Sunday, December 21, 2014




(This essay was written twenty years ago. I updated it for language and style, and added addenda for publication on this blog, earlier this week, when the 5 Royales were finally inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.) 

It was fourteen or fifteen years ago and the telephone conversation went something like this:

JIM PERLMAN: Hello Mr. Bass. My name is Jim Perlman and I read about the record album Dedicated to You which you produced in 1958 for the 5 Royales in this book called Stranded [Edited by Greil Marcus where a bunch of rock critics review the one and only record they would want if stranded on a desert island.]. The reason I am calling is that I have been unable to find a copy of this record and I was hoping you might have an extra copy laying around for a nice Jewish boy who will give the album a real good home.

RALPH BASS: Gee, I’m sorry, I don't even have a copy of the album myself. 

Well, I guess if the man who was the producer of the 5 Royales let this glorious music slip through his hands, it's understandable that most of the rest of us really don't know all that much about the 5 Royales, and their extraordinary rock paradigm trailblazer Lowman Pauling, other than by either the Shirelles, or  the Momas and Popas, covers of Pauling's gem "Dedicated to the One I Love" or the Godfather of Soul's cover of "Think". However, with the help of Rhino Records, who just released a two disc anthology entitled Monkey Hips and Rice which contains, not only all of Dedicated To You, but about 30 other songs, and yours truly, this is about to change. At least as far as the Cook County Public Defender's neck of the woods is concerned.

The 5 Royales started their recording career in 1952 and, like many black vocal groups of this era, their music was firmly rooted in gospel, and later, doo-wop music. But, very rapidly after recording their first sides, they broke out into the more secular theme of romantic love. While their most obvious strong suit was the lovely, pleading, tenor vocals of lead singer Johnny Tanner, or his brother Eugene, and the intricate harmonies which the other Royales supplied, there was a crucial difference in this group. At this time in popular music, most of the groups were cover artists who recorded songs written by professional songwriters. The 5 Royales were rather unique in that they had an in-house songwriter by the name of Lowman Pauling. This accorded the group the opportunity to dabble in different styles with ease. And, indeed, this was the hallmark of the 5 Royales' career. When one listens to this music one experiences a group which initially relied upon the common shuffling drum rhythms popular in gospel music, a tenor sax as the solo instrument, and a piano in the background. Yet, less than a year later, in songs like “Too Much Lovin’,”the drums had taken on the New Orleans backbeat. This is the beat which came to dominate rock music for the next forty years.
Yet, this was only one of the changes Pauling brought to the 5 Royales' music. At a very early stage, after only one year, Pauling had begun experimenting with different tempos within the songs, extending the sax solos, important aspects of jazz, while still maintaining the closely crafted vocal harmonies and the rock backbeat. Similar, interesting things were happening with the lyrics as well. Listen closely to the 5 Royales' 1952 single "Laundromat Blues" and you will find numerous wonderful double-entendres about the protagonist's girlfriend who has the best “washing machine” in town. Closer attention to the lyrics will reveal a very erudite, playful and creative lyricist at work. When you add all these musical components together, the picture is of a creative force who was very close to putting together all the important aspects of rock 'n roll, and it wasn't the end of 1955. If the story were to end here, this would still be a terrific musical legacy.

But then something very startling happened. Out of the clear blue, in 1955, Lowman Pauling, in a song with an American Indian hook entitled "Mohawk Squaw,” not only introduced a guitar to the musical mixture, it was an electric guitar to boot. Kids, this was as revolutionary as Dylan going electric, because it was the final component to the standard rock 'n roll configuration of vocal harmonies, backbeat, guitar, piano, sax, bass, in-house songwriter and songs about romantic love. From here on, Lowman Pauling was on fire. At this point, not only did he have the vocal harmonies to play with, as well as the saxophone and piano as solo instruments, he now possessed the ability to add a third lead instrument, the electric guitar, to the trading-off between the sax and the piano. In a sense, now he could do with instruments, what he had previously been doing with the vocals: Weave them together, contrast them, use them as calls and responses. In 1955, Lowman Pauling had brought together, in one place, what was to be the foundation of the next forty years of popular music. And he wasn't finished pushing the musical envelope, because besides being a first rate songwriter, Lowman Pauling was an electric guitar god; he was Zorro with six steel strings.

In the discography, which follows the essays in Stranded, Greil Marcus writes this about Lowman Pauling: "Once upon a time, Eric Clapton would have paid to hold his coat." Disc two of Monkey Hips and Rice amply demonstrates why there isn't a hint of hyperbole in Marcus's remark. Hear it for yourself. It's in the way Pauling's guitar jumps all over not only songs like "Think," "Messing Up," and his most widely known song, "Dedicated To The One I Love.” It's in the fact that his solos, all at once, exhibit swing, the blues and rock. And most of all it is in the startling, kinetic, savage pain his guitar brings to songs like "Say It,” "The Slummer the Slum," and one, bad-assed, song titled “Don’t Let It Be In Vein”. Hearing these songs makes clear that by 1958 Pauling had done what Clapton has been trying to do for all these years -- and Pauling was a better, smarter, more complex songwriter! There is perfection in this world, and it's in the guise of an effortless, tasteful, Lowman Pauling guitar part and the songs of which they are a seamless part.

