Saturday, March 28, 2015

Racing in the Street

Bruce Springsteen's New Year's Eve show from 1980 has been legendary among his fans since...well, pretty much since he was performing it at the time. 38 songs and nearly 4 hours long, he and the E Street Band sang and performed like it was their first and last show, in terms of energy, and like James Brown was standing off-stage with a taser, in terms of quality. Although professionally recorded, the entire show's only been officially released recently, although various tracks have shown up in various places over the years—the live boxset, some compilations, charity records and such.

Picking out highlights from a show this great is easy and difficult—there are plenty to choose from, but so many, it's tempting to just say "listen to the whole damn thing." But even so, some things stand out at you. Such as the great Professor Roy Bittan's closing solo on "Racing in the Street." His piano has a curiously tinny timbre, almost like a tack piano. But that doesn't obscure—if anything, it might make it easier to hear—the brilliance of his playing here.

Bittan casually invents melody after melody in his closing solo that, any one of which could have graced a hit single in the 1970s. Seriously, listen to his phrases, almost any of them. Now imagine a singer from the late 1970s, like Jay Ferguson or Michael Martin Murphey or Andrew Gold or Dan Hill or someone like that. Can't you just hear one of them basing a song around some of those phrases? They sound like the third and fourth lines of a five line stanza, something that follows the main melody and sets up its return. And he's doing it more or less on the fly in front of nearly 18,000 people.

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