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Bruce Springsteen @ LA Sports Arena, 10/30/07

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My heart wasn't saying Bruuuuuuuuce, it was booing.

The biggest cliche in amateur criticism is to say "I liked his older stuff better". Bruce Springsteen is supposed to be held on the same level as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, or Johnny Cash. However, if one is to keep it real, the songs The Boss released after the mid '80s don't hold up to contemporaries like Tom Waits or Tom Petty.

Seriously, after the Born in the USA album came out, what new Springsteen tunes do you walk around and sing to yourself? "Streets of Philadelphia"? no. "The Rising"? no. Anything off The Ghost of Tom Joad. Hell no.

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So when a concert contains an overdose of new material off a record that, sorry, does not sound like it was created by a legend who penned "Rosalita" or "Thunder Road", how is one to expect an unbelievably memorable show? One can't, and one shouldn't.

The show started with a lame procession of black clad mourners carrying a casket to the front of the stage. Out popped a hand. Little Steven handed it a guitar, and out sprung 58-year-old Bruce Springsteen fake-dusting off his vest and shirt (video).

The band kicked into the radio friendly new single "Radio Nowhere" whose chorus asks "is anyone alive out there", which was a good question since the Boomers in the crowd looked like they had all seen better days.

And sadly the band on the stage was in the same boat.

The show was a lot like the single. You can hear the familiar voice, you can hear Clarance, but something is definitely missing, and as corny as it sounds, what's missing is the magic.

The cuts off the new album which accounted for 8 of the 23 songs Bruce ran through last night are the type that he used to trounce over. Lesser-thans would sheepishly offer up tunes like "Radio Nowhere" in the '70s and '80s and Springsteen would destroy them with epics, anthems, and little dark tales that would kill you.

So when the only tune he plays from classic double-album, The River, is "The Ties That Bind", well as he says on Magic, "it's gonna be a long walk home."

By the middle of the fifth song, which was the fourth tune he put us through from the new record I wondered, why does he hate us? What had we done? Most of the crowd had paid $95 a ticket and schlepped their way into the rundown LA Sports Arena on a night when they could have seen Neil Young, Regina Spektor, Thurston Moore, The Pogues, Battles, or Ted Leo. You're really gonna make them listen to "Gypsy Biker" instead of "Growin Up"?

Maybe the problem is, I was at the Sports Arena the last time the band was there. October of 1984. I paid $115 for a $20 ticket to sit in the back and Springsteen was on fire and the band was gasoline. It was 3 and a half hours and everyones lives were changed who was there.

This time I paid $40 off a guy for a $95 ticket to sit pretty close to the stage and Bruce still has a strong voice, a spring in his step but there are teleprompters hidden in the stage, lite beer being sipped from the seated, and spontaneity has left the building.

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Nowhere is it written that a legend should have to remain vital and groundbreaking and earthshattering every show and every album or through every decade. But for some reason after his first six records, which were all classics, Springsteen seemed consistently genius, and one of the few musicians who could satisfy an LA Coliseum crowd - like he did in 1985.

22 years later, he barely satisfied this member of the Sports Arena. The blues-infused "Reason to Believe" from the stark Nebraska album reminded me of the Beat Farmers cover, but Springsteen's harmonica playing - which was highlighted later in "The Promised Land" - shot through the old arena like a hidden weapon, and alas, there was some magic left in the old man's bag of tricks.

And Clarence's leads brought more life to the plodding pace, and Max's steady beat was rock solid, and the pianos were nice, but beer was needed. Two cups, in fact.

Forget about the $35 tshirt prices and $50 longsleeve prices, when you think of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band you think of tunes like "Born in the USA", "Atlantic City", "Thunder Road", "Rosalita", "Fire", "The River", "Cadillac Ranch", "Hungry Heart", but none of those were played.

Of the crowd pleasers, "She's The One" was there, "Working on the Highway", "Badlands" and "The Promised Land", and of course there was the obvious encore starring "Born to Run", but "Night" was a curious flop, and "The Rising" was wasted without some pre-song Springsteen-rap preaching about 9/11 and Bush.

The Boss chose instead to shut up and sing.

One of the big surprises though was a beautiful and slick version of the jazzy "Kitty's Back". More of that, please.

"Girls in Summer Clothes" was as well-received as "Radio Nowhere" in regards to the new tunes. And Patti and Bruce were sweet as they sang together on "A Town Called Heartbreak" from her solo record. But all in all on a scale of 1 to 10, it was meh.

Bruce Springsteen is supposed to be an 11.

People will pretend that it was amazing, but if Robert Hilburn was dead, even he would be rolling in his grave, because whereas Springsteen used to be the future of rock in roll, he's clearly now the distant past.

And to disagree is to only encourage more of the same. Sorry, Corey.

Last night's playlist:

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 10/30/2007
LA Sports Arena
Radio Nowhere
The Ties That Bind
Lonesome Day
Gypsy Biker
Reason To Believe
She's The One
Livin' In The Future
The Promised Land
Town Called Heartbreak
Tunnel Of Love
Working On The Highway
Devil's Arcade
The Rising
Last To Die
Long Walk Home

Girls In Their Summer Clothes
Kitty's Back
Born To Run
Dancing In The Dark
American Land

photo from the show on the 29th by jon bando via flickr