Thursday, January 26, 2017
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
That Old ‘80 Sound
Seattle Center Coliseum
October 24, 1980
RS Master via JEMS
(24/96 Edition release pending)
Recording Gear: Nakamichi 700 microphones > Bass Box EQ > Sony TCD-D5
2013-14 JEMS Transfer: RS master cassettes > Nakamichi CR-7A azimuth-adjusted transfer > Sound Devices USBPre 2 > Audacity 2.0 (24/96) capture > extensive iZotope RX3 clean up > iZotope Ozone 5 via Peak 6 > iZotope RX MBIT+ resample 16/44.1 > Peak Pro XT (volume smoothing / edit / index) > xACT 2.21 > FLAC
Project Start Date: October 2013
Project End Date: October 2014
Approximate Project Hours: 35
Years Spent Chasing Down Master Tape: 20+
River Tour Show No. 13
Seamless transfer, suggested CD breaks...
102 Out in the Street
103 Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
104 Darkness On The Edge Of Town
106 Independence Day
107 Jackson Cage
108 Two Hearts
109 The Promised Land (cut)
110 Racing In The Street
111 The River
112 Prove It All Night
113 Thunder Road
201 Cadillac Ranch (Bruce's microphone and part of the PA are out)
203 Sherry Darling
204 Here She Comes > I Wanna Marry You
205 The Ties That Bind
206 Wreck On The Highway
207 Point Blank
208 Crush On You
210 You Can Look But You Better Not Touch
211 Stolen Car
212 Drive All Night
303 Born to Run
304 Detroit Medley > I Hear A Train (joined in progress, distortion at the start)
305 Raise Your Hand (joined in progress)
We never thought it would happen, but after twenty years of trying, JEMS was finally able to track down the master tapes to my first Springsteen show, Seattle Center Coliseum, October 24, 1980. Right at the top a HUGE thank you goes out to RS, the original taper of the show, who generously provided his masters to JEMS, as well to MS, who facilitated access to RS and his tapes. MS has graciously lent JEMS many of his outstanding master recordings by various artists over the last two years, available on DIME under the title MS Archive Series.
Seattle '80 is a personal holy grail for several reasons. As noted above, it was my first Springsteen show at the tender age of 14. That night also saw distribution of the first ever issue of Backstreets, so happy 34th anniversary to Backstreets as well. The magazine had a big influence on me as a collector and it was in the classifieds of Backstreets that JEMS first appeared in public, so to speak, as we took out ads back in the day before the internet hoping to trade copies of "our masters for your masters."
The funny thing is, we never had a master of Seattle '80. JEMS taped the three Seattle Springsteen shows that preceded this one (in 1975 and 1978) and every Seattle show that followed, up to present day. Yet despite three of us attending, we didn't record the show.
The answer is, because a friend of a friend with better gear was going to record it for all of us. RS was friends with MS and with Pat Lee, taper of the excellent Portland '80 made with Stan of JEMS the following night. RS was an experienced taper and Deadhead (he recorded hundreds of shows in and around Seattle, Boston and Southern California) who not only had arguably the best commercially available gear at the time (Nakamichi 700 microphones and a Sony D5M cassette recorder), but he and MS had recently begun to customize and upgrade their taping gear.
Around this time, RS and others in the Dead taping community started experimenting with what they called a Bass Box EQ. Utilizing special circuitry, the Bass Box EQ was designed to capture much more of the low end than the Nak 700s could grab on their own. Given the gear he was packing, leading up to the show it was decided by the folks who could have taped--Pat Lee, Stan and MS--that RS was the right man to make the recording for all interested parties.
And shortly after the show, RS did indeed make copies from his masters for the aforementioned crew, and the Seattle show has circulated pretty much ever since. The trouble is, every copy of the show I ever tracked down was hissy and very bass heavy, which explains why Seattle '80 has never been considered a quality recording.
Even when Pat Lee loaned me his first generation reels of the show, dubbed from RS's masters, the show still didn't sound as good as I thought it should have. Again, heavy hiss and bass made the recording challenging to navigate, though you could hear a fine recording lurking under the fog. It seemed the only way to properly upgrade Seattle ‘80 was to get back to the original master recordings.
A couple of years ago, Pat and I exchanged emails about trying to track down RS's masters, and he suggested that MS might still be in touch with RS (remember, this is 30+ years after the concert). Turned out he was. Sometime in 2012, MS made contact with RS, who confirmed that he still had the tapes and was open to lending them, but they were in a different state than the one he he lives in today.
I waited close to a year for RS to return to that part of the country, and, to his credit, when he did he pulled out the tapes and sent them to MS who in turn sent them to me. After 20 plus years of seeking and over a year of tracking, the Seattle '80 masters were finally in JEMS’ hands.
With great anticipation I placed tape one in the Nakamichi CR-7A to hear what the original Seattle ‘80 sounded like. RS marked the tapes as recorded WITH Dolby on, and it immediately struck me that perhaps that first transfer had been made with Dolby off, thereby boosting the hiss on the copies. Azimuth adjustment also seemed to help fine tune the high end. While the quiet songs were recorded a bit low and therefore had some hiss, the fresh Dolby-on transfer seemed to reduce a material issue with the recording.
