“…a big record that felt like life…”

Concert Review
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Thursday, 17 March 2016
Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena

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Bruce Springsteen, working the crowd at the LA Memorial Sports Arena, Thursday, March 17, 2016.

Diehard Bruce Springsteen fans often refer to his live shows in terms more befitting a papal mass or an old-fashioned tent revival. Questions regarding faith notwithstanding, there is most certainly something spiritual happening at Bruce’s epic, marathon live performances. That was certainly the case on Night Two of the E Street Band’s three-night bon voyage party at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena on St. Patrick’s Day. “The dump that jumps” is closing its doors for good and Bruce gave it a fitting sendoff on this night with a 3-1/2 hour set of airtight rock n’ roll—anchored by the band’s end-to-end performance of Springsteen’s landmark 1980 album, The River—that blew the roof off the old joint.

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The LA Memorial Sports Arena; aka: The Dump That Jumps.

Opening with a raucous Meet Me in the City, a release on the sprawling River box set last year, Springsteen held sway with the vibrant audience like a conductor warming up his orchestra for a performance. “Are you ready to go down to the river?” Springsteen asks during the song’s bridge, warming up the crowd for the centerpiece of the evening’s performance. Unlike other tours, where Bruce is introducing new material interspersed with his classic gems, The River Tour is an opportunity to look back and reflect on the album that, in many ways, cast the dye for what would become the E Street Band’s indelible footprint for the next several decades.

“I wanted to make big record, a big record that felt like life—like life for an E Street Band show,” Springsteen said, introducing The River set. “I wanted a record that contained fun, dancing, laughter, jokes, politics, sex, good comradeship, love, faith, lonely nights and, of course, tears. And I figured if I could make a record big enough to contain those things, maybe I’d edge a little bit closer to the answers and the home I was trying to find.”

What followed next was a two-hour romp through the 20-song River album, opening with a spirited The Ties That Bind that felt every bit as vibrant and joyous as it did in the early 80s. Following a script that was written more than 35 years ago, the next hour was pure, pedal-to-the-metal arena rock including the familiar Hungry Heart (during which the 66-year-old ringleader crowd surfed like a kid) and Out in the Street. While the first hour was truly an off-the-chain rock show, the most poignant moment came during Independence Day; a song about Bruce’s often strained relationship with his father.

The E Street Band certainly proved all night it’s never too old to turn it up and rock the joint. Crush on You, Cadillac Ranch and Ramrod provided the requisite fun we expect from Springsteen shows, punctuated by guitarist Steven Van Zandt’s guitar work and Max Weinberg’s driving rhythms while Bruce prowls the stage, works the pit and connects with the fans. Despite the loss of Bruce’s right-hand man, Clarence Clemons, the power, energy and spirit of “The Big Man” was carried on through Clemons’ nephew, Jake Clemons. Jake channeled his uncle in every sax solo throughout the night; never more evident than in the evening’s penultimate number, the epic Tenth Avenue Freeze-out.

Though there was no shortage of rockers on this night, Bruce and the band were in finest form during the darker ballads that dot the landscape of The River. It is these darker songs where The River’s depth is truly felt. All that raw emotion from the 1980 album is retained and augmented in these live performances. The arrangements are, essentially, the same, but the passage of time has provided depth and experience that paints a new color on the lyrics and melodies. Bruce’s vocal on the title track was darker and more haunting than we hear on the vinyl. Roy Bittan’s opening piano interlude to Point Blank sets a tone of desperation. The wistful sadness of Stolen Car (one of Springsteen’s first songs written about “men and women” in his own words) is replaced by a somber perspective colored by three decades of life.

The 20-song River set begins as a joyous, boisterous romp and ends as a careful, measured walk through deep, emotional—and, sometimes, uncomfortable—territory. Wreck on the Highway serves as the closing bookend to The River, providing emotional resolve and a sense of survival more than closure.

“I was sitting with a friend of mine last night and he said, ‘time comes to us all’,” Springsteen said during the closing notes of Wreck on the Highway. “The River was about taking of that time and how we each have a finite amount of it to do our jobs, to raise our family, to do something good.”

By itself, the performance of The River is a complete show, but Bruce wasn’t done yet. He and his nine-piece band shifted gears and, without any breaks, launched into a 90-minute sprint through standards including Badlands, The Promised Land, Backstreets and Thunder Road. Alongside wife Patti Scialfa, Bruce delivered a heartfelt Brilliant Disguise; an oft-forgotten ballad from his 1988 Tunnel of Love. It was interesting to see the couple perform this song 28 years after their first time on that Tunnel of Love Express tour, where the sexual tension was amped up to ’11’.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Springsteen mixed in a pair of Irish-inspired crowd favorites: the defiant Death to My Hometown and the hopelessly joyous American Land. Soozie Tyrell especially revved up the 15,000 in attendance on this St. Patrick’s Day with her violin, punctuating the holiday with a bit of Irish folk-rock flare.

With house lights back up, turning the concert hall into something of a backyard jam, Bruce launched into the always-epic Born to Run. Dancing in the Dark followed, and has become one of my favorite Springsteen songs as it has evolved into an all-hands-on-deck staple. On this night, it was a family affair as Bruce danced with the late Danny Federici’s daughter and brought out her brother and Clarance’s son to sing and dance along.

The final song of the evening, a cover of the Isley Brothers’ Shout, was something of an E Street show infused with bar band silliness and pure joy. There are better renditions of this classic song, no doubt. But how often do you get to hear Bruce doing his Curly Howard impression? You heard me.

And with that, the 15,000 faithfuls in “the dump that jumps” just witnessed the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, love-making, Viagra-taking, history-making, legendary…

E…STREET…BAND!

Setlist

Meet Me in the City

The Ties That Bind
Sherry Darling
Jackson Cage
Two Hearts
Independence Day
Hungry Heart
Out in the Street
Crush on You
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
I Wanna Marry You
The River
Point Blank
Cadillac Ranch
I’m a Rocker
Fade Away
Stolen Car
Ramrod
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night
Wreck on the Highway

Badlands
Death to My Hometown
The Promised Land
Backstreets
Brilliant Disguise
The Rising
Thunder Road
American Land
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Shout

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