February 2, 2024
Once again, it's a great time to be a fan of the Live.BruceSpringsteen.net official archival-release series, which has just dropped another new release, giving us a total of four new releases within the past three months (thanks to last December's double-shot with the now-traditional extra Christmastime release.) And unlike the previous three releases, this month's release is a bona fide "First Friday" release, to boot!
Akron, Ohio 1996 (recorded live at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Center in Akron on September 25, 1996) opens with Bruce Springsteen's first-ever public performance of Woody Guthrie's song "Tom Joad," a few days before he'd include the song in his setlist for a special Rock & Roll Hall of Fame event honoring Guthrie in nearby Cleveland (recordings from which were released officially on 'Til We Outnumber 'Em...) Guthrie, as Springsteen would do after him, drew much inspiration from John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath and John Ford's superb filmed adaptation of Steinbeck's classic, starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. Unlike Springsteen's more contemporary "The Ghost of Tom Joad," which had the Joad character's ghost haunting the badlands of "the new world order," Guthrie's older song provided the "backstory" of the Joad ghost's former life as a flesh-and-blood (albeit fictional) man, living in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl region and California during the Great Depression, with lyrical details derived from Steinbeck's novel and Ford's adapted film. Both Guthrie's and Springsteen's Joad songs, however, end very much in the same way, by reiterating Tom Joad's promise to always be found "wherever little children are hungry and cry, wherever there's people that ain't free." The essential point of both songs remains the same, so it makes sense that Springsteen occasionally opened some of his The Ghost of Tom Joad Tour concerts with Woody Guthrie's "Tom Joad" rather than his own "The Ghost of Tom Joad." (On one night only - February 12, 1997 in Sydney, Australia - concertgoers got to hear Springsteen perform both "Joad" songs during the show.) Springsteen's most recent public performance of "Tom Joad" occurred when he accepted the 2021 Woody Guthrie Prize.
Akron, Ohio 1996 documents another great night from the ...Joad Tour. While there were no other tour debuts in the setlist that night, there were some rarities and many other special moments. Most important, you certainly won't be disappointed if you're a fan of that tour and the unique range of in-concert experiences that Springsteen was able to achieve each night very much on his own (with just a bit of occasional help from Kevin Buell on keyboards.) And as usual, mixer/masterer Jon Altschiller & Co. give John Kerns' original soundboard recordings all of the spit and polish they so richly deserve.