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Toward the end of Bruce Springsteen’s 31/2-hour set at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena on Tuesday, the force of nature known as the Boss repeatedly challenged the crowd to keep up with him and his E Street Band.

“Los Angeleees!” he shouted between each of the final few songs, drawing out the final syllable to make it rhyme with “please.” “Have you got anything left!?”

For Springsteen, always, for the Sports Arena, not so much longer.

This first of three nights for Springsteen’s tour marks the final rock shows at a soon-to-be-demolished venue so old that it boasts a portrait of then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon on the wall from his 1959 dedication of the arena.

It’s old and worn out and seen better days, sort of like so many of the people and places who populate Springsteen’s songs. Years ago, Springsteen nicknamed it “The Dump That Jumps,” and given that it’s long been his favorite Southern California venue – he’ll have played 34 shows there, from the 10 dates he logged on his 1980-81 tour for the landmark double album “The River” to the end of this short run – he’s the perfect artist to shut it down.

Even more fitting: “The River” is the theme of this tour, having received a deluxe reissue in December. On the tour, Springsteen and the E Street Band are playing its 20 songs front-to-back – with an outtake from those sessions, “Meet Me in the City,” kicking off their glorious, 35-song performance on Tuesday as it does every night. The sellout crowd on Tuesday included celebrities such as actor Sylvester Stallone, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne and comedian Jeffrey Ross.

“‘The River’ was my coming-of-age record,” Springsteen said at the close of that number. “I was looking to find my way inside. I was looking for the things that bind people to their lives. I wanted to make a big record that felt like life.”

The show, like “The River,” opened with a series of songs filled with hope and yearning: “The Ties That Bind,” “Sherry Darling,” “Two Hearts,” all rocking joyfully as Springsteen sang. The E Street Band – which includes longtime members Stevie Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren on guitars, bassist Garry Tallent, drummer Max Weinberg, keyboardist Roy Bittan and Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa, on guitar and vocals – roared as powerful as ever, often, as on “Out in the Street,” clustering around the Boss at one microphone to sing and play like the old friends they are.

Now 66, Springsteen doesn’t seem to have lost any of the energy of his youth. “Hungry Heart” saw him roaming around the floor to a remote platform before falling onto his back to by passed hands-over-heads by fans back to the stage, still singing his vocals all the way there.

The second half of “The River” shifts into a moodier, more introspective feel. He talked from the stage about realizing around the time of the sessions for the album that his parents and their generation had dreams left unfulfilled, and songs such as the hauntingly moving title track and “Point Blank,” beautifully sung by Springsteen, with lovely piano by Bittan, offered that sense of lives taking unexpected turns.

“Drive All Night,” another tour de force vocal by Springsteen, and “Wreck on the Highway” wrapped up the 21 songs from “The River” sessions, after which without any pause the band jumped into “Badlands” from the “Darkness on the Edge of Town” album, its instantly recognizable melody getting fans back on their feet and fully re-energized after the slower vibe of the preceding handful of songs.

And from there it was simply hit after hit. “Wrecking Ball,” of course, got played after Springsteen mentioned his long history with the Sports Arena. “Human Touch” found him and Scialfa sharing a sweet and gentle moment at the microphone together. “Because the Night,” the song he wrote with Patti Smith, who had her own chart success with it, blazed hotly to a finish that featured Lofgren delivering a long solo that left him spinning like a top around the stage.

While “The River” got the bulk of the set, and most other albums only a single track, his breakout record “Born to Run” from 1975 served up four of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the night, starting with “She’s the One” and “Thunder Road,” which closed out the main set.

The encore included two more – “Born to Run,” on which the crowd sang as loudly as they had all night, and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” during which the video screens paid tribute to late E Street Band members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici. It also included one of his earliest hits, “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” the saxophone riff of which – played by Clemons’ nephew Jake Clemons – still played in my head on repeat the next morning.

And then, after practically taunting us all to keep up with the beaming Boss, “Shout,” the Isley Brothers classic, closed out the night with a long and drawn-out rendering that threatened to keep going until every last drop of energy, every last bit of beautiful music, had been wrung from band and crowd alike.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7787 or plarsen@ocregister.com

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