The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were recorded over 2 nights at the September 1979 MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York City. This 2 CD set features 13 songs performed over two nights, that are newly remixed and remastered, in addition to a DVD of the 13 song concert performance film, newly edited from original film footage, restored and remixed in HD. The cover photo of the package was used in the River Tour Programme many collectors will have from 1981. These were not just brilliant performances, but ones that were professionally filmed (for the 1980 “No Nukes” movie, which ended up using only three Springsteen songs) and are now being presented to the public, edited from the original film by longtime Springsteen collaborator Thom Zimny and with pristine remixed audio by Bob Clearmountain who always does a stunning job. In 2018 Nugs.Net released a 3-cd set of both concerts in full as part of their monthly series of live Springsteen releases which have introduced quality live recordings of his concerts from 1975 through to 2016 for collectors. This set has however now been deleted from the online platform many accessed it from and is no longer available for a physical copy sale, perhaps due to copyright issues.
Both concerts were professional filmed in 1979 using 6 cameras strategically located around the stage, three directly in front of centre stage, capturing Bruce’s frequent direct interactions with the fans and two cameras positioned to the side (beside Danny’s organ and Roy’s piano), as well as one camera all the way over to the far side of the arena providing an overview of the Garden stage and seated floor audience.
The entire project apparently came about as a spin off of what filmmaker and long time Springsteen collaborator Thom Zimny accidentally uncovered in the vaults while working on the Letter To You (2020) documentary. There is a major upgrade in sound too compared to the original No Nukes film (1980) and the No Nukes compilation triple LP (later reissued as a double CD). This set is beautifully remixed by Bob Clearmountain from the original multi-track tapes, adding more punch and presence to the listening experience – he’s taken clean recordings and skilfully brought them to life.
Opening the show with an instantly recognisable tune that it’s hard to believe now was only at that point 18 months old – the impulsive Prove It All Night – it’s like we’ve been parachuted 4 or 5 songs into a ‘Darkness Tour’ showstopper. Bruce’s vocal style is instantly recognisable from the 1978 shows, his throat bursting with the same energy as on that legendary tour and the song finishes with an incendiary if somewhat shorter guitar scowl than the versions which opened the track live in 1978. Max Weinberg, author of The Big Beat, bangs those drums like there’s no tomorrow and Bruce doesn’t pause even for a second.
The show moves into “Badlands” sung with urgency and an increasing sense of furious rage, Roy Bittan is prominent on this track with its classic piano chords keyed with a sense of purpose here. Bruce performs some crazy Pete Townsend windmill movements with the camera work particularly impressive and close up enough to get a sense of the theatre and facial expressions. Fitted out in an all white suit – the bespectacled Clarence Clemons strides into view before completing his solo with such unyielding temper as Bruce leaps about the stage. Just nine minutes into the show and Bruce has Madison Square Garden sounding simply delirious. However, when you look at the spectators they are remarkably seated and attentive compared to the wild crowds this band and the growing list of fans would experience 2 years later (and ever since) over in mainland Europe – worth bearing in mind this is not an all Bruce crowd (it’s not a Philly or Boston crowd and certainly nowhere near the soccer style frenzy of a Barcelona Bruce crowd) especially the front rows in fairness but they lap it up nonetheless.
You notice this when he starts the next song “The Promised Land” introduced with a double harmonica invitation. Bruce’s ability to work the attentiveness of the whole room by phyisical movement around his stage, all the while crying into his words “blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted” A spontaneous act bookends these opening 3 tracks at this point when a confused looking Bruce yells “Don’t remind me!” as a fan hands him a birthday cake up onto the stage. Rather unecessarily and so unlike Bruce even for the time (he had reached the grand old age of thirty years old – his life apparently is over, he has to confront adulthood now, oh no!) he proceeds to hurl the cake back into the front rows of seating and jokes “Send me the laundry bill.”. Hard to know how to make sense of this act. Just a bit of fun? Nobody died. He’s taking the piss out of his own milestone? The year previously he had jokingly and warmly received new “socks and underwear” from audience members at Passaic NJ in recognition of his 29th birthday – even doing the obligatory wearing the pants on his head thing. Something was clearly up with Bruce at that second show of No Nukes that’s for sure. Some of Bruce’s best gigs in my experience are when he’s pissed off something rotten so this is not necessarily a bad thing.
The next three tracks are fucking amazing and on their own justify this release 42 years later beginning with a memorable version of “The River” only it’s 2nd public performance ever. The version we know from the No Nukes 1980 movie was from the first night the 21st, this is from the 22nd. Bruce puts his whole being into singing this song expressing every word through his neck veins and his taught stance at the microphone. It’s as if he knows this song takes his songwriting to a new level and to finish the song he is all over the mic stand like a long lost lover. Garry Tallent as ever is in the shadows at back of the stage but sonically holds this track together with great melodies on bass.
Bruce then briefly apologizes for the previous incident (“I’m officially over the hill” he informs the audience). Party noises are clearly required now and Bruce requests them for the fraternity rocker “Sherry Darling” he’d debuted in summer of 1978 on stage but at that time unreleased. The scenes are jubilant, blissful, goofy and the movement about the stage is eye catching. He frolics and races with Clarence whipping this crowd into a frenzy, and after a tremendously uplifting saxophone solo, on Bruce’s cue the standing members of the band turn on a dime to face and then hurry up to the back of the stage to rapturous applause from those with that view. Bruce’s guitar lead falls loose while he’s back there and technician Mike Batlan is seen struggling to re-plug it and the stage becomes a crazy piece of Laurel and Hardy with a chase across the stage to end the song.
