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On the Scene: Bruce Springsteen live on 'Today'

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Bruce_lThis morning I woke up at the crackof dawn to snag a spot at the Today show’s free Bruce Springsteenconcert in Rockefeller Plaza.Aside from a fresh cup of coffee, nothing says “jump on the day” likethe Boss, the E Street Band, and some light political rabble-rousing on morningtelevision.

To promote Tuesday’s release of Magic, Bruce and the band took part in NBC’s early morningconcert series, though they seemed to be given significantly more play timethan earlier guests. No offense to the likes of James Blunt and Queen Latifah,but c’mon, he’s the Boss. I doubt anyone waited from 7 a.m. theprevious day to get toe head of the line for Rihanna, as a few ladies from Cleveland had done this morning for Bruce and the E Streeters.Many others had camped out overnight as well, and I’m not just talking aboutyoung people — I’m talking about middle-aged people… with macrame’dlong-sleeve tees declaring, “I love Springsteen!” Embarrassing? Yoube the judge.

Besides, many critics are saying the new disc justifies the hype — EW’s Chris Willman gaveit a solid A and called it Springsteen’s best album since TheRiver in 1980. (Check back Monday for Willman’s track-by-track breakdown of Magic.)Seeing him live for the first time in my life, I have to say the Boss exudes alegitimate rock star aura that I’ve rarely seen before. Even though he turned58 last week (the adoring crowd actually broke into a round of “HappyBirthday” during one of the lulls in action), he still displayed glimpsesof the moves that taught me what it is to be a man in the admittedly absurd “Dancing in the Dark”video. His voice sounded great on “My Hometown” and “Long WalkHome,” and with the E Street Band back in business, it seems that a ticketto the tour (which begins tonight in New Jersey)would be money well spent.

addCredit(“Bruce Springsteen: Jason Kempin/FilmMagic.com”)

Between some warm-up songs for thepre-daylight crowds and numerous encores, the E Streeters were on and offthe stage for about three hours, but it was Magic‘s “Livin’ inthe Future” that caught my attention after Springsteen’s half-jokey,half-sinister introduction:

“Good morning everybody,”he began. “I really must want to sell some records bad to be up thisearly, singing these songs. It’s a little desperate, but it’s all right. But,uh, this is a song called ‘Livin’ in the Future,’ but it’s really about what’shappening now, right now. It’s kind of about how the things that we love about America, like cheeseburgers, french fries, the Yankees battling Boston, the Bill Of Rights,V Twin motorcycles, Tim Russert’s haircut, trans fats, the Jersey Shore — welove all those things the way that the womenfolk love old Matt Lauer.”With you on three out of eight, Boss…

He continued: “So now, in thelast six years, we’ve had to add to the American picture: rendition, illegalwiretapping, voter suppression, no habeas corpus, the neglect of our great cityof New Orleans and her people, an attack on the Constitution, and the loss ofour best young men and women in a tragic war. This is a song about things thatshouldn’t happen here, happeninghere. And so right now we plan to do something about it, we plan to sing aboutit. I know it’s early, but it’s late…”

Standing in Rockefeller Plaza on a beautiful morning,surrounded by New Yorkers, Jersey girls, cross-country Springsteenzealots, and waving American flags, I wasn’t sure what to make of this minidiatribe. On the one hand, the whole scene felt exceedingly patriotic to me, andSpringsteen’s casual style gave his words a sort of “palatable fortalk-show” gloss. But at the same time, it was clear he really meant them,and I couldn’t help but think back to Kanye West’s emotional “PresidentBush does not care about black people” outburst (also on NBC) a couple years ago.West caught a lot of flak, but no one seemed to blink twice at the Boss. Arethere certain platforms we concede to historically “political”artists like Springsteen? Did Kanye just get his timing wrong? Or am I justcomparing apples and oranges? (By the way, it’s a great song.)

Anyway, PopWatchers, I’d beinterested to hear your thoughts on Todayshow soap-boxing. And while you’re at it, let’s hear who will be lining up for Magicon Tuesday and who’s had enough already.

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