The ‘No Nukes’ footage transcends Springsteen’s aversion to photography
New York -If there’s one thing Bruce Springsteen fans can find in their hero, it’s his early dislike for the cameras.
Because of that, there is very little onscreen documentation of Springsteen on stage in the mid to late 1970s, when the strength and majesty of E Street blended with the youthful exuberance of some truly epic concert experiences. Without a ticket and a good memory, they passed you by.
This makes this week’s release of a 90-minute film featuring them performing at the instrumental “No Nukes” concerts in September 1979 a significant milestone for fans and music historians. I found the money.
In front of a friendly crowd in New York’s Madison Square Garden, Springsteen and his Jersey gang grapple with pent-up energy. They were out of the way in 1979, they recorded “The River,” and they’re happy to be in front of an audience again. Their typical four-hour show was condensed into 90 minutes. Sharing a bill with artists like Jackson Brown, Graham Nash, and Bonnie Wright, they burned to show their peers what they could do.
No wonder, then, to see them explode on stage with a raucous version of “Every Night Proof”. This is exactly what they intended to do.
When director Tom Zimney first reviewed the footage, it was without sound, and he could still tell that something special was going on.
“You see them exploding on the screen,” he said. “E Street’s sheer strength at this point was amazing to see.”
Springsteen explains that superstition led him to keep the cameras away in those days, something about a musician who didn’t want to look too closely at his bag of tricks.
He recently said, “I don’t want to see what I’m doing, because it might change what I’m doing, and what I’m doing is working for me and working for the audience.”
It’s different now. All Springsteen shows have been filmed. In 1979, the concert “No Nukes” survived the movie phobia because the crew was on hand to make a documentary on the benefits of alternatives to nuclear power.
Chris Phillips, editor and publisher of Backstreets, the Springsteen news website, said there wasn’t really much incentive to film shows in pre-MTV, before the YouTube days, with no real outlet on TV or movies, just playing rock ‘n’ roll.
As a result, more shots of Springsteen onstage clips are relatively rare, he said. A show on Phoenix appears on YouTube, and his record company recorded him for a commercial to promote Springsteen in parts of the country where he was not yet known. Portions of the Houston Show, captured for the arena’s interior use, survive. So is Springsteen’s first recording show in London, at Hammersmith Odeon in 1975.
Two of Springsteen’s performances appeared on the documentary and album “No Nukes”. Mostly, the footage remained locked in a vault until Zimni was allowed in.
He turned it into the movie that is now being released partly as an epidemic project.
“It was something I did because I missed the band so much,” Zamani said.
Unlike a lot of surviving Springsteen footage from those days, Zimny was up to high-quality film, shot by a crew that could deliver multiple angles. However, there are still drawbacks: photos of Steve Van Zandt’s solo in “Jungleland” are missing, possibly because they were reloading cameras.
Zimny has kept a roster of running shows, held on consecutive nights (including Springsteen’s 30th birthday), including a few different appearances — the “Detroit mix” of one-night stands, a performance by Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” another. Performances included a peek at the song “Sherry Darling” from “The River” and the upcoming album’s title cut, and a duet with Browne on “Stay.”
Phillips said Rapid fans have always been aware that this footage must be located somewhere. His appearance was a treat for the Backstreets editor, too: He didn’t see Springsteen live until the “Born in the USA” tour five years later.
“After waiting 40 years for this one, it didn’t disappoint,” he said. “It’s amazing, with the tempos being off the charts.”
This is evident when they play “Born to Run”. After decades of the song’s existence, its appearance at the party is now a karaoke-like ritual — the lights turn on, and everyone sings. It was still a relatively new song in 1979, and the band attacked it on “No Nukes” doubly furious.
The movie also shows how important Clarence Clemons is to the show: Find out how he and Springsteen made eye contact during the release of the extended dance “Rosalita.” Springsteen leans on it, literally and figuratively. With Clemons and organist Danny Federici now dead, the band is not the same.
“No Nukes” is on sale as DVD or Blu-Ray, in separate packages with music audio CDs. Audio won’t be available on streaming services until next year.
Zimney described how Springsteen, now 72, felt juicy when he first showed the concert footage, and quickly sang along with his 30-year-old self on screen.
“We were young, we were kids,” Springsteen said at a public show last week in New Jersey. “What the movie brims with is youthful energy at a level that was surprising even to me when I saw it. It’s a fantastic document for the band at a very specific moment.”
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