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Ears turned to the roar

Times Staff Writer

Twenty-seven years ago this week, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band proved it all night at the Los Angeles Sports Arena with a run of epic shows on “The River” tour that people are still talking about in reverent tones. In fact, if everyone in this town who says they were at those shows were in fact there, the overflow audience would have filled half of the neighboring Los Angeles Coliseum.

This week, the Boss was back at the gloriously scruffy arena, and many of his giddy longtime fans showed up in their black jeans and gray hair to bellow that, yes, in case you must know, tramps like us, baby we were born to run. Springsteen at the Sports Arena remains something special; the rock hero never seemed comfortable amid the luxury boxes and advertising clutter of the fairly soulless Staples Center, and the ravine novelty of Dodger Stadium was fine but didn’t give him the religious swelter of the low-slung arena.

The 58-year-old singer knew he was in the right place at the right time, with the right crowd. “This,” he rasped, “is old school.”

On Monday, the arena was like a sweat lodge for tribal New Jersey, and the fans turned out with old friends and new generations to tap into the evangelical might of rock’s great preacher.

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There was Francine Keller, in from Scottsdale, Ariz., who explained that her beaming 10-year-old daughter, Gaby, had no choice but to come to the show. “Daddy has been playing Bruce to her since she was born,” the proud parent said. “So actually she was dragged up on Bruce Springsteen.”

Then there was Gary and Ariel Rosenfeld, who brought their two kids, 13 and 10, on Monday night for their first-ever concert. “We were here on ‘The River’ tour,” Gary said. “They’ve heard all about it. We have the poster up in the house. We were kids in high school.”

In a way, the many fans who attended the show Monday and who were born during the Eisenhower administration are the generation that never saw a need to grow up (as least as far as their pop-culture consumption); their offspring are the generation that never had a kid’s rightful opportunity to be oblivious to the modern entertainment barrage and its stronger echoes.

Joe Sanders, a 16-year-old from Santa Monica, was attending his “first-ever arena show” with a bit of calendar jealousy. “I hate the music of today; it’s so lame. Where’s my Led Zeppelin and my Who?” He came with his father, Dan, 51, and his godfather, Gary Kenworthy, who trekked from Redwood City in Northern California on their holy mission. “I’ve been waiting to bring Joe to see Springsteen for years. This is my 60th show. This is such a great night.”

As an altar, the Sports Arena is as polished as a muddy work boot. It has hideous, red folding chairs bolted to splotched concrete floors. One of the few advertising spaces is an overhead sign for Nix Check Cashing and, as you enter, there’s a lovely portrait of a morose then-Vice President Richard Nixon, who was on hand to open the place in the summer of 1959. Not exactly the Walt Disney Concert Hall, is it?

“It’s a great place for this show; it was perfect,” said the Edge, the U2 guitarist, who was milling about backstage after the show. “He does have quite a lot of good songs too, doesn’t he?”

A Springsteen show at Staples or Dodger Stadium draws a platoon of Oscar winners and every limousine in town, but on Monday, with a venue that was more pool hall than nightclub, the famous faces who turned out came to see, not be seen. There also were a lot of old friends.

“I love the new album; I can’t wait for this show,” said Jackson Browne, who played with Springsteen at the No Nukes concert in 1979. In 2004, Springsteen inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not far away, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello was rushing by, too excited to chat. “Oh, man, can we talk tomorrow?”

James Hetfield from Metallica was prowling the floor section with producer Rick Rubin; pals Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel were ambling backstage, where longtime E Street manager Jon Landau was holding court and chatting with Grammy show producer Ken Ehrlich. (Asked about the number of young people brought to the show by their parents, Landau laughed and offered a bit of obvious ledger wisdom: “We like that. We like that a lot.”)

It’s no surprise that people bring their kids to see Bruce -- the lyrical content is high-minded, and you can see a bit of generational pride on parents’ faces as their sons and daughters stare in marvel at the sweep and stamina of what is arguably the best rock band in the world. But there is still something amusing in watching different generations digest the event.

For young people, that wasn’t Miami Steve Van Zandt -- it’s Silvio from “The Sopranos.” Max Weinberg? You mean the guy from the Conan O’Brien show? Best of all was watching the conversations in Section 17, where Henry Winkler, the New York-born actor, was rocking out. They went something like this: “Hey, it’s the guy from ‘The Waterboy’!” 'No! that’s Fonzie.’ ” Then the graybeards would smile and, over thundering music, explain all about leather jackets and happy days.

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geoff.boucher@latimes.com


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