Be it concert or charity auction, Bruce Springsteen can bring any event to a crescendo.
Springsteen briefly took over auctioneering duties before being honored as MusiCares person of the year Friday night, exhorting the crowd to bid on a signed Fender electric guitar by amping up the deal. The 63-year-old rock `n' roll star moved the bid north from $60,000 US by offering a series of sweeteners.
"That's right, a one-hour guitar lesson with me," Springsteen shouted. "And a ride in my Harley Davidson sidecar. So dig in, one-percenters."
That moved the needle past $150,000 US. He added eight concert tickets and backstage passes with a bonus tour conducted by Springsteen himself. That pushed it to $200,000 US, but he wasn't done.
"And a lasagna made by my mother!" he shouted as an in-house camera at the Los Angeles Convention Center cut to his 87-year-old mother Adele Ann Springsteen.
And with an extra $250,000 US in the musicians charity's coffers, Springsteen sat down and spent most of the evening in the unusual role of spectator as a string of stars that included Elton John, Neil Young, Sting, Kenny Chesney, John Legend, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Patti Smith, Jackson Browne took the stage two nights before the Grammy Awards.
"Here's a little secret about Bruce Springsteen: He loves this," host Jon Stewart joked. "There's nothing he'd rather do than come to Los Angeles, put on a suit ... and then have people talking about him like he's dead."
Springsteen songs sung by his peers
Alabama Shakes kicked things off with Adam Raised A Cain and over the course of the evening there were several interesting takes on Springsteen's voluminous 40-year catalog of hits. Natalie Manes, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite played a stripped down Atlantic City. Mavis Staples and Zac Brown put a gospel spin on My City of Ruins. John added a funky backbeat to Streets of Philadelphia. Kenny Chesney offered an acoustic version of One Step Up.
Jim James and Tom Morello burned through a scorching version of The Ghost of Tom Joad that brought the crowd out of their seats as Morello finished the song with a fiery guitar solo. And Mumford & Sons took it the opposite way, playing a quiet, acoustic version of I'm On Fire in the round that had the crowd leaning in.
Legend offered a somber piano version of Dancing in the Dark and Young shut down the pre-Springsteen portion of the evening with a Born in the USA that included two sign-language interpreters dressed as cheerleaders signing along to the lyrics.
"John Legend made me sound like Gershwin," Springsteen said. "I love that. Neil Young made me sound like the Sex Pistols. I love that. What an evening."
'John Legend made me sound like Gershwin.' —American singer, Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen spoke of the "miracle of music," the importance of musicians in human culture and making sure everyone is cared for. And he joked that he somehow ended up being honored by MusiCares, a charity that offers financial assistance to musicians in need run by The Recording Academy, after his manager called up Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich to seek a performance slot on the show in a "mercenary publicity move."
In the end, though, he was moved by the evening.
"It's kind of a freaky experience, the whole thing," Springsteen said. "This is the huge Italian wedding Patti (Scialfa) and I never had. It's a huge Bar Mitzvah. I owe each and every one of you. You made me feel like the person of the year. Now give me that damn guitar."
He asked the several thousand attendees to move toward the stage — "Come on, it's only rock `n' roll" — and kicked off his five-song set with his Grammy nominated song We Take Care Of Our Own. At the end of the night he brought everyone on stage for Glory Days.