Tag Archives: Darkness On The Edge Of Town

5 Rarity/Unreleased Collections

Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series 1-3


The Basement Tapes had already proved that Dylan had a tendency to leave some of his best material in the vaults – which I’m not including because I could write an entire post on the subject.  This is certainly true on this first installment of his famous Bootleg Series. “She’s Your Lover Now”, “Talking John Birch Society Blues” rank among with some of his work from the 1960s.  Elsewhere, “Blind Willie McTell“, “Foot of Pride”, and “Series of Dreams”  show that no one could write a song like Dylan, despite decent but not earth-shattering albums such as Infidels and Oh Mercy. But for me, the real revelations comes from alternate versions of familiar songs.   The original version of “Tangled Up in Blue” opens up like a novel becomes even more poignant and devastating than the original.  “Idiot Wind” loses some of its bite from the scathing version found on Blood on the Tracks, but the sting is worse.  Dylan seemed more wounded here than the possessed.  “If Not For You” gets some extra help from George Harrison – who would later take this arrangement for his own cover of the song on All Things Must Pass. Many artists would kill to have songs Dylan just seems to leave on the cutting-floor.  And this isn’t even my favorite installment of the Bootleg Series – that would go to Volume 8 – Tell Tale Signs.

The WhoOdds & Sods


I admit to not having listened to Odds & Sods in a few years until the other day since I’ve come out of my Who-phase.  This was one of the first of these collections that I bought.  In high school, I was obsessed with The Who – they’re the perfect soundtrack for teenage angst.  The original material is interesting and worthwhile for Who fanatics.  The kid’s story of “Little Billy” is a  anti-smoking ditty with some of Keith Moon’s best drumming.  The Lifehouse center-piece “Pure and Easy” has border-line pretentious existentialist lyrics, which is saved bv the music which contains some of the Who’s best 1970s harmonies and a pretty awesome fade-out.  But the real highlight of the set comes from the early R&B covers including frenzied versions of “Baby Don’t You Do It” and “Leaving Here”.  With these versions The Who rightfully secure their infamous “maximum R&B” tag.

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise


I don’t have Tracks, so I can’t comment on that particular set.  But The Promise, unlike a lot of similar collections is a full-realized work albeit in different ways then its spawn, Darkness on the Edge of Town.  While there is some of the bleakness on The Promise (particularly the title track) many of the songs show Springsteen’s affection for early rock and roll and pop songs from the 1960s.  The backing vocals on “Gotta Get That Feeing” recall some of the early Phil Spector singles.  “Wrong of the Side Street” is rocking fun in the best possible E-Street Band way.  The inclusion of Springsteen’s version of “Fire” and “Because the Night” are a nice addition, but Patti Smith’s version of the latter remains the definitive version.  What is most interesting about The Promise though is that Springsteen ditched some of his most accessible work here in favor of the more challenging songs found on Darkness. What would his stature be like if he had released some of these songs between Born to Run and Darkness?  It’s hard to say.

Pearl Jam – Lost Dogs


Lost Dogs is a collection that won’t bring any converts to Pearl Jam.  But it does contain some stellar material that showcases Pearl Jam taking on a wide variety of styles thats not always apparent on their proper albums.  The Howard Zinn inspired “Down” is one of their catchiest songs.  “Alone” is Ten-style rocker that should have replaced “Deep”.  Surprisingly for Pearl Jam there are a lot of songs that are pure fun.  Guitarist Stone Gossard takes lead vocals for the crunchy rocker “Don’t Gimme No Lip” which has very few words outside of the title.  “Whale Song” contains some cool guitar effects to recreate the sound of whale calls.  And then there’s “Dirty Frank” a ridiculous ode to one of their bus drivers.

R.E.M. – Dead Letter Office


By no means a great collection and Peter Buck admits as much in the liner notes.  But I have a soft spot for this collection since it was one of the first ones of these I owned and it introduced me to the Velvet Underground with three covers – “Femme Fatale”, “There She Goes Again” and “Pale Blue Eyes“.   Like Lost Dogs, R.E.M. show their playful side here with the surf inspired “White Tornado”, and the hilarious “Seven Chinese Brothers” alternate take, “Voice Of Herald” which finds Michael Stipe singing lyrics off of an old Christian LP.  A must!  Worth having because the CD version contains their first LP Chronic Town.

