Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
L.A. Memorial Sports Arena
Saturday, March 19, 2016
“Los Angeles, are you ready for the last jump at the dump?” Bruce Springsteen asked the sold-out crowd at the final show at Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena during set opener “Meet Me in the City.” The magnitude of being the final musician to perform at the 57-year-old arena clearly wasn't lost on the leader of the E Street Band, who promised to “tear the place down” following the next song, “The Ties That Bind.”
While the Boss didn’t quite do that, he did his best to ensure that the bustling crowd would have one last fond parting memory of one of the city’s most underused venues.
Springsteen’s initial River tour saw him play a four-night stand at the Sports Arena beginning on Oct. 30, 1980, which started his love affair with the not-so-hallowed venue. He playfully called it “the dump that jumps” and “the joint that don’t disappoint” numerous times over the years, and it was appropriate that Springsteen be the man to close out a place that was often considered the black sheep of Los Angeles concert venues.
Famously, Springsteen opened up Staples Center in 1999 with a four-night stint and had some not-so-kind things to say about the slick new building and its acoustics. Those shows, along with a 2002 show at the Forum, were the only times in 36 years he didn’t perform at the Sports Arena when he came through L.A. It would have been interesting to hear why he liked the venue so much, but Springsteen reflected on it only in passing, saving most of his banter to explain the meaning behind several songs on The River.
Touring behind the re-released box set of the double album that propelled him to stardom with his first Top 10 single, “Hungry Heart,” Springsteen spent the first two hours playing The River in full, as he has throughout this tour. Live, it was the less heralded songs, like the roadhouse fury of “Ramrod,” the rockabilly-infused “Cadillac Ranch” and the haunting “Drive All Night” (met by a sea of cellphone lights, a far cry from the lighters that probably adorned the Arena back in 1980), that provided the highlights.
The Sports Arena's history is colorful as Springsteen’s. Opened in 1959 by then–Vice President Richard Nixon, it has been the site for many iconic moments. People tend to forget that the Sports Arena was the place where John F. Kennedy became the presidential nominee. It hosted Wrestlemania twice, and served as home to USC basketball and the Clippers’ dark ages. On top of being Springsteen’s preferred Los Angeles stomping ground, the Sports Arena hosted Daft Punk’s legendary 2007 show, as well as artists as varied as Pink Floyd, U2, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Madonna and Nirvana.
Throughout the night, the themes of love and loss that are sprinkled throughout the Springsteen catalog felt especially poignant. Once he got to the greatest-hits portion of the set, the Boss selected songs that dealt with relationships and saying goodbye, notably “Tougher Than the Rest,” “My Love Will Not Let You Down” and a rousing, crowd-pleasing version of “Jungleland,” which featured a booming solo from Jake Clemons, who replaced his late uncle Clarence on E Street Band saxophone in 2012.
As usual, E Street stalwarts Steven Van Zandt and Max Weinberg powered the band through the marathon set, remaining loyal lieutenants to Springsteen, who showcased his own guitar chops by shredding through “Prove It All Night.” At the risk of nitpicking, however, the set's structure and song selection didn’t stray too far from the formula on this tour, which was a disappointment. Springsteen’s shows are known for their spontaneity and unpredictability, and not including more surprises in his farewell Sports Arena set felt like a missed opportunity. The show's biggest surprise was for the fan who got to dance with the Boss on “Dancing in the Dark” after he noticed her sign that read, “I’ve been to 300 shows, 60 in the pit, and never got to dance.” That her dedication was finally rewarded on the Sports Arena's final night seemed apt.
Before the Sports Arena is demolished to become a soccer stadium, it’s easy to say good riddance. Its tiny seats (I could barely move my legs when sitting), mediocre-at-best concessions and hollow acoustics would seem to offer little to concertgoers. However, there’s something undeniably charming about the old dump — something that a music historian like Springsteen is clearly aware of.
“I’m gonna miss this old place,” Springsteen remarked as he launched into a spirited “Wrecking Ball” — an ode to Giants Stadium, debuted when he played the final shows there. “They don’t build 'em like this anymore, but that’s how it goes.”
The scrawny kid from Jersey turned grizzled, 66-year-old titan, Bruce Springsteen is one of our last rock stars. And with the state of arena rock is as tenuous as it's ever been, Saturday night almost felt like rock’s last stand. Love it or hate it, the Sports Arena was home to arena rock's heyday and is the last of its kind, at least here in Los Angeles. Closing with “Bobby Jean” from Born in the U.S.A., Springsteen gave the old venue the proper farewell it deserved: “I miss you baby/Good luck, goodbye, Bobby Jean.”
Set list below.
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Meet Me in the City
The Ties That Bind
Out in the Street
Crush on You
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
I Wanna Marry You
I'm a Rocker
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night
Wreck on the Highway
Prove It All Night
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Tougher Than the Rest
Because the Night
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out