You forget that 30 years ago, Bruce Springsteen wasn't a star. Instead he was the latest in a series of "next Bob Dylans," who was two albums deep into a career that was all hinging on one more shot: the "holy-crap-I-just-spent-six-months-writing-one-song" opus that would become the album Born to Run. Now handsomely reissued as a box set complete with remastered album, a documentary, and a stunning live performance that was once thought to be lost in the vaults of time.
The documentary Wings for Wheels is beyond thorough, and with numerous scenes of a modern-day Springsteen just driving around Jersey, it might test the endurance of casual Boss fans. But hell, I could watch the guy buy groceries and I'd be utterly thrilled. It's sad that the first thing I felt when viewing the documentary is the shock over how major labels used to have enough patience—and smarts—to let upcoming artists get to a third record. Nowadays if you don't have a hit on your debut album you're as good as dropped, which makes you wonder how many bands never got the chance to make their own Born to Run.
The biggest find of this box set is over two hours of concert footage from a 1975 concert at Hammersmith Odeon in London. Onstage in dim lighting sporting a beard, torn shirt, leather jacket, and ridiculous beanie, Springsteen looks more like the weed-selling dirtbag you'd meet under the Jersey Pier than a rock star on the cusp of immortality. Backed by a younger/skinnier/better E Street Band, they blaze through a flawless set of early material with such reckless abandon that you get the feeling they never realized how good they really were. Springsteen is in full street-preacher mode, jittery with youthful energy as he blazes through a sped-up (yet still epic) version of "Born to Run," yet composed enough to make a sparse performance of "Thunder Road" give you (and I'm assuming the audience of 30 years ago) chills.
If you're an audiophile you'll appreciate the punchier remastered CD, but then again if you're a real audiophile you probably have no desire to get this, as you own a mint LP of Born to Run and are reading Tape Op right now. For everyone else in the iPod generation, you'll barely notice the new mix when it's compressed into tiny files, but that's fine, just appreciate the gesture, okay? Regardless, this 30th anniversary collection, in all its fancy box-set glory, perfectly captures one of the best rock albums ever, courtesy of a Jersey kid (he was just 24 at the time) at the crossroads of obscurity and stardom. We all know what happened next.