Milwaukee is a city rife with associations, from beer to brats, Hogs to "Happy Days."
But for devoted fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Milwaukee means only one thing: the bomb scare show – that Thursday night in October 1975 when the band’s Cream City concert was halted by a bomb threat and resumed three hours later, resulting in a high-energy show unlike any other the band would ever perform.
Today is the 40th anniversary of that legendary gig: Are you loose?!
We tell the story here in an oral history.
A night like this
1975 was an exciting year for fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
The band was newly re-energized when, in September 1974, mighty Max Weinberg replaced Ernest Boom Carter on drums. Another jolt came with the arrival of guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt. A co-founder of Jersey band Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Van Zandt lent a hand during the "Born to Run" sessions and subsequently became a full-time E Streeter.
At the same time, Springsteen was shedding his media-created image as "the new Dylan," a welcome transformation that fast-tracked on Aug. 25, when the release of Springsteen’s third record, "Born to Run," was boosted by a quarter-million-dollar promotional campaign.
"I saw rock 'n' roll future," music critic – and Bruce’s future manager – Jon Landau famously wrote, "and its name is Bruce Springsteen."
In July, the band got a jump on the acclaimed record’s release by launching the "Born to Run Tour" at Providence’s Palace Concert Theater. The Milwaukee stop on the tour – Oct. 2, 1975 at the now-razed Uptown Theater, on a short length of North 49th Street between North and Lisbon Avenues – would prove perhaps the most exciting and surely the most memorable of a long tour that ran nearly non-stop through New Year’s Eve.
Three weeks after the Boss’ Milwaukee debut, Springsteen would make rock and roll history as the first rocker to grace the cover of Time and Newsweek in the same week.
The band rolled into town for the Uptown gig – which had been staged by Alan Dulberger and Randy McElrath’s Daydream Productions – after having performed at Omaha’s Civic Auditorium Music Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 30.
McElrath began working in concert promotion in 1969, and partnered with Dulberger – who, with his brother Marc owned 1812 Overture, a popular, cutting-edge record store on Brady Street – on a Black Sabbath gig at The Pabst Theater, launching Daydream, in 1971.
But Daydream was a side gig until three years later, when Dulberger and McElrath promoted a sell-out Crosby, Stills and Nash concert at County Stadium that launched them into the game full-time. No less than Summerfest’s Bob Babisch got his start working as a backstage runner for Daydream.
By 1975, Daydream was booking gigs like the one set for the sunny, relatively warm early October Thursday, in the Uptown, a 1926 Saxe movie house with 1,818 seats designed by Rapp and Rapp that boasted a barrel-vaulted lobby and an auditorium adorned with a trio of pergolas on either side. Each pergola was decorated with a mural of an Italian landscape and lit from behind little balconies below. (See astortheater.org photo at right.)
Alan Dulberger (promoter): Bruce Springsteen was a "baby act," they called it; that was an upcoming group. And so, the talent agencies in New York and L.A., we were really called the resident promoters of Milwaukee and Wisconsin. And so they would say, "Al, we got a new group. It's Bruce Springsteen. He's going to be very hot. It's going to be very big, but we need you to take the chance and do the concert." And we did it at the Uptown Theatre. I think we paid like $3,000, we didn't pay him too much.
That Thursday night, the marquee declared, "Live in Concert Tonight Bruce Springsteen," and concert advertisements promised "An Evening with Bruce Springsteen." And a long evening is what Milwaukee would get ...
Michael Plaisted (fan): For legendary status, nothing can top the Springsteen bomb scare show. It was general admission and I stood in line for quite some time that day and ended up in the third row in the middle. The only thing I knew about him at the time was the recent hype and the "Born to Run" album that only came out a couple of weeks before.
Louie Lucchesi (fan): The two things I remember were that we – I was with my brother Mike and my sister Mary – were going to be out very late on a school night. The concert was advertised by saying if you didn't like the show you could get your money back within the first 15 minutes. I heard less than 10 people got a refund.
