Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band – The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts

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Not long after the Three Mile Island incident in March 1979, where a nuclear reactor came this close to melting down, an activist group of musicians, MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy), including Jackson Browne, Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt, arranged a series of concerts at Madison Square Garden, which were to be filmed and released as both a film and a live album, to raise funds and awareness for anti-nuclear causes. (In response, Dave Lee Roth suggested that Van Halen’s next album would be called ‘Nuke Jackson Browne’). At first, tickets for the shows, which would include performances by the likes of James Taylor, Carly Simon, The Doobie Brothers, Jackson Browne, Tom Petty and Chaka Khan, were slow, and it was only when Springsteen And The E. Street Band were added to two of the shows that sales began to pick up. In fact, these two shows were the only ones of the five to sell out.

At this point in his career, Springsteen had always shied away from releasing a live album, believing that concerts were a single point in time, and you could never capture and replicate the energy, atmosphere and passion of a gig. Even the monumental ‘Live 1975-85’ release, a 3-CD, 5-LP monster released in 1986, was a compilation of performances over a period of time rather than a record of a single show. There was also very little film of the band playing live at this time for the same reason. In the end about ten minutes worth of the band’s performances over the two nights were included on the official live album, although only the rock ’n’ roll covers, whereas one of the covers, plus ‘Thunder Road’, and the title track of The River made it into the film. The complete film had been archived for nearly four decades before Springsteen and his editing guru Thom Zimny began to restore the film and put together a complete concert out of what was filmed over the two nights, including each individual song from the two sets. If you’re a Springsteen fan, this is absolute treasure trove.

At this point, the band had been in the studio for the best part of the year, putting together what became The River album, including scrapping the first version of the album. You can tell straight away that for Bruce himself, this is like he’s been released from jail. There’s hardly a shot where he’s standing still, he’s all over the stage, throwing more shapes than other singers do in an entire tour, and this rubs off on the band. Both the film and the audio recording capture some of what must have been an electrifying occasion and atmosphere. A lot of the film was shot from floor level in the photo pit, which gives you a feel of being in the front row yourself, and lets you see almost all the onstage interactions between the musicians, and even if you only have a passing interest in the music, this is riveting stuff.

The whole thing is billed as The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts, not just because of the ‘lost’ status of the film, but also because the band put on an incendiary show, ‘From Prove It All Night’, when it seems the band are determined to do exactly that, all the way through to a rapturous ‘Born To Run’, and the encore medley. It’s not just a ‘Greatest Hits’ show, there are two songs from the as-yet unreleased The River, a fiery ‘Sherry Darling’ and an emotional ‘The River’, and if Bruce’s voice is a bit ragged at times, particularly in ‘Badlands’, that’s probably a combination of the sheer exuberance in being on stage again, and that these were the first shows after a long time in the studio, and he probably was a little short of match fitness. ‘Thunder Road’ is a riot, and ‘Detroit Medley’, which includes ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’, ‘Devil In A Blue Dress’ and ‘Jenny Take A Ride’, followed by ‘Quarter to Three’ and Buddy Holly’s ‘Rave On’ brings the whole thing to a joyful close.

There’s been some excellent live Springsteen releases in recent years, including the ‘London Calling’ film of the 2009 Hyde Park show, (still waiting for a full official release of the monumental 2009 Glastonbury show, though) and this is right up there with the best of them. A great record of a show that can truly be called ‘legendary’.

Track Listing:

  1. Prove It All Night
  2. Badlands
  3. The Promised Land
  4. The River
  5. Sherry Darling
  6. Thunder Road
  7. Jungleland
  8. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
  9. Born To Run
  10. Stay
  11. Detroit Medley
  12. Quarter to Three
  13. Rave On