The 83,000 fans who filled the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Friday night for the first of Bruce Springsteen's four concerts came to celebrate.
They stood in front of their chairs (or on them) and danced as the New Jersey-born rocker, performing in front of a huge American flag, opened the show with "Born in the U.S.A.," a rousing but complex song about a Vietnam veteran rallying against the disillusionment of returning home to indifference.
The audience moved even more energetically two songs later, when Springsteen and his seven-member E Street Band raced through "Two Hearts," an uplifting tune about renewing one's dreams.
With the audience's spirits so high, the last thing most rockers would do--especially in a vast stadium setting--is slow the pace for a series of stark social commentaries. But Springsteen's commitment to exploring failures--as well as victories--in America is what has helped make him the most acclaimed figure in U.S. rock since Bob Dylan in the mid-1960s.
In songs like "Johnny 99" and "My Hometown," Springsteen explains how the American dream has been replaced by a nightmare for many of his fellow citizens. Introducing "The River," one of his most poignant songs, he reminded the crowd about the plight of unemployed steelworkers in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
'Shadow of a Dream'
"What do you do when the jobs go away, but the people remain?" he asked. "When communities begin to disappear and families fall apart, and you end up living in the shadow of a dream?"
Although the 36-year-old singer-songwriter's show was also filled with endearing songs about romance and good times, the heart of the concert revolved around the idea that the challenge of the individual is to refuse to give up in the face of defeat, and that a citizen must help his neighbors regain any loss of dignity.
On the latter note, Springsteen, as in past concerts, urged the well-behaved audience to support local food bank organizations, specifically Community Food Resources of Los Angeles and the Steelworkers Oldtimers Foundation.
"The response around the country to Bruce's endorsements has been phenomenal," Doris Bloch, executive director of Community Food Resources, said. "We've had fans call up after the concerts in each city offering to volunteer."
In moving to the larger outdoor setting, Springsteen lost little of the intimacy of his smaller Sports Arena shows here last winter and he showed no evidence of compromising his strong artistic vision.
'As Good as Ever'
"I've been a Springsteen fan for a long time and I was worried that all this new popularity may have led to . . . compromises which would have weakened his show, but he's as good as I've ever seen him," said fan Martin Sanders, 28, of Lomita.
The Coliseum stand--which continues Sunday, Monday and Wednesday--ends a 15-month record-breaking world tour. Springsteen will have been seen by an estimated 5 million people by the time he leaves the Coliseum stage Wednesday. The tour box office gross will be almost $90 million. His Los Angeles audience for this series will have totaled 332,000.
Despite the vast numbers he attracts, Springsteen's appeal lies partly in his ability to reflect his blue-collar roots in an age when so many affluent rock stars seem out of touch with their audiences.
"He's the kind of guy who makes you feel that if you were stranded after the concert, he'd take you home in his pickup truck," said fan Stuart Levine, 21, Canoga Park.