Rick Rand (fan): I drove and with me were two close friends, Howie Epstein and Joel Shayne. All three of us knew of Bruce and the E Street Band at that time. We were all big music fans and followed many bands who were really not well known at the time. Both Howie and I were involved in the regional music industry at the time. Joel had been booking bands during and after high school and in 1975 was far more focused on graduating college. What was driving the tour in 1975 was the release of the "Born to Run" album. The timing of the show was perfect. The album was hot and we all were going to see Bruce and the E Street Band. What better way to spend the night?
Bob Reitman (emcee): When you get asked to emcee a show, it's a thrill. You get up in front of people, introduce a show. It's an ego thing, I admit that. My brother, who's 14 years younger than me, turned me on to Springsteen's first album. I listened to it and I liked it, but I thought it was too wordy, but then there was all the hype; "Born to Run" plus his next couple albums before that were good. There was so much hype for "Born to Run" and I'm easily hype-able.
It was a one-time experience where I was asked to emcee the show. Keep in mind I was really jacked up about going to this. I didn't know what to expect, but I just had a feeling that it was going to be incredible. When they asked me to emcee it, I was, for the only time in my life, reluctant. On one hand it's like, "Yeah, what a thrill," but on the other hand it's like, "No," because I wanted to watch the show. What I said to him was, "I'd be honored to emcee it, but, as soon as I'm done, I'm not hanging around backstage. I'm going out to watch the show. Period. I don't want anything else to do with it."
They said, "OK." They agreed to that. One interesting aspect of it was before the show I was wandering around backstage, but downstairs at The Uptown were separate rooms for the guys and the women. I'm walking down there and I look in one room, and I was startled. There was Springsteen, in what he was going to wear that night, with a guitar. Playing but it wasn't amped. I looked and I said, "Hey, how you doing?" He was friendly. I said, " What are you doing?" He said, "Playing Buddy Holly. It keeps me honest before the show." Well, at that point I fell in love with him. It didn't mean that he was going to be a great performer. It meant he loved rock and roll. Anyways, that impressed me.
Robert Cavallo (photographer): Bob Reitman was asking me, "How did you get into this thing? Who did you work for?" I was in a group called The Messengers. First white band signed with Motown Records in 1968 for the Rare Earth label. We broke up in '72. My dad, a photographer, started in 1938, so I went to work with him. I knew all the promoters in town, so I just showed up, and (head of security) Terry (Cullen) so nicely said, "(Cavallo) was just so professional. I let him in the door every time he came." Being on stage and a performer myself, I never wanted to rub elbows backstage or have my picture signed next time they came back, like many photographers. I always let them have their room. I always said, "The real people are out front."
The first set
Bruce Springsteen – lead vocals, guitars, harmonica
Roy Bittan – piano
Clarence Clemons – saxophone, percussion, background vocals
Danny Federici – organ, electronic glockenspiel, accordion
Garry Tallent – bass
Miami Steve Van Zandt – guitars, background vocals
Max Weinberg – drums
The Miami Horns:
John Binkley – trumpet
Ed De Palma – saxophone
Dennis Orlock – trombone
Steve Paraczky – trumpet
Meeting Across the River
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Spirit in the Night
She's the One
Born to Run
Bob Reitman: It was general seating, which wasn't real common, and so people filed in and sat where they wanted to. The place was full. I introduced him.
Michael Plaisted: The show began slowly and beautifully – I could see music building to what would well have been earth-shattering without the bomb scare. He was the street poet then, caressing his odes to the boardwalk life – a killer "Meeting Across the River." During "Spirit in the Night," he crawled up and down the aisle of the small theater, the first of many demonstrations of trust in humanity and his fans.
Damien Jaques (Milwaukee Journal reviewer): The scene that night was supercharged even before the bomb scare announcement. The Uptown wasn't that big, and the audience was a gathering of music hipsters because Springsteen hadn't really broken out into the general public yet. You had to be a music person to have heard the buzz from the East Coast about him. Reitman was still the head hipster in Milwaukee at that time. There was an excitement in the crowd from the moment people got to the Uptown.
Fan #1 (caught on tape during the first set): The sax player is good, what's his name?
Fan #2: Clarence Williams.