One of the highlights of a mid-to-late 1970's Bruce Springsteen concert was always the story during "Growing Up" where Bruce tells about going up to the top of the mountain to speak directly with God about his vocation after being admonished by family, teachers, and clergy: "Tell Him you want to be a doctor. Tell Him you want to be an author. But don't tell Him nothing about that goddamn guitar!" So when Bruce finally gets to the top of the mountain, only after a quick stop at Earl Schieb to make his car suitable for the Man, Bruce kneels-down, and addresses God. He explains that he needs guidance about his career. Everybody thinks he should be a doctor or an author, but Bruce sheepishly confides to God: "But you see, I've got this guitar." The next thing Bruce knows, he sees the lightning, he hears the thunder and then three simple words: "LET IT ROCK!!" Before Bruce, before Eric, before Jimi, before Carlos, before just about anybody else, Lowman Pauling heard this advice and he followed it to a very lofty peak. Now, you can climb to this lofty peak and hear it for yourself. In the process, you might just find your own desert island disc.

James Perlman – 1994 

Addenda (December 20, 2014): 

1.  I wrote this essay in 1994, although I had started trying to find 5 Royales albums back in 1979 when I first read Stranded.  All I could find in 1979 was a single, 17 song, compilation on vinyl. By 1988, there were CDs of two of their albums, but still no Dedicated To You. I have no recollection of when I developed the main thesis of this essay, but I do know it was developed independent from what I just discovered Dave Marsh wrote about the 5 Royales, in 1989, in his book The Heart Of Rock And Soul (The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made). In the first sentence of Marsh’s summary of “The Slummer The Slum” Marsh writes: “More evidence toward the theory of the Royales as the first genuinely modern rock band.” In fact, of the 1001 singles Marsh summarizes, three 5 Royales recordings are in the book, four if you count the Shirelles’ cover of “Dedicated To The One I Love.”

This past week, when the 5 Royales were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, under the category of “Early Influence”, the summary of the 5 Royales on the Hall’s web site skirts around the same conclusion.

2.  In 1979, when Stranded was published, so little was commonly known about the 5 Royales that, near the end of the chapter about Dedicated To You, the chapter’s author, Ed Ward, confesses to making most of it up: “I made all of that up. Not all of it, actually, but most of it. The part about me at R. J. Reynolds is true, but the rest of it only touches down here and there.” But, inside the music business, particularly guitarist, musicians like Steve Cropper and John Fogerty, Lowman Pauling is, with justification, revered.

3.  Monkey Hips And Rice is long out of print. But it can be purchased used on Amazon.

© Copyright James N. Perlman. 2014 All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


This review will be an album by album review focusing on the sound using what most would consider to be an audiophile system. What I can say for sure, after listening to all the albums, is this:

a) The mono vinyls trump the mono CDs.

b) Because a consistent characteristic of these releases is a greater definition than the mono CDs, the "greater definition" justification for listening to the stereo issues is lessened.

c) The fact of the matter is it is incredibly hard, and very expensive, at this late date, to amass a collection of quality original mono pressings of the Beatles catalog. I know this because this is precisely what I did after writing the CD reviews five years ago. Besides the cost, and difficulty, there is also the issue of the necessity of cleaning the vintage albums once they arrive at your doorstep. This turns out, in many instances, to be a very difficult task and, in most instances, more involved than simply using something like a VPI record cleaning machine if you desire to reach the point of the greatest lack of extraneous noise in the grooves.** This strongly argues for the purchase of these pressings separate from any consideration of which sounds better the originals or these reissues.

d) General comment about these reissues, certainly through Peppers: mono makes the rockers rock harder than the stereos and the ballads are fuller sounding and more beautiful. I see even less of a reason to visit the stereo versions now that these monos are finally out on vinyl, with the exception of Help!, Revolver and The Beatles.

e) The book is just amazingly beautiful, but you can save money by purchasing the albums individually.

f) So, if you aren't going to purchase the box, you have the luxury of purchasing the albums individually to see how much you like these monos. Here's my suggested order of purchase:

i) Peppers in mono is a legend. This version crushes the mono CD and, overall, recognizing the differences and trade-offs involved, slightly better, to my ears, than the original mono pressing. Start here.
ii) Please Please Me
iii) Rubber Soul
iv) Mono Masters
v) A Hard Day's Night
vi) With The Beatles
vii) Beatles For Sale
viii) Magical Mystery Tour
ix) Help!
x) Revolver
xi) The Beatles

g) Concerning the quality of the pressings, I did not find any pressing rose to the level where I even contemplated returning it and I am not shy about returning albums with defects. Also, a week after release, I spoke with a friend, who works at a large on-line vendor of audiophile vinyl, and, to date, their return rate has been relatively small. Certainly, nothing like two years ago with the stereo LPs. Optimal in Germany aced this far beyond any reasonable expectation.

In a certain way, after reading my Please Please Me review, and the Conclusion, the above information is likely all many/most will need to make an educated decision on whether to purchase this box set or the albums individually. For those who want more, more is provided.

Now the individual album reviews.

Please Please Me
Mostly, more defined than the original Parlophone LP. Paul's bass is very tight, George's guitar as well, on "Boys" it's stunning. Ringo's snare is tight too and sounds as a snare drum should. Lead vocals are very framed and harmonies come out more clearly than on the original. While the original is a tad more fluid, leaner and alive, what this mono does, with its, generally, greater definition over the original, is to make the distinction between the stereo and mono less significant because you get the preferred mix plus greater definition, almost across the board (which was the key advantage of the stereos), vis a vis the original vinyl or the mono CD. That Berkowitz and Magee could get this out of 51 year-old tapes, and Calbi could render it properly on the vinyl, is astonishing. When you get to "Twist And Shout" that's exactly what you want to do, with goose-bumps to boot. That said, after careful comparison, in balance, by a very slim margin, I prefer the original because it possesses a hard to define "magic" the reissue just doesn't quite approach.

