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Bruce SpringsteenThe E Street Band - The Roxy July 7, 1978 Music Album Reviews

At turns explosive and intimate, the three-hour-plus show performed at a small club in West Hollywood is a legendary document of how Bruce and the E Street Band could transform their songs on stage.

Just over an hour into his marathon show at West Hollywood’s Roxy Theatre in the summer of 1978, Bruce Springsteen offers a confession: He doesn’t know how to fix a broken-down car. While this information might seem irrelevant to the night’s proceedings, it’s an important breakthrough in the action-packed group therapy session that is an E Street Band concert. After all, the man on stage—sprightly and clean-shaven, not yet 30, seemingly fueled entirely by adrenaline—had written nearly half his songbook about cars: building and tearing them apart, driving till dawn and finding redemption underneath their hoods. (He was also dressing a little like a car mechanic around this time.) “But I think I understand,” he continues, “the spiritual and religious significance of the 396.” The crowd at the 500-capacity theater roars and Springsteen introduces “Racing in the Street,” a highlight from Darkness on the Edge of Town, released just a month earlier. On the record, it’s the bleakest thing he’s ever recorded; tonight, it becomes something else.

The latest in Springsteen’s ongoing Live Archive Series marks the first official release of of this concert in its entirety. In the canon of historically significant Springsteen shows, the Roxy ’78 stands high above the others—above similarly beloved, equally inspired sets that year in Passaic, New Jersey or Houston, Texas. You don’t have to be a fanatic to find your footing. Here is a band in the midst of a runner’s high, bold and electric and ready to face the world. The show was broadcast live, in full, on Los Angeles’ KMET FM, giving West Coast listeners a chance to experience the Jersey legend’s magic in real time. With its three-hour-plus length and uncontainable spirit, it became an instant favorite among the tape-trading community. There was also an issue of scarcity, with a large portion of tickets relegated to radio station contests that barred fans from getting into the already-too-small venue. (Springsteen begins the show by apologizing, earnestly and shakily, to everyone who couldn’t get tickets, an important reminder that such controversies did not begin on Broadway.)

This night’s performance of “Racing in the Street” is a crucial document of how these musicians transform on stage. In 1978, the E Street Band doesn’t jam: None of the members are virtuosos, so their superpower is instead in their focus—seven people stretching songs into their most imposing, unrelenting forms. Saxophonist Clarence Clemons is often singled out as the primary foil for Springsteen’s songwriting during his peak era, but these performances remind you just how irreplaceable each band member had become. At this concert in particular, pianist Roy Bittan, who adds unearthly gravitas to songs like “Prove It All Night,” “Backstreets,” and the world premiere of “Point Blank,” is a revelation. As “Racing in the Street” draws to a close, he lends the song a spectral elegance while Clemons’ sax stutters for percussive effect and the whole band lifts effortlessly like a small plane taking flight. The effect causes one audience member to shout plainly, in the song’s final moments, “E. STREET. BAND.” It’s all that needs to be said.

This is the type of show that converts the uninitiated, with definitive performances of some of Springsteen’s most immortal songs. Near the start, the band tears into my favorite performance of “Badlands,” one that runs proudly above tempo and ripples with defiant energy. Other songs forecast the darker shades his music would embrace. An ominous thunderclap of electric guitar introduces a pulverizing “Adam Raised a Cain.” The then-unreleased “Independence Day” is given a sparse piano rendition that furthers “Adam”’s father-son airing of grievances—a story that Springsteen was now just starting to see clearly—and offsets the ecstatic glee of oldies covers like “Twist and Shout” and “Rave On.”

The show can also be heard as an accidental bildungsroman, summarizing the first half-decade of Springsteen’s career. If Darkness, his final release of the ’70s, was an achievement of solitude and refinement, then its tour was an extended celebration, establishing his reputation for performances that were at turns explosive and intimate. A stunning take on “Growin’ Up” embodies that dichotomy. The audience, who had been alternately howling and singing along and shouting requests, falls silent during the on-stage monologue that serves as its emotional core: a quaint tale of his childhood as he draws a line in the sand between his parents’ dreams and his own expectations. “What they didn’t understand,” Springsteen explains about his parents, “Was that I wanted everything.” Then he cues in the band, who give him precisely that.

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