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Hail to The Boss: Springsteen Plays Politics

No, scratch that. Before Stipe could even get out the words "Please welcome to the stage . . . Bruce Springsteen," the fans erupted (and erupted and erupted) and flashbulbs popped. The night's main man helped out on R.E.M.'s "Man on the Moon," punctuating the chorus of "Are we losing touch?" with one of those silly little leg kicks that Springsteen -- a great talent, a horrendous dancer -- busts out when he's feeling giddy.

The superstars -- and, uh, actor Tim Robbins -- just kept on coming. Robbins, who makes Springsteen look like Tommy Tune, joined Vedder and his grunge progenitors Pearl Jam for some really bad dancing but rather rousing punk-rock, including the howler "Grievance."

Born to run wild: R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and Bruce Springsteen share the spotlight during the concert. (Tracy A. Woodward - The Washington Post)

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Video: Singers and performers who took part in a series of concerts in support of presidential candidate John Kerry, ended their 33-city tour in Washington, D.C. on Monday night.

"We got the message out, and almost everyone here is going to vote," said Vedder, who quizzed the crowd about when Election Day is -- and everyone held up the peace sign. It was a nice moment that turned appropriately chilly when Vedder spat out the words to Bob Dylan's caustic antiwar critique "Masters of War."

James Taylor took the stage next. "I hate it when they say, 'You shouldn't changes horses midstream.' I hate it 'cause if your horse can't swim . . ." he said. He opened with the bittersweet ballad "Never Die Young" and invited the Dixie Chicks to assist him with sob-inducing takes on his "Sweet Baby James" and "Shower the People," Taylor and Natalie Maines delicately trading off on vocals.

Speaking of that troublemaking Chick, Maines -- who became a public relations nightmare last year when she said she was ashamed of fellow Texan George W. Bush -- received a prolonged standing ovation.

"Gosh, I hope y'all show up to our next tour," she said during her band's short but playful set. "After the incident, people asked me if I wanted to take back what I said. Well, no, 'cause after that Bush would just call me a flip-flopper."

After a hoedown take on Dylan's "Mississippi" -- a typical Bob puzzler that doesn't seem to be about politics at all -- the Chicks gave way to the Dave Matthews Band. The trippy jazz-pop jammers wailed away on "Don't Drink the Water," an incendiary number that built to a messy but creepy finish, and the hippie stomps "Ants Marching" and "What Would You Say?"

"Bruuuce!" they cried.

And after four hours of going bonkers, Bruuuce they finally received. After opening with a gooseflesh-rippling steel-string rendition of the national anthem, Springsteen led his venerable E Street Band straight into the bittersweet belly of a raging "Born in the U.S.A.," a hard indictment of the powers-that-be that is often misinterpreted as a pure patriotic stomp.

The Boss then did what the Boss does best: sing for the working stiff in all of us. He played "Badlands" and "No Surrender," each anthem a chance for crowd members to throw jubilant fists in the air -- no matter where they sat on the political spectrum.

Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty came on to sing with Springsteen on a blistering "Fortunate Son." (Who didn't see that coming?) Stipe serenaded the Boss on "Because the Night," the song miraculously tight for being essentially unrehearsed. Springsteen, in hellzapoppin' preacher mode, urged everyone watching at home to take off their clothes and celebrate. "A change is coming!" he cried. And then, of course, he did "Born to Run" -- with the house lights on, no less.

With the concert past the midnight mark, all the Vote for Change acts headed back to the stage for a sloppy but energetic cover of Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" It's a bipartisan song and a really nice thought.

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