With The Beatles
Similar sonic comments to Please Pease Me (PPM). PPM was cut largely live, on the fly, we all know this. This album sound less "alive" (except for "Roll Over Beethoven", where George's initial hook grabs you tight and Ringos's cymbals sizzle), BUT it makes you feel more as if you are in the studio while they were recording. By the time I got to "Money" the winner, by a close split decision on the cards, was this version over the original.

A Hard Day's Night
My copy of the original Parlophone LP is near mint. I love it. This reissue, continues with the sonic characteristics mentioned above but the tell-tale signs are found right in the title track: This re-issue, while fuller in sound (which better suits the ballads), lacks the exuberance of the original's title track (the same goes for "Can't By Me Love"), and George's 12-string Rickenbacher at the end of the title track sounds deader in this re-issue. More pronounced bass than the original throughout. Perhaps, that's why the original shimmers and this reissue, while more detailed, just sounds most excellent. Unlike the first two albums, there will be more of a trade-off between the rockers and ballads when you compare the original Parlophone with the reissue. Still, unless you have an outstanding sound system, enough money, and luck to find a minty original release, this is all you will ever need.

Beatles For Sale
Perhaps, this re-issue is, to this point, the hardest to compare with an original -- they are really that close. But there are at least three tip-offs: a) In "No Reply" the re-issue navigates the loud vocal passages with a tad more clarity; b) Paul's richer bass in "Mr. Moonlight" and c) in "I'm A Loser" the rumble in the vocal at the beginning is a bit more pronounced. Kudos to Berkowitz and Magee for not changing this and allowing us to take the not so good with the sublime. If you own an original, given their similarities, there may not be a need to purchase this one individually; but, if you do, you will most likely find it superior.

My main complaint about the mono CD of Help! was how congested it sounded compared with the stereo version, and now that I have one, an original mono pressing. Unfortunately, this, congestion continues with this re-issue, but to a lesser degree, than the mono CD. If you are purchasing separately rather than in the box set, this is one you need to ponder in comparison with what you already own and how satisfied you are with the sound.

Rubber Soul
The original sounds a bit thin with the bass recessed. The vocals are somewhat fuzzy, and Ringo's snare sounds a tad tinny and missing some body. On the other hand, the re-issue has more, and better, bass. Ringo's drums have more punch and the tinniness of Ringo's snare, in the original, now has more ring (properly so). The vocals are less fuzzy, and, overall, more open and dynamic (But not in every song. In some songs, the vocals seem a bit pushed back; which might be caused by the fuller sound of the music.). And speaking of dynamics, the dynamics of George's sitar in NW is spectacular. This is a very acoustic album, in many parts, and acoustic is what you hear far better than in the original. The definition continues to be superb throughout. "In My Life" is arresting in its beauty and correctness of presentation.

A noted reviewer, found the difference between the original and the reissue to be not that pronounced. I disagree completely. I found the differences between the original, and the reissue, more pronounced here than in the previous albums. There is more there there with the reissue, and, in nearly every respect, this beats the original. While it is true that, if you own an original, you will have to adjust to the more there is there and greater dynamics, I think you will find it more than worth the "effort".

This re-issue is thicker sounding, and darker when you get to George's "Love To You", than the original and, at times, the bass does go deeper, but perhaps not better if you have full-range speakers [In fact, on my full-range speak system, the bass tends to overshadow the rest of the music.(Disengaging the Rel Sub-bass, something I never have to do, because it is properly set-up, does help.)]. I think Michael Fremer, over at Analog Planet, has a valid point to a point: Many listeners may likely prefer this version over the original Gramophone. But if you want an edgier, more psychedelic, version of an essentially edgy, psychedelic album (arguably the Beatles finest moment), and you own an audiophile system, you might want to find an original first lacquer version if you don't already own one. Frankly, this may be the exception to the admonition above about how hard it is to obtain first lacquers of the Beatles monos and to get them to play with a lack of surface noise (see second post on page 15 of the comments).

Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Better bass than the original vinyl issue, which shows how great Paul is with this instrument. A very full, lush sound throughout. The percussion is sonically correct. The vocal harmonies are very distinct (particularly "She's Leaving Home"). In fact, everything is more distinct than the mono CD, or my Japanese vinyl pressing, and overall, recognizing the differences and trade-offs involved, slightly better, to my ears, than the original mono pressing. They nailed this one! The debate between Peppers mono vs. Peppers stereo just got more interesting!

Magical Mystery Tour (MMT)
Here's where it gets complicated. No doubt exists, the reissue creams the Capitol Mono pressings from the 60's. But the real question is does the mono trump the German stereo pressings, which are considered to be the cream of all the different attempts at a stereo release. The mono, in the louder songs, can suffer from a bit of clutter, although less than you'd think, but more than in the mono Peppers ( Overall, the mono MMT does not sound as good as the mono Peppers.). The German stereo suffers from a tad of brightness in places.

But the larger issue is the matter of subjectivity, which people who review things, myself included, really don't spend enough time acknowledging. We all have our biases. Some can't stand Dylan's voice, others, at least up until the mid-80's, considered him to be one of the greatest singers. Who's right? Both! It's your ears. It's your listening experience. It's what pleases you the most that counts. Period. So, even if you say I think the mono Peppers is in every respect better than the stereo Peppers, but I have to hear "Day In The Life" in stereo, then that's your choice and that's right for you. That said, Peppers in mono is essential and you should experience both.

