Bruce Springsteen Exhibits Youth in a Venue That’s Past Its Prime

Bruce Springsteen
L.A. Sports Arena

“I’m glad to be here in the beautiful Sports Arena,” an energetic Bruce Springsteen exclaimed during set opener “Meet Me in the City.” 

While few, if any, Angelenos or Southern Californians for that matter would likely agree with the Boss of E Street’s sentiment, there was no doubt throughout the rocker’s three-and-a-half hour set that he’s ready to make the most of the last three nights in the building’s history.

For the first time in his career, Springsteen is touring behind a reissue. In this case, the relatively exhaustive look back at one of his more underrated albums (if that’s even a thing) in The River provided a rare glimpse behind Springsteen’s thought process in terms of outtakes and first cuts on what was already a two CD release. 

As has been the norm on this tour, the night kicked off with the aforementioned track before launching into The River from front-to-back. Though Springsteen on occasion — namely at the end of 2009 — has played albums in its entirety, he’d only played The River once at Madison Square Garden of that year. While the first 65 percent of the show was the same, that didn’t take away from the poignancy and firepower that surrounded many of the songs that have been sparsely played since that initial 1980-1981 run.

The “Brruuuuuuuccccee” chants rattled the arena from the jump, and Springsteen powered through the night without pause. As always though, the foundation provided by the relatively stripped down E Street Band gave him the ability to dazzle the crowd. Older and more grizzled since the record was released nearly 36 years ago, the songs have provided the band the inspiration to work on material that strays far outside their recent sets.

Few, if any rockers today could pull off The River. A double album is a rarity, nevertheless one that mixed the fire and fury of a Springsteen show with the power of his lyrics. The title track, in particular, is a song that stands out from the collection, as mentioned in Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin four years ago, it’s a song that was a thinly veiled take on his sister that needless to say, caused a bit of a thaw. Regardless, the album established Springsteen as the rock star of his time, and with a minimal nuts-and-bolts set up, he did the album justice.

While Springsteen standards like “Out in the Streets” and “Hungry Heart,” which saw the Boss crowd surf his way back to the stage were welcome, it’s the rarities that stood out. “The Ties That Bind” featured an explosive sax solo by the underrated Jake Clemons (nephew of the late, great Clarence Clemons), along with with the poignancy of Springsteen explaining the father-son relations of “Independence Day” and the meaning behind The River meant something to casual fans, anyone who has SiriusXM’s E-Street Radio or has downloaded the official tour bootlegs knew the spiel. Nonetheless, hearing him explain the dynamics behind the songs gave them new emphasis that may have slipped past many in attendance, including this East Coaster who wasn’t alive when the album was first released.

After two hours and 21 songs, the band busted out a semi-greatest hits collection that rewarded casual fans. Reliable standards like the rapturous “Badlands,” a roaring “Because the Night” that unleashed a fury of Nils Lofgren, who had been quiet for most of the night, and the rarely played “Human Touch” from Springsteen’s maligned early ‘90s period stood out. Classics like “She’s the One,” “Rosalita” and “No Surrender,” though, showcased the power of the Boss. Few, if any rock bands, have the power to endure for a three hour set, nevertheless sprint past that mark without taking a break. Bruce Springsteen is no ordinary rock star. He managed to turn the L.A. Sports Arena into the Stone Pony and give fans a slice of the Jersey Shore in the outskirts of downtown L.A., including a quick shimmy with a young girl he pulled from the crowd during “Dancing in the Dark.”

Somehow, by the time many of the seniors in attendance were running on empty, Springsteen was firing hit after hit. When the final notes of set closer “Shout” were struck, you weren’t sure if you were watching a rising star or an all-time great. Either way, Bruce Springsteen clearly has a lot left in the tank at 66, and with two more nights left at the “Fabulous Sports Arena,” you can be certain that the surprises left in the Boss’s arsenal are yet to come.

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