LIVE (Retro): Bruce Springsteen @ Union College Memorial Chapel, 10/19/1974
This was before the hype; before the reverent prophecy “I have seen the future of rock and roll and its name is Bruce Springsteen,” before the simultaneous Time and Newsweek cover stories.
So, forgive me for hitting another show in Albany before racing back to Schenectady that night 46 years ago tonight when I found Springsteen was almost levitating the Union College Memorial Chapel. He and a stage-filling band made the purest and most powerful rock and roll joy; music that filled every ear and every heart and blew apart every expectation of what a show could do.
First the bad news.
Latter, weaker versions of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea’s Return to Forever showed why fusion was on its way out the Albany Palace Theater show I hit before Springsteen. Both were OK, but lacked the fire of their first impact, when they knew they were inventing something new. With their bosses indulging the younger replacements of their original hot-rod band mates, the Palace show substituted flash for soul.
Now, the good news.
Springsteen had both, as Cindy N. and I could hear as we walked – no, ran! – from our dubiously parked car to the Chapel.
Nobody stopped us at the door as we dashed inside.
We couldn’t even see the stage at first. Everybody was standing, shouting, exultant.
I’m guessing we burst into the Chapel during “Jungleland” or “Kitty’s Back” – those songs have the mood I remember in that first rush. We were listening to a story, but not a quietly-told tale around a campfire. This was a saga of teenage lust, writ loud in neon reflecting from a rainy street on a noisy night. You know the feeling: the summer storm is gone and we now can roam down the block to the next bar where the next hot band is rocking, bulging the windows with sound.
Even when we could see, easing forward up the aisle, the stage was a tunnel vision experience. We could hear the sax wail, the drums kick, in sync with the bass, some guitars, both piano and organ. But I couldn’t really see anybody but Springsteen. He magnetized my sight. He had no moves to speak of, unlike, say, James Brown who played outdoors on campus a few years later with a band in matching suits. Brown made everybody try to dance like him. No, Springsteen stood and delivered or jumped around in exuberance that fed us – as if the sound didn’t lift us enough, make us crazy enough.
Around me, I could hear and feel everybody moving on the beat, wires pulsing with the same current, cars speeding the same direction on the parkway. Nobody was looking for an exit. We were all aboard.
Looking at the kids around me – likely from Long Island or Jersey, like on every upstate campus then – you could see this was the music they’d heard on radio back home, in its wildness, its innocence, the punch of its E Street Shuffle.
It was soul music, but the opposite of the 1960s uniformed show bands behind James Brown, or Jimi Hendrix on that same stage a decade-plus before. Springsteen absorbed its slick sound, amped it and built it big. And it was rocking. We could feel it through the floor as much as the air which it filled so completely you breathed it. But you could also feel where it came from in Springsteen’s mind, the most completely, perfectly New York sound since Laura Nyro. You could hear in his fans’ joy how much he loved that older music he came from.
Springsteen was then between “The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle” (Nov. 1973) and “Born to Run” (Aug. 1975) – which only contributed a few songs to the Chapel show. I’d kinda missed “The Wild, etc.” – its moody neo Dylan cover portrait off-putting, and I hadn’t liked “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” (Jan. 1973) much.
But after that Chapel show, “The Wild” was my favorite Springsteen album, even when “Born To Run” heralded Springsteen the superstar who dominated the next decade. By channeling those currents, always returning home to 1960s radio after detours into folk or pop, Springsteen has amazingly retained his primacy. He sings to us that he is still a fan, still proclaiming, “I’m not here on business, baby; I’m only here for fun.” (From “Rosalita” on “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle.” So when I get my hands on his new “Letter to You,” I’ll do what I always do: I’ll open it fast and play it loud – just as I loved those later Springsteen shows at the Palace and Saratoga Performing Arts Center. (At SPAC, he played the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit “Who’ll Stop the Rain” at sound-check and the rain stopped. But I digress.)
Of all his music, “Wild” has the purest feel, the most confident power, the easiest fun; and the clearest line to where it came from in the proud pathos of soul and the hot-rod pulsing roar of stripped-down rock. Echoing its origins, it felt like the same radio station on different days. It was mostly “Wild” that gave us that astonishing, magical night when Springsteen rocketed the Union College Memorial Chapel over the moon and into the future of rock and roll.
1 Incident On 57th Street
2 Spirit In The Night
3 Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?
4 The E Street Shuffle
5 It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City
6 Spanish Harlem
7 Lost In The Flood
8 She’s The One
10 Kitty’s Back
11 New York City Serenade
12 Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
13 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
14 A Love So Fine