So, where does that leave us when it comes to MMT. The mono sounds wonderful, despite its flaws and tendency to sound muted. If you want to hear this album in mono, and especially if you don't own a German stereo copy, then I recommend purchasing this. If, after listening to this, you feel this betters whatever stereo copy you own, then you should consider forking over the money for the German stereo version, if this album matters a lot to you. If not, you can stop or still go the distance and get the German stereo pressing. If you are fortunate enough to own the German stereo pressing, this is so reasonably priced that you might considering this mono and do your own shoot-out.

The Beatles (AKA) The White Album
Here the various trade-offs become the greatest and the subjectivity factor becomes more pronounced. The mono reissue, particularly with the rockers, can, but not always, lack the energy (boogie) of the stereo pressings and, obviously, the stereo effects are completely lost (for instance the airplane engine sounds in "Back In The USSR"). How important is this to you is a question only each individual can answer; but the stereo effects issue is much more present with The Beatles than with Peppers.

True there exist quite a number of differences in instrumentation, vocals, harmonies, etc. between the mono and stereo, but, in a certain sense, that cuts both ways and it may be wrong to claim the mono is "right" and the stereo is "lesser". All they really are are different arrangements of the same songs. Like with Revolver, I found the bass, at times, to be overpowering for my full-range speaker system. The vocals, in many instances, are quite immediate and gorgeous, however. One can bring the discussion into areas of tonality, brightness, etc., but that might, at least in this instance, divert the listener away from the only question that matters: Which version do you enjoy most?

My personal choice here remains the same as five years ago when I wrote the CD box set review (however, with an addendum), but I will state it slightly differently: If I want to sit down and just enjoy the music, be enveloped by the experience and fall into the kaleidoscope of the sounds found on TWA, I will go with the stereo LP. On the other hand, if I want hear the music from a different angle, especially the vocals and some of the instruments, I will choose the mono LP, but only an original pressing (see addendum).

Addendum to TWA: Because I found the bass to be excessive in the reissue, I did the irresponsible :), and purchased an original mono pressing. While I did find the bass, on some songs, less than I would have liked, there were quite a number of other songs, like Bungalow Bill, where the bass was great and more would have been too much, which was the case with the reissue. What the original shares with the reissue is the beauty and immediacy of many of the vocals, particularly Paul's in his slower songs. I quite liked the original mono pressing and, in some respects, it provides a more musical listening experience than the original stereo. Like with Revolver, this may be the exception to the admonition above about how hard it is to obtain first lacquers of the Beatles monos and to get them to play with a lack of surface noise.**

Mono Masters
In a certain way, Mono Masters displays everything that was done right, I mean, really right, with these releases. The sound is wonderful throughout; which is no small feat given the need to mash together recordings from 1962-1970. Some will no doubt observe they could have put all this music on two LPs, and this is correct in fact but wrong in execution. A genius of Mono Masters, the thing that demonstrates these people knew exactly what they were doing and wanted to finally get this right, is the fact that there ARE six distinct, coherent LP sides. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, this is how albums were made. It's still the way an album should be made, but that's a different conversation.


The moment of clarity about these reissues occurred on the second night when I was listing to Rubber Soul. "I'm Looking Through You" had just ended and my brain was conditioned to hear the beginning of "In My Life". How many times have we experienced this transition? We know it, don't we? But still, I was stopped, dead in my tracks, by the breathtaking beauty of the first few guitar notes, followed by the muted guitar chords. This was stunning. This was unlike I had ever heard the beginning of this song before. THIS WAS WONDER! And this reminded me of what The Beatles brought to the table: They brought wonder into our lives. There is not a more consistently strong song catalog in pop music. They pushed the boundaries of the pop song farther, and quicker, than anybody before, or after. Led by The Beatles, all of a sudden, many of us wanted to go out and buy better audio equipment so we could hear this wonderful music better. During this period, culture was changed, mores were changed, the world was changed. And this music was both a significant part of the leading-edge, and the mirror, of all of that.

Time, and time again, while listening to these reissues I was struck by the wonder, the beauty, the visceral pleasure of what I was hearing in a way that none of the previous reissues has approached. Yes, we have every reason to be upset that it has taken this long to reach this point with the most important pop catalog of all time. I mean there is nothing new in what Berkowitz, Magee, Calbi and Optimal have done here that couldn't have been done five years ago. But that is really not a sound reason to deprive ourselves of what awaits with these reissues. This is especially true, given the fact that, for the most part, the differences between these reissues, and the originals, are so slight. This, in turn, makes point "c" above the most critical consideration in terms of whether or not to purchase. So, if you have the gear to render vinyl properly, and you don't own the originals, get in your Yellow Submarine and take the dive.

To Steve Berkowitz, Sean Magee, Greg Calbi, Optimal, Sir Paul, Ringo, the widow Yoko and the widow Olivia, thank you oh so much for finally delivering to us the treatment of this music these four young men so richly deserve and have been denied for far too long.

**  A true story:

As I was unsatisfied with the sound of the mono reissue of TWA, I waited until one came up on eBay, from a trusted seller, and bought it. It arrived this week. First, quick needle drop revealed considerable surface noise. Off to the cleaning table.

