By Erik Flannigan
Tracing Bruce Springsteen’s career arc from cult artist to superstar, theater to arena headliner, there’s a case to be made that a series of radio broadcasts on the 1978 Darkness On the Edge of Town tour played a significant role. The five home-recorded, fan-traded and oft-bootlegged concerts from The Roxy, The Agora, The Capitol Theater, The Fox and Winterland captured and ultimately spread the magic of Bruce and the E Street Band’s live show, and seemingly converted thousands to fill arenas two years later on the River tour.
Despite that rich history, there were no live broadcasts from the River tour, the Born in the U.S.A. tour or the U.S. leg of the Tunnel of Love tour. Which is why in 1988, after ten years of radio silence, the announcement that a portion of Springsteen’s July 3rd show in Stockholm would be broadcast live via satellite to the U.S. and the world was huge news for fans.
Like many among us, I tuned in that Fourth of July weekend and heard a potent 90-minute first set that wrapped with Bruce announcing plans to join the Amnesty International tour before wrapping the broadcast portion with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Chimes Of Freedom” (later released on the EP of the same name). It was the first of hundreds of listens to follow.
Conveniently apportioned to fill a 90-minute cassette tape, the Stockholm broadcast joined the five ‘78 b-casts as the most played live Springsteen recordings most of us had. There was just one problem: as great as those 14 songs were, 20 other songs were played in Stockholm after the satellite feed came down, and short of a crummy audience tape, few of us have had a chance to hear the full show, until now.
Happily, this complete, multi-track recording validates what we all presumed: the Stockholm show was one of the best on the Tunnel tour, offering a passionate, hyper-focused first-set and–freed from the pressure of a global listening audience–a rollicking, playful second set and encore. Looking for a sign of Springsteen’s mood after the transmission ended? How about the inclusion of Gary U.S. Bonds’ ultimate party track “Quarter to Three” for the first time since 1981.
Fondness for the familiar first set is richly deserved. It starts with Bruce inviting the audience in the stadium and at home to come aboard with a wonderful “Tunnel of Love,” now followed by a horn-blasting “Boom Boom’ (with its unabashed sentiment of “I need you right now” replacing “Be True,” performed in this slot for most of the US leg). The brazen John Lee Hooker cover forms a bond of emancipation with what follows, “Adam Raised a Cain,” again propelled by the five-piece Horns of Love. Bruce hadn’t toured with a horn section since ‘77 and their presence is a critical component in the distinct sound and theatrics of ‘88 shows.
Because the broadcast was limited to 90 minutes, the first set showcased key Tunnel tracks, including a majestic “Tougher Than the Rest,” “Spare Parts,” “Brilliant Disguise” and “All That Heaven Will Allow.” Bruce also featured two killer non-album tracks: “Roulette,” unforgivably left off The River, but resuscitated to sound an alarm on the Tunnel tour; and “Seeds,” another take on the plight of working-class Americans and this time they’re pissed.
Perhaps the surprise highlight of the first set is “Born in the U.S.A.” Separated from its namesake tour and attendant misinterpretations, the song’s deep-seated anger is rekindled. Listen to Bruce’s shrieks of angst before Max’s drum crescendo, echoed later his own impassioned guitar solo. The story has grown more personal, too, as Springsteen adds new flashback lyrics after the final verse: “I just want your arms around me/I see the fire from the sky/I need your arms around me.” A stunning performance.
Set two is a totally different animal, but no less satisfying. I have often wondered how a seemingly long-forgotten song returns to the set, and there is no better example of this than the sudden reappearance of the instrumental “Paradise By the ‘C’” which opens the second set, after premiering four nights earlier in Rotterdam. What prompted its resurrection, after going unplayed since the Darkness tour? Sure, it suits the horns, but then again, there was no horn section in ‘78.
Regardless, it is a welcome showcase for Clarence and the Horns of Love, and sets the tone for a highly entertaining second set that milks the expanded band lineup and staging dynamics for all they are worth on songs like “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” (which begins with a long, bit of musical teasing and showmanship often referred to as “Don’t You Touch That Thing”), “I’m A Coward” (Springsteen’s comic rewrite of Gino Washington’s ‘60s original) and a chock full o’ horns encore sequence of “Sweet Soul Music,” “Raise Your Hand,” the aforementioned “Quarter to Three,” and the inevitable last song for a show this joyous, “Twist and Shout.”
There are a few serious moments in the back half, among them the fine ‘88 arrangement of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” into “She’s the One,” the first “Downbound Train” of the tour, and an unflinchingly earnest reading of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Interestingly, Stockholm ‘88 has a connection to Springsteen on Broadway in that the solo acoustic version of “Born to Run” that Bruce is currently performing was first played in that arrangement on the Tunnel tour, a fine take of which is captured here.
Stockholm ‘88 has always been a fan-favorite because of the simulcast. Now restored to full length and remixed from the master tapes, it rightly joins Springsteen’s other legendary radio broadcasts as one of the best concert recordings of his career and a great representation of the Tunnel of Love tour’s European edition.