Hammersmith Odeon, London '75 is the disc for those fans who didn't want to pony up the big money for the 30th anniversary edition of Born to Run and its two DVDs. This is the soundtrack for one of them, the Hammersmith Odeon concert, from beginning to end captured in vibrant sound. This show has been revered by tape traders and bootleggers for decades and never has it been presented better, thanks to Bob Clearmountain's fantastic mix. What makes this show so historically important is that it was the first time the band was able to travel overseas to play. (They were barred from doing so in the United States because of a legal battle with Springsteen's former manager.) In any case, well in advance of the gig the notorious British music weeklies began to create a pick-and-pan hype to build and topple a potential new rock messiah as they did all the time. Or, as Springsteen in his liner notes writes, "...this week's Next...Big...Thing." The band was terrified yet geeked to play the hallowed hall. These guys were scared; it fueled the gig, and they pulled it off in spades. They have everything to prove, and plenty to stare down. (Hell, the media hype almost made them the standard-bearers for the entire history of American rock, whether they wanted to be or not -- and they may not have believed it themselves, but they played like they felt the responsibility for it, overtly referencing Sam Cooke, Isaac Hayes, and even Boyce & Hart by including pieces of their tunes in Springsteen originals, showing where it all came from. And then, by using a portion of Celtic soulman Van Morrison's "Moondance" -- who was taking his own bit from David "Fathead" Newman's read of his former boss Ray Charles -- in "Kitty's Back," they reveal clearly that the Beatles, the Stones, and the Who were nowhere to be found on this night.) Most of all, the E Street Band had the quivering guts and naïveté to pull it off. These guys play their asses off; it's as if tomorrow they'll die, so what the hell. The tape proves this show to be adrenaline-filled and fear-drenched. This is a mind-blowing gig. It was filmed for preservation and forgotten about until being resurrected by Springsteen.
The highlights? Hell, everything here. It begins with a tenderly desperate, under-orchestrated "Thunder Road," sprints head on into a burning "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" before whispering into a free jazz intro to a dramatic, swaggering "Spirit in the Night" that oozes street-smart Jersey soul. And the train never stops; it only slows a bit for moments at a time. And it's not for the band to catch its breath; it's for the crowd, whether it's the frighteningly intense "Lost in the Flood," the shuffling country roots rock that introduces the rollicking "She's the One," or the swaggering anthem of "Born to Run," which only take listeners through a little over half of the first disc! They had the audience after "Spirit," but they were into something deeper, wilder -- check the spit and vinegar in "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" -- so they kept pushing harder. This was a young band that musically was as good as anybody on that night. They were rehearsed, confident, and armed with a collection of songs that virtually any musician worth his or her salt would kill to have written even one of. Disc two offers no letdown. There's arguably the single most intense read of "Jungleland" on tape, and a riotously joyful version of "Rosalita" to counter the theater of darkness just visited upon the crowd in the previous song. This version of "Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" is pure street urchin romance taken to the nth level. The E Streeters' read of the "Detroit Medley" is an homage to Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, whose scorching takes on Little Richard's "Jenny Take a Ride," "Devil with a Blue Dress," and "Good Golly Miss Molly" offer spiritual inspiration. They stay on full stun with "For You" and cap it all with "Quarter to Three," leaving the crowd to fall back into the night, wondering if they could believe what they'd just witnessed. Springsteen himself says the night was a blur to him and he never looked back for 30 years at the film or even listened to the show. While the soundtrack is only half the experience of the Hammersmith Odeon 1975 document, it's a worthy half and a necessary set to add to any Springsteen live shelf. ~ Thom Jurek