Vet's Memorial, part six, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, September 5th, 1978 - by Ricki C.

(I should have mentioned at the end of Vet’s Memorial part 5 back in May that there would be no entries in the series for June, July or August because every year Vet’s was taken over by The Kenley Players – a kind of early traveling Broadway Series – for the summer months.  Yes, Spotify boys & girls, show tunes did indeed take precedence over the rock & roll back in the 1960’s & 70’s and now people flock to see Green Day concept albums presented on Broadway.  I cannot wholly condemn that fact, but I certainly don’t go along with it, either.)



The first time I heard Bruce Springsteen was in the old Pearl Alley Discs record store on 13th Avenue, just off High Street, WAY back in the day, when you could still turn off High onto 13th.  From perusing my Springsteen reference materials I see that Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. was released on January 5th, 1973.  That seems about right because I was at Pearl Alley that day with my first – and best – rock & roll friend of all time, Dave Blackburn, and he moved to Boston sometime later that year (where, by the way, he got to see the original configuration of The Modern Lovers AT A HIGH SCHOOL, WEARING MATCHING CASHMERE SWEATERS, with some youngsters called Aerosmith OPENING the show).  But I digress……

“Blinded By The Light” must have just been ending when we walked into the store, because I remember looking up at the speakers as Bruce started singing, “Well, I stood stone-like at midnight / Suspended in my masquerade / I combed my hair ‘til it was just right / And commanded the night brigade.”  Then the band kicked in at “I was open to pain and crossed by the rain and I walked on a crooked crutch / I strolled all alone through a fallout zone and came out with my soul untouched” and I was SOLD, son!  

I said – out loud, without meaning to – “WHO IS THIS?” and Dave glanced over at the Now Playing station of the store, then said, “Oh, that’s Bruce Springsteen, he’s one of those New Dylan guys everybody’s writing about.”  (Dave ALWAYS knew more about rock & roll than I did, back then.)  Thus began the Bruce Springsteen chapter of my life of rock & roll.    

I covered the first time I saw Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band live pretty extensively in a Pencilstorm blog called The Perfect Age For Rock & Roll, part two, back in January 2014, you might wanna check that out.  

This 1978 show, however, was a completely different animal from that ’76 outing: gone was any lingering trace of hippie-ism in the E Street Band presentation; gone were the beards, bell-bottoms, wooly Bob Marley hats and multi-hued 3-piece suits on band members.  Everybody – including, most crucially, Springsteen himself – was clean-shaven and dressed in some combination of vests, suit jackets and straight-leg black or blue jeans (except Clarence Clemons, of course, ultra-sharp in a sparkling white suit, befitting of his Big Man status).  Also  gone were any lengthy, meandering jams of the old days.  Even when songs got expanded (“Prove It All Night,” Bruce’s take-back of “Because The Night” from fellow Jersey-ite Patti Smith) those expansions were pounding, driving fever-beat extensions of the tunes, Springsteen’s WAILING lead guitar blowing the songs open, rather than the multi-section The-Band-meets-prog-rock stylings of earlier years.  As much as I loved (and still love, to this day) "Incident On 57th Street" from The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, watching Bruce & the band sear through "Candy's Room" on that warm September evening in 1978 was just a whole other level of rock & roll genius entirely.

The band opened with an insane, joyful take on Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” blasted straight into “Badlands” and “Adam Raised A Cane,” didn’t really take a breath until easing into a perfect, swinging version of “Spirit In The Night,” that  served notice that this was a band who could do ANYTHING.  You want rockers?  We’ve got rockers.  You want angry rants between fathers, sons & brothers goin’ all the way back to Cain & Abel?  Yeah, we’ve got those.  You want richly overly-romanticized depictions of a boozy Saturday night excursion to some New Jersey lakeside back in the early 70’s?  Done and DONE, Jack.

Really, in my now 50th year of seeing live rock & roll shows (1965-2015), I have never witnessed a better-paced, better-sequenced set of rock & roll than that night in 1978.  I have never seen a show with the emotional & musical length and BREADTH of that show.  I have never seen a show of that INTENSITY.  I’ve often told anybody who would listen that this was the SECOND greatest rock show I ever saw.  (For a list of the Top Ten, check out The Best of Everything, part one on my old blog.)  The Who in November of 1969 was the only show that topped this Springsteen outing, but The Who accomplished that task by COMING OUT ROCKING, AND THEN ROCKING SOME MORE, AND THEN ROCKING EVEN MORE AFTER THAT, until the Vet’s Memorial crowd I was a member of was basically pummeled into submission by their Sheer Rock & Roll Command.  (Seriously, I went to high school for THREE DAYS after that show not hearing one word clearly.  I thought I was gonna have to learn to lip-read.  I don’t know how Daltrey, Townshend, Entwistle & Moon had any hearing left after 1970.)  

