Story 1988-06-21 Villa Park, Birmingham, England (Part Two)

The Tunnel Of Love Express stops in England

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Greetings Facebonkers. Here's the second and last part of my in-depth look at the"Tunnel Of Love" tour 32 years ago. If any of you have problems reading the text in any of the images, I may post a third section with a series of close-up views of the worst-affected parts. But for now, settle down, pour a nice pint of Earl Grey (other teas are available) and enjoy the story of the UK shows, what happened afterwards and much more besides.

Saunders over and out.

BEHIND THE SCENES IN THE TUNNEL OF LOVE
PART TWO

On June 21, little more than seven weeks after the first UK shows had been announced, Bruce steered the Tunnel Of Love Express into New Street station and took a branch line up to Aston Villa. To coincide with the tour, "Tougher Than The Rest" was issued as the third "Tunnel" single in the UK. The 7" vinyl version came in two different sleeves. There were also two 12" singles with individual sleeve designs (one of which was a fold-out poster of Bruce) and content. Among the track configurations were "Roulette" and live recordings of "Tougher", "Be True" and the solo acoustic "Born To Run" from Los Angeles and Detroit in March and April.

Bruce's dates in Birmingham gave UK fans the first chance to see him play since 1985, to experience the "Tunnel" show and get used to everybody's new positions. Max was now on the left with Roy and Garry; Nils, Clarence and Danny were on the right; Patti was next to Bruce at the front and the horn section were at the back of an uncluttered, minimalist stage. It was only the fifth concert of the Euro tour, but the set was already evolving. Eight songs from "Tunnel" were featured, the highest number of the five UK shows. It was good to hear them but there was a nagging feeling that they would sound a lot better indoors in the dark. Bruce obviously felt the same. He wouldn't play "One Step Up" again and both "Ain't Got You" and "Two Faces" fell by the wayside within a few days.

One of my personal favourites was the powerful performance of John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom", a mainstay of the tour. It was a perfect distillation of the essential elements of the 1988 show, with biting guitar and vocals from Bruce, solos by Clarence and Roy and the horn section in full flow. It was a high-energy blast of E Street R&B. This gig is arguably most memorable for the fourth and last performance on the entire tour of Woody Guthrie's 1940 ballad "Vigilante Man", which Bruce had recently covered for the album "Folkways: A Vision Shared". Both in terms of its subject matter and musical arrangement, it was a perfect companion piece to "Seeds" and deserved a more regular spot. My memory of how I got there and who I hung out with is vague, but I can remember queuing outside to get a good position (there was no pit back then, just a GA free-for all). I'm assuming I was aiming for the front, but failed miserably and ended up halfway back in the midst of the throng. You may think that I learned my lesson about crowds at Slane but the will to get as close as possible dies hard. Luckily the level of inebriation was lower than our Irish experience and I escaped unscathed but exhausted, due to the fact that I'd engaged in some inadvisable high-kicking and similar boisterous insanity during "Glory Days" and other hits in the eight-song encore. Consequently I chose to sit for the next show, which included a guest appearance by local resident Edwin Starr on "War", Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love" leading into "She's The One" and a fiery "Adam Raised A Cain" which had snippets of "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "I'm A Man". We may not have noticed this back in the day, but we now have Brucebase.

Apart from the two gigs, those attending the West Midlands events also witnessed a show. Or was it a gig within a show, a theatrical production which included music or a rock show with additional sketches? You decide. Suffice to say that the audiences were the first in the UK to see the E Streeters buy imaginary tickets from Bruce's bowler-hatted assistant Terry Magovern's booth when they walked on; to witness Bruce throwing a bunch of roses into the front row and shooting the shit with Clarence on a park bench as an introduction to "All That Heaven Will Allow"; to enjoy a routine featuring the horn section (as singers) and various wives and girlfriends during "You Can Look"; and to watch a succession of steamy performances from Bruce and Patti, who weren't faking it. By then, the status of their affair had gone from rumour to open secret to international tabloid headline after paparazzi had snapped them on their hotel balcony in Rome with minimal clothing. Bruce's three-year marriage to Julianne Phillips was in tatters and his private life was the subject of gossip columns, which introduced a degree of scandal and sleaze to the tunnel of lust. (One Irish newspaper referred to Patti as "the secretary" to her Boss).

