good at it during the last leg of the '09 tour. They've covered the essential six, from Greetings to Born In The U.S.A., with Born To Run being played the most. But surprisingly, Darkness was only played twice.
This particular show features only the original E Street line-up, which means no Nils Lofgren, Soozie Tyrell and Patti Scialfa. No disrespect to any of them; they certainly bring a lot to the E Street live sound. But the songs of Darkness were always meant to be played with just two guitars, or else they'd sound too bloated. When Bruce performs, he always feeds off the energy from the crowd, and this lifts him up tremendously. But with no audience here, he still brings a fiery passion to the songs. At 61 years of age, the man has still got the chops of his younger self. Sure he can't prance around like he used to in '78, but he's just as passionate as I've ever seen him onstage. He still means every word he sings, and band still plays like their lives depends on it. The music never falters for one moment.
As the band launches into Badlands, you just know this is gonna be an out-of-the-body experience. A fucking religious experience. We've seen and heard Badlands hundreds of times. It may just seem routine for the band. But I watch this performance of the song and I feel like I'm watching this for the first time in my life. There are some slight variations now that there's no crowd participation; gone is the singalong in the middle. If you can't feel any adrenaline rushing through your veins, you're probably not human. There's barely enough time for you to catch your breath as they move into Adam Raised A Cain. This is the point where one starts to get a case of extreme goosebumps. Bruce plays it safe with the vocals, he can't hit the high notes like before, but man, his expressions on his face say it all.
This performance of Something In The Night might just be the definitive version of the song. Bruce's howling is incredible on this one. Candy's Room starts off with some fine camera work, tracking around Max's drumset as he plays the hi-hats. It's visually exciting. The rapid cutting and swift camera movements complement the tempo of the song. And it ends off with some amazing guitar feedback; the immediate silence following that is as loud as the song. Racing In The Street, I think matches the version at Hyde Park. The long coda at the end is always something to behold. The instruments can all be heard crystal clear; electric guitar, sax, 12-string acoustic, organ, piano, it's essentially an ensemble piece, but here the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. The sound in the film is top-notch, best I've ever heard on any concert DVD, all the more reason to blast the volume. Once again, kudos to Bob Clearmountain for mixing this whole thing. It's exactly like studio quality, which may very well replace the original album.
When the band goes into The Promised Land, notice how the lighting changes to bright. It all depends on the mood of the song. This one's another definitive version. I love the little interactions between Bruce and Stevie; priceless. The harp coming in immediately after that great sax solo is one hair-raising moment. Meanwhile Factory, the shortest song on the album, adopts a very blue, somber lighting. The song won't be what it is without Roy's piano. Streets Of Fire is the highlight of this entire set. This particular performance hit me hard emotionally the first time. My eyes actually welled up. Perhaps the most devastating vocals I've ever heard from Bruce: "I heard somebody call my name. When you realize, how they treat you this time. And it's all lies, cause I'm stranded on the wire..." If there's one song that needs to be played live more often, it's Streets.
Prove It All Night; another definitive version. Blistering guitar solo, although it's easy to dismiss Bruce as sloppily shredding the strings. One might think that Clarence isn't really needed on those songs without his sax solos -- well that's not true. He plays tambourine most of the time, but it's a very important instrument to the album. Just imagine what it'd sound like without it. The tambourine is the unsung hero of the album. And without stopping, the band launches straight into Darkness On The Edge Of Town, another strong version. By this time, it's like approaching the end of a long conversation with Bruce. The last part of the song has the camera pulling back slowly to reveal a wide-shot bird eye's view of the stage, just as the final notes ring. An appropriate way to end the show.
Thom Zimmy really knows how to direct the camera. At times you really feel like you're on the stage with the band, witnessing something magical. Recreating Darkness in an empty theater is certainly one of the best things Bruce has done this past decade. It's also the perfect tool for winning over new fans. I don't see how anyone won't be moved by this. Watching this has been a life-changing experience. A truly awe-inspiring event, a testament to the band's 35 year plus musical bond and friendship.