Robert Cavallo: They had a stage presence that reminds me so much of the English groups, going back to the Small Faces and Ian McLagan and even before Rod Stewart joined them, and Ronnie Lane. There was just something about the English groups, The Who, The Kinks, any of those. They just had a fervor almost like energy and real vaudevillian. This was also a visual show, too, with humor.
Dave Benton (fan): I drove over to the show with four friends from Madison. The first part of the show was pretty amazing, and as a New Jersey native I really felt a connection.
Bob Reitman: I have no sense of any low points in the first part. It was powerful. The (fans) were into it.
Incident on 49th Street
The Boss introduces Bob Reitman.
Michael Plaisted: After 45 minutes – that used to be a whole concert, remember? – (WQFM DJ Bob) Reitman came out and said something to Bruce. There were worried faces and confusion. Two people looked all over and under the piano before Bruce sat down to play himself, solo, a tense, riveting "Thunder Road." Then Bruce said, "My friend here got something to say," and Reitman gave us the news in his best "don't panic" voice. They said we all had to get out, but we could come back at midnight if we saved our ticket stubs.
Bob Reitman: He's playing "Thunder Road," which is, to me, one of the great songs. (Roy Bittan is) playing the piano and that's it. The band's not on the stage. Basically, I was just in a very good place. All of a sudden, I see some motion out on the right side of the aisle, somebody walking. I'm thinking, "How could anybody be even walking around during this? Why would you do that?" This person started getting closer to me, and I thought, "No, no don't do this." It was Dr. Alan Reed, who was the medical guy at a lot of big shows. He comes over and he leans down.
My first instinct was to punch him. But I wouldn't do that. I mean, it's like, "You're interrupting the epiphany here." He leaned down to me and said, "You've got to come backstage." I looked at him and I said, "No." He said, in a much more commanding voice, "You have to come backstage." At which point I realized I had to come.
Something's up, so I got up and walked back stage, Springsteen still playing "Thunder Road." Backstage, the band, the old manager for Springsteen (Mike Appel), the promoters, (Daydream’s Alan) Dulberger and (Randy) McElrath, and a bunch of cops and detectives. I'm going, "Oh, I don't know what's going on." Well, what happened was they got a bomb threat, as we now know.
Alan Dulberger: The way it went down is that the girl at the box office (said) somebody called in there and that there's a bomb scare, and so she told the guy that was the manager of the Uptown Theater, United Artists (ran it), and they had the Riverside Theater, the Oriental and the Uptown. That's why I did a bunch of shows at those three places. So we decided jointly with (partner) Randy (McElrath) to call the police department. The police department came in."
Bob Reitman: (They tell me) "after this song, you have to go out there." At the beginning of the show, I didn't say much, but I did say to the crowd, "You came in here, orderly, you did a great job and I just want to tip my hat to you." Because they did a good job. I had to go out there and Springsteen said he would go out there with me. They explained to him what's going on, and he is smart enough to know that if I go out there, I’ll only get a certain percentage of attention. If he goes out there with me, we'll get a 110 percent.
He just says something like, "My friend here wants to say something to you." They paid attention so I just said, "Look folks, I complimented you on when you came in here, which was great. Now we're going to be put to the test. We're going to have to clear the theater in an orderly fashion." I can't remember if I said because there was a bomb threat. Because, that might have caused panic. I can't remember what I said, but with Springsteen standing there, it was really comfortable. I mean, I would go out there and tell them the truth, but with him out there, it really verified it.
Robert Cavallo: You can see kind of something's going on. Me right there – in the pit – and I see something going on. All of a sudden, there's policemen and things. Then, Dr. Alan Reed comes back and calls Bob (Reitman) backstage. Bob comes out with Springsteen. He says, "We got a situation. We've got to clear the place out." Nobody was really pissed, like, "What do you mean the show's off?" But they had gotten seven songs, that's (a full concert sometimes)."