Musically at least, the merits of Patti's sudden promotion to guitar-toting, front-of-stage partner in crime were open to question. Her strumming was inaudible. It's a shame some of her backing vocals weren't. I'd be the first to agree that Patti is a talented songwriter and singer of her own material (her debut CD "Rumble Doll" is worthy of close attention) but I've always felt that when she tries to shout and scream above the band, subtlety goes out the window and her voice adopts the tone of a wailing banshee. This was particularly noticeable on "Spare Parts", which is, I have to say, Not My Favourite Song. I always felt that it was the odd one out on the "Tunnel" album, being the only rocker among a series of slow to mid-tempo ballads. It might have benefitted from a similar low-key arrangement, but I'd rather Bruce had left it off altogether. Wikipedia says that it "lacks the subtlety and understatement of the rest of the album" and I would have to concur. The clumsy line about Bobby not pulling out didn't help. I ain't no prude but that was unnecessarily crude, dude. I was no fan of the live version either, especially as it was introduced with an overly sentimental explanatory story (with piano accompaniment) about a woman "struggling to understand the value of her own independent existence". To me, it sounded like an artist struggling to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Sometimes Bruce will try to attach deep significance to lesser material or evolve an undeserving song into an epic onstage and this was a prime example of that. A worthy subject certainly, but he could have written a better song about it. Maybe it's just me. OK, rant over, carry on.

Three days later, Bruce moved south to Wembley Stadium for his major London show. Sadly I don't remember it particularly fondly, mainly because of the vastness of the venue (twice as big as Villa), the fact that I was around two-thirds of the way back and because of the annoying woman behind me, who talked all the way through "Backstreets". In the UK that's a criminal offence, punishable by non-stop 24-hour exposure to all the Arthur Baker remixes until perpetrators are contrite. I had no complaints about the performance itself. According to my timing, it lasted exactly three hours and 30 minutes, not including the intermission. Both "Part Man, Part Monkey" and "Love Me Tender" were played for the only time on the European tour. "Have Love Will Travel" appeared for the final time, Edwin Starr returned for a second crack at "War" and Bruce finished off with a mere 10 encores, including Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music". This was a permanent fixture in the set, a two-minute gem with Bruce's "Spotlight on the Big Man, don't he look great, he's lost a lot of weight!" lyric adjustment. (Alternatively he might have said, "He's very slight and he's standing on the right!") The soundcheck gave clues as to what Bruce might have played in an alternate universe, with covers of "25 Miles", "Lonely Teardrops" and "Across The Borderline".

While I was in London, I hung out at the Mayfair Hotel with my friend Denise. Back then it was Bruce's regular residence in the capital when visiting on tour. They kept fans out on the street, but I had a hold-all full of clothes and they allowed us inside because they assumed we were guests. We ended up speaking to Garry Tallent and Eddie Manion. At one point, the area around the lifts began to fill up with security staff and we kept a watchful eye. Soon afterwards, the lift doors slid open to reveal Bruce and Patti, who were quickly surrounded, escorted through a side door we hadn't noticed before and whisked outside into the night without a smile or a wave. To be fair, it was their day off, so we didn't complain too much.

After Wembley, Bruce played two shows each in Rotterdam and Stockholm. For UK fans, the live broadcast was roughly halfway between the Wembley and Sheffield gigs. All over the country, thousands of fingers pressed record buttons at the same time. "Hello Stockholm, hello USA, hello world!" said Bruce as he walked on. It was an amazing 90 minutes in FM quality, displaying the kind of clarity and detail that you just don't get from huge PA stacks in a stadium. It concluded with that stunning performance of "Chimes Of Freedom" and left me wishing that they'd let the rest of the gig go out as well.

