& The E Street Band
March 19, 2016
Los Angeles Sports Arena
Los Angeles, CA
Review & Photos by Shawn Perry
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band wrapped up their three-night stand at the Los Angeles Sports Arena with an epic four-hour set that included 1980’s The River album in its entirety as its centerpiece. Hard to fathom I was there to witness it. The last time I had seen the Boss and the E Streeters was in 2009, when they blew through town for two nights behind the Working On A Dream album. It was the last tour for Clarence Clemons. Before that, I caught a short solo spot on a bill he shared with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne at the Shrine Auditorium in the 90s; before that, I went to my first Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert on one of seven nights he played supporting 1984’s Born In The USA.
Aside from the solo gig at the Shrine, every other Springsteen show I’ve been to was at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Yeah, I’ve missed most of his concerts over the years because I’m not the biggest Springsteen fan (as I would find out, it’s an exhausting job). Tonight was different because the so-called “Dump That Jumps,” as Springsteen likes to call it, was being put out to pasture, soon to be leveled to make way for an indoor soccer stadium. So this was the last event the Los Angeles Sports Arena would host. That’s progress, folks!
As a lifelong resident of California, I have been privy to some great events at the L.A Sports Arena. I was there for three different multi-night runs from Pink Floyd — during their Wish You Were Here tour in 1975, The Wall tour in 1980, and A Momentary Lapse of Reason tour in 1987. That same year, I saw one of U2’s shows during The Joshua Tree tour. The Grateful Dead was another band I saw at the sports arena in 1993 and 1994.
There were others, like the Who, Pat Benatar, Huey Lewis & The News. During the 1984 Olympics, I came here and watched Evander Holyfield pummel Kevin Barry, only to get disqualified on a bad call. He was given a Bronze medal for making the semi-finals, but definitely deserved the Gold. No matter, he turned pro months later, became a four-time heavyweight champion, and got his ear chewed off by Mike Tyson.
Through it all, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have visited the Los Angeles Sports Arena more than anyone — 34 times between 1980 and 2016. Something about its unpretentious appearance apparently appealed to the Boss. It was certainly enough to get him and the band to stand before a packed house and deliver a spectacular performance, from start to finish. Even an outsider could appreciate the energy and passion the man brought to each of the 36 songs he and the band played. It took me a while to “get it” (and I’m still not sure I have); to understand and embrace the whole regular-guy-working-class ethos that Springsteen emulates. Even though you know he’s loaded and lives in a big New Jersey mansion, he comes across as genuine, engaged and willing to give every ounce of his body and soul to please the throngs who obediently come to his concerts, buy his records and worship at the alter of Bruce.
My seat turned out to be better than I thought it would be — just off the floor and close to the heartbeat. It was a little after eight when the lights dimmed, chants of “Bruuuce” rumbled from various points of the venue, and each of the players stepped up and took up their instruments. Springsteen was the last to arrive, and once he did, without so much as a “Hello” or “Here I am,” he and the E Street Band launched right into “Meet Me In The City,” an infectious hip-shaker recorded around the time of The River, yet unreleased until 2015. It’s included on The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, a box set featuring a new mix of The River, plus a full load of unreleased songs from the sessions and plenty of live classics. Hence, the basis for the 2016 tour.
From there, they rolled right into The River, playing all 20 of its songs in sequence. The Boss told the crowd The River was his “coming of the age” record, describing its textures and place in his career, before adding, “Tonight…let’s go down the river." And right into “The Ties That Bind” he and the E Streeters went, the music so intricately precise and on pace. The grim, yet upbeat “Sherry Darling,” followed by the solid rocking “Jackson Cage” and “Two Hearts” had the crowd on their feet, singing along. “Independence Day” slowed the momentum, but intensified the mood.
During “Hungry Heart,” Springsteen waltzed through the arena aisles, reading handmade signs by fans before doing a little crowd surfing back to the stage where he was rescued by saxophonist Jake Clemons (Clarence’s nephew). “Out In The Street” got the faithful back out of their chairs, united in their reverence, shouting the words — “When I'm out in the street…whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh…” — as if their very lives depended on it. It also provided a platform for Springsteen and Stevie Van Zant to riff off each other, with their guitars and vocally.
When it came to “The River,” an ode to the working class, and the mesmerizing “Point Blank,” the room mellowed for a spell, and the serene beauty of Springsteen’s most emotive numbers took centerstage. In exploratory material like this, you recognize how much pianist Roy Bittan is really in the driver’s seat, leading the turnarounds at the end of each verse and filling in spaces, even with the chorus line of guitarists out in front.
“Cadillac Ranch,” “I'm A Rocker” and “Ramrod” pretty much got the place hopping. Then the whole thing took a left turn with tracks like “Stolen Car,” “Drive All Night,” and Wreck On The Highway,” all thematically linked, decisively moody, clearly off-road vehicles for some of Springsteen’s more tender, poignant insights. It was already after 10 by the time he finished The River, and he still had plenty more to go.
Of the 15 songs they had left, there was something to take and savor from each. “Prove It All Night” gave the Boss a chance to wipe the floor clean with his Telecaster, peeling off notes like he was a guitar hero with a grudge. “Badlands” had the audience once again shouting the chorus, and “Because The Night” likely confused the less informed about why they were covering a Patti Smith song (Springsteen wrote it, she had a hit with it). Nils Lofgren certainly added some pizzazz to the song with a screaming solo that had him twirling in circles.
Certainly, a major highlight was “Jungleland,” where Jake Clemons soars on sax, doing his uncle proud. Coming out for the first encore, Springsteen said, “I’m gonna miss this old place, it's been a great place to play rock and roll music. They don't build them like this anymore, but that's the way it goes." That seemed to work as the perfect set-up for “Wrecking Ball.” When Springsteen sang, “Yeah we know that come tomorrow, none of this will be here,” an ominous shutter of sorrow and sentiment swept the venue.
You can only imagine where it went from there. The hallowed chorus of “Born To Run” swallowed the room whole just before “Dancing In The Dark” got everyone, including the ushers and security guards, dancing (I got the video to prove it). One lucky female audience member with a sign was handpicked by the Boss for a short on-stage dance. Another sign holder was given a guitar and proceeded to rock out at the microphone with Springsteen, Van Zant and Clemens. He will never wash his hands again.
After watching them slay “Rosalita” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” (featuring a thoughtful tribute to Clarence Clemons) with the house lights on, I was feeling the fatigue and could only imagine how the band felt as it came up on 11:30. Two nights before, they finished up with the Isley Brothers “Shout,” but tonight they went one further with “Bobby Jean,” one of Springsteen’s deeper cuts from Born In The USA, and a snappy rocker to boot. At least it got the people on the floor waving their arms, as if bidding farewell to the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
I did the same as I hightailed it out to my car, made a mad dash for the exit gate, and out to the freeway before the rush. Just thinking about much energy Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band put into their performance got me home without much of an effort. Most all the concerts I’ve seen at the Los Angeles Sports Arena have been epic in one way or another. And I suspect tonight, the last night, is right up there with the best of them.