LIVE: From Badlands to The Promised Land: Bruce Springsteen at the LA Sports Arena (4/26)

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“Going to see the Boss? Man, are you in for a treat!”

This was the response I’d get every time someone caught wind of the fact that I was heading to the L.A. Sports Arena for an evening with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. With all the folklore of New Jersey’s most famous local, I had no idea what to expect from last Thursday night’s show. My mother—a proud veteran of almost all of Springsteen’s tours (and a fellow Jersey native)—would be my guide on this crossing.

As we parked the car (for an exorbitant 25 dollars) and began to walk towards the old Clippers haunting ground, I noticed that I was breezing past fellow concert goers just walking. This just didn’t seem like the right level of energy for fans of the man that told us that we were born to run! There were Louis Vuitton fanny-packs at security and discussions of “pain-in-the-ass” presentations as we waited patiently to get through the doors. Had I made a huge mistake?

My journey to seeing Bruce Springsteen was a long one, starting in the backseat of my mom’s old car screaming bloody murder as she took out my Spice Girls CDs to play “Cadillac Ranch.” I held my strong belief that Springsteen was part of that infamous genre “old people’s music” until college and I gave a listen to Darkness on the Edge of Town. Immediately I felt connected to the music and the sentiment of wrestling with the ambitions of youth tragically paired with the frustrations of life. I felt like he understood me, just as millions have felt over the decades. Springsteen doesn’t glorify youth, he examines it.

From the look of the sold out crowd, Springsteen’s fans were way past the point of youthful angst and endless energy. As a 22-year-old struggling to find purpose, I was worried that this evening was not going to be the catharsis that I needed.

With no opening act, the audience milled about until the (fitting) score to The Magnificent Seven blared over the loudspeaker and the E Street Band took to the stage. Coming out last, the 62-year-old man himself ran to the microphone to greet the packed arena. “Los Angeles! Are you ready to be transformed?” Not waiting for a response, Bruce and company launched directly into their first number: “Badlands.” We were already on our way.

What would transpire over the next two and a half hours—with no intermissions and two encores—was a complete revival of spirit, body and hope. Following “Badlands” and a few numbers from Wrecking Ball with special guest Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, Springsteen quieted the frenzy to talk about the spiritual trip that we were taking together:

“We’re here to get a message across; to tell you a story. It’s a story that we are going to create together tonight. And I look out here and I see old faces, and I see new faces. This show is for you new faces! The young faces! Because your mommy and daddy are going to be HURTIN’ tomorrow! Their feet are going to hurt, and their backs are going to hurt, and they are going to be tired tomorrow!” The old and stuffy crowd that tidily filed into the venue had now given way to screaming fans elongating the word ‘Bruce’ as far as they could shout.

With an unspoken homage to the 20th anniversary of the LA riots through “My City of Ruins” and his examination of America’s desperation with “Jack of All Trades”, Springsteen’s sobering one-two punch left the audience open and ready for the empowerment each of us was about to receive. The story that the E Street Band told of crisis, reflection, love and friendship was not without a bit of fun either. Leading us through covers of The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “California Sun”, Bruce ran around the arena, chugged a stranger’s beer, got crowd surfed and slid across the stage on his knees, prompting concert goers to turn to one another and scream that he’s “still got it”.

It became clear that the Boss was not the only one to still have the energy and the talent to perform night after night. The E Street Band was still tight as ever including Steven Van Zandt and Max Weinberg (originally of Late Night with Conan O’Brien fame to me). Complete with a stellar horn section and the nephew of the late Clarence Clemons, the crowded stage was full of vivacity and life beaming out over the pack.

There was no way that Bruce was going to play all the songs we wanted; we were just thrilled with whatever chapters he wanted to add to our Los Angeles story. And then as if from the heavens themselves the electrifying horn section started up; it was “Born to Run.” You could feel the spirit of the Sports Arena soar as the originally rigid lines of heads blurred into dancing blobs. Followed up by “Dancing in the Dark” and the actual finale of “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” it was clear that the Boss had shaken all of our anxieties away—which is no small feat for LA.

After the lights came up, almost 17,000 people started to move towards the exits; all a little hobbled, a bit tired and incredibly sweaty. As I looked at the masses around me I realized that Bruce did the impossible, he gave each of us everything we wanted. The original fanatics got to relish in their salad days, while the newcomers to the real world, like myself, were assured that we are not alone in the desire for self control. We walked out as equals and that is why seeing Bruce Springsteen isn’t just fun, it’s healing.

It is the connection of human struggles and the triumph of the rebellious spirit. F

Taken from FILTER Magazine. Published May 4, 2012.

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