Bruce then went to Ireland for a single concert in Dublin, en route to his next UK shows in Yorkshire. I bypassed the Irish appearance (his first in Dublin itself) and I'm not entirely sure why now, particularly because it took place at the RDS, and not in a massive sloping field. As I made my way to Sheffield I was a man on a mission who had decided to get to the front whatever it took. In actual fact, it took a feat of endurance that lasted approximately 12 hours and involved getting very wet. Having checked into my local B&B, The Peace Guest House (ironically named because the owner had a heated exchange with a guest during breakfast), I looked forward to returning to a smaller venue after London, even though it was a stadium.

On July 9, I walked to Bramall Lane and started queueing with a bunch of like-minded individuals. Approximately four hours later, the gates opened and we smashed the Yorkshire 100-metre record in our bid to reach the front barrier. Mission accomplished, we then waited very patiently for another three or four hours before the show started. After that, all we had to do was stand for four more hours watching Bruce do his thing onstage before trudging home to bed. It was tough on my legs even then and to add insult to injury, it started to rain and the large "Tunnel Of Love" banner slung above the stage regularly dripped on me. That exhausting 12-hour shift might have scared off lesser mortals, but it was all worth it to watch the action from close quarters. I can still remember Bruce and other band members running past me just a few feet away. The first Sheffield show was a typical example of how things had changed. Only five songs from "Tunnel" remained in the set. "Chimes Of Freedom" had a prime position, "Paradise By The 'C'" made it feel like 1978 again, and "Downbound Train" and "Cadillac Ranch" replaced some of the lost material. The introduction to "You Can Look" had by then developed into a separate song entitled "Don't Touch That Thing" and show opener "Tunnel" included a snippet of "Tears Of A Clown".

After the show, I walked back to my less than peaceful guest house, tired and wet, probably hungry and thirsty, but happy smiley nevertheless. I brought my friends Dan, Tony and Lisa with me. They'd missed their connection and had nowhere to stay, so I sneaked them into my single room and divided up whatever spare bedding I had. They spent an uncomfortable night on my floor, shivering so much that my wardrobe door was rattling. I felt guilty taking the bed, but I'd paid for it and had just survived a very long day in challenging conditions. I didn't fancy doing that again, so I decided to sit on July 10. The next morning, the others (dry, stiff and rusty) wandered off to look for accommodation with actual beds and I went to breakfast to find out who was disagreeing with the landlady.

The second night in Sheffield was a cracker which included the only performances in the UK of "Roulette", "Can't Help Falling In Love" and "Lonely Teardrops". Bruce ended his last UK show with an 11-song encore that was an hour long and was equalled only by the second Stockholm show. The horns were superb on "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out". From the steel mills to the Crucible, the little pretties (and big blokes) raised their hands. The final "Twist And Shout" brought an end to a 34-song show and to Bruce's brief two-part visit to this country. By which I mean England. He didn't finally play Wales with the E Street Band until 2008 and didn't get back to bonny Scotland until 2009.

The Star newspaper produced a 16-page B&W "Live At The Lane" special to celebrate the Sheffield gigs and I ordered a few copies by post a few days later. It was a nice souvenir to have, but the print quality was rubbish, as was the paper that it was printed on. B&W prints of live pictures featured inside could also be ordered from the Star's photo sales department.

After Sheffield, Bruce returned to the European mainland for three more weeks of concerts, including his consecutive gigs in East and West Berlin with vastly different crowd sizes. He ended with gigs in Madrid and Barcelona in early August.

