The moody 80s gravitas of The River and Nebraska redefined Springsteen the songwriter, yet his exhilarating three-hour marathon performances from 1975-78 had already snowballed his popularity. These shows are indelibly etched in the minds of those lucky enough to be there – which is good, since the few recordings and snippets of film from that time fail to capture the full-on experience. Filmed and professionally recorded, the two nights of 1979 No Nukes benefit shows aren’t the ironclad evidence we’ve all been missing, but they’re as close as it comes. Temporarily freed from exhaustive recording sessions that would later yield The River, the E Streeters recreate their wizardry from muscle memory in a truncated time slot. The recording is solid, but the film is dark and grainy, with cameras often in the wrong places. Even so, the magic cuts through. “Prove It All Night” shakes off the rust, and from there the setlist (three more Darkness tracks, a couple of previews from The River, vital takes of “Thunder Road” and “Jungleland”, etc.) builds and builds. Clemons and Bittan share a lot of the spotlight, while Springsteen is feral, prowling the stage, climbing, jumping, sliding, coaxing every drop of enthusiasm from his band and audience alike. On the frenzied half-hour encore of oldies, his schtick seems to signal the turning point to come. “I can’t go on like this!,” he exclaims, clutching his chest in mock agony. “I’m thirty years old!” Many peaks would follow, and now 72, his career still continues to inspire. But that night, he left the innocence of his youth right there on the stage.
Review by Jeff McCord