Bruce Springsteen’s last stand at the Sports Arena: ‘We gotta play this one for the old building’


Plenty of Bruce Springsteen songs are about destruction — of towns, dreams, loves and hopes. But few other tunes seemed as appropriate for the occasion on Saturday as when The Boss introduced “Wrecking Ball.”

“We gotta play this one for the old building,” Springsteen said during the final show at the soon-to-be-demolished L.A. Memorial Sports Arena. “We’re gonna miss this place, it’s a great place to play rock ‘n’ roll.”

Indeed, for one last night, it was. Here are a few quick notes from the Sports Arena’s climactic evening at “The Dump That Jumps.”


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1. There really is something egalitarian about the Sports Arena. The lack of luxury boxes, the slim concessions and uncomfortably tight seating quarters puts the arena behind the times. But for Springsteen’s last call there, the room’s flaws further united the throng.

Strangers shared trays of candies spiced with marijuana, moms and daughters huddled together in the aisles for a better view. You won’t get vegan sushi at the Sports Arena, but you will get all that.

2. “‘The River’ is about time,” Springsteen said, closing down the harrowing performance of the full “The River” album that opened the four-hour set. “And when you choose the people you’re going to walk beside, you realize you’re also walking alongside your own mortality.” Heart-rending stuff from a singer on one of the most celebratory nights of his life.

But those words underlined the full-circle quality of the show. Springsteen’s tour when “The River” was first released in 1980 brought him to the Sports Arena, and it helped make him a global superstar. For him, and for anyone else who was there for that initial tour, Saturday’s set was living proof that time had passed. Three decades, in fact. But all we can do is pick good people to follow along with.


3. I’m not a Sports Arena apologist. I’ve spent plenty of shows there where the music didn’t catch on, and where you were painfully reminded of your section-mates’ beer dripping onto your head and having to use an open horse trough in the men’s bathroom. It wasn’t even a decayed grandeur like the old Forum — it was always kind of grim.

And yet, it was one of the few last vestiges of the rundown, popular-history-laden L.A. that’s open to anyone. One generation saw Pink Floyd perform “The Wall” in there, another saw Darkside blow minds at FYF Fest. And one final mix of generation leaped out of their seats when Bruce did “Hungry Heart” one last time in the arena.

No one should lament nicer venues moving in. But anyone with a creeping suspicion that L.A.’s rising international cultural cache means doom for these kinds of scruffy, weird shared spaces should have been there to see Bruce. L.A.’s getting fancier, and our own dry “River” — the L.A. River — will eventually resemble an actual river more than an image from a Bruce Springsteen song. There’s a lot to gain there. But maybe there’s something ephemeral and sad that is lost as well.

Jake Clemons, left, and Bruce Springsteen perform. Jake is the nephew of the late saxophonist Clarence Clemons, the longtime E Street band member.

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