Suddenly and quite jarringly the outfits change with a splendid version of “Thunder Road”. It is the first track we see filmed from Night 1, September 21st. It’s a welcome move as Thunder Road on the 1980 film was from the 22nd. Excellent choice by Zimny this which will please the fans to see a different version to that we know. And what a staggering, unflinching and transcendent version it is, featuring the extraordinary Clarence as midway through both he and Bruce join Max behind the drum platform. It is the first point in the film where Max is prominently shown, grinning ear to ear, as he really thumps those drums in the final minute of the song, while Bruce takes a run and knee slides across the stage finishing up at his big bad-ass sax players feet. This is what the video delivers for the fans big time. Astonishing scenes.
“Jungleland” follows, with great shots of the crowd all lit up and there is no better feeling than seeing Jungleland played just a few blocks south of where it was recorded over several tortutous months of sessions in 1974-75. It is Jungleland sung by Bruce with his 1978 voice and Clarence has practiced and practiced that long and memorable sax solo that concludes it in sublime heartbreaking fashion. What stands out from this concert film throughout the concert is our insight, our front row vantage point of the phenomenal movement and imposing presence of Clarence Clemons and how key he was to the success of Bruce as a live artist.
“Rosalita” (preceded by a brief introduction with “Stagger Lee”) is rushed through with gusto and a simple introduction of the band is made by Bruce. Miami Steve Van Zandt shines on this track dueting with Bruce on the choruses. Movement is terrific again and the reason this video will more than satisfy fanatics with Bruce leaping onto the piano, dashing around maniacally about the stage, clambering up on the rear platforms and speakers while leaping into the front sections to join the fans as the song finishes.
And as soon as that finishes we’re straight into the monumental “Born to Run” to complete the main set. Unusual for during this classic E Street Band era it was normally Rosalita which closed the main setlist and Born To Run would often follow within extended encore after encore. This show feels similar to the intensity of the 1978 tour from which circulate several bootleg videos of complete shows from Largo (in colour) and Passaic (in black and white) as well as an “official bootleg” of Houston which accompanied the Darkness box set – but this is a show 9 months after the tour ended and it skips ballads like Sandy or Factory that in 78 allowed some respite – concentrating this devastating performance into 90 minutes expediency.
“Stay”the Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs golden oldie popularized by Jackson Browne on his 1977 Running on Empty LP and never previously a cover version used by Bruce, opens the encores. And it is from Night 2, which is terrific as fans will be familiar with the version from Night 1 on the No Nukes movie and CD. This version is sung by Jackson, Rosemary Butler, Bruce and Tom Petty, one verse each. Following Petty’s contribution is a lovely sax solo, and then the four sing the last chorus together. What a rare treat this is to see Petty, Springsteen and Browne, all still wet behind the ears (in spite of Bruce’s earlier “over the hill” comments about turning 30) positively radiating enthusiasm for each other and this occasion together on stage.
“Detroit Medley” from Night 1 and “Quarter to Three” from Night 2 follow with Bruce and the boys are into overdrive. Watching a now deliriously crazed Bruce is exhausting for the viewer never mind the audience who were there. This video does a great job of capturing the feel of being inside a Bruce concert and how exhilarated and knackered you are simply as an audience member when you leave. I miss those so much. The incident with his former girlfriend is edited out wisely I’d suggest. Nobody died after all.
The last encore is a souped up and greasy version of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On”, a song Bruce had covered a fair bit especially on occasions during the 1978 tour. The version of this song I’d love to see on video someday is from 1978 when Gary Busey joins Bruce on stage following the recent release of Busey in The Buddy Holly Story. We can dream.
Bruce was a very late addition to the bill for the final 2 shows of this event in the aim of boosting sluggish ticket sales. He was also keen to help his pals Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. Bruce, never shy about talking to his audience between songs, had not up to this point spoken politically on stage and did not even use this benefit for No Nukes as an opportunity to do so either. It has always felt odd that Bruce didn’t use these shows to debut his rousing rocker “Roulette” (partly about paranoia that grips Bruce after the Three Mile Island Nuclear meltdown). It was written and recorded in sessions for the River Album which had already begun in April that year but did not see the light of day until played live on the Tunnel of Love Express tour in 1988 as the Eastern Bloc began to unravel.
He did however famously debut “The River” both nights, one performance of which was watched over and over in the UK by fans starved of live Bruce at that point and in an era Bruce didn’t trust the medium video or even interviews much at all. You could begin to hear a progressive, people’s theme emerging in Bruce’s music which would grow when he experienced Europe in 1981 and the damaging effects of Reaganomics on America in the early 80’s but he hadn’t yet become explicitly political & furthermore stayed well above petty party politics right up until 2004-2008 when he said he felt those particular elections were too important to sit out. Here he dips his toe into politics and overt causes for perhaps the first time but still chooses to let the songs and performances do the talking rather than make statements. At least it is a start however as he seeks to find a way to live up the advice Harry Chapin had lent him in 1978 which was to “play one night for himself and one night for the other guy”
Bruce fanatics have generally never really regarded these shows all that much, “too short”, “not in a proper tour” “not many decent sounding bootlegs of it” etc… but this video is an absolute MUST SEE!! “Not just fun” as Pete Townshend described Bruce “that’s fucking triumph!”