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Bruce Springsteen Digs Deep at First Los Angeles Show in Eight Years

Show featured several rare songs and surprise appearance by Patti Scialfa
Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen performs at Kia Forum. (Credit: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Say this for Bruce Springsteen: 2024 is already a much better year than 2023. His first tour with the E Street Band since 2017 began last February in Tampa, Fl., with fans still grumbling over a dynamic ticket pricing fiasco, and was criticized because the set lists were too rigid compared to years past. Far more worrisome was the Boss having to postpone a huge swath of shows last fall while recovering from a peptic ulcer.

Thankfully, Springsteen is back on the road, fresh off a memorable cameo as a fictional version of himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm in a plot involving him getting COVID from Larry David and having to cancel his fictional farewell tour. Nobody knows when or if the Boss, 74, will hang it up for real, so just having an opportunity to be in the man’s presence for a few hours carries a bit of extra weight these days.

So it was last night (April 5) at Springsteen’s first show at Los Angeles’ Kia Forum in 22 years — certainly a more favorable venue than the demolished L.A. Sports Arena, which he lovingly referred to as “the dump that jumped.” Vowing that this stretch of shows, which began last month in Phoenix, would have a more diverse set list, Springsteen opened by covering John Lee Hooker’s blues powerhouse “Boom Boom” for the first time since 2016. It set the tone for the rest of the night, with material from more recent albums such as 2020’s Letter to You and the 2022 soul covers project Only the Strong Survive sharing space with songs not played in years, such as the crowd-requested “Jole Blon” and Jimmy Cliff’s “Trapped.”

(L-R) Nils Lofgren, Jake Clemons, Soozie Tyrell, Bruce Springsteen, and Max Weinberg rockin’ the Kia Forum (Credit: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Jumping off from the themes of his hugely successful one-man Broadway show, Springsteen seems focused on life and mortality on this tour. An emotional centerpiece of the show was “Last Man Standing,” his tribute to George Theiss, the last living bandmate in his childhood band the Castles, and the heaviness of that moment imbued different meanings to other early tracks. Among them was “Backstreets.” Once an anthem of the youthful exuberance of friendship and the fearlessness of conquering the world when you have your whole life in front of you, it’s now a fond nostalgic look back at the good times that were.

Usually, when Springsteen plays in Southern California, a special guest or two can be expected. In years past, that has meant Social Distortion’s Mike Ness or Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. Last night, it was Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa, also a longtime E Street Band member. Though her on-stage appearances have been more sporadic in recent years, she was a welcome presence, trading vocals on Tunnel of Love‘s “Tougher Than the Rest” and an acoustic version of the Pointer Sisters’ cover of Springsteen’s “Fire.” Both songs hadn’t been performed since the Broadway run in 2017, and Springsteen quipped that it was actually her first time singing the latter.

Throughout, the show was loose and casual, but never sloppy, and battle-tested songs such as “Badlands,” “The Promised Land,” “Hungry Heart” (imagine if Bruce ended up giving that one to the Ramones like he intended to?) and “Rosalita” kept the crowd on their collective feet. “Because the Night” shone with Nils Lofgren’s shredding guitar solo, and there continues to be an unspoken chemistry with Jake Clemons, who has more than ably taken the baton from his late uncle, the beloved Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, drummer Max Weinberg, and Springsteen consigliere “Little” Steven Van Zandt, who all adapt in the blink of an eye to the spontaneity long a hallmark of Springsteen’s live performances.

(L-R) Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt perform at the Kia Forum (Credit: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Unlike previous tours, the dates on the 2024 jaunt are more spread out, and the five-day break from the previous show in San Francisco clearly served Springsteen well. Moving all over the stage, he high-fived audience members and even ventured into the crowd during the encore staple “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”

At this point in his career, Springsteen doesn’t owe anybody anything. He’s wildly wealthy (he sold his catalog for a cool $500 million), famous and his legacy is amongst the most important in rock history. Yet here he was, hauling ass on stage, performing with a band which has been making it look easy for 50 years. The theme of glory days in the rearview mirror loomed large, but if Springsteen fears what the future holds, it wasn’t apparent on this night. Laughing, joking and rocking with the prowess of a man half his age, Springsteen clearly isn’t ready to throw in the towel quite yet.

Bruce Springsteen Kia Forum Setlist:

Boom Boom (John Lee Hooker cover) (tour debut; first time since 2016)
Lonesome Day
Prove It All Night
Trapped (Jimmy Cliff cover) (tour debut)
Two Hearts
Letter to You
The Promised Land
Tougher Than the Rest (with Patti Scialfa) (tour debut; first time with the E Street Band since 2016)
Fire (with Patti Scialfa) (tour debut; acoustic until the end, first time with the E Street Band since 2017)
Hungry Heart
Jole Blon ([traditional] cover) (sign request; tour debut; first time with E Street Band since 2017)
Spirit in the Night
No Surrender
My City of Ruins
Nightshift (Commodores cover)
Last Man Standing (acoustic; with Barry Danielian on trumpet)
Because the Night
She’s the One
Wrecking Ball
The Rising
Thunder Road

Land of Hope and Dreams
Born to Run
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Bobby Jean
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Twist and Shout (The Top Notes cover)

Encore 2:
I’ll See You in My Dreams