[Review, Gund Arena, Cleveland, OH, Oct. 2, 2004]

Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2004-10-03, by: John Soeder
The Boss got down to business with a solo instrumental rendition of the national anthem when he led the "Vote for Change" tour to Cleveland for two sold-out concerts Saturday night.
Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band drew 19,000 fans to Gund Arena, on a bill with John Fogerty, R.E.M. and Bright Eyes. The Dixie Chicks and James Taylor performed in front of about 3,000 fans at Playhouse Square's State Theatre.

The shows were part of a 33-city tour organized by the MoveOn political action committee. Concert proceeds benefit America Coming Together, a liberal interest group campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in Ohio and other electoral battleground states.

All told, the tour will take 20-plus acts to 11 states - an unprecedented mobilization of musical talent in the name of partisan politics - culminating with an all-star concert Monday, Oct. 11, in Washington, D.C.

"We're all here tonight to work for a more progressive government . . . and we're going to rock the house while doing so," Springsteen said at the start of his concert.

He played a 12-string guitar for a rippling version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." It segued directly into a rousing "Born in the U.S.A.," with the full force of the nine-piece E Street Band behind Springsteen.

He galvanized the audience with "Badlands," "No Surrender," "The River," "The Rising," "Born to Run" and other fist-pumping rock 'n' roll workouts and working-class ballads.

Springsteen & Co. were joined by Fogerty for several songs, including the Creedence Clearwater Revival gem "Fortunate Son," Fogerty's new single, "Deja Vu (All Over Again)" and Springsteen's "Promised Land."

"Because the Night" featured a guest appearance by R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe.

"I can't overemphasize how important the state of Ohio is in this next election," Springsteen said toward the end of the 4?-hour show.

Kerry and running mate John Edwards "are prepared to help our country move forward," Springsteen said. "The country we carry in our hearts is waiting."

"We're R.E.M. - and we approve this concert," Stipe quipped during his group's set.

In addition to performing "The One I Love," "Imitation of Life," "Losing My Religion" and other time-tested crowd-pleasers, R.E.M. played selections from its new album, "Around the Sun," including "Final Straw." The tune is a protest song recorded last year, when the United States was on the brink of war in Iraq.

Stipe reminded concertgoers who weren't registered to vote to do so by Monday's deadline. He also urged everyone to go to the polls Nov. 2. He sang of a "white-washed presidency" during "Bad Day," with Springsteen contributing a guitar solo and backing vocals. The Boss also lent a hand on "Man on the Moon."

Bright Eyes, an emo-rock group, went on first. Frontman Conor Oberst, 24, seemed on hand to get out the youth vote. Springsteen is 55, Fogerty is 59, and the members of R.E.M. are in their 40s.

"The future hangs over our heads," Oberst sang during his opening number, "Landlocked Blues." He and his five-piece band delivered an earnest yet edgy performance. "A vote for Bush is like [defecating] in your own bed," Oberst said.

To cap off the proceedings, Oberst, Fogerty and R.E.M. joined Springsteen and the E Street Band for encores of "Bad Moon Rising," Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and Patti Smith's "People Have the Power."

Before the concert, about a dozen protesters held a polite demonstration outside the arena. Among them was Ryan Salo, 25, of Lakewood, who held a Bush-Cheney sign. "It's foolish for these musicians to do this," Salo said. "They have freedom of speech. But we have the freedom to stop buying their CDs."

Meanwhile, about 10 blocks to the east, the Dixie Chicks and James Taylor played to a very enthusiastic capacity crowd.

It was mix-and-match night. Taylor and the Dixie Chicks - Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire - traded solos, harmonized on each other's songs and shared a six-piece backup band. Maines sang lead on Taylor's "Sweet Baby James," while he ripped into the Chicks' "Some Days You Gotta Dance."

The evening bounced from sweet ballads like "Shower the People," to rip-roaring, foot-stomping, country-clap-alongs like "Sin Wagon" and "Mississippi." Maines dedicated "Travelin' Soldiers" to the troops; Taylor dedicated "Carolina" to Edwards.

There was some political talk from the stage, though Taylor managed to mix in a "Hello, Cleveland!"

"I think our guy did pretty good the other night, don't you think?" he said of Kerry's performance in the presidential debate. Taylor's advice for undecided voters: "You look at the two candidates and you vote for the smarter one."

Maines was not as agitated last night over weighty political issues as she was over weight issues. She mentioned that a critic from Pittsburgh the night before carped that she was "still heavy" from having her second baby two months ago.

"To that, I say [expletive] you," Maines said to huge laughs and applause. "Let him try having a baby and see how he looks after the second one."

Besides the Cleveland gigs, the "Vote for Change" blitz of Ohio also had lined up performances Saturday by Pearl Jam in Toledo, John Mellencamp and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds in Columbus, the Dave Matthews Band in Dayton and Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt in Cincinnati.

Plain Dealer reporter Clint O'Connor contributed to this story.