HWS CONCERTS Fall 1973. I don't have the exact dates for these shows (except Springsteen) but Zack Chaikin is working through the Heralds so hopefully I'll be able to add them later.
LEO KOTTKE (September) You know that dopey gimmick politicians have been using lately about "hitting the reset button"? Well, this was sort of my concert reset button. Learning from the previous year's Preston / Kottke mismatch and determined not to open the year with yet another singer songwriter getting publicly plastered to the gills I decided to spend a bit more money and book Leo to play the on-campus auditorium. We booked two shows, they both sold out, and the small venue proved ideal for both musician and audience alike. Leo had moved up from Takoma to Capitol and his Mudlark and Greenhouse albums which he drew from for these shows remain among his very best in my book.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN / JAMES MONTGOMERY BAND. 10/26/73. Well, to the degree that I'm remembered by my fellow classmates, it's largely in connection to this show and the one that followed. This was the obligatory Fall Weekend concert at the Geneva Theater, our concert home in exile off-campus. After James Montgomery had cancelled for the Steve Miller concert, re-booking him seemed like a no-brainer. The buzz was still building and their first Capricorn album was on its way. Looking for a crowd-pleasing headliner who wouldn't break the bank, I had settled on John Sebastian. Hard to believe that things were moving so quickly back then but only a few years after his incredible run with the Spoonful, Woodstock, and that great first solo album he was seen as already fading (this was pre-Welcome Back Kotter). But like Steve Miller, he had a body of work that still holds up to this day and the price was right. (As I recall, another option was the English jazz-rock band Mark-Almond – same fee so I went with John.)
A few weeks before the concert Sebastian cancelled for reasons I don't recall (tie-dye jacket lost at the dry cleaners?) and so the scramble began. We had to do a show and most acts who had tour plans were most definitely booked for a weekend night. I called up the agency we worked through and started to put together a list of possibilities. One name I remember was Tom Rush. I was (and remain) a huge fan of The Circle Game and his first Columbia album but I knew a folkie wouldn't cut it for that show, especially after James Montgomery. Then the agent Ed Micone said, "And there's also this guy Bruce Springsteen whose got an album on Columbia." "How is he live?" I asked. Ed asked another agent (Wayne Forte – who went on to be a huge player in the industry) in the office to pick up the phone. "Tell Bruce what you think of Bruce Springsteen." Forte: "Best act I've ever seen". Me: "Seriously...how good is he?" Forte: "Best act I've ever seen. Book him and if you don't think so I'll personally give you your money back."
You get used to hearing hype in the music biz but there was something about the way Forte spoke that made me believe him. (For years afterward, I would tell people to buy tickets to see Springsteen and if he wasn't the best live act they'd ever seen, I'd pay for the ticket. Made the offer dozens of times...never lost a cent.) Peter Kapp (by then my trusted cohort) and I listened to Greetings From Asbury Park in his dorm room. It wasn't a great representation of Springsteen but we got the strong feeling that it was the right thing to do – it all just felt right – and so for the grand sum of $2000, the deal was done.
We advertised the show as "new artists in concert" and between the low ticket price ($2 for students) and the fact that it was Fall i.e. Party Weekend we had a good-sized crowd. The James Montgomery Band (by this time they had dropped "blues" from their name) got the crowd warmed up but even at the time seemed to lack the certain something that would take them to the next level (when I went back to Hull, Massachusetts this past May to clean out my late mother-in-law's house, James was playing at the main bar in town with J.Geils sitting in on guitar). But the band was rocking and the crowd was in the mood so things were good except for one detail...even after James Montgomery was finished with his set, the E Street Band was nowhere in sight. The roadies for the band had driven up separately with the equipment and were getting noticeably worried. One told me "Those guys drive like maniacs...they're probably dead in a ditch somewhere." They were seriously concerned, especially after the stage was completely ready to go and there was still no sign of the band.
Suddenly, an old black station wagon roared down the alley of the theater to the loading door and out poured the entire E Street Band (intact). Huge sighs of relief all around and they hustled in to get ready to hit the stage as the crowd was already getting a bit restless. In the middle of this all, Clarence Clemons pulled me aside and asked if there was a place he could go to enjoy a little "refreshment" before the show (evidently Bruce didn't approve of these things). So I lead Clarence out into the dark alley and stood there acting as a lookout for him while he got ready for the show. We had this brief conversation:
Me: "Too bad you missed the James Montgomery Band. They were really good."
Clarence: " Yeah?"
Me: "Yeah, they were good..."
Clarence (exhaling while looking down on me): "Well you ain't seen nothin' yet kid...you ain't seen nothin' yet."
I was like a scene right out of one of Bruce's concert raps. Me and the Big Man. In the dark alley. The whole game about to go down, And The Big Man guaranteeing the final score...
The band came out, Bruce sat down at the piano, and they proceeded to start New York City Serenade off the yet to be released second album. Not a rocking start to the set – there was even some nervous shifting around in the seats – but Bruce poured himself into it. I was ten feet behind him in the wings by myself (we had really tightened security by then – no one got backstage except a useful few) feeling it all unfold. He finished to some decent applause for an unknown guy playing a never before heard song. Next up was Spirit In The Night, Bruce still at the piano as I recall. Things starting to rev up. He switched to guitar. Played a few songs from the first album...probably Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street? and Blinded By the Light. A choice r&b cover (634-5789 was one for sure). And all of a sudden, the entire place is going bonkers. Standing on the seats, going crazy. I'm standing a few feet away wondering "why isn't this guy the biggest thing in the world?" By the time Bruce wrapped up the encores with Twist And Shout, everyone had a new religion.
If you're lucky, maybe you get one experience like this in your life. To stumble on an artist without any preconceived notion about what you're going to hear and then having your head and heart turned inside out. Everything totally unexpected. (Big Star content: this is how I felt the first night I heard Radio City.) We all felt really lucky. And, unbelievably, many of us would get the same experience a few weeks later...