In Dreams You’re Mine All Of The Time
by Erik Flannigan
The Tunnel of Love tour again? That’s surely a sentiment some are expressing with this month’s release of New York 5/16/88, the outstanding opening night performance from the final, five-show stand on the US leg of the 1988 tour.
On the surface the POV is understandable, as most shows on the Tunnel of Love Express Tour shared the same narrative arc and core songs. However beautifully realized it was, the argument goes, how distinctive is one Tunnel show from another?
It’s curious that 1988 comes in for such carping when one of Bruce’s most-beloved tours, in support of Darkness on the Edge of Town ten years earlier, followed a similar formula, largely sticking to a consistent group of songs for the core set, augmented by select cover versions and rarities that made a particular show extra special.
Both tours showcased a trove of material not found on Springsteen’s studio albums. In 1988, that included originals “Be True,” “Seeds,” “Part Man, Part Monkey,” “Light of Day,” and “I’m a Coward,” the latter a (nearly) complete rewrite of Geno Washington’s “Geno Is a Coward.” Bruce played those five songs across the US tour. But as the Express rolled on, cover songs—most entirely new to Springsteen setlists—began to appear, seemingly out of nowhere. But behind the scenes, their origin was part of the 1988 journey all along.
While the ’88 main set stayed consistent over the tour’s first two months, Bruce and the band operated as a virtual jukebox during their afternoon soundchecks,, test-driving dozens of cover songs. Eventually, some graduated from these private rehearsals to the main set.
These pre-show performances were explorations of the music Bruce and the band—and importantly, the horn section—grew up on or newly admired. Long soundchecks, like those that took place in Atlanta, Tacoma, and New York, were practically mini-concerts played for their own enjoyment.
On opening night at Madison Square Garden, cover songs born in soundchecks ultimately tip the show from good to great. Now released in brilliant, multi-track audio with one very special bonus track, in the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel, MSG Night One “goes to 11.”
John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” is the first cover of the night, newly added to the set two shows prior in Minneapolis. Gritty guitar and horns combine to give “Boom Boom” swagger, and its inclusion feels topical given the subject matter (“take you in my arms, I’m in love with you”). Bruce tosses in a long, bonus “make loooove” to eliminate any ambiguity.
Preview of “Boom Boom” – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at MSG in 1998
Between “Boom Boom” and the first set’s other cover, Edwin Starr’s depressingly still-appropriate “War ” we are treated to a number of terrific performances. “Adam Raised a Cain,” reborn in 1988, offers a weighty lead vocal, including a fresh exchange with Nils towards the end. Bruce’s guitar work at the top of “Adam” and later in the solo are fiery, and the horns raise the drama to arena level. “Two Faces” is thoughtfully rendered and thematically resonant, as is “Cover Me”: Bruce dips into lyrics from the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” declaring “I need a little shelter now,” “It’s just a kiss away,” and his own revealing improvisation, “I can’t see no sunshine.” Not surprisingly given the circumstances we get an especially earnest “Brilliant Disguise,” too.
The cracking first set ends with another epic “Born in the U.S.A.,” played at a seemingly pacier tempo and loaded with emotive guitar soloing, synthesizer pitch-wheel bending, and a nifty bit of Max Weinberg cymbal pinging between channels as Bruce’s voice rises to sing, “I’ve got a picture of him in her arms.”
The second set keeps pace with the first, and while there are no surprises per se (those are still to come), the band is playing at their 1988 peak. For highlights, first among equals is “Walk Like a Man,” making its second full-band appearance in the Archive series and sounding more vivid and widescreen than the version captured in Detroit in March. The arrangement features what might be the best work by the Horns of Love of the entire tour. While everyone in the band is playing brilliantly, Garry Tallent’s bass gives the song a lush bed on which the other instrumentation flourishes. It’s a stunner.
The encores on the 1988 tour were consistently strong, and the addition of “Have Love, Will Travel” by The Sonics delightfully balances the Memphis soul of “Raise Your Hand” and “Sweet Soul Music” with Northwest garage rock. “Have Love” is another song that graduated from the encore to the main set, and for the night’s most special moment, Bruce played that hand again.
“I’m gonna do a song now that’s a favorite song of mine,” he says. “I don’t sing it as good as the guy that originally sang it, but I like it a lot, and this is my night in the big room. I just love this song.”
What follows is a majestic, reverent, and perfectly arranged rendition of Roy Oribson’s “Crying.” Optimized for his vocal range, the performance features Springsteen singing with stunning control. What Orbison brings the song in soaring, operatic notes, Bruce makes up for with power and conviction. What a treat to add it to the master song list of the Live Archive series.
It’s no surprise that Bruce was feeling triumphant at the end of the night, and his band commemorates the moment in the most Big Apple way possible, playing an instrumental “New York, New York” for his walk-off music.
“New York, New York” was the last song of the 5/16/88 show, but it isn’t the final track on this release. We’re gifted a glimpse into those legendary soundtracks with the inclusion of “In Dreams,” recorded pre-show.
Bruce’s Orbison bonafides were well established even before participating in the television tribute special A Black and White Night, shot in September 1987. He had explored The Big O’s music in soundchecks for weeks leading up to New York City. The only E Street Band performances of “Crying” appeared during this MSG run, but “In Dreams” never even made it to the show.
The Archive has been fortunate to feature two other songs from 1988 soundchecks, “For You Love” from 5/23 and “Reason to Believe” from 3/28. But “In Dreams,” perhaps the most mystical song in the Orbison canon, feels most like we’ve snuck into the venue early and heard something only intended for the musicians on stage. What a treat. When “In Dreams” finishes, Bruce offers a self-review of their performance that I won’t spoil, but you’re sure to smile as I did.
The first night at Madison Square Garden in 1988 is an outstanding Tunnel of Love performance and, better still, a previously unheard and worthy homage to one of the biggest musical influences in Springsteen’s career.