Alan Dulberger: At the time, we probably had two, three years under our belt. So, I did not freak out, Randy didn't freak out. But just as an ounce of precaution, that God forbid, if there was like 5 percent chance that there was a bomb, you don't want to have that for the rest of your life that people got hurt or killed. So we just were calm and cool about it. I stayed in the theater with the police department and the bomb squad. And I helped them search the aisles and everything, and they called it off. They called it a scare, a prank. And (the show) just went on.
Rick Rand: I think that everyone in the audience was pretty shocked when we saw Bob Reitman walking on stage just after the band finished one of their songs in the set. We were sitting about halfway back in the center seats. When Bruce let Bob announce that there had been a bomb scare most of us thought it was a joke! He then told us we had to vacate the building at which time Bruce grabbed the mic and in a very animated voice told the audience that they would be back. He went on to say something like; "Don’t go too far 'cause we will return and play all night!" It happened pretty quickly and then we were all ushered out of the building. It was really weird, nothing like this had ever happened before to most of us. We thought that this was a bad prank.
Bob Reitman: I often wondered, "I wonder who did that?" Your guess is as good as any other guess.
Robert Cavallo: I guess it comes down to someone thought he was of Jewish descent ... and just didn't care for whatever it was that was going on. They published that in the papers. I guess they didn't know. Nobody's every taken claim for it. I thought it was just a disgruntled fan who came from Madison or something and didn't get a ticket.
(Editor's note: While some people repeated the assertion that the caller expressed distaste for Springsteen's "Jewish" surname – which is, in fact, of Dutch derivation, at least one, who refused to be quoted, suggested the bomb threat had nothing to do with Springsteen or the perceived ethnicity of his name, but rather was meant to cause trouble for the promoters.)
Garry Tallent (E Street Band bassist): You don't forget things like that. I remember somebody was hanging around, I think with Clarence and he told everybody his name was Elton Jones. Not Elton John, Elton Jones. I think we all figured out it must've been him that did this. I'm not sure what the reason for it was, or anything like that, but he called in a bomb scare, that he had planted a bomb somewhere. They had to put it together. As I recall, I think we just started the set, or maybe started the first song of the set. He was just this guy.
Clarence was a very affable guy. He took a lot of people under his wing and befriended a lot of people. Sometimes they were kind of strange people. I don't know. I didn't know him. I'm surprised I even remember that name, only because it's kind of a ... It was kind of like Elton, like Elton John. Elton Jones. Anyway, we don't know for a fact, we kind of after the fact surmised it must have been this fellow.
Lt. Steven Caballero: They had to have thought the threat was credible because they evacuated everybody. My guess is they figured, let's get everyone out and search. It's going to take so many hours to look. We'll keep some employees here because who better to know if something looks out of place. If we find something we can keep the theater closed, but if now, we can let everyone back in. It must've been credible enough for them to not want to have that liability.
Robert Cavallo: The crowd was great, probably because Springsteen was (out) there. Then, he came back on the microphone and said, "Listen, let the cops do their job. Come back at 12:00, and we'll put on a show for ya."
Are you loose?
As fans streamed out and headed for neighborhood bars like Brett’s (now McBob’s), across North Avenue, and restaurants, like the now-gone La Joy Chinese Restaurant across Lisbon, or milled about in the triangular parking lot across 49th Street, the band piled into a limo and headed for The Pfister, where they set up shop in the hotel’s lobby bar...
Bruce Springsteen (from the stage during the second set): "I don't know what you did, but we got real weird. We ran back to the hotel. Ran into the bar. I said bartender, ‘I need a drink.’ I was shakin’, my knees were weak, I couldn’t see straight. Steve was there. We were sitting at the bar, we were scared to death, we said, 'Bartender, somebody tried to blow us up tonight.’ We said, 'Bartender, are you loose?’ He looked at me and said, ‘Son, are you loose?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And there I was and Clarence came in the bar. Clarence shuffled in in his white suit. The people over at The Puh-ffffister didn’t know what was happening. That is a weird joint. So there we was. I was sitting at the bar, Steve was sitting at the bar, Clarence was at the bar, we was drinking our skulls out. And that’s when it happened. It got very serious for a minute. I sat back, I seen what was coming I took a big gulp, my knees started shaking my heart started beating faster than it ever had, I said, ‘Steve you know ..."
