Springsteen tries to hit the right note at Xcel

St. Paul Pioneer Press, 2004-10-06, by: John Welsh
Still, he puts some pop into political scene
Pop music mixed with politics Tuesday night as the "Vote for Change" concert tour came to St. Paul featuring rock icon Bruce Springsteen and other big-name acts in an unusual and controversial fund-raiser for groups trying to unseat President Bush.

It was a typical concert, except for the political undertones.

"We are here to work for a government that is more open, rational and humane,'' Springsteen said as he introduced the opening act, Nebraska band Bright Eyes. "Please register. Please vote.''

The sold-out show attracted 19,082 fans to the Xcel Energy Center. With tickets going for $75 a piece that meant the show would raise more than $1 million for Americans Coming Together and MoveOn ? two liberal groups new to the political scene that have received widespread attention for their aggressive and unusual tactics to mobilize voters.

Minnesota's new status as a battleground state in next month's presidential election was the chief reason for St. Paul being added to the 33-city tour, which ends Oct. 11 with a concert in Washington, D.C. With the publicity the musicians attract and the money from the ticket sales, the tour has become an important event in the presidential campaign.

Many fans attending the concert said they were attracted equally by the cause and the tunes.

"Springsteen is my idol back from college days,'' said Mike Adamski of Minneapolis. "I'm glad he is voicing his opinion the way he is.''

The vibe inside and outside the Xcel was similar to any concert. Groups gathered near the bars along West Seventh Street and scalpers raised their tickets in the air searching for customers. But unlike other concerts, fans were approached many times by volunteers seeking to register them to vote or to offer a sticker supporting Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Another unique feature at the concert ? protesters. About 30 people, mostly associated with a group called Protest Warrior, held large signs across the street from the arena with ironic sayings like "10 out of 10 terrorists agree ? anyone but Bush.'' Another read, "Don't tell us how to vote, and we won't tell you how to sing.''

"There is one side of the argument inside the arena, we wanted to show support for what we believe in,'' said protester Brenna Murphy of Lakeville. "They are here raising money to fulfill their agenda. It isn't just about the music.''

Is she a fan of these musicians?

No, said the University of St. Thomas student. "I'm too young for Bruce Springsteen, and Michael Stipe (of R.E.M.) is too whiney.''

Fellow protester Ben Blomgren of Richfield said, "The musicians are spewing their politics. We are trying to get people to think for themselves instead of just listening to pop culture.''

But others said they thought it was a good idea for musicians to get involved in the political debate. Maybe they will get more young people interested in voting, said Molly Malchert of Minneapolis.

"It's important," she said. "When I was 16 or 17, I was more likely to hear of politics from the musicians I was listening to. It makes people aware.''

"The future voter is what this is all about,'' said Kyle Matteson, who attended the concert with Malchert.

But the concert seemed less a show for young people than one for their parents. Most fans appeared to be in their 30s and 40s. Bright Eyes, an alt-rock fave on college radio, played to a large number of empty seats as many fans chose to sit out the half-hour set.

The second act ? R.E.M. ? filled the arena, however. The group played for about an hour and featured a guest appearance by rock legend Neil Young, who sported a button reading, "Canadians for Kerry.'' But Springsteen clearly was the star, with more people wearing his concert T-shirts than those with pro-Kerry slogans. His every appearance on stage prompted a loud chorus of cheers.

During the show, there was little talk from the artists between the songs. At the start of his act, Springsteen went right into an acoustic guitar solo of the national anthem to open. He followed it with his hit, "Born in the U.S.A.''

But at several points during the night, fans were reminded about the reasons behind the concert.

"I am certain every person in this room is registered to vote and is planning to go to the polls,'' Stipe admonished the cheering throng. "This election is so important.''

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