Forever Young: Video of 1978 Houston concert proves Springsteen was always "TheBoss"
When you consider the staggeringly consistent brilliance with which Bruce Springsteen has conducted his career for the past four decades or so, it would seem like splitting hairs to say that any one era was better than another. Boss backers are never shy with their opinions though, and many often point to the period surrounding the release of Darkness On The Edge Of Townin 1978 as a time when Bruce and the E Street Band reached a peak with their live shows.
The evidence arrives in the new box set, The Promise, which, among its many other features, includes a show from December 12, 1978 at The Summit in Houston. (For those too young to remember, The Summit is now Lakewood Church.) You might think it odd for Bruce to choose a location for a live release far from his Jersey-based stronghold in the Northeast, but it makes sense upon further review.
Part of it was likely dictated by what footage was available, and the stuff we’ve got here, albeit on the dark side video-wise, certainly features a pretty pristine audio representation of the show. But, more importantly, the fact that the video comes from a relatively foreign area for Springsteen makes it the perfect place for a showcase of the band circa ’78, because they were clearly out on the stage with something to prove.
As great as the band was on its most recent tour, everything that Bruce does now can seem like a victory lap, and deservedly so. The Houston show harkens back to a time when, despite all of the hoopla garnered by Born To Run just a few years before, Springsteen still wasn’t a national force the way some of his peers were. He was determined to change all that though, and the three hours worth of effort he gives forth here is evidence of that.
The Darkness songs (seven of the 10 are included in this performance) also were key in bringing a different element to a Springsteen performance. Whereas the songs from the first two albums and Bruce’s astute selections of vintage rock cover songs brought the good times, and the Born To Run songs played up the theatrics, the songs from Darkness were the most brutally realistic of his career to that date. Included here, they help to round out the other aspects of the show and make for a musical evening that leaves little else that an audience member could possibly desire.
Bruce zealots will get a kick out of the “new” songs previewed here: “Independence Day”, “The Ties That Bind," and “Point Blank” would of course become linchpins of The River. The sequencing is brilliant here as well; he uses the first set to showcase Darkness, then comes out after the intermission (remember those?) with a slew of good-time songs (“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, “Rosalita”, “Fire”) and extended set pieces (“She’s The One” with an elongated intro, “Because The Night” featuring Bruce shredding on lead guitar.) The concert glides seamlessly from one exhilarating crescendo to the next.
Watching the Houston show as a longtime Springsteen fan, it’s impossible to not feel a little nostalgic. Yes, the band is still going strong, but there’s something indelibly moving about watching Bruce and Clarence Clemons dancing in unison during “Detroit Medley," or seeing the original seven-piece band churning out hit after hit at the absolute pinnacle of their game, or, most of all, hearing the late Dan Federici’s mournful organ swirling alongside Roy Bittan’s piano on “Racing in the Street."
As for Bruce himself, nothing much has changed. In ’78, the hair was a little thicker, the muscles were a little leaner, but he was as powerful a performer as ever. Houston Bootleg ’78 may be a specific document of a stellar time in the career of a great artist. But it’s not unique in showing the Boss’ passion for rock and roll; that’s on display every single time he takes the stage.