Step One: Two applications and rinse cycles of Isopropryl Alcohol. Result: better but still very noisy. A great deal of dirt on the white Orbitrac 2 pad (Which I have to use for this step because using a MoFi replacement pad, see below, is a bad idea due to the glue on the back side of pad and the use of alcohol.).
Step Two: (audible here usually don't do this one): Application of MoFi enzymatic cleaner.
Step Three: Two applications and rinse cycles of DiscDoctor Solution. This, and all cleaning cycles (except for the alcohol), is done by using the MoFi brush replacement pad attached to an Orbitrac 2 cartridge ( What the Orbitrac does, because the pad rotates in perfect alignment with the grooves, is it allows me to safely go back and forth, rotate forwards and backwards, so the MoFi bristles can really get into the recesses of the grooves to loosen and dig-out gunk.
Result after step three, much improved but still pretty noisy.
Step Four: Another application of MoFi enzymatic cleaner followed by a cleaning with the SpinClean system. Results after step four, near dead silence in the grooves throughout all four sides.

Time and time again, with old LPs, particularly the original Beatles mono pressings, this is what has been required to attain largely silent grooves on what appears, to the eye, to be a VG+ or NM offering. The experience today with TWA, and my other similar experiences, is the basis for point "C" at the top of my review. I would not, and have not, received similar results using only a system like a VPI. I haven't tried the new ultrasonic machine yet, however.

© Copyright James N. Perlman. 2014 All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


                                                              (Photo by Laurie Strongin, used with kind permission)

(On April 17, 2012, along with seven other people, I had the pleasure of attending a Bruce Springsteen concert in Cleveland, OH.  During the course of that evening, we also watched the sound check and met with Bruce on two occasions.  The following essay is about that evening and was initially written for the eight people on the trip.  This is the reason for the use of the pronouns "we" and "us" throughout.)

April 17th was way different.  April 17th was way the same.  How can this be?  Let me explain.

The first time I saw Bruce in concert was September 25, 1975, two days after he turned 26 years-old.  This night remains mostly a total blur to me.  But one thing I do remember is a specific moment when I was shaking my head in utter disbelief on how this scrawny, little fellow was somehow channeling, and embodying, every great rocker that preceded him.  Elvis, check. Chuck, check.  Buddy, check.  Little Richard, check.  Jerry Lee, check.  Dylan, check.  Orbison, check.  Van The Man, check.  Spector, check.  Bo Diddley, check.  And that was before Bruce went in to the Detroit Medley for only the second time in his career.  Then, there was the crowd.  The crowd knew how to be completely hushed when Bruce was crouched at the lip of the stage at the beginning of the concert whispering the first verse to “Thunder Road”.  The crowd knew how to spontaneously, en masse, rise to its feet and roar when Clarence started the sax solo to that song.  But most astonishingly, and this was Bruce’s first time in a large venue in Chicago, the crowd knew how to catch and support the man when he jumped into the crowd during “Spirit In The Night” and sang a good portion of that song perched on the shoulders of his audience.  Just like Bruce lovingly cradled that little girl on April 17th, her name is Ann Marie by the way, that’s how the crowd held-up Bruce on their shoulders that night close to 37 years ago.  His jump, on September 25, 1975, was an act of faith.  His crowd’s reaction was the act of a real family.  These two words, faith and family, have always informed his performances and the symbiotic relationship he shares with his audience.  These two words, faith and family, are two of the four constant fractals upon which all of Bruce’s performances, and most of his music, is based.  While there are four fractals in the mix, and we’ll get to all of them before this essay is over, let’s start with faith and family.

The thing about fractals are they can look different depending upon vantage point.  So, shall we say, it ups the ante just a teeny-weeny bit when, instead of jumping into the comfy seats at the Auditorium, at the age of 26, and trusting you will be held up, you, at the age of 62, well any age for that matter, possess so much faith you believe to your core that your fans will know how to, and succeed in, traversing you across the roughly 50 foot audience pit back onto the stage after you jump into their midst.  Yet, this is what we witnessed on April 17th.  And let’s be clear: This is a physically dangerous proposition.  But it is also an act of wonder.  Particularly that night because, as Bruce told us, by application of some unconscious uniform crowd thought, the crowd in Cleveland was able to think far enough in advance to decide to rotate Bruce’s body 180 degrees so his feet, instead of his head, would be at the lip of the stage when he got there.  Bruce Body Surf In Cleveland, April 17, 2012 No. 1  None of this, not what Bruce does, and certainly not what the audience does, is taught in any school, not even by Jack Black in The School Of Rock.  So, yes, the body surf was a fractal from the beginning of his career, but it is also a fractal of a much larger and dangerous order.  April 17th was way different.  April 17th was way the same.

The crowd surfing thing is a great example of what Bruce meant when we were with him after the show and he talked about such things as: 1) the experience of being in the moment during every show; 2) the different energy of every show; 3) the alchemy of every show; and 4) the organic nature of every show.  These have been components of all his shows from the beginning.  But Bruce’s alchemy is different from that of any other performer.  The standard alchemy of a live performance generally has two major components.  First, the interaction between the musicians on the stage and the creative dynamics this produces.  Second, is the feeling, the wave of energy, that is formed by the audience and then directed back toward the stage.  But with Bruce, both of those components have enhanced dimensions.

With some performers, Dylan and Van Morrison are among this rare group, it is absolutely vital for the key members of the band keep their eyes on their leader at all times.  As Bruce joked with us, Max failed to do it once back in ‘75 and never again.  Bruce explained to us this is so because he expects his band to be able to stop on a dime and change directions.  That, most of the time, we in the audience don’t realize when this is happening shows how good this band is.  So, the band dynamic on the E Street stage is quite different from most groups.  As for the audience energy component, not only is this different, it is singular.

I’ve been to hundreds, probably thousands, live performance.  I’ve been at a Stones concert, no more than six feet away from Mick, and he is not making any real human contact with any member of the audience.  And it’s not just Mick or the size of the venue.  Vastly, more times than not, even in a small venue, the artist isn’t making any real, human, one-on-one contact with anybody in the audience.  I experienced this five days after the Springsteen show in Cleveland when I saw one of America’s great songwriters at an extremely small venue.  But with Bruce it is really different.

