Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel teamed up for the first time on Thursday night for a concert to raise money for the Democrats’ presidential campaign — and kept the Illinois senator waiting in the wings for nearly an hour as they plowed through their songbooks for a happy crowd of donors.
The marathon 3-hour show for nearly 2,000 fans at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, where tickets started at $500 and ran to $10,000, included backup help for Springsteen and Joel from Springsteen’s wife Patti Scialfa, singers John Legend and India Arie and Joel’s band.
The two aging rockers traded songs through the night, and by the time presidential contender Barack Obama arrived for a speech that was supposed to close the concert the pair was just getting warmed up.
Springsteen sprawled across Joel’s piano for “Spirit in the Night,” calling out the chord changes to Joel as he went along. Joel played “New York State of Mind” and “Allentown” — his version, not Springsteen’s.
“The Piano Man is gonna become the Guitar Man now — anything can happen,” Springsteen said when Joel grabbed a guitar as they kicked off “Glory Days.”
Springsteen dedicated “Born to Run” to Obama before clambering up and making a closing leap from Joel’s piano — and rushing back to dramatically clean the scuff marks off it.
John Legend and India Arie were featured on the closing version of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” before Obama arrived to declare it “a magical evening.”
“Sorry, Bruce and Billy, but I grew up with you all. They are musical icons,” he said, as Springsteen, Joel and the other musicians huddled in the corner of the stage to listen. “They are the finest musicians of our generation,” he said. “They can tell stories about our lives that resonate in ways a speech won’t do.”
As he had all day, Obama warned the crowd against overconfidence heading into the Nov. 4 election. “Don’t underestimate the capacity of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” he said. “Don’t underestimate our ability to screw it up.”
With that, Obama reprised his own greatest hit — his story, rarely heard these days, which ends with him leading the crowd in chants of “Fired Up! Ready to Go!”
He was then joined on stage by his wife Michelle, and the couple danced and clapped along to Springsteen and Joel’s version of the song that now closes Obama rallies — Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”
Photo credit: REUTERS/Allen Frederickson (file photo of Springsteen performing in Wisconsin in January 2008)