Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band Review March 15, 17, 19, 2016 LA Sports Arena
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, LA Sports Arena, March 15, 17, 19, 2016 review by guest blogger Ron Wells: Requiem for an Arena
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
They say a building has no soul. It’s just a building. It’s a thing that houses people for short periods of time before releasing them back into the world.
Having said that, then why are we mourning a place that we lovingly call a dump? Therein, lies a story decades in the making.
The Los Angeles Sports Arena opened on July 4, 1959. Independence Day. Built for boxing matches, basketball games, hockey matches, Olympic contests , conventions, and the usual array of events, there were no luxury boxes nor corporate VIP sections. It seemed so big then, like a 20th Century version of some round flying saucer which landed in an LA park by USC.
Yet The Los Angeles Sports Arena was also built for musical events.
On Oct. 30, 1980 the vaunted venue experienced something quite extraordinary: A River began to flow through it. A River so wild and powerful that it swept everyone and everything in its path into the heart of the arena and made them want to shout out loud as they were cleansed, redeemed, and brought to exultations of joy through the depths of despair.
For on that day, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band floated in on a raft of their own making, a raft that some say resembled a ’32 Ford.
That’s not true of course, but from that unadorned stage they sang late into the night. Songs of life and death. Songs of fun and sadness. Songs of redemption.
On that night, the LA Sports Arena was turned inside out and became a backwater juke joint standing on a river bank.
This would be one of Bruce’s main “homes” away from home for the next 36 years. He would play other venues in Los Angeles, but the river he created would always flow through this “joint that don’t disappoint.”
In 2016, that river would flow one last time. The beloved arena would be torn down because that’s what humans do. They tear things down. They move on. They call it progress.
But don’t tell that to Bruce and his band mates.
Don’t tell that to the delirious fans seeing the last three shows at the Sports Arena.
This is their Cathedral. This is their musical holy land. The arena ain’t perfect, it never was, and that’s the beauty of it. That’s why it’s beloved. It’s the quintessential place for rock and roll, which is never, ever supposed to be flawless. The sound sometimes seems distorted. Still, it’s small, and the farthest seat away can still feel as if it’s right next to the stage.
At least when Bruce Springsteen plays.
The River Side one
1. “The Ties That Bind” 3:34
2. “Sherry Darling” 4:03
3. “Jackson Cage” 3:04
4. “Two Hearts” 2:45
5. “Independence Day” 4:50
And so The River begins to flow for the final days, and songs pour forth about adult problems rushing up at people after their exuberant youthful years. These are songs that you can’t walk blind to, because they contain The Ties That Bind: The connections of husbands to wives, lovers to each other, a band to its audience, and an arena to a musical force of nature.
I’ve seen those ties that bind because I saw Vietnam veterans on that sacred stage. Anyone who was there will never forget them. Bruce made sure of that.
Nothing has changed since 1980. Everything has changed since 1980.
One day everyone eventually discovers that you can’t live childish dreams any more. As the world turns hard and cold, you’ll need “Two Hearts” to “get the job done.” For those of a certain age, we understand every word: “It takes two, baby.”
So, on to “Independence Day” and more conflict, this time between fathers and sons. A struggle in which Bruce comments is a struggle that comes with love attached. A blessing that comes with compromise. A similar love resurfaces because “ain’t nobody like to be alone,” and so, far from the disjointed world outside, inside the arena the people with “Hungry Hearts” sing and then wave their hands as one.
The River Side two
1. “Hungry Heart” 3:19
2. “Out in the Street” 4:17
3. “Crush on You” 3:10
4. “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” 2:37
5. “I Wanna Marry You” 3:30
6. “The River” 5:01
Bruce holds the mic up and lets the people sing his song.
The River glides along and love continues to surface like twigs heading downstream. A beautiful, long intro by Bruce and Steve becomes “I Wanna Marry You,” a song of youth, of how love is imagined to be until it becomes the reality of adulthood. That reality is The River. Adult responsibilities overwhelm the memories of riding in “my brother’s car/Her body tan and wet down by the reservoir.” Those days are long gone. The juxtaposition of “I Wanna Marry You” with The River is starkly profound.
The flowing stream whispers, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true/Or is it something worse.” The question drifts away like fallen leaves on the water.
The River Side three
1. “Point Blank” 6:06
2. “Cadillac Ranch” 3:03
3. “I’m a Rocker” 3:36
4. “Fade Away” 4:46
5. “Stolen Car” 3:54
Bruce stands facing Max, preparing himself for “Point Blank” and the heartbreak that kills the lust for life and love, heartbreak that shoots one in the head and leaves one more dead than alive: “Bang, bang, baby you’re dead.” He reaches out his hand, dips his hand in the river, and slowly walks away while the arena quietly shudders in silence.
