Critic’s notebook: Bruce Springsteen sings ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ to open the inaugural special.

Critic’s notebook: Bruce Springsteen sings ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ to open the inaugural special.

When President Barack Obama gave his farewell address to the nation on Jan. 10, 2017, he walked off the stage to a recording of Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams,” embracing his family while Mr. Springsteen sang of offering unwavering support for his broken friends, and of the power of traveling together toward a common future.

So it was a warm and knowing bit of circle-closing that Mr. Springsteen himself performed “Land of Hope and Dreams” to open the prime-time “Celebrating America” special Wednesday night that marked the inauguration of President Biden. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Springsteen stood alone, wearing a navy pea coat and jeans, and clutching a vividly aged guitar.

His singing was gritty and a little tense, a reflection of the song’s determined optimism in the face of challenges. “Leave behind your sorrows/ Let this day be the last,” he purred. “Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine/ And all this darkness past.”

The next performer — Jon Bon Jovi, another son of New Jersey — also emphasized the arrival of the light, with a cover of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” But in the context of the pandemic and the recent political turmoil that has wracked the country, his blithe cheer felt brittle and unawares, especially following Mr. Springsteen’s acknowledgment of the cold season just now coming to an end.

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