Sunday, February 1, 2009

Bruce Springsteen Super Bowl Reviews

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's Super Bowl halftime show is getting decidedly mixed reviews.

From Mitch Stacy, the Associated Press:

Bruce Springsteen looked into the camera Sunday night and told the people watching at home to "put the chicken fingers down and turn the television all the way up!"

Then he proceeded to give the Super Bowl crowd and the millions watching on TV three high-energy Boss standards, with the title song from his new album wedged in among them for good measure.

The 59-year-old Springsteen and his E Street Band opened with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," then without pause ripped through "Born To Run" and "Working on a Dream," before winding up the set with "Glory Days."

Springsteen, dressed all in black, came out Sunday night with the considerable challenge of packing the bombastic energy of one of his rollicking, three-hour concerts into an abbreviated Super Bowl halftime set.

That turned out to be no problem. He had fireworks, an expansive stage, about 1,000 people on the field and help from a Raymond James Stadium crowd equipped with small flashlights.

From Jenna Fryer, the Associated Press:
Springsteen and his E Street Band had turned down numerous invitations to play the halftime show, declining the high-profile time slot because it was a bit beneath them.

Then the show slowly started to draw legitimate acts — U2, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, to name a few — and Springsteen changed his view of performing in the middle of a football game.

He promised a 12-minute party, and more than delivered by charming the estimated 100 million television viewers with his opening line: "I want you to put the chicken fingers down and turn your television all the way up."

Springsteen then threw himself into his four-song set, a highly anticipated series of songs that had Las Vegas oddsmakers taking bets on which tunes he'd select. He opened with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," and worked in one of his trademark across-the-stage knee slides.

The move wasn't without risk: He slid into one of the on-stage cameras, and seemed to be winded when he transitioned into "Born to Run."
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band made the most of their 12 minutes during the Super Bowl XLIII halftime show tonight (Feb. 1) in Tampa, Fla., rocking through the classics "10th Avenue Freeze Out," "Born To Run," "Glory Days" and the new song "Working on a Dream."

"I want you to put the chicken fingers down and turn your television all the way up," Springsteen commanded as the band jumped into the vintage sing-a-long "10th Avenue Freeze Out," which was played at the three-minute running time of its studio version on the album "Born To Run." In live performance, the song is frequently stretched into a 15-minute jam.

With Springsteen and guitarists Steven Van Zandt and Patti Scialfa on a platform in front of the stage, a choir joined the group for "Working on a Dream," the title cut of the new Springsteen album released on Jan. 27.

The set concluded with the "Born in the U.S.A." chestnut "Glory Days," an appropriate Super Bowl choice for its reference to a "hail mary" pass. After the final note sounded, Springsteen shouted, "I'm going to Disneyland!"

Note to Cohen: While I think "Glory Days" was a good choice to end the set, the song is about a baseball player, not a football player. Springsteen switched up the lyrics. There is no reference to a "Hail Mary" pass in the song. Springsteen replaced "He could throw that speed ball by you" with "Hail Mary."

From Naila-Jean Meyers and John Woods, the New York Times:
Everyone in Raymond James Stadium was given a flashlight and were told to point it at the stage. Between the camera flashes and the flash lights, and the red light that has now enveloped the stadium, and the fire works shooting from the stage, this is pretty darn cool. If only Bruce could play “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” all night.

Bruce follows with “Born to Run.” No surprises here so far. Everything is blue now. A snippet of the new single, “Working on a Dream” is next, with a smooth transition into “Glory Days,” with a friend who’s an old football player this time. The effect of the flashlights is fantastic. Naila doesn’t want them to turn the stadium lights back on.

From Scott Galupo, the Washington Times:
That wasn't so bad, was it, Bruce?

After years of swearing off such nakedly commercial gambits, Bruce Springsteen entertained the tens thousands on hand for the Super Bowl Half-Time Show at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. -- and, by extension, an international television audience of an estimated 1 billion.

...From the moment Mr. Springsteen and saxophonist Clarence Clemons appeared in silhouette, leaning on each other in the style of 1975's iconic "Born to Run" cover, it was evident the band planned to hit well-rehearsed marks for its allotted 12 minutes.

A consummate showman, Mr. Springsteen made every moment count, with amusing banter addressed at TV cameras, pared-down arrangements and smoothly plotted segues; he and the band were in synch with both the play-clock and a sky-filling pyrotechnic display.

