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 Barck 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.”