Greetings again from the darkness (on the edge of town). The old adage goes, “Music soothes the savage beast”. But what if it’s the savage beast playing the music? Let’s go back more than 40 years to 1979. In March, the Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident occurred, sending shockwaves through the U.S. An activist group of musicians led by Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt and others founded MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) and scheduled concerts for awareness. The concerts were better known as “No Nukes”, and were followed up by a best-selling album and videos. Performing at two of the Madison Square Garden concerts in September were Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band. All these years later, Springsteen has re-mastered the original footage and packaged it as a remarkable and breathtaking 90 minute concert film that is a must-see for any Bruce fans of yesterday or today.
Lest you think I am an objective reviewer on this one, you should know that I caught Bruce and the E Street Band on December 7, 1978, near the end of their last tour prior to the No Nukes shows. That night in Austin remains the closest I’ve ever come to a religious experience – musically speaking. Those special memories came flooding back as I watched this 90 minute film. The raw power, sheer energy, and pure joy emanating from the stage is truly something to behold … oh, and the music was incredible.
This is much less a documentary than a concert film, but it’s certainly a different level than what we typically see in a concert film. The cinematographer, Haskell Wexler, had already won two Oscars for WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966) and BOUND FOR GLORY (1976) and had been nominated for ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975). I counted six cameras, but it’s possible fewer cameras were used and instead moved around between the two nights of shows that are blended here.
Keep in mind this was filmed two years before MTV was founded, so even his biggest fans hadn’t seen much film or video of Springsteen to this point. His reputation was built on legendary live performances, and his two most recent albums “Born To Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. This was also pre-Patty Scialfa and pre-Nils Lofgren. The music is straight-ahead, driving rock ‘n roll – five years before Bruce lapsed into “Dancing in the Dark” and became a global superstar, rather than a cult phenomenon. To this point, he had not been viewed as an activist, so his participation in the No Nukes concerts was a jackpot for the organizers, but also a turning point for Springsteen as a spokesperson on social issues (and politics).
Below is the 13 song playlist, and since this is a blend of the two nights, the easiest way to spot the difference is by Clarence’s outfit: one night he’s wearing a red suit, and the other night he’s wearing a white one. What you also notice is the athleticism and stamina of Bruce and Clarence as they bound around the stage – including the back amps to occasionally play for those seated behind the stage.
- Prove it All Night – (hard rock opener, setting the tone)
- Badlands – breakneck tempo (dedication to No Nukes volunteers)
- Promised Land – the third straight song from “Darkness”
- The River – (Bruce’s sister in the audience, written for her)
- Sherry Darling – (second song from “The River”, released a year later)
- Thunder Road – (this kicks off a string of fan favorites)
- Jungleland – (Roy, Steve, Clarence shine)
- Rosalita – (Bruce introduces the band)
- Born to Run – (the anthem)
- Stay – (Jackson Brown, Tom Petty, Rosemary Butler on stage)
- Detroit Medley – Devil with a Blue Dress, Good Golly Miss Molly, CC Rider, Jenny Jenny
- Quarter to 3 – (the Gary US Bonds hit)
- Rave On – the Buddy Holly cover plays over the credits
It was May of 1974 when music critic Jon Landau wrote, “I saw Rock and Roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen”. Landau’s words proved prophetic (and he went on to become Bruce’s longtime manager). Very few performers have ever connected to a live audience the way Springsteen did in those days. Sure, there’s some comedic shtick on stage: “That’s all I can stand …”, before he screams, “I’m just a prisoner … of Rock n Roll”. The fact is, many of us were prisoners of Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band, and this film is the best opportunity for others to understand.
AVAILABLE FOR DIGITAL PURCHASE ON NOVEMBER 16 AND DIGITAL RENTAL ON NOVEMBER 23