When Bruce Springsteen strode onstage Friday night at Philadelphia's Wachovia Center for the kickoff of the Vote for Change Tour, he made his strongest statements without saying a word.
First, the Boss blasted through a ragged take on "The Star-Spangled Banner," and then was joined onstage by his E Street Band for a version of "Born in the U.S.A.," a song he wrote more than 20 years ago but one whose anti-war message is certainly applicable to events today.
"We're here tonight to fight for a government that is open, rational, forward-looking and humane," Springsteen finally said to the crowd. "And we plan to rock the joint while doing so."
Springsteen headlined the Vote for Change concert in Philadelphia, on a bill that also featured R.E.M., John Fogerty and Bright Eyes. It was one of six stops that the tour — organized by pro-John Kerry political action committee MoveOn — made on Friday in Pennsylvania, a swing state seen as a must-win for Kerry if he is to take the White House.
Click for photos from the Vote for Change kickoff shows
In State College, Pennsylvania, the Dave Matthews Band, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Jurassic 5, and My Morning Jacket packed the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University. The Dixie Chicks and James Taylor played Pittsburgh, while Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Keb' Mo' took the stage in Erie. John Mellencamp and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds put on a show across the state in Wilkes-Barre, while Pearl Jam and Death Cab for Cutie rocked Reading.
Though the goal of the Vote for Change Tour seemed clear — to remove Bush from the White House on November 2 — the artists in Reading tried to straddle the line between rock concert and political rally. Speaking from the stage, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder told the extremely vocal crowd, "If you're going to participate in the vote as well as you're participating in singing along, then we don't have to talk about politics at all tonight."
And backstage, Death Cab's Chris Walla voiced much the same sentiment.
"I want [fans] to walk away with a little card that says they registered to vote, and I also want them to walk away with a memory of a great concert," he said. "If those two things happen, then we will have done our job."
But back in Philadelphia, the anti-Bush invective ran a bit stronger. R.E.M.'s set included "Final Straw," a protest song about the war in Iraq featured on their new album, Around the Sun, and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst urged the crowd to vote "so we don't have this madman running the country."
"Sure, it'll be a fond memory for me, like, 'Oh, rad, I played with Springsteen and R.E.M.,' " Oberst said backstage after the show, "and I'm sure it made the people feel good to see the concert, but it's only really going to matter if we win."
"We're all doing this because we're hoping for a change in the direction that our country is headed, and that's an awesome feeling," R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe added. "I mean, this just feels bigger than us."
The Vote for Change Tour runs until October 11 (see "Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, Springsteen, Others Join Vote For Change Tour"). The final concert of the tour, from Washington, D.C., will be broadcast live on the Sundance Channel.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.
For more political news, insight into the 2004 presidential election and information on registering to vote, check out Choose or Lose.