Live 03 Mar 1974 (late show) version
[Spoken intro:] This is a song, uh... Around this time of night, at the carnivals, and in here, obviously, too (chuckles), is when, is when you start breaking it down to the real freaks. (chuckles) You know, really, it's like (chuckles), it's like, if you've ever had any of those little circuses or something, I guess like around 12 and 1, just before they break down and move on, it's, uh, it's the big top, that's right (chuckles). And this is some of the people that are left.
The machinist climbs his Ferris wheel like a brave
Oh, the fire eater's lyin' in the pool of sweat, victim of the heat wave
Behind the tent, the hired hand tightens his legs on the sword swallower's blade
The circus town's on the shortwave
Well, the runway lies ahead like a great false dawn
Whoa, Fat Lady, Big Mama, Missy Bimbo sits in her chair and yawns
And the man-beast lies in his cage sniffing popcorn [sniffs]
And the midget licks his fingers and suffers Missy Bimbo's scorn
And circus town's been born
Whoa, and the press roll, drummer go, ballerina to-and-fro
Cartwheelin' up on that tightrope with a cannon blast, lightin' flash
Movin' fast, through the tent, Mars bent, he's gonna miss his fall
Oh, God save the human cannonball
And the flying Zambinis watch Margarita do her neck twist
Oh, the ringmaster gets the crowd to count along: "Ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven"
A ragged suitcase in his hand, stealing silently away from the circus grounds
Oh, the highway's haunted by them carnival sounds
They dance like a great greasepaint ghost on the wind
The man in baggy pants, a lonely face, a crazy grin
He's runnin' back home to a small Ohio town
Jesus, send some good women to save all your clowns
And circus boy dances like a monkey on barbed wire
And now the barker romances with a junkie, she's got a flat tire
Oh, and the elephants dance real funky, and the band plays like a jungle fire
Circus town's on the live wire
And the strong man, Sampson, lifts the midget, little Tiny Tim, way on his shoulders, way up
And carries him off down the midway
Past the kids, past the sailors, to his dimly lit trailer
And the Ferris wheel turns and turns and turns like it ain't ever gonna stop
And the circus boss leans over and whispers into the little boy's ear, he says, "Hey son, you wanna try the big top?"
All aboard, Nebraska's our next stop
[Spoken outro:] Thanks so much.
The above lyrics are for the live 03 Mar 1974 late show performance of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, during what is considered The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle Tour. The song was played in an acoustic version, with Bruce Springsteen on guitar, Danny Federici on accordion, and Garry Tallent on tuba.
Bruce Springsteen and the band played two shows at Georgetown University on 03 Mar 1974: an early show at 7:30 p.m. and a late show at 10:30 p.m. Bruce Springsteen was the headliner and Orleans were the opening act. The shows were held at the university's 750-seat Gaston Hall. There is no known audio recording form the early show, but Springsteen's late show (minus the last song) was simulcast on the University's popular radio station WGTB-FM. The broadcast now circulates on several bootlegs in excellent soundboard quality.
The 03 Mar 1973 late show broadcast from Georgetown University was commercially released in the UK. Since 2005 some enterprising record labels in the UK have been releasing Bruce Springsteen radio and TV broadcasts (and some soundboard recordings) from the seventies, eighties, and nineties. Though these releases are not authorized by Bruce Springsteen or his record company, they are lawful due to a legal loophole in the UK.
Thanks Jake (ol'catfishinthelake at BTX and Greasy Lake) for the lyrics help.
Some of the above info about Springsteen's shows at Georgetown University is taken from Brucebase.
List of available versions of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY on this website:WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Album version]