UK iTunes Store users who are also Bruce Springsteen fans will have noticed a burgeoning of bootlegs on the store over the past couple of years. There’s some kind of loophole, right? There are so many by now that it’s hard to choose between them. For example, from the 1978 (Darkness on the Edge of Town) tour alone, there are: Capitol Theatre, Passaic (New Jersey); Roxy Theatre (LA); Fox Theatre (Atlanta); and Winterland (San Francisco). Being unlicensed recordings, many of these are available in more than one version – at more than one price.
Take Winterland Night, which was broadcast on the radio in December of 1978 and famously features a live performance of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” You can buy this show for £7.99 or £14.99. Both are complete shows. Both are rip-offs, since the original recordings are bootlegs. What to do, then? Well, I used to have Winterland Night on a cassette tape, back in the day. I wanted to hear it again, so I thought about it for a few days and bought the £7.99 one.
I first heard it back in the early 1980s, when, through a friend of a friend, I had a regular supply of Bruce boots. The recordings were always on tapes, and always recordings of recordings of recordings, so quite stretchy with lots of wow and flutter. I was quite keen to hear the digitally mastered version of the original radio broadcasts.
The audio quality is okay. Like all radio broadcasts, it all sounds a bit over-compressed, and there’s a strong sense of “through the desk” with very little crowd noise. Sometimes, a bootleg from-the-crowd, while being of worse quality than a radio feed, will have more of the feel of being there. Still, Winterland Night is a decent document of a single gig on a single night. Knowing he was on the radio, knowing it would be bootlegged, Springsteen performs for posterity.
1978 was a very good year for Bruce gigs. He wasn’t yet so huge that he was playing the vast stadia he’s been playing ever since Born in the USA (1984). We’re also still in the era of long, long intros, stories, and a regular repertoire of crowd favourites such as the Detroit Medley. For me, this is the foundation of his reputation as a live performer. It’s pre-Nils Lofgren, but also pre-having too many guitars and other musicians on the stage. This is hard-core E Street Band, with much of the burden borne by Roy Bittan and Springsteen himself on lead guitar. The album just released, Darkness, is one of his very best, and the live versions of songs such as “Badlands,” “The Promised Land,” “Prove it all Night,” “Racing in the Street” and “Candy’s Room” are electric.
I mainly bought this so my youngest daughter could have a definitive version of her favourite, “Prove it all Night,” which at thirteen minutes and twenty-three seconds includes the full, unfiltered, Professor Roy Bittan piano intro and the scorching, hyper-real, guitar solo – all of which takes place before the song-as-recorded even begins.
Other highlights? “Fire”: “The Fever,” (as recorded by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes); “Because the Night”; a fourteen-minute “Backstreets” and the Detroit Medley. Hold your nose, but recommended.
p.s. A very special thanks to Autocorrect for changing Winterland to Hinterland every time I typed it.