A uniquely crafted new Springsteen concert video promises to stoke the souls of insatiable Bruce buffs. And, judging from the wild response at its big-screen premiere, film fanatics may be captivated as well.
Grammy and Emmy award-winning director Thom Zimny made the film last December at the historic Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, N.J. It gives viewers an up-close-and-personal view of the stark stage, from every conceivable angle, as Springsteen and the E Street Band perform an entire album just for themselves, with no live audience.
The "Darkness on the Edge of Town" video is being released to fans Nov. 16 as part of a deluxe CD and DVD set that also includes "The Promise: The Making of 'Darkness on the End of Town,'" a documentary on the 1978 album.
The concert video's recent DOC NYC film festival premiere was met with unbridled enthusiasm. Shouts of "Yeah!" and "Wooooo!" ricocheted through Manhattan's stately Ziegfeld Theatre as the crowd got swept up in the musical and visual moments, beginning with a rousing rendition of "Badlands."
The cameras bring the viewers eyeball to eyeball with the band, capturing Springsteen's taut upper torso, a bead of sweat, the arching eyebrow, the veins popping out on his neck as he becomes lost in the angst. Even the pores on his skin are detectable on the big screen, amid a hint of facial stubble.
Zimny said he was struck by how simultaneously focused, relaxed and in perfect synch the musicians are. He and E Street drummer Max Weinberg said the film captured small, unconscious queues, the way the musicians communicate with small gestures.
There's the "twitch of his leg," Weinberg marveled after seeing the video for the first time. "The shoulder comes up ... to indicate where to go."
Weinberg, who performs behind The Boss, joked that it was the first time he'd seen Springsteen's eyes.
Those eyes are often closed, or the eyelids fluttering. When they're open, they stare into some other world.
"When we're playing, we're not aware," even when hemmed in by a camera crew, said Weinberg. "You don't let distractions in."
In "Prove it All Night," the camera circles Springsteen and Van Zandt, to a dizzying effect, as they stand toe-to-toe, heads bobbing rhythmically, trading the cry "Yeah!" ''Yeah!" ''Yeah!" ''Yeah!"
"Professor" Roy Bittan hammers the piano keys with the side of his hand.
The Ziegfeld audience cheered for Clarence Clemons: The Big Man coolly blows solos, then beams, giving fist pumps and appreciative shout-outs to bandmates. The camera scrutinizes his face, his fingers on the sax keys.
Then there's the start of "Racing in the Street." The achingly beautiful instrumentals, simultaneously sweet, sad and wistful. Enter the tough guy — a husky-voiced Springsteen — pouring his heart out in song.
The emotion remains racheted up in "The Promise Land" and "Factory" — little frown lines appearing between Springsteen's eyebrows — and the explosive "Streets of Fire."
"When Bruce rehearses, even in his living room," he maintains the intensity of a big concert venue like "the old Giants Stadium," said Weinberg.
In a visual play on the "Darkness" theme, one shot shows Springsteen's otherwise darkened figure, with a halo effect around his shoulders.
"You come out there in that dark and you make that magic," Springsteen says in "The Promise" documentary.
"You pull something that doesn't exist out of the air. It doesn't exist until, on a given night ... you're standing in front of your audience.
"Nothing exists in that space until you go, '1, 2, 3, 4, vroom!'"
"Then you and the audience together manifest an entire world, an entire set of values, an entire way of thinking about your life and the world around you — an entire set of possibilities."