“I lost a great friend and a great hero last night,” Bruce Springsteen told a sold-out crowd at the Bellville Velodrome in South Africa yesterday, dedicating a reverent rendition of “We Shall Overcome” to his friend and fellow activist Pete Seeger. “Once you heard this song, you were prepared to march into hell’s fire,” Springsteen said.
Seeger died on January 27th at age 94. Springsteen’s brief remarks came midway through the second of four shows in South Africa, which mark both the start of the High Hopes tour and his first-ever appearance in the nation. Seeger shared the dedication with Nelson Mandela, to whom Springsteen paid tribute several times, opening two shows with “Free Nelson Mandela” and earlier dedicating “We Are Alive” to the South African icon, who died in December.
Springsteen’s three-night stand in Cape Town started Sunday, when the E Street Band arrived with a prominently positioned Tom Morello (in a “MADIBA” cap) and Steven Van Zandt, who some South Africans may remember as the chief instigator behind the Artists United Against Apartheid initiative in 1985. Springsteen twice compared the venue to the Asbury Park Convention Hall. “The first time is always hard,” Springsteen said, when Sunday’s crowd floundered on the tour’s mainstay singalong, “Waiting on a Sunny Day.” (First rule of “Sunny Day”: Everybody sings. Second rule of “Sunny Day”: Everybody. Sings.)
Tuesday’s show, though, originally slated to be the tour opener before Sunday’s addition, featured a much warmer crowd, with the full room taking in a roster of big hits (“Born in the U.S.A.,” “Born to Run,” and “Dancing in the Dark,” during which a breast cancer and melanoma survivor was welcomed onstage for a dance) and some trademark Springsteen banter with a local twist: “I’ve come thousands of miles, across shark-infested waters….”