steven gets catty
lifeline revisited


I never know what to call the damn thing ... when Bruce appeared on MTV Unplugged back in '92, he brought out the entire band after one acoustic song and played the rest of the show "plugged." The video and CD versions are called Bruce Springsteen in Concert / MTV XXPlugged, with the XX covering the Un. I've always referred to it as Plugged.

Anyway, it's finally out on DVD. The 5.1 sound is excellent, and there's an extra song that wasn't on the VHS version (apparently it WAS on the laser disc version). As with every single official Bruce Springsteen live release with the exception of the recent Live in Barcelona, the actual concert is bastardized for who knows what reason. I wrote about this a couple of years ago when I did my long walk through Bruce's career. The DVD replicates the problems from the original broadcast, where the song order was juggled, apparently to create 4-song mini-sets between commercials. There's no reason for it to be that way on the ad-free DVD, but this is just a throwaway so no one bothered to fix it. The DVD has 19 songs (there are only 13 on the CD), the original 16 from the broadcast, and then three more in an extras menu ... they don't even bother to integrate the extra three songs into the main concert, which I guess hardly matters given the screwy setlist alterations.

All of which sound like I hate the DVD, but of course, I don't. It has to be taken on its own terms, as a document of the "Other Band," but on those terms, it has the same pleasures and problems we saw at Shoreline between the time he recorded Plugged and the time it showed up on MTV. The much-maligned rhythm section is fine in an elemental way, the backup singers do wonders whenever they're added to the mix, and it's a joy to see Bruce surrounded by a diverse band ... lotta black folks, lotta women. Shane Fontayne is the ultimate better-heard-not-seen guitarist.

It's nice, in 2004, to watch Bruce a bit outside of his myth. That myth includes the E Street Band, so there's something "real" about him working away with a bunch of people you've hardly heard of. Also, for whatever reason, Bruce no longer performs many songs from the early 90s, so this is your chance to see live versions of "Better Days," "Man's Job," "The Big Muddy" and more. "I Wish I Were Blind" is a lost classic and gets a terrific performance here, and "Living Proof" kicks ass like always. Patti shows up for "Human Touch," while "57 Channels" is the overblown Political Statement Version. Of course, until the NYC DVD, Plugged was the only place to hear an official version of "Light of Day," Bruce's set-closer for so many years, and this is a good one, with an insane guitar-duo segment that's either great or awful, I'm not sure.

Look, if you're gonna buy a non-bootleg live DVD of Bruce Springsteen, this will be your third choice. NYC has the greatness of the Reunion tour, Barcelona is the only time Bruce gave us an actual concert without messing around (and it has a great crowd). All Plugged has is Bruce in a slightly different setup than you're used to, doing a bunch of songs you won't hear many other places.