- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Vote for Change platoons formed a fearsome battalion at the MCI Center on Monday night for a rock ‘n’ rally that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in political action committee money for one cause and one cause only: Defeat Dubya.

As it happens, there was another, more popular Dubya in the house — Garry W. Tallent — playing bass for Bruce Springsteen, who headlined a super-stuffed bill that included the Dave Matthews Band, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, the Dixie Chicks, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and John Mellencamp.

Since Oct. 1, the musicians have been touring separately in such battleground states as Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan and Florida. On the Stratego board of electoral politics, Monday’s five-hour hootenanny — at up to $175 a pop — was a move to capture the enemy flag in the capital.

Outside the arena, there were demonstrations and counterdemonstrations. The Millionaires for Bush jokesters competed for sidewalk space with the abortion-is-homicide crowd. Across the street, another group of naysayers equated the event with direct aid for Saddam Hussein.

Inside, it was a game of spot the familiar faces. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe was smiling to the “ka-ching, ka-ching” sound of cash that, though dedicated to the independent spenders of America Coming Together, will indirectly benefit his group.

Actress Meg Ryan sat next to track star Carl Lewis, who has criticized President Bush for using the Olympics in political ads. “Tim Robbins is here” rumors were later confirmed by the sight of the Oscar winner singing a punkabilly rocker anthem (X’s “The New World”) onstage with Pearl Jam. (Fans of the movie “Bob Roberts” were not surprised by Mr. Robbins’ crooning talents.)

Political spieling was kept at a merciful minimum. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder barely spoke at all, figuring songs such as “Bush Leaguer” and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” spoke for themselves. We got the picture: “I’ll watch while you’re lowered/Down to your deathbed/And I’ll stand o’er your grave/’Til I’m sure that you’re dead.”

Demographically, the evening couldn’t miss. The ladies had Mr. Taylor; the preppy-hippies had Mr. Matthews; country fans had the Chicks; blues fans had Keb’ Mo’ and Bonnie Raitt. There were few blacks in the audience, but the inclusion of rappers Jurassic 5 was a perfect vehicle for old hippies to demonstrate they were still in touch with the street.

And everybody had Mr. Springsteen, who united the clans a la Robert the Bruce in “Braveheart.” At one hour and change, the Boss had the longest and best-received set of the night. (The Dave Matthews Band was a clear second, with fans recognizing unreleased songs such as “Joy Ride.”)

Mr. Springsteen opened with a searing acoustic-12-string rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and launched into E Street anthems such as “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Badlands” and “No Surrender.” He was joined by John Fogerty for a stomp through Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” which not only knocked my socks off, but cleaned them, folded them and put them back in the drawer.

Here’s what I took away from the Vote for Change finale: Bruce Springsteen is big in America. And when everyone assembled for a superjam encore of Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power,” I just closed my eyes and pretended they were singing about the Afghan and Iraqi peoples.

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