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On the scene: Bruce Springsteen rocks (acoustically) for Obama

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Bruce Springsteen is one of the few artists for whom I’d pretty much drop everything to see in concert. Having already caught two superlative shows in the past year — toward the beginning of the Magic tour last October, then again at the end of that tour this July — I figured the next venue where I’d be seeing the Boss would be my couch on Super Bowl Sunday. So when I heard he’d be playing a hastily arranged free acoustic show for Barack Obama in Philadelphia this weekend, you’d better believe I hopped on the next Amtrak.

I got to Philly on Saturday morning and headed straight to the outdoor stage. By that afternoon, something like 50,000 people had massed on the Ben Franklin Parkway, including a whole lot of eager Obama campaign volunteers. (Full disclosure: I did a little volunteering to help register voters myself.) When Bruce showed up, it was just him on stage with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica — a stark contrast to the full electric E Street Band regalia the last couple times I saw him. But he captivated that huge audience just the same with a near-perfect seven-song unplugged setlist. I was surprised he avoided playing anything from the politically themed Magic, given the occasion; instead he focused on the deeply personal, redemptive side of his back catalog, and the result was one of the most inspiring performances I’ve ever seen. When he stepped away from the mic during “Thunder Road,” tens of thousands of people sang out, “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night!” And when he did a prayer-like take on “The Rising” — a song that always gets me emotional, what with all the seven-year-old memories it calls up — I was close to tears.

Thanks to the blessings of YouTube, that afternoon’s performance of “The Rising” was already online by the time I got back home to NYC. (Check it out after the jump, and skip to around 5:15 if you want to skip Bruce’s campaign spiel.) A local TV station is also hosting a clearer stream of the whole show. Meanwhile, Bruce played a similar rally in Columbus, Ohio yesterday, and he’s got another one scheduled for today in Ypsilanti, Michigan. So tell me. Did any of you make it to one of those dates? And if so, were you as awe-struck as me?

Full setlist:

“The Promised Land”
“The Ghost of Tom Joad”
“Thunder Road”
“No Surrender”
“Does This Bus Stop at 82nd St.?”
[speech]
“The Rising”
“This Land Is Your Land” (Woody Guthrie cover)

More on Bruce Springsteen:

Chris Willman reviews Magic
Bruce Springsteen vs. Simon Cowell: The smackdown “transcript”
Reader’s Choice: The concert bucket-list gallery

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