Bruce pretty much laid this out for us after the show when talked about the moment when he saw the girl with the tattoos for “Because The Night” and “Glory Days” on her arms.  It was quite obvious when he was telling us about that moment that this was something immensely personal and touching to him.  This whole sequence, the absolute joy on Bruce’s face when this was unfolding, can be see in the body surfing video No. 1 above from 2:17-3:00 and here, beginning at 2:50:  Bruce Body Surf In Cleveland, April 17, 2012 No. 2.  Same thing when he told us, twice actually, about the spiky-haired kid the night before in Albany who requested a very obscure track, “Janey Don't You Lose Heart”: Janey Don’t You Lose Heart in Albany, April 16, 2012.  Watch the beginning closely as Bruce strums the guitar.  What’s happening here is, in his head, he is going through the song because he hadn’t performed the song in so long.  Then he says: “I think I got it.”  Think?  Finally, as he told us after the sound check, because he wasn’t sure the band could pull it off, lots of reasons for that, he decided to perform the song solo and it turned into one of those rare, mesmerizing Springsteen performances.

I’ve been doing this since 1975 and I’ve witnessed him doing some variation of  these very personal requests for as long as I can remember.  And while they have happened with “routine” frequency, based on what we heard from the man himself, each one is special, each one touches him personally.  For instance, the moving story behind Bruce’s dedication of “We Are Alive” in Cleveland can be found here: Scott Fedor.

I don’t want to sound overly fawning about all of this.  But if memory serves, when Bruce told us about the tattoo girl, he kind of shrugged his shoulders, or something, and said something a bit sheepish like: “Now how could I not do the song?”  But even if my memory is flawed, it doesn’t make any difference.  The whole gestalt of these sorts of things is entirely unique to Bruce and his audience.  The closest thing to this is the Grateful Dead and its audience.  But that is more about a sense of community.  This is about the second fractal, a sense of family.  And it is stronger now than it has ever been.  April 17th was way different.  April 17th was way the same.

The third fractal is Bruce’s instinct when it comes to live performances.  After all these years, and shows, his awareness, and the correctness of the choices he makes, in the moment, continues to astonish.  On April 17th, it started at the sound check.  It was just fascinating to watch Bruce lead the band through the discovery process when he was figuring-out what to add to “Light Of Day.”  For me, it was more than enough to get a bit of “Land Of A Thousand Dances.”  But Bruce was not completely satisfied because, after huddling with Steven near Max’s drum kit, Bruce came back and went into “You Can’t Sit Down.”  During this, you could see Bruce brighten-up considerably.  But that look paled in comparison with the look of complete satisfaction he shot Steven during the show when, after doing the “Land Of A Thousand Dances” fragment, they launched into “You Can’t Sit Down.”

The other great example of Bruce’s instinct came when Ann Marie nailed “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day”.  When Bruce was telling us about this after the show you could tell how much he genuinely enjoyed the interaction with her, the poise under pressure she exhibited at such a young age and her decision to take him up on going up on stage to do the knee slide when he asked her to do so following telling her to shout: “Come on E Street Band” (This is the instinct part as, to my knowledge, Bruce seldom does this sort of thing.  But his performer instinct told him he had a trouper in Ann Marie.).  Bruce And Ann Marie

All to often, too much is made of instinct and acting from the gut.  Still, even on a cursory examination, it should be obvious Bruce’s instinct has always been there when it comes to his live performances.  What’s different now, with regard to the live performances, is there is a speed to it, and a flow to it, that is nearly infallible.  Those of us who were around from ‘78-‘81 speak with reverence of these Springsteen concerts.  These were great shows.  Literally, the stuff of legend.  But, especially looking back, there were problems.  There was an unevenness to these shows.  Not only from show to show but within the show as well.  There were lulls.  Perhaps, in some instances, the lulls were welcome rests from interludes of white hot angst and intensity which were at its height during the late Born To Run through Darkness era tours, particularly at the times when Bruce was talking about his father while performing the Animals’s “It’s My Life”.  But they were lulls nonetheless.  This was a problem that was never really resolved before Bruce disbanded the E Street Band after the Tunnel Of Love Express Tour.

When the band reconvened in 2000 this problem persisted.  Then something began to change.  It may have started to happen at, or around the time, of the Born To Run show here in Chicago on September 20, 2009.  In any event, by the time Bruce and the band had survived the staggering crucible of doing five full albums in ten days, at the end of the last tour, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band were untouchable.  Gone were the lulls and, in their place, was just clarity of vision and one peak after the next, despite the fact that he was crafting different set-lists nightly, some of it on the fly.  This is why, there is no hyperbole, or false bravado, when Bruce told us that the one thing about which he is absolutely certain:  No band can stop on a dime, change direction and follow its leader wherever he wants to go like the E Street Band.  Period.  No exclamation point needed.

Still, what brought Bruce to new heights at the end of 2009 was his ability to form consistently brilliant shows from his past, and it was mostly the past pre-1985.  By the end of the tour that ended in 2009, there was one piece missing: Current material that could co-exist during a concert performance with Bruce’s staggering back-catalog of material.  That missing piece arrived when Wrecking Ball hit the streets a few months ago.