The tongue-in-cheek band biography "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" opened the segment. During the song, on which the E Street band was bulked out with a full horn section, Mr. Springsteen turned one of his patented stage moves -- a sprinting knee slide -- into a gridiron-appropriate collision with a cameraman.

"Born to Run" came next. Mr. Springsteen left the second verse on the sidelines, but it hardly mattered: The song is one of the most reliable adrenaline-stokers in rock history, and Mr. Springsteen and the band delivered it as though they'd been on stage for hours and sweating through a characteristically dramatic encore.

Mr. Springsteen chose to use the third slot to promote the title track of the just-released Working on a Dream album. Production-wise, it was the showbiz-iest moment of the set, with a berobed gospel choir and the on-field audience hoisting twinkly glow-sticks.

The band closed with the beloved E Street hit "Glory Days." The baseball references of the original were retrofitted for the pertinent pigskin pastime: I had a friend, was a big football player / back in high school / He could throw that Hail Mary / make you look like a fool.

Mr. Springsteen and longtime pal-turned-"Sopranos"-star Steven Van Zandt hammed up the final minute, pretending to be in a John Elway-worthy final drive against time. A National Football League referee appeared to toss a penalty flag -- a contrived gag, but, at that point, no one was complaining.

Those reviews are all very positive. However, not everyone is on board with them.

Greg Kot, the Chicago Tribune, wasn't won over by Springsteen's halftime show:
Bruce Springsteen knew what he was competing with as he took the instant stage set up Sunday at halftime of the Super Bowl.

“Step away from the guacamole dip,” he commanded the national television audience. Not the finest line in Springsteen lore. And then came a mix of Springsteen at his best -- and worst.

Super Bowl halftime entertainers, once an afterthought, are now part of the NFL sales team. Springsteen, who once wouldn’t have been caught dead performing an event sponsored by a multinational tire manufacturer while being squeezed between television ads, was in an affable, we’re-here-to-entertain mood with his E Street Band.

“Is there anybody alive out there?” he shouted, then tried to squeeze three hours of a typical high-energy Springsteen concert into 12 minutes.

Springsteen’s music has taken on a political dimension over the years, but that aspect of his art was muted in favor of a more celebratory performance. Springsteen said as much in pre-game comments when he described the game as a “big party,” and he came to please.

...The performances bristled with energy, even if Springsteen was a bit breathless and clearly not up to nailing the high notes.

Then came a truncated “Working on a Dream” with a gospel choir, an advertisement for his latest album. He closed with “Glory Days,” the singer camping it up as he worked a bunch of football references into the song about a washed-up baseball player. The set bottomed out when a performer popped on-stage wearing a football referee’s uniform and signaled “penalties” while the singer and Steve Van Zandt shared vocals. Do they hand out 15-yard penalties for shameless jive?

It was an example of Springsteen’s humor at its cheesiest; perhaps entertaining to an audience who would just as soon be dipping into the guacamole, but a letdown for fans who expected a more convincing musical statement from one of the greatest live performers of the last three decades. This was Springsteen as song-and-dance man, an accomplished artist reduced to pandering.

Yes, Greg was not impressed, not happy at all. He's really quite a whiner.

I bet Greg isn't much of a party guy. I think he should lighten up a bit.

Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times, would probably get along well with Greg Kot. He, too, wasn't buying what Springsteen was selling.
In the post Nipplegate-era of halftime entertainment, that's just the way the NFL likes it. No risks, no surprises and nothing that's going to slow the momentum of one of the biggest rah-rah moments on American television. Oh, and keep the new stuff to a minimum.

Springsteen got in a couple verses of the title track off his album, but it was straight into "Glory Days" just as the crowd was warming up to the cut's gospel groove. When you have 12 minutes, better go keep them wanting more, especially when dabbling with the unfamiliar.

It was apparent that Springsteen and the E Street Band -- introduced as "booty-shaking" in a pre-taped reel of NFL personalities -- understood the game from the moment the performance started. "Step back from the guacamole dip," Springsteen yelled through gritted teeth. He then followed it up with this impassioned order: "Put! The! Chicken! Fingers! Doooowwwwwwwn!"

Love him or hate him, is this what we want from one of our most celebrated songwriters? Springsteen's always been at the very least an artist who's unafraid to tackle big topics. He shouldn't be faulted for trying to drum up some excitement for his new album, but is it necessary for him to have to deliver jokes for the NFL to do so?

