bruce springsteen - born to run (album cover)When I was a senior in high school, Bruce released the 30th Anniversary Edition of Born to Run, his greatest album, and I asked for it for my birthday. It was a fancy three-disc package with a remastered CD and two DVDs, one a “making of” documentary and another a concert from 1975. I remember watching the documentary pretty soon afterward, but I waited forever to watch the concert. I think I held off on watching it until almost a year later, when I was home from college for Christmas break. I was bored one night and I remembered I had this Springsteen concert I had never watched, and so I watched it. I knew nothing about the concert itself until I read Bruce’s explanation in the liner notes that this was their first European concert and there was a huge amount of hype surrounding them that night. It was, in short, a make-or-break show.

A prolonged legal battle with Bruce’s manager/producer Mike Appel prevented him from performing in the United States, and with Born to Run‘s surging popularity landing him a larger audience, Bruce and his band set out to Europe to do a four-show mini-tour. Their first stop was London’s Hammersmith Odeon — now called the Hammersmith Apollo — on November 18, 1975. (Incidentally, they did another show at the Hammersmith Odeon on November 24.) Luckily for us, they thought to record and film this historic show, so why did it take thirty years for us to see or hear any of it? Well, as Springsteen explains, he initially just wanted to move on after doing the show. And then he forgot all about it — for thirty years. Here’s how Bruce puts it:

The evening had been recorded and filmed. Lost in my own private Idaho, I’d paid no attention to it. I never looked at it… for thirty years. At the time I was anxious to move away from the commotion and on down the road, as the band and I were “busy bein’ born.” At the end of the Rising tour, I became interested in checking out film of the early part of my work. It had remained a blank spot with virtually nothing officially released. I started with bits and pieces of this show figuring we could cut together a song or two. To our surprise the entire concert emerged from the vault along with the 24-track recording. Restored by Thom Zimny and mixed by Bob Clearmountain, removed from the bluster and noise of the moment, all that’s left is the music.

bruce springsteen - the wild, the innocent & the e street shuffle (album cover)I have actually only seen the concert a grand total of once, because not long after I watched the DVD, I noticed the album version of it was available on iTunes and decided to buy it. I have been meaning to go back and see it again, since it ranks up there with the greatest live shows ever, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. Born to Run was Bruce’s third album, and at the time I watched the concert, I wasn’t as familiar with his first two, Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. Still, I remember being utterly blown away by this gig, despite not knowing some of the songs that well. The set opens with a curiously fragile and naked rendition of “Thunder Road” that is in stark contrast to the studio version (not that that’s a bad thing, necessarily), but when the full band bursts in on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” you know this show is for real.

Here are the Boss’ reflections on the night:

For me, the set went by like a freight train. Later, all I remember is an awkward record company party, that “what just happened?” feeling, and thinking we hadn’t played that well. I was wrong. With the keys to the kingdom dangling in front of us and the knife at our neck, we’d gone for broke. Whatever happened, it became one of our “legendary” performances, marked only in memory, bits of bootleg tape, and “I was there when” stories. It was the show that put us on the map in England and began a long and beautiful relationship with our fans overseas.

So, what are the highlights? All of them, basically — it really is that good. My personal favorite is “The E Street Shuffle/Having a Party,” but “Kitty’s Back” and “For You” are also up there. Yeah, most of these songs are long, but they’re damn good. Interestingly enough, the album doesn’t appear to be on iTunes anymore, but it looks like you can still buy it on CD on Amazon if you so desire. This is an astonishingly great album, and it’s a shame that it pretty much never gets talked about anywhere. Hopefully mentioning it here will change that.