Wrecking Ball is a triumph.  Wrecking Ball is everything that every album Bruce has released since Born In The USA isn’t because nearly all of its songs, night after night, can absolutely coexist in the same concert set-list with the gems from his back-catalog without there being a lull or let-down during the show.  It’s an album that rocks.  It’s an album that matters in terms of message.  It’s an album with a collection of his best pop hooks since The River.  It’s an album of some of the most challenging arrangements since his first two albums and those arrangements illuminate the lyrics – sound matches sense (A flaw I personally find in parts of Born In The USA.).  It’s an album where, instead of hearing the influence of Bruce’s influences, one hears the primary influences being Bruce’s own music.

Sure, there are those who believe Wrecking Ball should have been Nebraska II.  And, yes, Wrecking Ball could have been Nebraska II.  But that’s not what Bruce wanted.  What Bruce wanted, I believe, is an album with: a) the depth of Nebraska; b) the pop hooks of The River (so people would listen to Wrecking Ball in much larger numbers than listened to Nebraska); c) some of the musical challenges and diversity of the first two albums; and d) a group of songs with which he could hit the road and know that these songs would work with his audience without any let-down.  Wrecking Ball runs this table and puts Bruce and the band back where they were in 1985.  Except this band has gotten much, much better (didn’t think that was possible) and Bruce has raised his own game to an unsurpassed level in terms of creating a dizzying array of near bullet-proof set-lists from night to night.

So what we now have is a recapitulation of the performance instinct fractal from those legendary shows from ‘78-‘81, where the cast is fairly the same and many of the songs are the same.  Except, quite honestly, night in, night out these shows are better, arguably much better.  April 17th was way different.  April 17th was way the same.  Some of the reason for this is faith.  Some of the reason for this is family.  Some of the reason for this is instinct and talent.  And, finally, some of the reason for this is Bruce’s unwavering devotion to the vision for his music.  And like the other three fractals, this unwavering devotion has been there from the very beginning.

Last year Bruce spent three hours on Little Steven’s Underground Garage.  Mostly they talk about their friendship, Bruce’s career and the music they love.  These shows are great and highly recommended.  The Bruce And Stevie Show, Pt. 1, The Bruce And Stevie Show, Pt. 2, The Bruce And Stevie Show, Pt. 3  One thing that came through to me while listening to these three shows, and I hadn’t really realized this before, is that, from the beginning, the composition of Bruce’s band was not only quite unique, it was also brilliant.  Since the Beatles, the general composition of a rock band has been some combination of bass, drum and guitar, with maybe one additional “color” instrument, say a keyboard.  Bruce’s E Street Band, since Greetings came out, has been something different altogether.  Yes, Bruce has a bass and drum rhythm section.  But after that, and the guitar, Bruce did something no one else was brave enough to do.  Not only did he have a dedicated keyboardist, initially David Sancious, he also had a sax player, Clarence Clemons, and a Hammond B3 organist, Danny Federici.  What this line-up of players on the stage allows Bruce to do is, whenever he wants, he can choose to use any of the significant lead instruments in rock’s history during a song.

At first blush, it might seem odd that nobody before Bruce figured this out.  But, on the Underground Garage, Bruce provided a pretty good reason why nobody else “figured this out”.  Maybe they did figured it out.  It’s just nobody wanted to do it because of the nature of the Hammond B3.

The Hammond B3 is an amazing instrument that can do many thing and produce many sounds.  Hammond Organ  There’s just one problem with the B3: The B3 is a big, heavy mother and that’s before you add the second piece to the B3, the Leslie speaker.  Now, it’s one thing if you are Bruce Springsteen, mega star, with a large crew of roadies to cart the B3, and the Leslie, from show to show.  It’s quite another thing if you are an unknown, with no roadies, and you have to get the B3, and the Leslie, to a show, sometimes on the second floor of some building.  Hammond Organ Story  (See November 20, 1969 entry.)  That’s a real pain, literally.  So, you really, really have to be devoted to your vision to, from the very beginning, cart around, from venue to venue on the east coast, all the conventional equipment and a Hammond B3.  But that’s the point, Bruce wanted it bad and he just wouldn’t compromise on the devotion to his vision for his music.

Still there is one more thing about this that bears noting.  Every person who aspires to be a star “wants it bad”.  But Bruce took it one step further: He wanted it all.  Not so much in the material sense.  Instead, from the beginning, he wanted it all in the musical sense.  Think about it, as impressive as it is that the E Street Band can stop on a dime and change directions better than any band in the land, that skill doesn’t mean diddle if you don’t have the horses on stage to go in that other direction.  With a bass, drums, guitars, sax, keyboard and Hammond B3 you pretty much can go to and perform any significant song in rock ‘n roll’s history.  In fact, as Bruce told me, when I was having a surreal moment standing next to him center stage after the sound check, it takes his crew only a minute to find the lyrics to any rock ‘n roll song on the Internet, say “Mony, Mony”, and then format the lyrics for him so they can be flashed on a video monitor embedded in the stage.  Additionally, you can color your own compositions with any of the dominant instruments in rock’s history as well. And you can do it at will.  You just have to want it so bad you are willing to nearly break your back, night after night, in the process.  That’s a singular, arguably stubborn, devotion to a musical vision.  And it is that unwavering devotion to a musical vision that started out as an unconventional six piece band on Greeting and ended up on April 17th as a seamless 17 piece orchestra and chorus.  April 17th was way different.  April 17th was way the same.

No essay about the current version of the E Street Band, and what we witnessed on April 17th, can be complete without devoting some time to the death of Clarence Clemons.  This is true simply on the merits of the thing.  And, somehow, Bruce figured-out a way to allow both the band, and the fans, to partake in the loss and the celebration of the force that was Bruce and Clarence.  Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Cleveland , April 17, 2012  But inclusion of Clarence’s death in this essay is necessary because, surprise, surprise, it is another example of where faith, family, instinct and unwavering devotion to musical vision all merge.