...Heading into the performance, the only major question was why Springsteen needed to sing in Tampa Bay today at all. The halftime show rakes in the viewers -- last year's Super Bowl was watched by a record 97.5 million people, according to Nielsen Media Research -- but it turns artists into pitchmen. In getting the spotlight for just 12 minutes, verses are dropped and melodies are clipped.

It's not a concert, but a teaser for Springsteen's upcoming tour, which comes to Los Angeles Sports Arena on April 15 (tickets, conveniently, on sale tomorrow morning). While Springsteen has been saying that there are few outlets for an artist of his age to promote his music these days, the Bruce Springsteen Business hasn't exactly been dipping. According to Billboard, Springsteen tallied the second-highest grossing tour of 2008, bringing in a total gross of more than $204 million.

But today's Super Bowl performance will net Springsteen a whole lot more than brisk ticket sales. In the days following his halftime performance last year, Tom Petty saw a 352% increase in digital track sales. The four songs performed today -- the set ended with "Glory Days" (you were expecting something else?) -- are surely rocketing up the iTunes sales chart as this quick reaction blog is being typed.

There was, however, plenty to like, and Springsteen is one of the world's most successful live performers for a reason. The set began when the band broke into the swinging "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," striking a communal vibe from the start. If the easy-going saxophone sway of the tune was a surprising way to begin, Springsteen punctuated every note with a high-five to a fan and wasn't above a little lyric-altering pandering -- "bust this city in half" became "bust this Super Bowl in half."

...So yes, things got corny toward the end -- tradition or not, never again does Van Zandt need to declare that it's "Boss time" anywhere ever -- but Springsteen still largely fulfilled the goals he set out for himself. Speaking about the halftime performance in the New York Times, Springsteen said, “If you do it right, you should feel the tension of it wanting to spread beyond that time frame. But it can’t.”

And this was a moment to celebrate the crowd sing-along. Every lyric of a joyous rendition of "Born to Run" was hammered home with a fist-pump or a pyrotechnic display. "I wanna die with you Wendy," sang Springsteen, but he may as well have been cheerleading a punt return.

If "Glory Days," a song built for sports nostalgia, was an obvious choice for a set-ender -- "Born in the U.S.A." is too political a tune for the NFL -- Springsteen proved himself to be a rather excited salesman.

He misfired by changing the lyrics, swapping out the dead-beat baseball player references for lame nods to football, but this was a Springsteen clearly caught up in the advertising-driven spectacle of the Super Bowl, and completely unashamed about all of it.

His performance ended not with a statement -- but a sales pitch: "I'm going to Disneyland!"

Kot and Martens don't seem to get it. I'm glad that Springsteen did.


In my opinion, Springsteen put on a good show. I loved the way it began, with Springsteen and Clarence Clemons appearing in a silhouette reminiscent of the classic Born to Run pose.

"Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" was a pleasant surprise as an opening song. "Born to Run" flowed right out of it.

I didn't like the medley feel of it, but that was unavoidable. I think given the time constraints, Springsteen and the band delivered. It was fun.

Kot thinks the show was cheesy at times. Well, behold the power of cheese!

Kot and Martens need to get some perspective. They were nuts to expect or hope for "a more convincing musical statement from one of the greatest live performers of the last three decades."


Personally, I didn't want to hear any new material, but even that didn't bother me. I couldn't complain after "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and "Born to Run."

The critics hoping he would have used the Super Bowl halftime show to make a political statement are really misguided.

That would have been inappropriate.

I, for one, am thankful that Springsteen set out to entertain. He brought the party he promised. That wasn't selling out. It was playing to his audience, the time and the place. That's not a bad thing.


The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Love him or hate him, is this what we want from one of our most celebrated songwriters? Springsteen's always been at the very least an artist who's unafraid to tackle big topics. He shouldn't be faulted for trying to drum up some excitement for his new album, but is it necessary for him to have to deliver jokes for the NFL to do so?

Geez....the cheesy jokes and banter is vintage Springsteen; as well as altering the lyrics to fit the moment. What's he complaining about?

I have a number of bootlegs where Springsteen will command people in the has him in concert telling people listening to him on their car radios to "pull over, get out of the car, dance around, get back in, hit your head on the steering wheel, then drive on..." He knows how to connect by speaking directly to his live audience and making them a part of the show.

