Springsteen: Still Magic in the Night

Defying the years, he dances and dazzles at the Sports Arena

Published : Thursday, March 17, 2016 | 5:07 PM

Bruce Springsteen

Somewhere, just about twenty feet back from the front of the stage at the Sports Arena, a middle-aged couple hold each other, swaying slightly. He hums along to “Drive All Night,” Bruce Springsteen’s ode to eternal love, from his 1980 album, “The River.”

A young man playfully scrunches his friend’s face, as he sings in his ear. They laugh and hug, lost in their simple joy.

And both moments were beautiful and typical.

It’s hard to say which is more mystifying—Bruce Springsteen’s musical longevity or his physical longevity. Now in his late 60s, he was clearly the most physically fit specimen among the 15,000 or so who packed the LA Sports Arena Tuesday evening for the first of the three last-ever shows at the aging venue. The shows mark the middle of yet another global tour for Springsteen, one that will take him back to Europe, ending in Sweden in July.

Looking back (and looking forward), it’s almost mind-boggling to consider his sheer desire and vast body of work since the early 70s, when he was a scrappy outsider signing contracts on the hood of a car in a parking lot, to his enormous stature today. Through it all, the music has been eye-opening, yet commercial; brave, but never scary, and timeless without being corny. Along with it all, his effect on fans has been deep and astounding.

Last night, he once again defied the years and dazzled a packed house with a complete run-through of “The River,” but to be clear, that was only about half the show.

He opened with the riveting ‘Meet Me in the City”—inexplicably left off the “River” album—before explaining his thought process for the album: “This was my first grown-up album, a way of exploring those things that go into that, as perhaps a way of one day truly acquiring those things. I wanted it to have joy, love, laughter, dancing, and of course, tears.”

It was all that and then some.

“The Ties that Bind” was as thrilling as it was on first hearing, and like so many of the tunes performed, seemed to possess a brand-new energy. Though some members have been replaced and added over the years, this is the core band that recorded the original album, and the songs still sounded shimmering and relevant.

When he charged into “Sherry Darling,” I could already feel the tears welling up. (Yes, I am one of those fans.)

The band moved quickly through the 20-song lineup, with few of the introductory stories Bruce has long been known for. We all know those stories now. Indeed for many, this was their tenth show, their twentieth show, their thirtieth show. In the pit, the faithful compared notes, talked about their best shows ever, and as cheesy as it sounds, shared the spirit of fans who’ve walked this path for decades.

The fan community is yet another aspect of the Springsteen experience. They arrived early from points literally all over the world, they brought their hand-drawn request signs (no requests this tour, sorry), and they waited in line for hours to share this mysterious phenomenon.

Following the album’s presentation, it was time for the second half, this time without the usual intermission. This was the “greatest hits” section, as he performed nearly a dozen tunes from his vast oeuvre, including “Human Touch,” “The Rising,” Dancing in The Dark,” along with a few rarely performed tunes. (I’ll leave it at that.)

There was the briefest of pauses before the single encore, and the band roared on until nearly midnight.

It’s the last show ever at the Sports Arena, and while he never seems to look close at anything resembling retirement, time is a mystery, and it alone will tell if and when he returns to play again. There are two shows left. Your call.

For those that attended, it was a thrilling and exhausting evening of solid proof from a man who has essentially, nothing left to prove.

 

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