It was no accident that on tax-reckoning day, the same day Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was holding a forum in downtown L.A. to address the Golden State's buckling economy, Bruce Springsteen put a decidedly California spin on his overarching musical message about holding onto hope even in the face of such hard times.
Springsteen invited local political firebrand Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine/the Nightwatchman fame, to join him on stage Wednesday at the first of two consecutive nights at the Los Angeles Sports Arena for a savage duet on "The Ghost of Tom Joad," the Boss' 1995 Steinbeck- inspired treatise on those who've been let down or forgotten in the promised land:
He pulls a prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag
Waiting for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box 'neath the underpass
He and Morello traded impassioned verses, with E Street Band guitarists "Miami" Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren ceding the spotlight to Morello for a rapid-fire solo that screamed outrage. During the encore segment, Morello returned for a choir-like reading of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More."
Springsteen might have stumped for Barack Obama and played at the White House following his election, but he knows that systemic change doesn't happen overnight and that hope remains a fragile thing in troubled times.
Rifling through his ever-expanding songbook, he stitched together a set focused less on promoting his latest album, “Working on a Dream,” than on shoring up hope while acknowledging how much work still needs to be done to fulfill the American dream.
"We're here with a mighty purpose in mind!" the 59-year-old Jerseyite told a sea of cheering onlookers after the first handful of songs. "We're gonna rock the house! But we're not only going to rock the house, we're going to build a house. We're going to take fear and build a house of love; we're going to take sadness and build a house of joy; we're going to take doubt and build a house of faith; we're going to take despair and build a house of hope."