Garry Tallent: We just vacated the place with everybody else and back to the hotel and killed some time until we were called back and they brought people back in. We went back and finished the set. Unfortunately, we weren't quite as sober as we were. We just thought it was weird. I don't think anybody freaked out. It was just strange. It was just, "Is this something that we're going to be dealing with all the time?" I guess they weren't as common back then, but they existed. No, I don't think anybody really freaked out. It's like, "Coitus interuptis." We're into the set and all of a sudden stop. Yeah, when we got back to the hotel we just hung together. Thinking it would just take a few minutes. I don't even know how long. You probably know more about this than I do.
I just remember we were waiting and then I guess we kind of got bored and figured that at some point that the show would be postponed or cancelled or whatever. Somebody decided that we should probably have a drink or two, which is something that we don't normally do before a show.
Peter Mortensen (The Pfister concierge): In those days the lobby bar was enclosed. It was a place called Cafe Ole, that was established sometime in the ‘60s. The space had been put in sometime in the late 1950s. It was a bar, very popular with people after work. At 9 o’clock on a Thursday, it was probably fairly happening. You had a mix of regulars who came in and hotel guests. It was just kind of the hotel equivalent of a Cheers, in the sense that there were a number of regulars, people who stopped in on their way home from work. It was a more relaxed environment. It was very dark, a place you could be anonymous.
A 1971 advertisement for Cafe Ole, a bar that also served food.
We had a number of bartenders and they really made themselves at home. There wasn’t as much job turnover as you see now. Most of them tended to be older men, outgoing, engaging and certainly the one I remember the most was a man named Jacques, but he went by Jocko. Very very outgoing, very exuberant guy and funny. Just found humor in everything. He was the classic "mine host" and he really took to that role. For him it wasn’t about pouring drinks, it was about making that connection with people. Particularly if the bar wasn’t really crowded, I could easily see him getting involved in whatever was going on with any individual group of people. Between that and kidding the waitresses. That’s how he whiled away the evening.
He retired from the hotel probably early to mid ‘90s. Last time I had seen him, which would have been a number of years ago, he had been working for, I think, the City. In the hospitality industry, you get to meet a lot of people, but they come and go, so you lose track of people. But he was definitely a character.
Bob Reitman: Bruce and the guys get on the bus, or whatever they're driving, to go back The Pfister. Anyway, we're wandering around the theater. They're due back about midnight. I stay there. Hanging around watching. I don't recall (bomb sniffing) dogs, but I'm sure they were looking. I cannot even begin to guess what they were thinking, but if you forced me to, I would guess that they probably suspected that there wasn't (a bomb).
Fans wait outside The Uptown while awaiting the resumption of the concert. (Photo: Mark Goff)
Mark Goff (photographer): The crowd went outside and milled around for while thinking we'd be back in soon, which is when I took the photo (above). At that point the Fire Department hadn't even arrived. Then Alan Dulberger, the promoter, came out and said the concert would resume at midnight. It was only a little after 8 p.m. and it wasn't going to take the FD almost four hours to check out that little theater.
It was a weeknight and some of us actually had to go to work the next day. In addition to the fact that the concert was open seating and some people had lined up very early to get a good seat. So everyone left to go wherever you go to kill three hours on the west side of Milwaukee on a weeknight. My wife and I went home and didn't come back. We both had day jobs and a teenage babysitter who had to go to school the next day.
Dave Benton: I think everyone was a little worried that the show would not be resumed, although Bruce had assured the crowd that it would. Two of my friends chose to not stick around because they had to be at work early the next morning, and they found a bus back to Mad. Nothing was going to drag me away. We went to a Greek restaurant during the break and ate saganaki and drank beer and ouzo.
Louie Lucchesi: Like everyone, including the band, we went out and got high. Many people went to what is now McBob's, but was then called Brett's. I think it was '74 (‘75) which would make me 16.
Michael Plaisted: My friend and I headed outside to a bar in the area that had not seen a younger crowd in a while. We soon headed back to the theater. I think my car was parked right in front of the theater, so we stood in line listening to Bruce on the radio as the DJs tried to figure out what was going on.
