'The Boss' targets Bush with his coalition of bands

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The Independent US

"We're here tonight to fight for a government that's rational, forward-looking and humane," said Bruce Springsteen, and it was clear that he didn't mean one led by George Bush. Luckily for fans not so sure about the Boss's lurch into politics, he added: "We plan to rock the joint while we're doing so."

In Philadelphia on Friday night, the king of blue-collar rock kicked off a series of "Vote for Change" concerts in the closest-fought states in next month's presidential election. The war in Iraq has convinced him that this President must go, which by default means backing John Kerry. He has recruited other musicians who feel the same way, including Pearl Jam, Tracy Chapman, the Dixie Chicks and R.E.M., whose singer, Michael Stipe, came out on stage with him.

When someone had led a country into a war such as the one America is currently fighting in Iraq, Springsteen told the packed arena, "You lose your job". And with that he and the E Street Band broke into his anthem "Born in the USA".

The song symbolises the performer's previous distance from party politics. Actually a scathing criticism of US involvement in the Vietnam war, it was misinterpreted as an ultra-patriotic hymn of pride in America by Ronald Reagan's campaign team in 1984. At the time, the singer reacted with fury to the attempts to co-opt him and his music, and some of his fans have mixed feelings about his change of heart now.

"He always said he was apolitical," said Bob Yanofsky, 47, who, like Springsteen, comes from New Jersey. "In 1984, when Reagan and the other side tried to use him, he wasn't happy about it." Mr Yanofsky is still deciding which way to vote. "I am leaning towards Bush. I am waiting for Kerry to convince me that he has a plan."

For despite Bruce's image as a spokesman for America's poor and downtrodden, it seems that you can admire him and George Bush at the same time. Madeline and Eric Specter have also followed Springsteen for many years - their first date was an outing to one of his concerts, and they were married to the tune of "New York Serenade".

Madeline, a Democrat, was confident that his performances would provide a major boost for Mr Kerry. "Everybody believes whatever he says. I have a huge amount of respect for him," she said. Her husband, a Republican, was more ambivalent.

Fortunately for him, there were few polemics and plenty of old favourites, from "No Surrender" to "Badlands". Bruce joined R.E.M. for their hit "Man on the Moon", Stipe joined Springsteen for a rendition of "Because the Night", and all the bands came together for the finale, a rousing version of Patti Smith's "People Have the Power".

Springsteen's "loose coalition" of American musicians will perform 34 shows in 28 cities in nine states over the next week and a half. The money will go to America Coming Together (ACT), a group formed last year to work for a Democratic victory.