The tempo picks up and the building shakes and rattles as “Cadillac Ranch”—an art installation for dead cars in Marfa, Texas—rocks and rolls into “I’m a Rocker” another tale of youthful bravado that seeks a relationship even while acknowledging what the adult world does to love and relationships. The audience dances wildly and hopes it’ll all work out this time. The beat swallows them up and the old arena bounces right along with them. The girls in the white blouses behind the stage dance like there’s no tomorrow. It’s become a juke joint of hope.
Then the river slows to a crawl. What’s happened? The river is quiet. The arena echoes the silence. Another relationship goes bad, and “Fades Away” as the man pleads to “not become another useless memory.” Bruce holds the mic stand, the arena black, a spotlight dims as he whispers over and over “I don’t want to fade away, I don’t want to fade away.” But he does.
So, if you lose your love, do you lose yourself? It’s a rhetorical question which Bruce poses as he tells the tale of a “Stolen Car.” It is beautiful, brutal, and takes you on a dark ride “on a pitch black night.” Damn it, every chance is like a bad dream.
Is that what life is like on this river?
The juke joint gives no answers. There are no answers. Except one: Dance! The crowd is up. Even the people in the last row, are “Ramrodding” up on “top of the hill.” The band explodes behind its leader.
The River Side four
1. “Ramrod” 4:05
2. “The Price You Pay” 5:29
3. “Drive All Night” 8:33
4. “Wreck on the Highway” 3:54
Out of nowhere, for no special reason, the arena suddenly places a long ago vision into my mind of Bruce emerging from a casket, smiling on Halloween night. He’s then laughing and singing about a Haunted House. It’s a memory only this place could hold.
Then, once again. The tempo fades. “Those hands held high, reaching out for the open sky?” You’re just “caught up in a dream where everything goes wrong.” Long sighs flow into the air with the “Price You Pay.” Everything in life exacts a price.
One last, beautiful, mesmerizing chance. Bruce will “Drive All Night.” Will you? Will you drive through “the snow, the wind, the rain” if you know you’ve got the possibility of love. In an almost agonizing plea, he let’s us know that it will take “HEART AND SOUL, HEART AND SOUL!” Clarence’s spirit enters the room and, by way of his nephew Jake, the saxophone is blown as a healing salve: “Don’t cry now, oh, don’t cry now.” Instead, “dream baby, dream,” as the white lights of phones are held up and shine throughout the dark arena; guiding lights, hopeful lights.
Where does this all end up? In a “Wreck on the Highway.” Mortality enters, as it always does. In childhood you don’t even consider mortality. As an adult, it lingers daily in the back of your mind: “Sometimes I sit up in the darkness/And I watch my baby as she sleeps.” He lies awake thinking of the man who cried, “Mister won’t you help me please.” Life and death, as the album ends.
That’s The River. The embodiment of all things life throws your way as an adult. You get in, drift along, and wait for the next day to come. The arena you stand in understands, for it is about to drift into it’s final days.
Bruce closes the album by telling the audience that in their jobs, in their relationships, in their lives they should “try to do something good.”
Boom! “Badlands” thrusts the crowd from their seats. Stand up and spit in the face of the Badlands: “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive!” Believe, believe, believe in the love that someone gave you, in the faith that can save you.
“Lonesome Day” echoes those thoughts because “it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, yeah!” When all the answers don’t “amount to much,” you just need a little “Human Touch” “Am I askin’ too much?” On a different night, he pledges to walk the “thin, thin line” of the dark road, proving that he’s committed and “Tougher Than the Rest.”
“Because the Night,” “She’s the One,” “The Rising”:
The old arena dances back into life. The river still flows but there’s a long simmering light fighting to break through. A dream of life during the throes of sadness still promises a “sky of fullness, a sky of blessed light.” It’s all there. The glory and the sadness. There is “mercy amidst a sky of fear.”
The rafter rattling “Jungleland” “rips this holy night,” this last night, as Bruce congratulates Jake after his dynamic solo.
Stand up everyone! Come on down to “Thunder Road” and listen for the screen door slamming. I can almost see Roy Orbison sitting in this very arena and listening to Bruce sing this song. He sang it for more than just the lonely. He sang it for Roy. Tonight, the audience joyously sings it as a choir might sing a sacred piece of music.
“Wrecking Ball,” coming “out of the swamps of California,” foreshadows the Sports Arena future. Ultimately, “hard times come, and hard times go,” so bring it on. One way or another we will survive.