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Top 20 Concerts (Part 3)

The countdown continues!

10. R.E.M. (June 2008, Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia MD)

R.E.M. probably should be higher on this list, since I absolutely adore them.  The first time I saw them in 1995, I was 13 and it was one of the highlights of my youth.  While they’ve played regularly around the DC/Baltimore area, it took me 13 years to see them again because I had very little interest in seeing songs from Up, Reveal and Around the Sun played live.  With Accelerate and with the band digging through the vaults it was time to go see R.E.M. again.

I saw this show with the largest group of people I’ve gone to a concert with – a total of 8 people.  Almost everybody in my group with the exception of my girlfriend who thought that it was funny that a music snob would like R.E.M. – though she changed her mind after the show) was a die-hard old fan.  For about half of the show, my brother  and I traded gasps and triumphant shouts with each old song that was played.  We also frantically sent texts to my other older brother who lives in Boston, and probably would have loved the show.

As for the music, Michael Stipe still remains one of rock’s best vocalists.  R.E.M.’s current drummer, while not quite as vital to the group as Bill Berry added an extra punch to the older songs that wasn’t there previously.  And as for Peter Buck, he may not be a flashy guitarist but there’s nothing like those jangling riffs he lays down.

9. Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson (August 2009, Aberdeen Stadium – Aberdeen, MD)

Bob Dylan

Willie Nelson

Bob Dylan should probably be higher on this list as well, as any reader of this blog knows, Dylan is my favorite musical artist.  Your view of seeing Dylan live really depends on how you view should play their songs.  Should they play the hits?  Should the songs be recognizable?  If the answer to this question is yes, then seeing Bob Dylan live might not be for you.  Dylan is always searching, always one step ahead – and his concerts reflect that.  No one Dylan show is the same.

Willie Nelson on the other hand, plays everything you would want to hear plus more including some choice Hank Williams cover.  It might be the dope, but Nelson clearly enjoys his job, and that love rubs off on the audience.

8. Little Richard/Al Green/BB King (August 2007, Pier 6 Pavilion – Baltimore MD)

Little Richard

Al Green

BB King

Is there a better collection of artists for a show on a late summer night?  I think not.  Each of these legends provide the perfect soundtrack for a warm night.  Al Green can still make the women over 50 swoon, Little Richard (with the exception of Jerry Lee Lewis) practically invented rock theatrics, and is every bit as cooky as he was in the 1950s.  And no living person can conjure old the ghost of the Delta blues like BB King.  What really impressed me about this show, was how tight and professional these musicians and their bands were.  There was very little room for improvisation – every note was calculated and perfected.  Yet, it still had a certain magic.  Even though you knew that each one of them played pretty much the exact same show the show before, you got the sense that they were playing it specifically for you.

7. Bruce Springsteen – (August 2008 Hershey Stadium – Hershey PA)

Jimmy Fallon recently said that Bruce Springsteen invented the rock concert.  While that may not be entirely accurate, Springsteen has continued to revolutionize what a stadium concert can be.  The only rule that Springsteen seems to adhere to is that the show must be an epic event.  Springsteen has also described the E-Street Band as the “world’s best bar band”.  Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but is there any major band out there that can play “Summertime Blues”, John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom”, Them’s “Gloria” and their own original songs in the same show?  There were several times I thought the show was going to end, but Springsteen kept pointing to signs in the audience and nodding to the band to give it a try.  After 3 plus hours, he kept going and even the band was hoping he didn’t notice another request.

This show gets the nomination for the strangest crowd I’ve ever been a part of. The outdoor stadium made it look like a carnival came to town complete with funnel cake stands and jousting (ok maybe I’m making the last part up.)  I also got into an argument with some dude in the bathroom during the main-set who was extremely pissed because Springsteen wasn’t playing the hits in favor of tracks “no one gives a shit about”.  The guy was wrong on both accounts – “The Promised Land”, “Badlands”, and “Prove it All Night” were all played in the main-set.  Second, I think there are many Springsteen fans who would be excited to hear “Reason to Believe”, “Part Man, Part Monkey” and “Because the Night”.

6. Tom Waits (June 2008 – Knoxville Tennessee)

Living in the Baltimore/DC area makes it easy to see many good shows.  When Tom Waits toured in 2008 for the first time in years, he decided to ignore the major markets and place in more obscure areas like the show I attended, which was in Knoxville, Tennessee.  It’s by far the farthest I have ever traveled for a show.

