It is a truth universally acknowledged that when you have a chance to see Bruce Springsteen perform for free, you should take advantage of it. That's how I wound up on the Ben Franklin Parkway yesterday afternoon for the Obama rally/Springsteen concert. It feels a bit silly to give this my usual post-show review; Bruce only played about 7 songs, and the speechifying (by, among others, Angelo Cataldi, Sen. Bob Casey and Gov. Ed Rendell) took up more time than the music (the opening acts included Amos Lee and some local singer named Nora something, neither of whom I had much interest in). When Bruce finally did take the stage, though, he owned it immediately. It was a solo acoustic gig, so obviously this wasn't the dynamic rock-n-roller who fills stadiums, but rather a folksinging troubadour, complete with harmonica rack. About half of the songs were natural fits for this sort of stripped-down performance ("The Ghost of Tom Joad," "This Land is Your Land") while others required a bit more adaptation ("The Promised Land," "Thunder Road"). They all worked, though, and the crowd easily sang along to the slightly unfamiliar arrangements.
The biggest surprise for me, though, is what a remarkable speaker Springsteen is. Partway through his set, he launched into a spoken-word interlude that sounded completely off-the-cuff and stirring. The remarks were prepared ahead of time, of course, but it never felt like he was reading from a script. If he hadn't gone into the music business, who knows where this guy might have ended up?
Also, if I were a political consultant, I'd advise more politicians to learn guitar: pretty much anything you say sounds sincere when you're strumming a few gentle chords beneath it.