BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: IN CONCERT/MTV PLUGGED (1993)
1) Red Headed Woman; 2) Better Days; 3) Atlantic City; 4) Darkness On The Edge Of Town; 5) Man's Job; 6) Human Touch; 7) Lucky Town; 8) I Wish I Were Blind; 9) Thunder Road; 10) Light Of Day; 11) If I Should Fall Behind; 12) Living Proof; 13) My Beautiful Reward.
Considering the veritable ocean of live Springsteen releases that were freed from the vaults in the past decade, there really is not one single reason in the world why anybody but the most diehard completist could want this one in the collection. Sure, it was different in 1993: MTV's «Unplugged» series were all the rage (at least, in the mainstream world), and the only officially available live album from the Boss was the 1975-85 boxset that could be intimidating even to the serious fan, not to mention the serious fan's wallet. But even in 1993, few people went bananas for the Bruce-MTV combination, and it is easy to see why.
First, the man's involvement with the franchise occurred at the wrong time — he'd recently disbanded The E Street Band, and was touring with what was jokingly called «The Other Band», where only Roy Bittan was retained from the veterans, and everybody else was just... professional, with little of the common enthusiastic spirit that had carried the Boss and his players through the previous two decades. Second, he was touring in support of Human Touch and Lucky Town — as we have already seen, not altogether godawful records, but certainly formulaic and «safe» ones, and definitely undeserving to overshadow the man's classic catalog; yet 8 out of 13 songs here are all from Human Touch and Lucky Town, and «The Other Band» is not hurrying up to make them come much more alive on stage than they were in the studio.
Third, as is already obvious from the record's title, the album is not un-plugged — the only acoustic performance is the opening ʽRed Headed Womanʼ, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek folk-blues serenade to Patti Scialfa that is really more of a cute musical/lyrical joke than anything else. Once it is over, it's "let's ROCK it!" time, as if Bruce and his new pals were performing some incredible feat of bravery by defying MTV's scenario and turning the tables on them. Bruce later explained that, apparently, acoustic versions of these songs «did not work» when he tried them out with the band, and indeed I can believe that — the only way they could have worked would be for Bruce to just perform all of them solo, and that would have been Nebraska Live, but with generally worse songs, so maybe it's a good thing they brought those cables.
In the end, though, what we have is just a regular audio equivalent of a generic Bruce concert circa 1993 — with most of the classic stuff left off, but lots and lots of «okay» songs that, truth be told, do not differ all that much from the studio versions. The stripped-down rendition of ʽThunder Roadʼ will not overwhelm the equally stripped-down version on 1975-85; the anthemic rocking version of ʽAtlantic Cityʼ is best heard with The E Street Band; and the lengthy, aggrandized rocker / jam / sermon ʽLight Of Dayʼ, to tell the truth, is a strange choice for an «epic» — it's a bit of aggressive roughneck fun as a rocker, but why it is this song in particular that deserves a foam-at-the-mouth New Jersey gospel interlude in the middle sort of beats me. Besides, didn't he originally give the song to Joan Jett? Her version actually has more silly-funny aggression in it than Bruce's own take — he adds too much masculine brutality, killing some of the fun cells.
Ultimately, this is not a bad performance; it simply has too many factors working against it, and it really has no deeply hidden redeeming arguments — such as interesting rearrangements, obscure brilliant rarities, or even original stories, much as I am mistrustful of these when they are driven by the man's populist ego. And while I am not as dismissive of the entire MTV series as some (it did produce its fair share of intimate gems), going plugged on the series really just sucks all sense out of the idea. Next time, let's rock it in a different setting and with a different band, okay, Boss? This one's sort of a misfire.