But in the immortal words of Meghan Trainor, Seattle '80 is all about that bass. Man, does this tape have it, like no Springsteen audience tape I have ever heard before. Springsteen's full-time move to sports arenas that year likely required a whole new approach to sound reinforcement, and one could easily argue that the prominence of Garry Tallent's bass in the mix was no accident: Why not have a big, solid foundation, and let the rest of the band flow over that? Great for in-arena, but problematic for the recording! In spots, it the bass on this recording is overwhelming.
And it's likely that copies made 34 years ago were unsatisfactory for this reason as well: In dubbing, the recording levels would have been set so the big bass swells did not distort, leaving quiet songs at lower levels than they should be. Turn the volume up to hear something like "Wreck on the Highway" and you were turning up the hiss.
Happily, 2014 offers amazing tools to mold audio like this in ways that would have been difficult in the analog realm. RS's masters were captured at 24/96 and working with iZotope Ozone, after considerable trial and error, I was able to shape and rein-in that bass, while still leaving Seattle '80 with low-end oomph most audience tapes never offer.
RS was surrounded by a boisterous audience, but using iZotope RX, many of those hoots, hollers, wolf whistles and the like were tamed. He was positioned in the upper deck, very close to the PA, so much so that when he moves off axis from the PA on occasion, the soundstage shifts dramatically, something you might notice more in the second set. Audience chatter remains in some places and there is more clapping along than one might like. On the whole, however, neither of these proves particularly detrimental.
You will also hear several seconds of distortion at the start of the show before the levels get set properly and it takes two or three songs for both the in-house mix and the microphone position to lock in. The second set also starts bizarrely, as Bruce’s lead vocal mic goes out for the entirety of “Cadillac Ranch,” and some part of the PA is down for a portion of the song as well.
With all those caveats noted, the mastered Seattle '80 is a special recording indeed. Is it the best all-around audience recording from the River tour? We leave that to you to decide. However, I can guarantee you will hear things on this recording you have never heard before. There is almost HD clarity and instrument separation for long stretches on these tapes, allowing the listener to tune in and fixate on individual elements like the synthesizer on "Drive All Night”; the chiming 12-string guitar on "I Wanna Marry You”; and the sound not just of Max's snare drum, but quite distinctly of his stick hitting it. Pick a song and a band member, and you should be able to follow their discrete part closely. For fans of Roy Bittan, this tape is a special treat: his playing is especially well-represented in the mix.
My own personal memory of the show is pretty fuzzy and I don't recall the PA being exceptionally clear (though I did remember the PA and mic failure in “Cadillac Ranch”), but from where RS was sitting, the sound quality of the PA is outstanding. The result is a major You-Are-There kind of recording. Samples provided.
And if you are a fan of The River, boy are you in luck. The second set especially offers a River tour de force, with all the heavy hitters brilliantly represented in a ten-in-a-row onslaught: "Wreck on the Highway," "Point Blank," "Stolen Car" and "Drive All Night." The rockers are potent, too: "The Ties That Bind," "You Can Look," "Ramrod," even "Crush on You."
The first set adds sublime readings of "Independence Day" and "Racing in the Street"; the extra-solo, River-tour version of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out"; a propulsive "Jackson Cage"; a gut-wrenching "The River" (dedicated to the Lost Highway Band, with whom Springsteen had sat in the night before at the Old Timers Cafe in Seattle's Pioneer Square) and an unusually positioned "Prove It All Night."
All told, 16 of The River's 20 tracks feature here, omitting only "I'm a Rocker, "Fade Away," "The Price You Pay" and, curiously in hindsight, "Hungry Heart." In short, a classic River show from early in the tour when the material is still being road-tested and the set taking shape, making it all the more fascinating and fresh.
I want to personally thank RS for letting JEMS release his tapes. Seattle ‘80 was a passion project from the start and despite many hours spent mastering, the results, I hope, speak for themselves. Thanks again to MS for playing intermediary, vouching for me and continuing to be a major friend of the firm. Pat Lee also deserves a shout out for helping me figure out how to reach RS.
JEMS’ own Stan was there too, and while he didn't tape, he took a number of terrific black-and-white photos, three of which grace the custom-made cover art. We also threw in two contact sheets with shots from the show courtesy of JEMS’s buddy Exit Club. And even a photo of the mysterious Bass Box that gave this recording its title: That Old ‘80 Sound.
Stan’s images provided great fodder for Ivan, who got the jump on designing the cover art, appropriately adorned in the colors of the Seattle Supersonics, the NBA team that occupied the Coliseum (now Key Arena) at the time. They were my other passion. Thanks to you too, Ivan, and to slipkid68 who helped fine tune my indulgent notes. Last but not least, mjk5510 who once again comes in to push this over the finish line as I limp into the last mile out of gas.
One more note on Stan: It was in line for tickets to this show on a Sunday morning in 1980 that I was first introduced to him. Stan had a major health setback of late so please aim all good wishes his way.
On the 34th anniversary of the show, finally, please enjoy Seattle, October 24, 1980.
Wayne Darlington for JEMS