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May Archive - Boston 13-12-1992


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  • Born To Walk changed the title to May Archive - Boston 13-12-1992

By Erik Flannigan

It has been some time since the Live Archive series revisited Bruce Springsteen’s 1992-93 World Tour in support of Human Touch and Lucky Town. This chapter in his live performance history can be tricky to contextualize, in part because it’s a rare full-band tour that does not list E Street as its home address. As such, there’s no point comparing “Born to Run” played by the 1992-93 band to an E Street Band performance from any year, because there is simply no comparison. That’s okay. It was never their mission.

The selection of Boston 12/13/92 is driven by a setlist that features 16 songs from Human Touch and Lucky Town, many of which never graduated to the Reunion era. Bruce assembled his new, expanded band with that recent music in mind, not “Darkness on the Edge of Town” (though, to be fair, they play the latter rather well). The one constant from E Street to the new crew was Roy Bittan, with whom Springsteen co-wrote “Roll of the Dice” and “Real World” for Human Touch.

I’ve always viewed the 1992-93 band as an attempt to mix roots-rock with gospel-influenced soul music and reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s 1986 True Confessions tour, which saw him backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers augmented by the Queens of Rhythm backing singers. In fact, it was the late Debbie Gold, a mutual friend of both Dylan and Springsteen, who encouraged the former to work with Petty and helped the latter assemble his 1992-93 touring musicians.

If anything, Bruce was tipping that mix toward soul. The catch was that much of his new music featured heavy synthesizers and keyboards. Synthesizers and classic soul can mix marvelously (see Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love”), but it requires very particular attributes. There are many words one could use to describe the extraordinary talent of Roy Bittan as a keyboard player, but funky is not one of them.

Boston 12/13/92 effectively captures the strengths and stretches fundamental to the 1992-93 tour. Listening anew proves refreshing, as several HT/LT songs and other arrangements are distinct from the many E Street Band performances that followed. As fluent as many of us were in the sound of that tour at the time, hearing it now is an entertaining time tunnel to a unique period.

Jon Altschiller’s multitrack mix puts Bittan first chair on the bandshell, and you’ll hear the Professor loud and proud as the show starts winningly with “Better Days,” “Local Hero,” and “Lucky Town.” The aforementioned “Darkness” follows, with Roy hard right channel, guitarist Shayne Fontayne hard left. It isn’t a classic version, but a compelling one just the same, with intriguing vocal rephrasing from Springsteen, a frequent event this night. The song ends not with Bruce’s voice but a gorgeous vocal run from Angel Rogers.

“The Big Muddy” gets an infrequent airing here. It’s a kind of swampy, narrative cousin to “Atlantic City” that rides a big Bruce vocal and sinewy synth work from Bittan. “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” taps television news audio a la U2’s Zoo TV tour, but the attempt to graft the social issues of a post-Rodney-King-verdict America on to a humorous ditty about modern media remains a difficult sell.

Things get back on track with an excellent version of “Trapped” that showcases the powerhouse voices Bruce assembled as his choir. I love the way he biblically tweaks, “good conquers evil, the truth sets you free.” “Badlands” is highly credible, too, filled with small arrangement changes that pulled me into a song that has been played the same way by the E Street Band forever.

The emotional heart of Lucky Town is the life-affirming “Living Proof,” written by Sprinsteen after the birth of his first son. Boston gets an excellent performance, vocal nuances reinforcing that Springsteen is in the moment. The same can be said for “If I Shall Fall Behind.” I prefer this arrangement to the Reunion edition, with lush harmonica and dark synthesizer tones along with a robust Bruce vocal. Listen for how the harp and keyboards play off each other at the end.

Bruce makes the title literal in “Leap of Faith.” We can clearly hear when he enters the crowd, with a funny “Whoa, oh!” soon followed by a surely deserved “Yikes!” The backing singers are at their church-choir best, lending the song gospel gravitas. Bobby King moves front and center for “Man’s Job.” Beneath those period synths a classic soul song is fighting to be heard, one that could have been the uptempo A-side to a “Back In Your Arms” B-side in a parallel universe where Bruce cut singles for Stax.