The attendance figure on the final night was nearly six times greater than it had been at the first US show in late February. In his book, Bruce noted that he originally had the option to continue the "Tunnel" tour in the USA after Europe, but his decision in mid-May to accept Amnesty International's offer of a headline position on their Human Rights Now! world tour from early September through to mid-October ensured that the "Tunnel" tour ended after five months and 67 shows. It remains Bruce's shortest tour in support of a new album in the past 40 years and the only one not to include any gigs in his home state of New Jersey. After Europe, Bruce had a four week break before starting the Amnesty tour (minus the horn section) at Wembley Stadium on September 2, a bonus sixth UK performance that year but less than half its usual length.
It was interesting to see Bruce and the band blasting through a compact, fat-free, 15-song set that was largely comprised of greatest hits and best bits, after the "Tunnel" marathons. They were effectively playing a prolonged encore. With the benefit of hindsight, I'd rather have seen the two indoor gigs in Paris than this one show at Wembley, but it was fun to be there. I could've done without "Spare Parts" (the only time it was played on the tour), but it was good to get the full-band "Born To Run" and "Chimes Of Freedom", with all five artists onstage at the end, was once again magnificent. We didn't know at the time, but it would be over ten years before we saw the E Street Band again.

As the Tunnel Of Love Express pulled into the sidings, a four track Springsteen live EP was released in North America, to benefit Amnesty International, with the Stockholm version of "Chimes Of Freedom" as the title track. The three live songs previously released on the UK "Tougher" releases (the cover design was identical to one of the 12" singles) completed the set. It was issued on 12" vinyl and cassette, then on a 3" CD with some of the tracks edited for space, and then finally as a standard 5" CD with the cuts left in. Later reissues restored the tracks to their full length.

In October, "Spare Parts" was released as a single in the UK. It was the fourth and last here and the fifth overall. Typically, it came in 7" and two different 12" formats, which included a live recording of the song from the July 9 Sheffield show, plus the live "Chimes Of Freedom" from Stockholm and other live and studio cuts, all previously released. A limited-edition CD version came in a circular tin. (It's rumoured that the release was delayed to allow Bruce's wedding ring to be airbrushed out of several cover photos). The "Spare Parts" singles were complemented by a live video from Sheffield (most likely also July 9) that began with shots of the city and of fans outside and inside the stadium. This was the first time footage from a UK concert was featured in a Springsteen video. It's on the "Complete Video Anthology 1978-1988" DVD set, as are the conceptual videos Bruce made for "Brilliant Disguise", "Tunnel Of Love" and "One Step Up", and the live video for "Tougher Than The Rest".
While it wasn't identical to its predecessor, it was difficult to escape the fact that the Euro "Tunnel" tour slowly took on the feel of "BITUSA" Part Two. For the majority in attendance that was likely not a problem, but for those who would have preferred new album material and rarities, the concept of the original US "Tunnel" gigs was gone, sacrificed to satisfy big stadium audiences. That's not to say that the performances were any less enjoyable but it was just a shame that fans in Europe didn't get to see Bruce indoors instead of being left to ponder what might have been.
The "Tunnel" tour could have been a new beginning for the E Street Band, the answer to the question "where do we go after "BITUSA?" But it was just a victory lap (apparently with less camaraderie) in advance of an inevitable split, albeit a temporary one. Bruce reveals in his autobiography that he viewed the culmination of the "BITUSA" tour as the end of an era for them. "For all intents and purposes, my work with the E Street Band was done. We would tour once more on 'Tunnel Of Love', but I would use the band in such a way as to cloud its former identity. I didn't know it then, but we'd be finished for a long while." The end-of-tour celebration continued with the release of "Live 1975-1985" in 1986 but the following year, the band members noticed that Bruce was distancing himself from them and their status in the organisation was diminishing.