Mary said...

I know!

I think maybe Springsteen's politics appeals to Martens more than his music and the concert experience.

Anonymous said...

Kot used to be the best contemporary writer in rock. He's turned into this irrelevant self-important ninny. Too bad because he does have some talent.

Joe said...

Maybe I don't get it either, but I hated it. It was campy annoying and a poor vocal performance. The band clearly rocks, but when you play lazy, boring music it really dumb's down the quality.

The lyric changes were so pathetic and lame, and the outro with Little Steven was just plain embarrassing. Anyone who enjoys football must have been cringing along with me as the ultra-nerdy "Boss" sounded like a hot chick trying to explain how her favorite team "got" a touchdown and won the big game.

Can we please get a non-washed up act for the game.

Mary said...

Joe, I don't think "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and "Born to Run" are "lazy, boring" songs.

Your comment leads me to believe that you're not a fan. That's you're prerogative.

(Actually, I think you're just a troll writing troll crap.)

Mary said...

Kot really does come off as a "self-important ninny."

He completely dismisses the context of the performance.

Anonymous said...

springsteen jumped the overweight, out of shape money grab...period...

Anonymous said...

I am a casual Springsteen fan and have never seen him live but know many people who have and I've heard good things. I was mixed when I saw the performance. On one hand he is clearly a good performer and was enjoying himself. On the other hand I really got the feeling that he was trying way too hard to 'rock' and it seemed insincere in my opinion. It was like having "The greatest Superbowl performance ever" tag was what he was striving for. That to me is a little pretentious and not really what it should be about. I sensed an ego on that stage. I thought last year Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were really solid and seemed very genuine. If you've ever heard Tom Petty talk he is the realest dude you'll ever hear. I think the Superbowl was a good thing for the Heatbreakers and I'm glad they saw such an increase in sales because they really deserve it. As big as they are, I think they're extremely underrated and largely unknown amongst the younger generations. I am 21 and you would be surprised how many people my age have never heard 'The Waiting'. Back to Springsteen, I could be off base with my opinion but I wasn't really digging the Pete Townsend stage antic rips. The power slide into the camera was a little embarrassing. Anyways nothing against Bruce he's still the boss and hey, he looks pretty good at 59.

J said...

I like this blog because the comments come with backup for the majority. I'll start with saying that I loved the show, and watch it on tape (with my "television set all the way up") still. I think that some of the cheesiness, which would have come off natural and cute even at a typical show, came off the way it did in this situation for a couple of reasons:

First, he was nervous. He admits to it even, but at least that's accepted, even expected.

Second, he rehearsed this show. The E Street Band, so said Bruce on day, is "100% live," so getting them to play a show like this exactly, with a timeframe and structure, is difficult. Bruce and the band are so great because they entertain without planning everything that comes out onstage. It seems that Bruce had a script here instead of lyrics, and he had to rehearse the script and say it on a stage with blush in his face. It wasn't a concert, as much as he treated it like one- I think that putting typical E Street energy into a few moments is a silly thought, but that was the bill to fill. He hooked me, and I sing with that gospel choir whenever I playback the halftime tape, but for others it didn't work.

However, he did manage to capture some aspects of his routine performances into this show, I think. The lyrics changes are one, as they were not necessarily planned, and shouldn't be something to dwell on. Bruce does that sort of thing all the time, it's not "embarrassing" that he did it, he was just playing in front of a crowd, if you get what I'm trying to say. Sliding into the camera was probably a first, but that adds to the live excitement, and marks a highlight for sure. He got up from it right away though (but he was out of breath, he says; you can hear it too). The opening "rap," along with "is there anybody alive out there" from upon the piano, the referee coming out to throw a penalty flag, "Boss Time," guitar swings, and the knee slide itself were all Springsteen typicalities that the threw into the mixing bowl to give those parts of his live concerts to the audience. So what? He played a good show. The crowd sang along, and so still I.

J said...

No, it wasn't a true rendition of a Springsteen concert, though- all that cheeze was designed to be silly, but his nervousness may have got the best of him on that. I don't want people to think that's what they'll see at a Springsteen concert, those theatrics are even toned down now, rare if even present. He could have given a soulful, solid musical performance, but he wants to smile, and he was there just to entertain.