VCU Gym - May 23, 1970
by Tom "Cool" Yolton
May 23, 1970 Friday Night By now Springsteen had become the rage on the campus of V.C.U. This concert was close to the end of the semester. It was in the what is now the old gymnasium, stage at one side with a backdrop. The floor was open with bleachers on the side if you wanted to sit down. The place was packed. Mercy Flight started their set. Right after the opening notes, because of an electrical surge, the power went off. Don’t ask me how we did it but when they got the power back on a few moments later Mercy Flight was still playing the opening song like we hadn’t stopped. An obvious crowd pleaser that gave a hint that it was going to be a magical night.
Steel Mill started with what was their beginning song at that time "The Judge". The main line in the chorus was "he’s guilty...he’s guilty, send that boy to jail". This song predates his later songs such as "Johnny 99" where he writes about the main character having to go before the judge to answer for his crime. In this early song "The Judge" the main character was in court accused of playing his music too loud. Springsteen would start with this funky little guitar riff that the band would add to and pretty soon the place was rockin’. At this time the members in Steel Mill were Danny Federici, Springsteen, Vinnie Lopez on drums and Stevie Van Zant. Steve was the bass player at that point having replaced Little Vinnie who, I suspect, jumped around on stage too feverishly for Springsteen’s liking. The concert raged on. Steel Mill, with Springsteen leading, captured the crowd. At this time he had shoulder length hair ( the style at that time) and yes, he had patches on his pants, check out the poster. He played what used to be a gold Gibson LesPaul. The gold finish had been removed at the surf board factory to expose the wood underneath. Then a smooth coat of polyurethene resin was applied, the same stuff they used on the surf boards. It looked really cool. I did the same thing to one of my guitars later on. He ran that through a stack of Marshall amps.
The magical time of 11:00 came and the concert was supposed to be over but the band , and the crowd , wouldn’t hear of it. Steel Mill plowed on until finally the authorities decided "now we’ll really shut the power off ". Which they did. But they couldn’t shut the drums off. Well ...Lopez, with the help of some unnamed previous performers backstage, continued drumming away. Vinnie pounding on the drums on stage and Mercy Flight pounding on the drums that were backstage. The crowd was dancing and the place just wouldn’t stop. At one point it seemed it was near riot and pandimonium. I think eventually security, or what was supposed to be security, jump up on the stage and grabbed Vinny the drummer and after a little fisticuffs hauled him off to jail. I remember it being quite a night. This is another poster by Squeezo. The words Steel Mill are actually done with a metallic ink. The design, with the steel mill stacks in the background, was now starting to become their logo. The artists behind these posters where students and prior students at the art school at V.C.U. They are all done with silk sceen and required three or four runs to get the finished picture.
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