The day after the first presidential debate, the Vote for Change tour kicked off with six multi-artist bills in key “swing states.” The performers — including Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, R.E.M., Dave Matthews Band, the Dixie Chicks, Pearl Jam and Bonnie Raitt — advocated voter participation, specifically in support of Senator John Kerry.
The star-studded tour visited Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan over the weekend and will continue this week through Wisconsin, Missouri and Florida. In total, there will be thirty-seven concerts in thirty cities before the tour wraps with an all-star finale featuring thirteen of the tour’s headliners in Washington, D.C., on October 11th. That concert will be broadcast on the Sundance Channel, and proceeds from all shows will go to America Coming Together (ACT), a grassroots voter contact program in support of the Democratic candidate.
Here are some highlights from the weekend’s shows:
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band/R.E.M./Bright Eyes:
In Philadelphia on Friday, Springsteen began the E Street Band’s nineteen-song set with a solo rendition of the national anthem on acoustic guitar. Springsteen and his banded wasted no time trotting out politically charged favorites like “Born in the U.S.A,” “Badlands” and “No Surrender,” Kerry’s unofficial campaign song.
Two hours into his set, Springsteen addressed the audience: “I know you all have been waiting for my public service announcement. We live in a land of great promise, but it’s time to move Americans to embrace the great promises that she made to her citizens.”
R.E.M. preceded Springsteen with an hour-long set, comprising staples like “The One I Love” and newer songs like “Bad Day” and “Final Straw,” a protest song originally released online in 2003 after the beginning of the Iraq invasion; the song will be included on the band’s new album, Around the Sun, due this Tuesday.
Springsteen was also joined onstage by John Fogerty, who performed his new Iraq-as-Vietnam protest song, “Deja Vu (All Over Again).” Fogerty aided Springsteen on “Centerfield” and charged through “Fortunate Son,” his most famous political anthem; he also led the E Street Band through “Proud Mary.” Fogerty and Springsteen traded verses later on “The Promised Land.”
Other collaborations came early in the evening with Springsteen playing guitar with R.E.M. on the band’s “Man on the Moon.” Members of R.E.M. later joined Springsteen on “Born to Run.” And the show closed with all performers joining in on Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” and Patti Smith’s galvanizing “People Have the Power.”
Opening act Bright Eyes (a.k.a. Conor Oberst) was especially direct in his political rhetoric, remarking, “A vote for Bush is like shitting in your own bed.”
Pearl Jam/Death Cab for Cutie:
Pearl Jam began their stint on the Vote for Change tour on Friday in Reading, Pennsylvania, but before they took the stage, attendees were treated to a short, acoustic set by lead singer Eddie Vedder and a performance by actor Tim Robbins, who played electric guitar as the satirical character Bob Roberts from the politically-charged movie of the same name.
Pearl Jam peppered its 140-minute set with covers of John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth” and Bob Dylan’s anti-war indictment “Masters of War.” Vedder jokingly compared a person’s politics to his hairstyle: “If you think about it, being undecided is really dangerous, and I have a perfect example: people with mullets. That’s indecision… ‘Do I want it short? Do I want it long? I just can’t take a stand.'”
In Toledo the next night, Vedder had much more to say: “Four percent of the whole U.S. population is in Ohio. You account for twenty-five percent of the jobs that have been lost in the last four years. That’s staggering. And this is a swing state?”
John Mellencamp/Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds:
“It’s what you do, and not what you say/ If you’re not part of the future, then get out of the way,” sang John Mellencamp, performing “Peaceful World” on Friday in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Mellencamp, who performed songs like “We Are the People,” said, “I don’t really like politics and try to stay out of it. But for some reason, this year, I had to get involved.”
Midway through the show, Edmonds performed a short set that included “Change the World” and a version of John Lennon’s iconic “Imagine.” Mellencamp returned after Edmonds’ set, with hits like “Jack and Diane” and “Small Town.”
Dave Matthews Band/Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals/My Morning Jacket:
“You probably know why I’m here and who I’m going to vote for, but democracy depends on whole participation,” Dave Matthews told concertgoers on Saturday in Dayton, Ohio. “So please vote, whoever you’re voting for.”
“Now we’ll play, that’s what we came for,” he continued, and Matthews led his band through a career-spanning, two-hour show which included “Everyday” and “Tripping Billies.”
Later on during that same show, Matthews was booed by a group of protesters carrying signs reading, “Vote W-Right,” “Honk Four Bush” and “Dave Fan, But Bush-Cheney in ’04.”
Ben Harper led his band the Innocent Criminals through an hour-long set comprising hits like “Excuse Me Mr.” and “Steal My Kisses.”
James Taylor/Dixie Chicks:
James Taylor and the Dixie Chicks shared the stage on Friday in Pittsburgh and Saturday in Cleveland. They also shared a backing band and vocal duties, harmonizing on songs like Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,” with Chicks frontwoman Natalie Maines on lead vocals. In turn, Taylor performed main vocal duties on the Chicks’ “Some Days You Gotta Dance.”
While the Dixie Chicks were lambasted by angry fans for their past anti-Bush comments, it was Taylor who provided much of the evening’s commentary. In Cleveland, Taylor quipped, “I think our guy did pretty good the other night, don’t you think?” in reference to Kerry’s performance in the debates. “You look at the two candidates, and you vote for the smarter one.”
Maine’s only charged comment came in response to a review from Pittsburgh. The critic reportedly noted that Maines looked “heavy” after giving birth just months ago, inciting Maines to respond, “To that, I say, ‘Fuck you!’ Let him try having a baby and see how he looks after the second one.” The Chicks dedicated their song “Travelin’ Soldiers” to the troops overseas, while Taylor dedicated “Carolina on My Mind” to vice-presidential nominee John Edwards.
Jackson Browne/Bonnie Raitt/Keb’ Mo’:
A Jackson Browne/Bonnie Raitt-headlined bill began earlier than other Vote for Change shows with performances last week in Phoenix and Seattle.
“This is a good time for the blues for what ails you,” Raitt told a Phoenix crowd during her hour-long set, which included covers of songs by Randy Newman and John Prine. Collaborations included a Browne/Raitt duet on “Thing Called Love” and a joint performance between Raitt and David Crosby and Graham Nash on “Love Has No Pride.” Keb’ Mo’ did not perform in Phoenix for personal reasons, though he did appear in Seattle, where he offered his own rendition of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”