As for the show itself, it was part a Vaudeville show, and part story-time with Tom Waits.  Waits is famous for his onstage banter, and he failed to disappoint in this regard telling tales – which may or may not have been true.  Musically, most of the show relied on a slow pre-rock jazzy crawl especially on such songs as “Way Down in the Hole”.  “Innocent When You Dream” became a lullaby with audience participation, and “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis” received a strong ovation.

I probably would rank this show a lot higher if I knew as much of Tom Waits catalogue then as I do now.

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Life, Darkness & Bruce Springsteen

For years, I didn’t like Bruce Springsteen.  I couldn’t stand “Born to Run”.  Every time the song came on the classic rock station I listened to in high school, I turned to another station.  His songs were everywhere, and his “every man” persona annoyed me.  In college, I was getting into Bob Dylan.  As an English major, his literary allusions appealed to me.  I wanted songs rich in metaphor, songs like puzzles.  One Christmas my older brother gave his wife Tracks, the boxed set of Springsteen’s unreleased tracks.  On the cover, Springsteen was sprawled across the floor with a glum look on his face  An expression that seemed to not only ask for sympathy, but demand it.  God, he even looked like he’d be annoying in person.

I finally came around to Springsteen a few years later when I bought a copy of The Wild The Innocent & The E-Street Shuffle for about 5 dollars.  I’m not sure what possessed me to buy it, but it certainly wasn’t anything like I was expecting.  Compared to Born to Run, Born in the U.S.A., it sounded fun and lively.  Taking a risk and just driving away, a theme present through much of Springsteen’s work  never sounded as glorious and ridiculous as it did on “Rosalita”.

A little while later, I bought Darkness On The Edge Of Town for another 5 dollars.  I knew little about the album (though the title alone should have been a clue) and decided to give in a chance.  I didn’t particularly like it at first – it was too depressing.  At a party, I told a friend who was as a huge as Springsteen fan as you can get, which albums I had.  “Those are two random albums to have,” He told me in shock.  “You don’t have Born to Run or Born in the U.S.A.?”  A couple of Springsteen fans chimed in, and it was concluded that I randomly picked up his best album without even knowing it.

Flash forward about 7 years later, and Darkness is not only one of my favorite albums, but Springsteen is one of my favorite artists.  But what is it about Darkness that appeals to so many people?  Why do fans constantly rank this album above critically acclaimed masterpieces(Born to Run) or his blockbuster smashes (Born in the U.S.A.)?

Darkness represents the disappointment and disillusionment of the American Dream in a way no other album has. Born To Run showed the possibilities – the open road, the fantasy girls, the myth-making.  It was even there in the music – the songs were big and full of production.  Springsteen famously labored over the song “Born to Run” for months, and added dozens of over-dubs to make it great and bring his vision to the world.  Rock and roll as salvation.  That album was musical proof that if you worked hard enough you could achieve fame and fortune.  You could achieve the American Dream.  All you need is a guitar, honesty and a work ethic and you’d be set.

Darkness, on the other shows what happens when that dream is taken from you in front on your eyes.  There are no grand gestures on Darkness. It’s a lean, tightly constructed album without excess.  Even the cover was a stark contrast to the iconic sleeve of Born to Run -which had Springsteen leaning on the back of Clarence Clemons.  Here were two friends sticking together and yearning for their piece of musical glory.  On Darkness, Springsteen’s eyes are icy cold – filled with sadness.  He’s done with the rock star thing – he wears a hoodie, and is hiding behind the closed blind.

The story behind the making of Darkness has reached legendary proportions – the legal disputes, the 3 year gap between about albums.  This coming week, the audience finally gets to close a chapter on Darkness with the release of the The Darkness On The Edge Of Town boxed set.  The remastered album and the live DVDs will surely be excited, but it is the inclusion of The Promise, a set out-takes that Springsteen wrote and recorded as he was making what would become Darkness that really has fans excited.

No doubt it will be good.  But I’m not sure if it will be the great lost Springsteen album, like Dylan’s Basement Tapes.  I say that because Springsteen specifically put songs on Darkness that spoke to the human condition.  It’s very likely that The Promise won’t be there.  Perhaps if we didn’t know the back-story, these songs might mean something more.  But sandwiched between two great albums that speak different facets of life it might be hard to judge these songs any other way.

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