“Roll of the Dice,” carried by Roy’s memorable piano melody, is the signature sound of Human Touch and in its live incarnation brings out the best of this band. It also provides another showcase for the talented Mr. King—when Bruce says, “Take me to heaven, Bobby,” the singer responds by holding a long, sweet vocal note.


From the sublime to the, er, stretches. “Gloria’s Eyes” is a slight and underpowered set opener, there’s no getting around it. The fact that Springsteen never played the song again after this tour, solo or band, seems to validate that characterization. “Cover Me” gets the second set properly ignited. While it is a synth-soaked arrangement, Bruce does some excellent and distinctive guitar soloing. “Brilliant Disguise,” featuring special guest Patti Scialfa, sounds just like it should, in a pure and emotive reading.

Next comes the vexing case of “Soul Driver,” a fine song in search of the right arrangement. “Soul Driver” debuted at the Christic Institute shows in November 1990 in a memorable, vocal-led acoustic reading. The studio incarnation on Human Touch is an odd, lilting number with a massive snare sound. In Boston, a keyboard sound from somewhere in the marimba/kalimba neighborhood starts the song, then a wailing guitar joins, but no drums or rhythm part to speak of. The result is superior to the album version and paced more like the Christic, but “Soul Driver” remains an unrealized if tantalizing prospect.

The pairing of “Souls of the Departed” into “Born in the U.S.A.,” however, is fully realized. Where “57 Channels” struggled, “Souls” blossoms, news audio setting the stage for the show’s most powerful performance as Springsteen’s lyrics and a hard-hitting arrangement tap into the American darkness of 1992. It was a masterstroke to connect “Souls” to “Born in the U.S.A.” with Jimi Hendrix-inspired strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The second set rounds the bend into another arrangement challenge, “Real World,” and the outcome is even more confounding. Again, the stunning solo piano debut performance of “Real World” at the Christic shows in 1990 is the lens through which all other versions are viewed. As on the studio version, synthesizer carries too much of the load in Boston, losing the majesty the piano reading has in spades.

But the instinct that this song could be a showstopper—an uplifting, full-band anthem—is understandable. In the end, Bruce and the band give “Real World” everything they’ve got, and through sheer willpower and commitment, the song does transcend the arrangement and dated synth sound in an otherwise overlong performance. Ah, what could have been.

The set ends with the good fun of “Light of Day,” and everyone on stage gets the chance to shine. Zack Alford feels especially at home on this one, clobbering his drum kit to drive the “Light of Day” train to the station.

The encore opens with a sharp “Human Touch,” again featuring Miss Patti Scialfa, and manager Jon Landau straps on an axe for “Glory Days,” earning a funny introduction by Springsteen in the process (“The master of managerial disaster”). The 1992-93 arrangement of “Thunder Road” has aged nicely, with Bruce on acoustic guitar and Bittan offering sweeping organ accompaniment. Bittan’s keyboards also fare well on “My Beautiful Reward,” a lovely coda to the show and to the entire Human Touch/Lucky Town body of work. But maybe there’s time for just one more.

It was only 37 degrees at showtime (“I came thousands of miles through some real shitty weather just to get here,” Bruce points out out during “Light of Day”), but it did make the bonus gift of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” that much more fitting.

It’s been 28 years since Springsteen toured with the “other band,” but their soulful mission lingers; the Boston 12/13/92 set is unique to the Live Archive thus far for being centered around the songs he packed especially for their journey. While the 1992-93 experiment wasn’t always successful, Springsteen’s attempt to explore a different sound offers refreshment to ears so accustomed to hearing a beloved but familiar style of performance. It is worthy of a deep relisten.

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Just from setlist this hits all the bases I wished for from a 92 release! Big Muddy? Gloria's Eyes? Soul Driver?? Real World???

Not complaining about Wish I Were Blind because we already have that in stellar quality on MTV Plugged.

Will have to listen to this one ASAP.

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I completely disagree with Erik Flanagan. "Soul Driver" found its ultimate arrangement in December 1992 with the guitar intro. I'm thrilled to get an official version of this, as all the bootlegs I have of this are rather inferior in quality.

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50 minutes ago, sleepyjoe said:

Perhaps just a huge coincidence that the None But the Brave podcast focused on Human Touch and Lucky Town this month...

