Bruce Springsteen Bridge School Benefit Concert 1986 Album Review
In October 1986, Neil and Pegi Young presented the inaugural concert in Mountain View, California benefiting The Bridge School for children with severe speech and physical impairments. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Don Henley, Tom Petty, and Nils Lofgren were on the bill to perform all acoustic sets, with Robin Williams adding a comedy monologue. Rounding out the bill was Bruce Springsteen, in his first concert appearance since the successful “Born in the U.S.A.” stadium tour ended one year earlier.
Springsteen’s Bridge School set is one of the newest releases from nugs.net’s official monthly archive Boss titles available on disc or download. Clocking in at 58 minutes, the 10 song Bridge School title provides an extremely entertaining Springsteen listening experience.
When this Shoreline Amphitheatre concert took place, Springsteen was arguably the biggest rock star in the world. His “Born in the U.S.A.” had topped album charts in America, Canada, Australia, the U.K., Germany, Sweden and other countries. Its supporting global tour filled arenas and stadiums for 15 months in 1984 and 1985. A month after The Bridge School concert, the “Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Live/1975-1985” box set would debut at number one on the U.S. Billboard album chart.
The Bridge School album features a loose and relaxed Springsteen. He’s joined by E Street Band members Nils Lofgren on guitar and vocals and Dan Federici on accordion for eight of the songs. It’s a set that includes short stories before the tunes, similar to 1970s and 1980s Springsteen concerts.
A few of the songs are performed a bit differently from the released versions. “Seeds” from “Live/1975-1985” is played using the melody of the “Born in the U.S.A.” outtake, “Rockaway the Days”, found on Springsteen’s 1998 “Tracks” box set. “Born in the U.S.A.” itself has more of a blues-oriented sound than the recorded take. Springsteen introduces the tune as “a snake that came around and began to eat its tail”. So, the idea of it being a patriotic anthem is dispelled right there.
“Dancing in the Dark” seems slightly more subdued vocally at times from the official track, but then you get short bursts of emotion coming to the fore (“Wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face”). Lofgren adds some nice response vocals at the end of the song, when crooning “Even if we’re just dancing” after The Boss sings “Even if we’re just dancing in the dark”. Federici’s accordion takes over for E Street saxophonist Clarence Clemons’ song ending solo.
Born in the U.S.A.
Several amusing moments can be found on the disc, too. In the intro to “Seeds”, Springsteen jokingly calls out for his E Street sidekick Clemons by saying, “Big Man, where are you when I need you?” During the start of “Fire”, Lofgren’s guitar is out of tune. So, Federici performs a snippet of Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” on the accordion to fill up the time, while Lofgren switches guitars. Earlier in the show, Federici played a bit of “Lady of Spain” when The Boss also needed to change guitars. Prior to beginning “Hungry Heart” with onstage guests Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Neil Young shouts out "Bruuuce". Springsteen replies, “What if my name was Ralph? What’d happen then? That wouldn’t work as good”.
The 1987 music video of “Fire”, used to promote the second single from “Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Live/1975-1985”, was taped at this concert. On The Bridge School album, it’s an enjoyable track that stands on its own, even without the accompanying visuals. Plus, you still have the song’s false starts and the break in the middle where The Boss tells the audience he has to stay calm because it’s an acoustic set. But that’s not in the cards, as this is the energetic, rockin’ Boss. Springsteen and Lofgren’s vocals blend together well again during the second half of the song.
Follow That Dream
The highlight of the set is “Follow That Dream”, Springsteen’s reworking of the title song from one of Elvis Presley’s 1962 films. While Presley’s song is jaunty and peppy with background vocals from The Jordanaires, Springsteen’s version is more touching and puts a lump in the throat. Different lyrics are added to The King’s tune, with a “don’t give up” type feeling conveyed. That’s especially true in the lines “Now every one has the right to live/The right to a chance, to give what they have to give/ The right to fight for the things they believe/For the things that come to them in dreams”. Springsteen first performed the song during his 1981 European tour. He dedicates The Bridge School rendition to Neil and Pegi Young.
Left out from the CD and download is a finale of Springsteen and all the performers for “Teach Your Children”. The Boss also joined Neil Young at the beginning of the concert on a duet of the CSNY track, “Helpless”, not available here either.
The album’s sound is quite good , mixed by Don Pearson and Tim Mulligan. The opening part of the a capella “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” was missing from the master recording, so fan recordings and an alternate soundboard source were used. The mixture of the different sound sources is pretty seamless, and you wouldn’t know the difference unless you were really looking for it.
The only Springsteen Bridge School track officially released previously to the nugs.net set was the rendition of “Born in the U.S.A." on a 25th anniversary CD and DVD of the shows. It would be nice if the full 1986 concert with all the night’s performers could be issued on audio and video, with some proceeds to the school, too. An unauthorized video of the event has made the collector’s rounds over the years.
Two dollars from the sale of each copy of this recording will go to The Bridge School. The release is dedicated to Elliot Roberts, Neil Young’s manager, who passed away in June 2019.
The northern California Bridge School benefit concerts may have ended in 2016, but this album helps to bring back part of the magic from the first show. Recommended for followers of The Boss and music fans in general.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Marshall Fish