SODD 001: Bruce Springsteen You Can Trust Your Car To The Man Who Wears The Star

Bruce Springsteen Live at the Main Point, Bryan Mawr, Pennsylvania, February 5th, 1975
FM Broadcast on WMMR – A Main Point benefit show. This was the premiere of Thunder Road, actually called Wings For Wheels at this time and of both Back In The USA and Mountain Of Love.
Also with early live versions of Born To Run and Jungleland, and a amazing cover of Dylan’s I Want You.

Intro, Incident on 57th Street, Mountain Of Love, Born To Run, The E Street Shuffle,  Wings For Wheels (Thunder Road), I Want You, Spirit In The Night, She’s The One, Growin’ Up, It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City, Jungleland, Kitty’s Back

The concert continued with: New York City Serenade, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), A Love So Fine [incorporating Shout], For You, Back In The USA.

From collectorsmusic.com: “one of the most legendary shows of Bruce’s career.”  The Brucebase website refers to it as “one of the most compelling performances of Springsteen’s entire career.”   Lynn Elder’s guide to early Springsteen bootleg CDs, You Better Not Touch, agrees, stating that “the show easily ranks as one of Bruce’s best ever.”  Clinton Heylin, in The Great White Wonders,  refers to it as a “testament to Springsteen at-his-peak.”  The first twelve songs initially appeared on the LP You can Trust Your Car To The Man Who Wears The Star (SODD, later TAKRL). The show was broadcast on WMMR-FM and the incomplete LP version obviously utilized an off-air tape, extremely listenable but not quite top-notch in sound quality.  There were small cuts during the opening bars of Incident On 57th Street caused by the excision of some talking by a DJ.

WMMR DJ Ed Sciaky, who introduced the concert, explained how it was recorded and broadcast in issue number 82 of Backstreets magazine: “We didn’t have a phone line from the Main Point, so they had to tape the show in hour-long segments and then drive them to the station and put them on air.”

Some background information regarding the source tapes:

When it comes to ranking the all-time, top-10 Springsteen concerts/concert recordings, there are vigorous debates about which Darkness tour shows belong (Passaic vs. Winterland vs. Agora vs. Portland), and even a heralded performance like A Night For Vietnam Veterans (August 20, 1981) has its detractors, those who claim it wasn’t even the best show in that five-night LA run. But NO Bruce collector in her right mind would quibble with the inclusion of The Main Point, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, February 5, 1975.

It is–as it should be–on any sane fan’s list of Bruce’s greatest shows and rightly so. The Main Point captures the best-recorded transition performance between two splendid eras, previewing new material for what would become Born to Run while still delivering epic readings of early songs like “Kitty’s Back” and “New York City Serenade” (the latter, arguably, in its definitive live performance).

Then there’s the addition of Suki Lahav. She–the short-tenured, one-woman string section of the E Street Band–makes jaw-droppingly sublime contributions to the show-opening “Incident on 57th Street” and the striking cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Want You.” Throw in “Wings for Wheels” (the proto “Thunder Road”), “Mountain of Love,” “A Love So Fine,” “Back in the USA” and the rest, and you have a show for the ages.

The Main Point’s place in the pantheon is greatly aided by the fact that a recording of the complete set has been available for the last four decades thanks to its same-night (though not live-as-it-happened) broadcast on WMMR Philadelphia. In fact, Bruce and the band’s appearance was a benefit for the Main Point itself and the station solicited for donations to be made by phone during the broadcast. The gig happened at the request of WMMR deejay and key early supporter, Ed Sciaky, who serves as the night’s master of ceremonies and is mentioned several times by Bruce in the show.

The bootleg history of the Main Point show is a long one indeed. The show was available in edited form on vinyl by the late ’70s and tapes of the full broadcast were in modest circulation earlier than that. Awareness of the show really soared in the bootleg CD era, when pioneering Italian label and Springsteen specialists Great Dane Records released the show on the cleverly titled two-CD set The Saint, The Incident & The Main Point Shuffle.

That boot utilized the commonly circulated recording of the broadcast that had been around for years and was presumably made by a fan in Philly. But the Main Point has never been a tape traded with a known lineage. Evidence suggests that every copy of the show to circulate or see release since all trace back to the same, original, off-air recording first heard on the vinyl boot. The tape edits are the same wherever it has appeared.

As outlined clearly in the entry for this show on the awesome Brucebase Wiki, the broadcast that night was unusual. As noted above, the show was not aired live, but instead reel-to-reel tapes were rolling at the venue and when the first reel was complete, someone ran it over to WMMR where it was played over the air creating a one-to-two hour delay.