Robert Cavallo: We had heard that's where they were staying, so it's like, "Let's go back to The Pfister in between times." I was just, I guess, with some crazy guys and thought, "Well, hey. Let's go along." We drove ourselves. They were in the lobby bar. The limousine took them. We just kind of ended up there killing time, too. We figure it was about 9, 9:30 when they had to clear the place out.
Springsteen onstage at the Uptown.
Provin' it all night
Alan Dulberger: We said, come back at midnight and the show will go on. So, sure enough, everybody that was at that show came back. I don't think there was anybody that didn't come back and there's probably more people that showed up because they were standing up dancing in the aisles and everything.
The theater checked, the doors to the venue were re-opened at midnight and fans returned. Springsteen and company took the stage, appearing well lubricated, a fact that remains notable to this day, as the temperate Springsteen has never been seen to be drunk onstage at any other time ...
The E Street Shuffle/Havin' a Party
It's Hard To Be A Saint in the City
Sha La La
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) (With "Theme from Shaft")
Fourth Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Quarter to Three
Bob Reitman: The band comes back and we know they're downstairs. I didn't see them. I said to the promoter, "How do I know when to go up and introduce them again?" He said, "You'll know." I was like, "What an odd thing to say." When he said, "You'll know." I didn't know what was going to happen. All of a sudden, the guys come. You see the band and Springsteen come roaring up the steps, not unlike the Packers coming out of the tunnel at a Super Bowl there. I mean, well, that was it.
I can't remember, but I don't think I had to (introduce them again). It wouldn't have been necessary. They knew, everybody knew. I didn't know how they wanted to handle it. I don't think I had to say a word and they came out.
Robert Cavallo: (Reitman) said it was like watching the football team running onto the football field. They were ready. They came out like gangbusters. Being such a close-knit band, they just outperformed. There might have been four empty seats for the second show, because people got on the phone. People called and said, "It's going on at 12:00. Come and get my tickets, because I can't hang around."
Damian Jaques: The place was electric when the concert resumed. It has to be considered the greatest rock concert in Milwaukee history, although I would have to say that Lou Reed's concert in the ballroom at the Marquette student union was also epic for very different reasons.
Garry Tallent: When we were called back, it was kind of like, "Oh, OK. Let's go." I think we started back with "Little Queenie." Which was not exactly the normal show starter. It wasn't a normal show. It was all kind of funny that we were back there and expected to do the normal show which obviously wasn't going to happen. I don't remember what we did. I guess we tried to go on as normal as possible, but obviously this was not a normal night.
Michael Plaisted: The false alarm was rescinded and we headed back in at midnight. My friend and I were now in the front row, to the far right. Everything had changed. Gone were the melodramatic mood and the somber intellectual pretensions. Springsteen came out with his stocking cap pulled down almost over his eyes, and all bets were off.
Bob Reitman: What they did fit perfectly, and what they did stunned. I don't know if they'd ever done "Little Queenie" live. They come out, and if you've heard the tape, you know what happens. They're making it up as they’re going along. "Yeah, somebody tried to blow us up tonight." He's ad-libbing the whole thing and the band is getting a bigger kick out of it. They're laughing, they don't know where he's going with this. It was ridiculous. It was so powerful. I ain't moving now, I'm in heaven. I mean, I cannot believe what I am seeing. If you ask anybody that went there. I'd hate to say this because, it's like, "I was there and you weren't." I'm not doing that. I'm not exaggerating saying, "You know, I was really cool and lucky I was there, and you weren't." I'm not doing that. But it was just remarkable.
Michael Plaisted: There was a guy there from out east that I kind of knew from an English class in Madison before I dropped out a couple of years before. He was far more aware of the Springsteen catalog than I was. He was in the front row in the middle and went absolutely nuts over one song that I was hearing for the first time. His face was as close to rapture as I'll ever see. He was rocking back and forth toward the stage, singing back at the right parts. Looking back, that could only have been one song, heard (live) that night and never since: "Kitty's Back."