So now comes the time of “No Surrender.” Never give up. Instead, everyone stands up. “Born to Run” is worth revisiting those youthful dreams. “Dancing in the Dark” with the little girl having the time of her life. Head on down to San Diego and seek out “Rosalie!” Remember when it all began? Then sing along with “Tenth Ave. Freeze Out” as Clarence and Danny reach out from above and the arena walls embrace all the spirits within. Relatives of the living and the dead stand on stage and become as one with the band and join the audience in a celebration of music and life.
Bruce never slows down. His energy is transcendent. The crowd is delirious.
Finally, shout (just a little bit louder, now), “Shout” (just a little bit LOUDER! Now!) SHOUT (JUST A LITTLE BIT LOUDER NOW!). Hands thrown up in the air with the Isley Brothers call and response seemingly like a revival meeting. The Juke Joint rocks and rolls. This is the dump that jumps, and we love it!
Three and a half hours after he came on stage and “Bobby Jean” has been sung as the final song, Bruce Springsteen shakes hands with his band members and then leaves the Sports Arena with a wave to crowd.
It’s the last show. The river rolls along as it inevitably does. All things must pass, as George Harrison told us. All things change. They call it progress. I’m soon standing outside an empty building. I’ve seen 32 of 34 shows held here.There are 36 years of memories in that building. It is a hallowed place for me and so many others. Bruce and the band always understood that.
Many of my friends and family who entered here since 1980 are now dead, or gone down another road. Joe and Andi were here before Andi had her stroke. Cheryl before she was diagnosed with MS. My mother and father before my father passed a few years ago. Many friends whom I met here have become much more than friends: Scott, Kris, Marshall and Gwen, Carlos and Elaine, Sherry, Wendy and so many more. They care about many more things than just Bruce Springsteen, but that’s how we all met. This arena is where we have always came back to over the years. It holds cherished memories.
These two nights I felt like Huck and Jim, floating on the raft down this river. Talking with my friends one more time.
“It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn’t ever feel like talking loud, and it warn’t often that we laughed—only a little kind of a low chuckle.” —Mark Twain
I stand outside the Los Angeles Sports Arena. I look up to the banner hanging from the roof. They say a building has no soul. I smile because they must not have ever been here. This building was a ragged work of art, brought to life in a way only an artist like Bruce Springsteen could do. Oh, there were other major events here, but nothing like those that began on The River tour in 1980, and ended on the River Tour in 2016.
Everything comes full circle.
Like Norman Maclean, I hear the voices underneath the rocks of this juke joint. I hear the words and the songs. All things merge into one.
I see the ghosts dancing in the darkness. I too am haunted by what took place at the Los Angles Sports Arena for lo these many decades.
A wave of emotion rolls over me. It’s not just the arena. Nor the songs. It’s the years that are gone. It’s almost too much to bear.
Then I turn to leave and somewhere far off, in some forgotten arena, in some juke joint next to some mystical, eternal river, I think I hear the distant sound of people singing and yelling “Shout! Just a little bit louder now!”
I smile and walk away for the last time as the ghostly echoes of voices bounce off the arena walls. This dump that don’t disappoint.
They can tear it down, but they will never destroy it.
Someday, someone will walk across the newly built soccer stadium on a quiet summer’s day in Exposition Park and they will think they hear a Fender Telecaster strike a chord as voices scream in recognition, and they will wonder where that sound came from.
We, who have been here and heard Bruce Springsteen play, will smile and nod. We know.
All timeless spirits merge into one. Even a building holding the music and laughter and joy. Souls united.
May it ever be thus…
Thanks to guest blogger Ron Wells for this wonderful essay–as well as his friendship! It was great seeing you on Saturday, Ron!
NOTE: Springsteen celebrated the 35th anniversary of The River by releasing a boxed set titled The Ties That Bind: The River Collection on December 4, 2015. Containing 52 tracks on four CDs along with four hours of video on three DVDs or two Blu-ray discs, the first two CDs feature the remastered version of The River and the third CD contains the previously unreleased The River: Single Album.
He followed up this release with a series of concerts where he plays the entire album in order, and then, the icing on the cake, he adds a few songs…
My husband attended all three LA Sports Arena shows: he took our son on the first night March 15, he went on his own (with a few thousand fellow fans) to the St Patrick’s Day show which included the song above, and I was fortunate enough to attend the final show Saturday, March 19.
What a show. What a showman. What a river guide…
PS Happy World Poetry Day! Created by UNESCO in 1999, World Poetry Day “recognizes the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.”
Who better to turn to than Bruce Springsteen?