The next point is one of modest conjecture, but the basic notion is accurate: at some point in the audio chain between the original recording at the venue and the tape being played back on a reel to reel through the mixing board at the station and over the air, a limiter or some type of auto-leveler was introduced. A limiter automatically adjusts recording levels when the volume goes above a prescribed point. It can help smooth out dynamic material that has unexpected peaks in sound levels and prevent over-recording. An auto-leveler does the same thing but adjusts for highs and lows.

Unfortunately for us, the limiter/leveler employed on the Main Point broadcast was extremely aggressive. When you listen to the FM recording, there are dozens if not hundreds of instances where the level change is audible. Worse still, not only do levels change jarringly at times, but the limiter/leveler itself seems to add a slight clicking sound in spots.

A couple of years after the Great Dane release, a minor miracle occurred. A 10-inch tape reel of the first 90 minutes of the Main Point show made its way into collectors’ hands. This reel contained a pre-FM recording of the show, often presumed to be the very tape that was walked over from the venue to the station (though given that it was recorded on both sides and not one, it is very likely a safety copied from the production reels after the fact).

On this recording there is no limiter and the sound quality is far superior to the much more compressed off-air recording. It is a gorgeous, stereo spectacle that made this already special show all the more special. The only disappointment is that the recording was not of the entire show. The last 70 or so minutes of the performance, or what’s presumably on a second reel, were never found from the pre-FM source.

But that upgraded 90 minutes spurred a host of new releases, including the first “Masters Plus” reissue by Great Dane itself, which paired the new 90 pre-FM with the original, FM-sourced remainder of the show. Others followed suit, like You Can Trust Your Car to The Man Who Wears a Star (Labour of Love), which used the new and old tape sources and packaged up the CDs to look like the original vinyl boot of the same name. The fan release Prodigal Son at the Main Point attempted to remaster the same sources. Some consider it the best version of the show to date. And Crystal Cat took its own stab at remastering on Main Point Night. Then, earlier this year, yet another version of the Main Point surfaced, as, exploiting a supposed loophole in UK copyright law, British label Left Field Media issued Live at the Main Point as a quasi-official though unauthorized two-CD set. But they too had to work with the same stuff and simply nicked their master from an extant bootleg.

The catch with every Main Point CD to date is that each relies on the same source for the last 70 minutes of the show, that original, well-circulated, off-air fan recording of unknown generation. And while we’ve all hoped or prayed that someday a pre-FM source of the end of the show would appear to match the start, 36 years later we’re still listening to the same old recording. Until now.

Earlier this year, a box of reel-to-reel tapes was obtained from a home-taping enthusiast who lived in Philadelphia in the ’70s. Using his Tandberg 3300 tape deck, the man recorded several live radio broadcasts over the years, preserving the shows on reel at 3-3/4 IPS. The tapes had not been played since the late ’70s and one of them, as luck would have it, was of WMMR’s Main Point broadcast, captured as it happened that night. A fresh, azimuth-adjusted transfer was made and the recording was then speed-correct, de-clicked, phase-corrected and ever-so-lightly mastered to make it sound as good as possible.

Now before anyone gets too excited, this master recording of the broadcast still has the limiter issues of the prior source (only a pre-FM would fix that) and there’s still slight distortion at the climax of “NYC Serenade.” But guess what, it sounds better. Materially better. Not pre-FM better, but in moments you might confuse it with the first set. Says one knowledgeable and trusted collector: “There is absolutely no comparison between the master FM reel and the Prodigal Son version. This new one sounds so much smoother and warmer and fuller. And the PS version has some sections in mono, as well.” It is wide stereo here.

And while it contains no additional music, the new recording does add some deejay chatter, station IDs and closing credits that must have been edited out of the original source.

So for now, until the Angel of Pre-FMs answers our prayers, this upgrade offers the best version to date of those amazing last 70+ minutes of the Main Point. The switch from pre-FM to FM occurs around the 8:14 point in “Kitty’s Back” and you’ll have no trouble noticing. The first couple minutes of the new FM source seem to be its weakest (also the case on the circulating source), but give it a longer listen and you’ll start to realize just how good it is and what an improvement it is on that same old tape we’ve all been hoping would sound better some day. Now it does. Samples provided.

We’ve chosen to present this recording as a straight-up replacement for disc two of Prodigal Son. It begins exactly where Disc Two of that set does, so, if you like this, you can swap it out for that disc and you’ll have the best possible complete show.

Wayne “Boom” Darlington

****

Reissued in 1978 with deluxe b/w cover as TAKRL 24903 and a changed cover design. Black vinyl and blank labels, or custom “Monique OZO” labels, then dark green and white cover.
This pressing has the original SODD matrix scratched with the TAKRL 24903 writing added, so maybe it has been done from the same plates This edition is pretty rare, too.


Later re-repressed in various shades of bright green and yellow, custom labels, and also in wrap-cover version.
Probably RE-repressed in late ’80/ first ’90 in a vivid green and yellow cover and there is also a picture disc.

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