Bruce & the guys did essentially ALL of the Darkness On The Edge Town album in the first set that night, with detours over to the first record for “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City” (capped by a killer twin-guitar duet call & response coda with Miami Steve Van Zandt), the aforementioned “Spirit In The Night” and ending with truly heartbreaking performances  of “Racing In The Street,” straight into “Thunder Road,” and concluding with “Jungleland,” all from Born To Run.  Really, just that first set would have been enough to be better than 95% of all other rock concerts I’ve attended, and there was another whole set to come, announced simply by Bruce as, “We’re gonna take a 20 minute break and be back to play some more for ya.”

(For those of you scoring at home, there are ample bootlegs available of the Cleveland Agora show from August 9th, 1978 – broadcast live over Cleveland's WMMS – that is essentially the same set-list as the Columbus show I witnessed.  I have a double-CD set of that show made from cassettes I recorded when it was simulcast over Q-FM-96.  I sat mesmerized at the kitchen table of my apartment in the old Lincoln Park West complex off Georgesville Road that hot August night, staring at the radio, barely registering the sky and the room growing dark, scarcely able to believe what I was hearing coming out of that beat-up boombox.  If I could take only one CD-set to a proverbial desert island, THAT would be the one.  The Cleveland Agora show is now also available over  Send away for it, it’s a triple-disc set now and CHEAP at 20 bucks.)

Okay, fuck it, that’s already 1000 words and I’ve barely gotten to the point.  Here’s the point: I could write ANOTHER 2000 words about this show and not do it justice; I could tell you how sometime during this show the mantle of My All-Time Rock & Roll Saviour got passed from Pete Townshend to Bruce Springsteen, where it remains to this day (Keith Moon died two days later, September 7th, 1978, sealing that deal, The Who would NEVER be the same after that); I could tell you how that night Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band were the Greatest Bar Band EVER in the Universe, right before they became An Arena Band; I could tell you how Bruce has never sold a song to a commercial, has never cheapened himself to make a buck, has never lost his faith in the Power of Rock & Roll to get through hard times.  (Though, I fully admit, I have at times.)

Let me say this quite simply: I have seen at least one show of every major Bruce Springsteen tour since Born To Run - including the Human Touch/Better Days non-E Street shows and the Seeger Sessions band - right up to last year's High Hopes outings.  Many of those shows have been great, some were magnificent, most have been better than just about anybody else I've witnessed in any bar, club, theater, arena or stadium, but none of them have been as all-consuming, or as life-changing as the 1978 Darkness On The Edge Of Town tour.  

Here’s all I can ask you to do: There is a series of videos on YouTube from a show at the Passaic Theater in New Jersey on September 19th, 1978 - exactly two weeks after my beloved Columbus show - that will say more to you than any 50,000 words I could write here on Pencilstorm.  Just watch and enjoy………      

my receipt for the 1978 show (note spelling of Springsteen, nobody knew who Bruce was)

Yeah, you're readin' that right, cats & kittens, in 1978 you could purchase EIGHT Bruce Springsteen tickets for $62.20, including the service charges (a whopping $2.20).  Today the Ticketmaster fees alone for eight tickets would probably set you back more than sixty bucks.


Today's blog entry is dedicated to Jodie Weaver and Chris Clinton, my two best Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band friends.  I've known Jodie since high school, and we met Chris in 1984, when he wound up next to us in an overnight line for tickets to the Born In The U.S.A. tour, at the old Buzzard's Nest Records on Morse Road, where Jim Johnson worked at the time.  I think I still owe Chris upwards of $150 for tickets to Springsteen shows last year in Cincinnati and Columbus, but I do not expect this dedication to go towards repayment of that debt.

Jodie & Chris, I love ya, and thank you for always helping me to remember that it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.  (Someday, Chris and I are gonna put our heads together and come up with our list of the Top Five Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band shows we've ever seen.)


Oh hell, let's go for one more stand-alone video from Passaic, 1978 (If I had to explain rock & roll to a being from outer space, I would show them 2:39 to 2:59 of this clip, Bruce & Steven moving up & back from the mics in total bad-ass harmony for verse two of "She's The One.")