"The end of old school."
Given the little chuckle with which he said it, Springsteen was clearly also poking a bit of fun at himself — or at the idea, anyway, that at age 66, he embodies a rock 'n' roll tradition that may die when he does.
But if Thursday's show was supposed to be a funeral, it sure didn't feel like one, as Springsteen and his E Street Band played with muscle and verve for a solid 3 1/2 hours: first a complete performance of his landmark 1980 album "The River," which his current tour revisits following a 35th-anniversary box set from last year, then 90 minutes of rapid-fire hits, including "Born to Run" and "Dancing in the Dark."
Here are five thoughts on the gig.
1. Springsteen's endurance is a beautiful thing to behold, and on Thursday, his fans seemed to think they could absorb some of it by touching him. Reaching toward a rock star is a familiar move at any show, of course, but I can't remember the last time I saw so many people so eager to receive a high-five from the guy onstage; several folks even proffered their young children, as though being blessed by Father Bruce might endow them with special powers. (Wish I'd brought my kids.)
And then there was the moment — actually, several moments — during "Hungry Heart" when Springsteen crowd-surfed his way back to the stage from a platform on the arena's floor. It took so long that you wondered whether a plan had been hatched to carry the singer out onto Figueroa and away to somebody's darkened guest house.
2. Did Springsteen appear to mind the manhandling? Not at all. In fact, this might've been the happiest I've seen him in a concert, with countless instances of the crinkly-eyed smile that's making him look more and more like that other genial giant of American music: Tony Bennett.
Speaking of smiles, a fun thing to do at a show by the E Street Band is to keep your eyes on singer-guitarist Patti Scialfa, who surveys the scene from her position stage left with a knowing little half-grin, like Christina Hendricks in "Mad Men." You boys enjoy yourselves, she seems to be saying as Springsteen (also known as her husband) and guitarist Steven Van Zandt goof around in the spotlight. I'll just be over here working.
3. One of rock's foremost orators, Springsteen had plenty to tell the crowd about "The River" between songs, including some bits he'd recycled from recent interviews. But I liked what he had to say about how the album was his attempt to will into being certain experiences that, at the time, he hadn't yet had: marriage, for example, and starting a family. "Let's go back down to 'The River' and see what we find," he said at the beginning of the show, and that felt like the right way to engage in an essentially nostalgic act.
4. As much as it was an opportunity to play old songs in an old arena, Thursday was also St. Patrick’s Day, an occasion Springsteen cheerfully observed with stomping renditions of two Celtic-accented cuts from his 2012 album “Wrecking Ball”: “Death to My Hometown” and “American Land,” which Springsteen dedicated to “all the Irish out there.” (One such crowd member? Conan O’Brien, who watched the show featuring his pal
Earlier, during the "River" portion of the evening, Springsteen said "Crush on You" was for any Irish lovers in the house. Then, noting that both he and Scialfa are half-Irish, he planted a kiss on his wife.
5. In keeping with his custom, Springsteen turned the house lights back up for "Born to Run" — all the better in this case to take in the Sports Arena's dilapidated environs. But Thursday, he kept the lights on for the last half-hour or so of the gig, which made it easy to see how much energy these songs were generating in the audience, and how much energy the audience was giving back to the musicians onstage.
For the last couple of numbers — a seriously jubilant "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and a lengthy but propulsive take on the Isley Brothers' indelible "Shout" — Springsteen brought out several children of Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, former E Street members who died not long ago, to play tambourines and basically jump around. And along with the fans I could see linking arms to sing along, that made me think that perhaps the usefulness of this music now is in its ability to reinforce a sense of community, of family even.
In other words, its familiarity is its virtue. That's a value that deserves to live on.