At the end, Bruce announced that we got to have one more song and it was by Gary "U.S." Bonds. My friend, to my surprise, was the only one in the crowd who yelled, "Quarter to Three!" Bruce came right over to us and said, "Wha?" My friend yelled it again – I wanted to help, but it was like some dream where you just can't get it out – and Bruce said, "Wha?" This went on for what seemed like an eternity, until my friend said it one more time and Bruce said, "Well, alright!" and there they went. I wanted the bootleg just for that moment, and there it is: the call-and-response between Bruce Springsteen and my best friend. You can't hope for anything better than that night. Can't happen.
Springsteen on stage at The Uptown (Photo: Mark Goff)
Dave Benton: As you have probably heard, the crowd and band came back for part two fairly well lubricated. Bruce kept saying, "Are you loose?" and laughing. It was a big party for a couple more hours, great fun. I was 27 years of age then. Perfect. I am not usually prone to name-dropping, but it's true and he was/is my friend, and it enhances my story a bit. One of the people who stayed at the show with me was Duke Erikson who now plays with Garbage.
Rick Rand: We were escorted out of the building, it was probably past 9 o'clock or even later. In any case, Joel told Howie and me that he had to be in class at UWM very early and he was going home. I could not believe that Joel would leave but I think he proceeded to take a cab back to his apartment. Howie and I went across the street to La Joys Chinese Restaurant. Others from the show ended up coming over to the restaurant also. We ate Chinese food and had cocktails until it was time for us to go back to the Uptown. We had to stay out of the place a couple of hours and could not get back in until the police finished searching for a bomb.We came back just before they opened the doors.
Louie Lucchesi: Springsteen had really blown the roof off the Uptown when he left the stage. To this day I put it with the best concerts I've ever seen, maybe the best. He did at least three encores and I remember being so exhausted I couldn't clap anymore. That's never happened again. I had no idea they wouldn't go back on until midnight and play for 3 hours.
Bob Reitman: It was so intense and so incredible. The greatest rock and roll show I've ever seen. There were factors in that equation that made it that. They had to be that great of a band. The songs had to be that good. Throw in the ... I'm not advocating calling in bomb scares, but that event was so unusual, and kind of tension filled, and kind of curious. Breaking a concert up for three hours. I expected them to bag it. I don't know who else would do that. Who would have faulted them? These guys, that's what they are: rock and roll guys.
Bruce Springsteen (onstage, as the set wound down): Once again I’d like to thank everybody for going through this whole thing with us. This is our first time in Milwaukee and now we found out what made it famous. Damn, that’s bad (laughs). Now we’re gonna leave ya the way we yound ya: loose.
When the lights go out
After the show, the band, presumably, returned to The Pfister, before heading out to Detroit, where it was slated to play the Michigan Palace Theater on Saturday night.
Springsteen and the E Street Band would return to Milwaukee for a gig at the Auditorium on Feb. 22, 1977, and here began the tradition of Springsteen and his bandmates referencing the Uptown show – "are ya loose?!" – at every Milwaukee performance.
The Uptown would remain a movie house until 1981 and staged occasional concerts until 1984. It was demolished in 2001, and the Milwaukee Police Department’s District 3 station and Communications Center was erected on the site.
But no one among the Springsteen faithful – in Milwaukee or beyond – would soon forget the Uptown, recordings of which have circulated ever since on bootleg cassettes, LPs and CDs. There is reportedly also surviving super-8 footage of the second set.
Incidentally, on Sept. 4, 2001, a, Asbury Park, N.J., performance by E Street Band saxman Clarence Clemons was halted for about 90 minutes after a bomb scare. Springsteen had surprised the crowd the night before by appearing unannounced onstage.
Bob Reitman: There was a photographer for Columbia Records that was following Springsteen around, and this photographer, after the show he said to me, "I've seen 79 – or whatever the number – Springsteen concerts. This was the one."
Alan Dulberger: It was an experience that helped give us a little bit more validity about being THE concert promoters of Milwaukee, that there was a bomb scare and Daydream Productions was the producers, and they had to cancel the show temporarily and it went back on, it was a smashing success, one of the best concerts by Bruce Springsteen... That was a good accolade for us as promoters.
