From NBC's Cat Corrigan and Abby Livingston
PHILADELPHIA -- Bruce Springsteen hit the streets of Philadelphia with a mission yesterday: to elect Barack Obama. The Obama team estimated that 50,000 people showed up to see the Boss's free concert in the heart of the City of Brotherly Love. A native son of neighboring New Jersey, Springsteen's songs and message were targeted to Pennsylvania's working men and women.
Just hours before the concert, Obama staffers hastily broke down a platform of risers set up for network cameras because they obscured the view of the people in the streets. When Springsteen climbed onstage, he came sans E-Street Band, and was clad in jeans and a plain plaid shirt.
His set kicked off with "Promised Land," a song he performed during John Kerry's 2004 presidential run. He later followed up with the Kerry theme song, "No Surrender." In a nod to his 2004 performances, he said, "I tried this four years ago. This time we're winning."
Mid-concert, Springsteen pulled out written remarks he had prepared for the event. His speech was as much an homage to Obama as it was a scathing critique of the Bush administration, which he called "a disaster."
He continued, "I've spent 35 years writing about America and its people and the meaning of the American promise. A promise handed down right here in this city. Our everyday citizens have justifiably lost faith in its meaning."
With that flourish, he launched into his de facto theme song for Obama, "The Rising." The tune, originally written for the firefighters who died in the World Trade Center, has taken on an evangelical pro-Obama interpretation in the campaign. Springsteen sang and preached the Obama gospel, performing a solemn and rare acoustic version of the song.
To finish the uncharacteristically short set, Springsteen strummed his guitar to the crowd chants of "Yes we can!" which then morphed into Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land."
As Springsteen walked off the stage, he said, "It's up to you now."
With Election Day a month away and voting registration in Pennsylvania ending on Monday, the gathering was as much about political tactics and registering voters as it was about musical inspiration. The number of volunteers with clipboards prowling the event for unregistered voters sometimes seemed to rival the number of unregistered voters themselves. Leading up to the Springsteen appearance, appeals were made to text message the campaign, the same tactic used at Obama's acceptance nomination speech at Invesco Field to give the Obama team a built-in database of phone numbers to use in the final days of the Colorado campaign.