I was actually banking on River given how much backstreets has been focusing on River Europe 81

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28 minutes ago, CosmicKid said:

I completely disagree with Erik Flanagan. "Soul Driver" found its ultimate arrangement in December 1992 with the guitar intro. I'm thrilled to get an official version of this, as all the bootlegs I have of this are rather inferior in quality.

Yes, "Soul Driver" is beautiful". Also it is a good choice for a '92 show with lesser played songs like Driver, Gloria's Eyes and Big Muddy. 1992 shows sounded (and felt) a liitle different compared to 1993. I hope there are more shows from that era to follow. Hard to imagine now, but by the time I thought "Enough 'Cover me' for now", because from 1984 through 1992 that song was played at every show on every tour. Thought it needed a rest. But I remember an old backstreets article of 1984 where there was talk about "Jungleland" needing a rest for it was played on every show of every tour 1975-1984. Couldn't imagine a Springsteen Show without that one, then a few decades later I got uede to hear it once in a while.

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1 hour ago, sleepyjoe said:

Perhaps just a huge coincidence that the None But the Brave podcast focused on Human Touch and Lucky Town this month...

 

31 minutes ago, lilbud said:

I was actually banking on River given how much backstreets has been focusing on River Europe 81

The Archive Series ploughs its own furrow unrelated to whatever else might be happening.

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1 hour ago, Born To Walk said:

It also provides another showcase for the talented Mr. King—when Bruce says, “Take me to heaven, Bobby,” the singer responds by holding a long, sweet vocal note. 

 

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Was listening on ESR, made it though Man's Job, fabulous!!!!!. 

Already in my file of music, will listen to the rest approx. at 5:00pm on the way home and over the weekend. 

Bruce's voice is so powerful and happy it seems to me. Darkness!!!! OMG!!! 

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Always nice to hear in May Santa Claus is coming to town :D

I think this release is pretty representive for the HT/LT tour with 16 songs of those 2 albums. I know a lot of people don't like this tour and band but i still like it. With the HT/LT albums i discovered Bruce and i played the (UN)plugged show to death. After these ialbums I discoved his complete back catalogue and yes his ESB shows are way better compared with this band but i still like it. But i'm still happy with this release to hear HT/LT songs which are rarely or never played live after this tour anymore allthough some songs are still great after all these years.

This weekend i go back to my youth and listen to this show regularly and enjoy it!!

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After listening to the entire show, I think this serves as a fabulous chance to "re-appreciate" the Other Band Tour.

Yes, 57 Channels is horrendous, but that's just one song. BTR and Badlands don't carry the same ESB punch, but they're finely played.

All the Lucky Town and Human Touch songs are brought to new heights here, and I can only imagine how great they would have sounded had Bruce stayed dedicated to this material (not that they don't already sound great here... they're truly jaw dropping). Real World in particular, though vastly different than the Christic versions, is an utter showstopper, and leading into LOD is a brilliant pairing. I think it's a great arrangement, worlds better than the album version, just obviously not as intimate as the solo version.

I've always loved the 92 version of Darkness... the one "classic" that I think the band really made their own. This version in particular was better than the MTV version, and I found myself replaying it twice before getting to the captivating Big Muddy that followed.

I'd never heard an Other Band version of Trapped, but this version makes me crave more. Magnificent, oh my god. Though, it does make me question 57 Channels' inclusion even more, as Trapped thematically connects to Big Muddy and its themes of good and evil. 57 Channels breaks that pairing... I think I'll just delete 57 Channels from my phone and the show will flow better.

The guitar intro to Thunder Road is beautiful, as is My Beautiful Reward.

GREAT SHOW. So happy with this one.

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Been listening to the show for a couple hours.  Love the full, deep mix of this concert.  Where the e-street band is a raw, hard-rocking sound with clean, clear sounds, this band has that early 90's synth sound with deep bass.  Good to have some variety when it comes to Bruce.  It is fun to hear him reinvent his sound over and over and keep it fresh.  Many are reluctant to change where I look at this as "experimenting".

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1 hour ago, CosmicKid said:

I completely disagree with Erik Flanagan. "Soul Driver" found its ultimate arrangement in December 1992 with the guitar intro. I'm thrilled to get an official version of this, as all the bootlegs I have of this are rather inferior in quality.

This song should have been the second single released after the title track ... I always felt it belonged on the radio. The album probably would have done commercialy better released on its own. 

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