Article 2008-10-16 New York City, NY

The Boss, the Piano Man and the Candidate

Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel were well into their act – playing at the same time, the same stage – when Senator Barack Obama arrived late Thursday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom.

Mr. Obama waited in the wings for nearly an hour before taking the stage.

And not a soul seemed to mind – why would they? – as Billy Joel weighed in with a long reprise of “New York State of Mind.”

After hearing the song at countless rallies, “The Rising,” was played live for Obama fans who filled all tiers of the giant ballroom on West 34th Street in Manhattan. For a moment, Mr. Springsteen jumped onto the grand piano as Mr. Joel played “Allentown.” And later, Mr. Joel grabbed a guitar and joined The Boss for “Glory Days.”

John Legend and India Arie joined the two on stage in an upbeat rendition of “People Get Ready.”

The fund-raising concert benefited the Obama Victory Fund. No total estimate was provided, but tickets ranged from a balcony seat ($500, which sold out quickly) to a lounge ticket for $25,000. The ballroom’s event manager said 1,959 people were on hand.

Except for that monetary detail, it would have been easy to forget that this was an Obama event at all. Until, of course, Mr. Springsteen took his microphone and, surrounded by the other singers said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, you want to bring on the next president of the United States, Barack Obama!”

“What a magical evening,” Mr. Obama said, “which I will not spoil with a long speech.”

The evening, which began sitting next to Cardinal Egan, the archbishop of the New York Diocese, ended on the stage with two musical icons playing to his fans. Mr. Obama said that he and his wife were moved, listening to the music backstage.

“I called her over and said honey, the reason I’m running for president is I can’t be Bruce Springsteen. I can’t be Billy Joel. I can’t sing like John Legend and India Arie,” he said. “All I have is words. In some ways words are always inadequate. You guys have just heard four of the finest musicians in the world.”

He added, “Sorry, Bruce and Billy, but I grew up with you all.”

Mr. Obama had shed his white tie – from the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner – and he wore an open-collared shirt and a dark suit as he stood at center stage. A few people trickled out, but most stayed and fell into a hush as he told several stories of people he has met throughout his 20-month campaign.

“The point is, all across this country,” Mr. Obama said, “the people that Billy and Bruce sing about, every day they get up and they are working hard.”

He spoke for 25 minutes. It was a streamlined version of his stump speech, particularly highlighting the challenges of the economy. He also urged his supporters to buckle down and do more than send money.

“Don’t underestimate the capacity of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” Mr. Obama said. “Don’t underestimate our ability to screw it up.”

He added, “I want everybody running scared. Over the next 18 days, other than your family and your job, I want you to make a decision that there is nothing more important than bringing about this change that we need.”

With that, the band returned for an encore, “Signed Sealed Delivered,” which drew Michelle Obama out onto the stage to join her husband in a little dance, a little hip bumping and a lot of clapping to the beat.

By Jeff Zeleny via The New York Times.

Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel Form Supergroup for Obama in NYC

Shortly after a roof-raising version of “Born To Run” featuring Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and key members of both their bands, Bruce turned to the back of the stage at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom and said “We want to bring out the next President of the United States!” With that, Barack Obama took the stage to the loudest cheers of a very loud night. “What a magical evening,” Obama said to the crowd, who donated between $500 and $10,000 to his campaign and the DNC for tickets. “I just told Michelle backstage that the reason I’m running for president is because I can’t be Bruce Springsteen.” He went on to warn the crowd not to get “giddy” over his high poll numbers with less than three weeks left in the election. “Don’t underestimate the power of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

One also can’t underestimate the ability of a ninety-minute set of Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel hits to bring a theater packed full of middle age tri-staters to screaming fits of hysterical joy. “Good evening bridge and tunnel elite,” Springsteen said in the middle of an early show mini acoustic set. “I know you spent a lot of money, but like you did with the vice presidential debate: lower your expectations.” Three songs into Billy Joel’s set — when Springsteen, his wife Patti Scialfa and E Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan joined Joel and his band for a rousing “10th Avenue Freeze-Out” — expectations were already exceeded. From here, an only-for-Obama supergroup was born. Springsteen stayed onstage for the next hour and a half, with the setlist rotating back and forth between Joel and Springsteen classics. Each sang big portions of each others’ tunes, often with their eyes focused on what was surely a teleprompter.

The pairing worked surprisingly well. When Springsteen sang “they’re closing all the factories down” in “Allentown,” it sounded like it could have been a Darkness On The Edge Of Town outtake. Likewise, Joel made the sweet nostalgia of “Glory Days” seem like one of his own. “Movin’ Out” was dedicated to Bush and Cheney, and featured Springsteen singing the verse about “Mister Cacciatore’s” and the “Cadillac-ack-ack-ack-ack.” Other highlights included “Thunder Road,” “A Matter Of Trust,” “Spirit In The Night” and “New York State of Mind.” If anyone on earth was ready for such an evening, it was Joel’s multi-instrumentalist Crystal Taliefero, who toured with Springsteen in 1992/93 tour. Whether it was playing the bongos on “River Of Dreams” or filling in for Clarence on the sax “10th Avenue Freeze-Out,” the woman knew what she was doing.

Earlier in the night John Legend and India.Arie played “Ordinary People” and U2’s “Pride (In The Name of Love)” during a brief acoustic set. They came out again at the end for a cover of “People Get Ready” and the grand finale of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” during which Barack and Michelle Obama stood center stage clapping and occasionally singing along. It was a great night — worth every penny — though there was much work to be done. As Caroline Kennedy told the crowd before the show while urging them to volunteer: “This is the last time you can have this much fun for the next twenty days.”

By Andy Greene via Rolling Stone.
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