Peter Ames Carlin's biography "Bruce" (2012) suggests that the trouble began during the recording of "Tunnel Of Love". It was effectively a full-band album, but largely created by Bruce on his own, without his old cohorts. He'd apparently finished it to his satisfaction but decided to bring in each band member separately and invite them to improve upon the parts he'd recorded. The entire band is name-checked on the sleeve, but few of their individual contributions made the final cut. Garry Tallent, like Clarence Clemons, was only featured on one track, and felt that the process was too fast and very demeaning. Things failed to improve after that as they prepared to hit the road. According to Carlin, the band were expected to adhere to various "ideas, structures and strategies" relating to the tour. These included meeting the costumier to put together an approved set of stage clothes and, for the first time, to sign personal contracts, which only heightened the tension. "To some, it suggested mistrust" said Bruce, explaining that he insisted on them to protect their future together. Another problem was the "Featuring the E Street Band" billing. Max Weinberg said that Bruce used to be "one of us, now we were a completely separate entity". There was a sense that they'd become hired hands, playing the part of the E Street Band in a theatrical production, where they were required to remain in place and reproduce their parts. Bruce said the tour was "an intentional left turn" both for audience and band, and they were "disoriented by it". Garry Tallent was outspoken in his criticism. It "wasn't the real thing", he said. "The magic was gone. It got me thinking that maybe the band should have ended after "USA'".

A sense of comradeship came back during the Amnesty tour, where they travelled together and had shared experiences. Clarence Clemons even said it was his favourite tour, but the writing was on the wall. Bruce now had experience of making entire albums by himself and had been exposed to different kinds of music and musicians. He could see the benefits of working with other people. In 1989, he underwent a divorce, not just from Julianne, but also from the E Street Band. They'd become too co-dependent, a break was needed. He called each member in turn and said they were free to accept other offers for an unspecified time. Nobody was fired. Some were more hurt than others, but few were surprised. When the big reunion finally happened over a decade later, everyone had changed. The band members were all mature, experienced, independent people with real lives outside of E Street. Bruce had therapy, married Patti and had three kids. The break had been beneficial for everyone and they launched into a new era of touring with a mutual understanding and a different perspective. Bruce also broke away to do a second solo tour and another with the Sessions Band without ruffling feathers.

Back in 1988, outsiders like us were blissfully unaware of any problems behind the scenes. The lack of spontaneity simply wasn't apparent. Maybe it was an early incarnation of Bruce's famed magic trick. For me, the theatrical aspects didn't work that well and distracted from the music, as did the "Bruce and Patti show" and the press hysteria, but these were small gripes. It's hard to believe that such great music came out of a tour that was allegedly riddled with tension and stress. This was the first time that Bruce used a horn section in Europe and their contribution shouldn't be underestimated. They added a new dimension to the songs and displayed a sense of fun that appeared to be natural, even if every single trumpet toot and sax honk had been micromanaged within an inch of its life. The "Tunnel Of Love" tour was one of Bruce's most uncharacteristic moves and best achievements, with many definitive performances. The concerts were simply too long to maintain one coherent theme throughout. Instead, they were a blend of the following:

  • The "Tunnel Of Love" tour
  • The "BITUSA" Tour Part Two
  • The Back To 1978 Show
  • The Rarities Express
  • The E Street R&B Revue.

For three decades afterwards, fans only had the live B-sides and a tape of the Stockholm broadcast as audio souvenirs, but thanks to the Springsteen live archive series at Nugs.net, it's now possible to buy four soundboard recordings from the "Tunnel" tour in a variety of audio formats:

  • Detroit (March 28)
  • Los Angeles (April 23)
  • New York (May 23)
  • Stockholm (July 3).

If you've yet to discover them, you're strongly advised to do so immediately. They're all top quality historical artefacts, but for me at least, Stockholm has the edge. It's acknowledged as one of the best shows of the European tour, it features 11 encores, it lets you hear the unbroadcast second half of the show from 32 years ago and it has versions of "Boom Boom", "Adam Raised A Cain" and "Born In The USA" that should carry a health warning because they're guaranteed to totally burn your ears off dude.
Bruce and the E Street Band might have broken up for good, but now they're Blood Brothers until the end. Let's hope we get to see them all again, at least one more time.

THAT'S ALL FOLKS!

By Mike Saunders via Facebook.com.
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