Clarence’s death hit hard.  Some of it was selfish: How can it be the same?  Some of it was empathetic.  And some of it was: What the “F” is Bruce going to do?  The matter of Clarence’s presence in the E Street Band is complex.  First, there’s the special, personal relationship that existed between Bruce and Clarence.  I peered through a small window and witnessed the depth of this friendship the last time I saw the two of them together before Clarence’s death.  It was after the mind-blowing show here in Chicago where Bruce did Born To Run cover to cover for only the second time.  When the show was over, and Bruce finished his final bows, he exited, stage right, and then down some stairs.  As he reached the point where I could almost no longer see him Clarence was waiting there for Bruce.  When Bruce got to where Clarence was standing Bruce gave Clarence a loving kiss on the lips.  It was quite moving at the time.  Now, all the more poignant because that was the last time I saw Clarence alive.  Second, there’s the fact that, despite his relative lack of technique, Clarence was a great sax player, just ask Branford Marsalis.  And, third, there is the fact that, not so much at the end, but certainly at the beginning, Clarence was, quite literally, in the dramatic sense, an on-stage foil for Bruce.  My favorite example of this is from the legendary show in ‘78 in Landover, MD.  The song is the long version of  “She’s The One”.  “She The One” is carnal.  “She The One” is about Eros.  “She The One” is about seduction.  And starting at the ten minute mark when Bruce says: “Come a little closer” with a Jerry Lee Lewis leer, two, very virile men, play out that seduction to its inevitable climax, about a minute and a half later, with both men laying supine on the stage.  “She’s The One”  It is of no consequence how much of this is conscious or unconscious on the part of Bruce and Clarence.  What matters is the perfection of the dramatic performance between protagonist and foil.

So, shall we say, when Clarence died Bruce confronted a vast abyss.  How Bruce has chosen to cross this abyss, or is attempting to cross this abyss, is intriguing.  The easy choice would have been to choose somebody like Ed Manion, the other sax player on the stage, who, not only is a very good sax player he also possesses past experience with both Bruce and Little Steven.  But instead of choosing what “seems” to make the most sense on the surface, find somebody capable of replicating Clarence’s playing, Bruce decides to, for the time being, compromise on the skill of the sax player and go for the long haul: Choose somebody who has the charisma to possibly turn into some version of a foil for Bruce on stage and, because he is Clarence’s nephew, Jake Clemons, will be forgiven by the audience for not being as good as Clarence.  We’re just at the beginning of this experiment.  But I was watching the interaction between Jake and Bruce carefully and something is forming there.  It won’t be the same, obviously.  But I do believe Bruce rolled the dice on this one and it will come up as close to sevens as is possible under the circumstance (And Jake is getting better at his craft as the tour progresses, which is a good sign as well.).  April 17th was way different.  April 17th was way the same.

After the sound check was over on April 17th, Bruce came over to meet most of us for the first time and chat.  After a while, he started talking about the show in Albany the previous night where it was blisteringly hot inside the Times Union Center.  Bruce’s response to this adversity was to accept the challenge of the circumstance and just give more.  This was also the first time he spoke with us about how hairy it can get for him when he’s out between the two GA sections during “The Apollo Medley” and “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day”.  Interestingly, I don’t recall him mentioning anything about the hairiness of the body surfing.  But, seriously kids, why does he do these things?  He’s 62 after all.  No one expects such things.  Shit, few actually do them at any age.  I can’t be sure of the real answer.  But what I can tell you is this: On May 12, 2009, here in Chicago, on the first U.S. leg of the Working On A Dream tour, as I was watching Bruce at the center of the mass of humanity between the two GA sections, that hairy area he told us about, I had an epiphany: I’ve had it wrong all this time.  I thought it is those of us in the crowd who are the happiest at a Springsteen concert.  But no, it’s Bruce (maybe it’s a tie sometimes).  And it's been that way from the very beginning.  In fact, all of it has been there from the very beginning.  The faith.  The family.  The instinct.  And, perhaps, most important, the unwavering devotion to a musical vision and the driving force behind all of Bruce’s live performances (Album One, Side One, Track One, last two lines):

                                                       “Mamma always told me not to look into the sight of the sun
                                                       Oh but momma that’s where the fun is.”

                                                            (Photo by Anne Edwards, used with kind permission)

Faith, family, instinct, devotion.  April 17th was way different.  April 17th was way the same.

© Copyright James N. Perlman. 2012 All rights reserved.

APRIL 17, 2012

Sound Check:

1.   My Love Will Not Let You Down
2.   Light Of Day
3.   Land Of A Thousand Dances
4.   You Can’t Sit Down
5.   Streets Of Fire


1.  Badlands
2.  We Take Care of Our Own
3.  Wrecking Ball
4.  The Ties That Bind
5.  Death to My Hometown
6.  My City of Ruins
7.  The E Street Shuffle
8.  Jack of All Trades
9.  Trapped
10. Youngstown
11. My Love Will Not Let You Down
12. Shackled & Drawn
13. Waitin' on a Sunny Day
14. The Promised Land
15. Racing in the Street
16. Apollo Medley
17. Because the Night
18. The Rising
19. We Are Alive
20. Light of Day (including Land Of A Thousand Dances and You Can't Sit Down)

* * *

21. Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
22. Out in the Street
23. Born to Run
24. Dancing in the Dark
25. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out