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Published: 2004/09/01
by Mike Greenhaus

Dan Bern, South Street Seaport, New York, NY- 8/20

Dan Bern doesn't dance around his message: "Bush Must Be Defeated." For over a decade, the singer-songwriter has circumvented the country, rapping about politics, the Beatles, and, occasionally, the importance of baseball. Yet, with November 2nd nudging closer by the day, of late Bern has moved from an off-beat poet to a symbol of the modern Anti-Bush movement, titling his new album My County II and his quasi-single called, you guessed it, "Bush Must Be Defeated."

In fact, on the eve of GOP's first New York summit, Bern has turned Manhattan into a semi-permanent battleground, offering a series of politically driven musical protests. Kicking off his Tri-State area stand with a headlining spot at the South Street Seaport's free River to River Festival. A quiet, intimate pier jutting from the heart of downtown New York, Pier 17 appears small and fragile beneath Wall Street's towering skyscrapers. Lit by a florescent flickering from a nearby Pizza UNO, the gentrified loading dock is also a product of its surroundings, a concert series sponsored by American Express. Sporting sweats and augmenting his voice only with an acoustic guitar, Bern tangled from within his enemy's belly.

Opening with a new political ditty, Bern offered an inviting, if not totally cohesive hour-plus performance. Literally blind after a contact lens slipped from his eye during a particularly heated rant, Bern appeared the true embodiment of the traveling blind-poets of yesteryear. Still, Bern is a mutt of his most apparent muses: appearing like a small framed Bruce Springsteen and singing with a distinct, post-Dylan touch. Bern nodded to both Bards, as well as other great luminaries, related in part during "The Fifth Beatle," a bright recounting of rock-history told through vivid interpretations of the likes of Elvis Costello, Kurt Cobain and a host of other musicians. But, with the exception of a few odd-ball diversions, Bush provided Bern with his muse. Bern also nodded to Cobain during the dark, textured "God Says No." Evoking images of both Dylan's marriage eulogy "Sara" and Sid Vicious' final encounter with fated girlfriend Nancy, this evening's performance peaked with a somewhat optimistic millennium ballad titled "Chelsea Hotel:"

I was starting to think
The world was going to end when the calendar turns
But now you're here
I see the future, baby
And they can let the calendar burn

Poignant moments also arrived during new, politically laced numbers like "President" and off the cuff spoken word rants on campaign finance. The nation's crisis seems to have given Bern focus, helping to direct his long narratives into musical sermons-of-sorts. As expected, Bern climaxed his performance with "Bush Must Be Defeated," a simple string of words repeated at a dizzying decibel. Counterbalancing this phrase with a co-opted pop hook, the guitarist turned his message into the soundtrack for a series Friday night activities. Here's hoping the hymn will serve as more than a lingering weekend memory.

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