Bruce Springsteen’s Debut UK Gig: When NME’s Reviewer Got It Really, Really Wrong

Today (November 18) marks the 41st anniversary of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s first ever performance in the UK.

The venue was the Hammersmith Odeon (now the Eventim Apollo) in west London. The mood was one of great expectation. Springsteen arrived surfing a wave of hype from his 1975 album ‘Born to Run’, a major hit in the USA. His label, Columbia Records, were keen to sell him worldwide, and London’s streets were plastered with posters advertising the show. One read: “Finally, London is Ready for Bruce Springsteen”.

But alongside the hype there was skepticism, and NME’s reporter, the late Tony Tyler, was very firmly in with the doubters. “Let me state that on Tuesday I didn’t see the Future Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, or The New Bob Dylan” he said in the live review, printed in NME on November 29, 1975 and headed “The Buck Stops On E Street”. Then, very methodically, he picked apart Springsteen’s entire performance. Here are the edited highlights. Or should that be lowlights…

ON THE E STREET BAND

“Almost totally terrible; which is to say, adequate for many purposes but not for backing The New Etcetera. Guitarist good if not sensational, organist ditto, drummer awful – he played like a pantywaist all night, never once getting his shoulders behind the kit, never propelling or beefing up the arrangements.”

ON CLARENCE CLEMONS

“Now for the Tenor Player, Clarence Clemons. His contributions to the album are by no means overwhelming – so why did he get and entrance all of his own, with the resulting conditioned reflex of ‘special’ applause? Because he’s a great saxist? No, because he’s on the ads, right up there on almost equal terms with Bruce, so he must be good and therefore we’d better clap (Pavlov would have been delighted).”

ON SPRINGSTEEN’S SONGS

“Basically sound, though over-committed to wordiness in a manner incompatible with the Lone Punk image.”

ON SPRINGSTEEN’S VOICE

“Like I said, a basically weak voice used boldly and to its limits. Too hoarse for real power. Knowledge of dynamics but OD’d in this department. Didn’t pace himself properly: fake climaxes too early, real climaxes devalued as a consequence.”

ON SPRINGSTEEN’S PLAYING

“Very good, but not enough of it. Exceptional rhythm action. Not loud enough. Nice guitar.”

ON SPRINGSTEEN’S CHARISMA

“Quite a lot – as long as he kept moving. The instant he stopped one’s attention tended to wander. Stage movements energetic, though in an unintentionally manic, semi-comic, chimp-in-a-cage-hopping-about-to-gain-attention way; little grace; did not dominate without constant movement. Good worker.”

ON THE HYPE

“Well, to be fair, it wasn’t his hype – but he ought to have put up more of a fight (Dylan did, and when he couldn’t he took time off).”

ON THE SONG ‘BORN TO RUN’

“Not much cop.”

ON THE ENCORE

“Closed with one of the worst rock‘n’roll medleys I’ve ever heard – which The E Street Band must dread, I guess, because their inability to produce any sort of power is here revealed for all to see.”

IN FAIRNESS

“I’m told by Springsteen’s own standards, Tuesday’s was a bad gig, By the standards of the audience it appeared to be a highly – but not wildly – successful gig. By my standards it was a so-so gig, rich with unfulfilled potential but in no way a classic.”

AND IN CONCLUSION

“British audiences respond faithfully enough at concerts but sit on their wallets when it comes to buying LPs. I liked Bruce Springsteen but I’d like him a lot more sans The Operation. Bob Dylan can relax.”

Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road (Live in Hammersmith Odeon 1975)

//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_Road_%28song%29 //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammersmith_Odeon_London_%2775

The show was released as a live album and DVD in 2006. Check it out for yourself, and see if you think Tyler was right.