Drew Olson (radio personality and Springsteen fan): The band was definitely ‘loose.’ The record company had planned a post-show party at the "Pfffffffister" and they got started a little early. The post-scare portion of the set, Bruce sounds a bit tipsy — which is exceedingly rare. It was the band’s first visit to Milwaukee and they were playing with an edge. When you think about it, this is the same era as the famous Hammersmith Odeon show - his first in London. When you listen to it now, you can see why critics — many of whom liked the first two records, "Greetings" and "The Wild The Innocent" – were won over by the band’s live shows. It probably wasn’t an atypical performance for the period. The bomb scare – and heavily-traded bootleg of the show – added to the lore and created a bit of mythology around it. It was definitely not "just another night."
Garry Tallent: Yeah, it just kind of faded into history (for us). We might have mentioned it here and there. It's not something you forget. But we’ve got better stories than that. I don't know what other people think.
Drew Olson: Springsteen’s legendary reputation for putting on long, exhaustive shows was forged around the late 1970s and early ‘80s tours when he went out in support of "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "The River." This show pre-dated that period, but I think the fact that much of it took place after midnight added a bit to the lore.
This is one of those touchstone shows that grew in importance over the years. Let’s face it, not every rock show is interrupted by a bomb scare. It’s almost like the music version of the Packers’ "Ice Bowl" game. There were probably 1,500 people in the hall and there are 100,000 who claim to have been at the show.
Garry Tallent: I mean I think it's probably because ... It's like people who tell me that they bought the first record when it came out. At least a million people have told me that ... I know we only sold like 17,000 copies. It's like same thing. People tell you, "Oh, I was at that show." I remember it was just a little, maybe 2,000-seat theater. At least a million people have been there, you know? Yeah, and those million people, their memory of it is better than mine.
The 40th anniversary show
Clarence Clemons on stage at the Uptown.
In 2009, Cavallo published a book of photographs from the bomb scare show called, "Are You Loose? Springsteen Live at the Uptown Theater," and that same year, The Pfister got into the spirit, offering "Glory Days" specials at Blu. Anyone who asked the bartender, "are you loose?" could purchase cocktails – including two specials, The Spring-stini and the Martin-E Street Band, at 1975 prices.
Tonight, Shank Hall will host an event celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Uptown show, with music by John Sieger, Mary Karlzen, Mike Plaisted, Kevin Brandy, Dan Kolesari, Justin Jagler and others. Many of the folks quoted in this article will be on hand to share their memories and photographer Robert Cavallo will offer free posters to everyone on hand. The show starts at 8 p.m. and admission is free. No word on whether or not the show will be halted seven songs in ...
Drew Olson: I have to credit OMC photographer David Bernacchi and his friend, Bob Cavallo, for coming up with the idea. A few years ago, they did a Gallery Night event devoted to Bob’s photos of the Uptown show and I emceed that along with my buddy Kevin Brandt of WKLH. They reached out to me months ago about doing an anniversary show, so I immediately called Peter Jest and discovered that he had booked My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult for that night. We thought about other venues and dates, but the idea was dying on the vine until Peter reached out to me.
Someone in Thrill Kill Kult had broken an arm, so the date was open again. It was really late notice, but I went on my Facebook page and asked any musicians interested in taking part to contact me. I knew KB would do a song or two, because it doesn’t take much to get him to do things like this, and that he could cajole Mary Karlzen into coming along. I had a few other guys reach out to me and then Peter contacted John Sieger, who jumped on board. Dave reached out to Bob Reitman, who was the emcee that night at the Uptown, and he agreed to come out. That’s when I figured we could give it a go.
You been almost blown up
Springsteen: Are you crazy? You been almost blown up, you been screwed around here since about 8 o’clock, it’s 2 o’clock and you don’t wanna go home? Are you loose? I’m just a prisoner of rock and roll. Thank you so much. You’ve been the greatest, you’ve been fantastic. Thank you all. Love you.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.