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Bruce Springsteen at the Super Bowl: Were you sold?


The National Football League announced in September that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would provide the halftime entertainment at today's Super Bowl. Last week, Springsteen released an album that surely warmed the hearts of NFL and NBC execs. His "Working on a Dream" is largely an upbeat and positive pop record -- one without any deep political implications and plenty of PG-safe proclamations of love.

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 -- and it was, admittedly, an entertaining one -- for Springsteen's upcoming tour, which comes to the 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."

Indeed, when it comes to providing entertainment for big-time events, few are more fit for the job than the Boss. Fewer still can follow the likes of the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Prince and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -- the artists who have been called upon to provide family-friendly entertainment since the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake debacle of 2004.

In contrast to Petty's performance last year, Springsteen was more than eager to ham it up. The set ended with a gag-worthy shtick with Steven Van Zandt and a referee. When time was up, Springsteen egged the crowd on, suggesting the band play on and get taxed with an over-time penalty (ha!).

Yet every bad moment was tempered with something good. Springsteen showed off his agility, even if he couldn't stop himself from sliding straight into a cameraman between "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and "Born to Run." The look on Springsteen's face -- he was clearly struggling not to laugh -- seemed to imply the moment wasn't staged, which would be a true rarity in halftime gigs.

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.

Give Springsteen credit. He was clearly enjoying the stage, although he misfired by changing the lyrics to "Glory Days," 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 joke that felt like another sales pitch: "I'm going to Disneyland!"

-Todd Martens

Photo credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (97)

I saw him many times in concert, starting with the Born to Run tour. No more. He's a lame-o putz now. And if you like him still, you are too!! Schtichz-ville daddy-o.

Bring it fellow boomers, tell me to leave Brucie alone. He's still cool. Yeah, right.

Worst half-time show since Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. The Boss doesn't sell on the west coast. Just another hack

This was a great halftime show and a great football game. Of course BIG MEDIA has to trash it. Jaded responses are a way of life in the critical thinking MediaAmerika - read stupid thinking.

Go Bruce - we know every word and you always touch our hearts.

Lordnose we need something to hold onto in these troubled times.

The Super Bowl "turns artists into pitchmen"...? Funny, it was my impression that the music biz was all about commercialism, Super Bowl or not. Apparently not on your planet, Todd.

I thought it was a great show. I am a New Jersey chick, and I love him, and I've been to a great number of shows, so, take it with a grain of salt if it helps you out, but this was a great thing. It would be easy for a fan like me to bitch about his choices and the commercialism, but I'm not anywhere near inclined to do so. The song choice was perfect for the venue and I was laughing and singing along the whole time. Springsteen tends to polarize people, but I saw very little to get pissed off about tonight. It was a house party, no more, and no less.

If you didn't like this performance then you wouldn't like any of Springsteen's performance. This was textbook Boss. A regular fan could have planned this performance. It was almost completely comprised of previous performances down to the moves, the notes, the jokes, to the freaking expressions on his face. Go rent some of his concert CDs. You could take clips from them and almost put this entire performance together and it even be timed correctly. If you didn't like this show then you just don't like the Boss. Which is ok. But don't knock him. He's made a lot of fans doing EXACTLY what he did tonight.

You either get Bruce or you don't. It is as simple as that. The more people who don't, the more concert tix available for me.

OMG! Bruce was great! This was like one of his encores from his concerts... pure fun and party time! The sillyness going on with his bandmates is classic Bruce!
He always had a great sense of humor! Fun!!! Loved it!

saw him many times in concert, starting with the Born to Run tour. No more. He's a lame-o putz now. And if you like him still, you are too!! Schtichz-ville daddy-o.

Bring it fellow boomers, tell me to leave Brucie alone. He's still cool. Yeah, right
Apparently a "too cool for school" SoCal dude. This Iowan thought it was classic Springsteen. He took his 12 minutes and did what he could with it. Energy, humor and precision. I'm a boomer and have seen him several times beginning with The River tour and most recently this past September. Nobody better. Get over yourself, Bob.

Todd, lighten up. It is a Super Bowl half time show! Who cares? He was having some fun. Why not change the lyrics to fit the theme? Half the people at home probably went into the kitchen, bathroom, backyard, during the show anyway. He did a fun 12 minutes. What more do you want from a corporate driven game/sport?

As a longtime fan who has attended countless Springsteen concerts since the late seventies, it's obvious that the writer has little knowledge of Bruce or his shows. What you refer to as "hamming it up" because of his "schtick" with vanZant, isn't something concocted for the NFL show. He does that type of thing frequently, and the fact that you suggtest Bruce was being a ham just shows your lack of familiarity with his shows. I saw Bruce last year 3 times on the Magic tour, and it is very obvious that he needs absolutely NO assistance selling tickets. The Super Bowl performance isn't about to inspire anyone that has already been to one of his shows, because if you've been to only one, you long for the next and the next.....and the next. I was excited for the "newbies" the ones that aren't concert goers or have never seen Bruce. I suspect that he will have made legions of new fans who now want to experience the full impact of an E-Street Band show.

As for his opening lines being jokes........They weren't. It was a funny way of asking all of the football fans watching the halftime show to turn up the volume and pay attention for 12 minutes so they could experience what his fans already know is the greatest rock and roll show there is. He didn't have to tell US to turn up the volume......we already did.

As for changing lyrics......why not??? I've seen it done at numerous shows. Subtle changes that fit the city or the audience. In this case, he was simply playing to a football crowd, so why not make them feel that much more included? He certainly didn't "misfire" at all. He did what he always does and what he does best.........he played to and for the crowd that was there.

Nils Lofgren was on the radio with Dave Marsh the other day, and he made an excellent point. He said that no matter how good a super bowl team is, one of them has to lose. He said that at an E-Street Band concert, they always win..........it's just a matter of "how big the point spread is." Based upon what I saw, the band scored a huge win.

Todd, he's got 12-minutes to entertain 50-million people -- and had already described his goal as trying to simulate walking into the 2:48 mark of a three -hour show. What the hell were you expecting?

Todd Martens is just one more reason that the L.A. Times is going down the drain. What a hack with absolutely no sense of humor. Get over yourself, Todd. Geez!

Does this reviewer have a lobster in his trousers, pinching his nuts? He needs the world to change to make him happy and Bruce Springsteen to be too serious to entertain at a football game. Whatever. I saw the best halftime show I think I've ever seen, though Prince's performance a couple years ago was the equal of it. This reviewer otoh saw his own misery and decided to share it with us all. How lovely.

My mom's a big Bruce fan...me not so much. She was gushing about Bruce doing the halftime show, so I watched it with her at her request.

I have to admit, it is the first SB halftime show I've watched to completion since that debaucle of 'Up With People' in 1986. *shudder*

Bruce got it done well on this halftime. I hate to say it, but he did.

We were supposed to put down our guacamole? Man, and I just got up to get seconds ...

Elevating the importance of Bruce's performance in this type of setting to the status of rigorous, critical "review" is akin to a food critic offering culinary assessment of the industrial kitchen during his week's hospital stay. Get real, Dude - it's 12 minutes of stage time in the middle of a FOOTBALL GAME. Did you expect him to transform the planet?

The "I'm going to Disneyland" comment almost made me puke...a bunch of gauc dip. It was worse then "London Calling" for a Jag commercial.

excellent performance. Made all Bruce fans proud. Obviously who wrote this has never been to a boss show.

The NFL asked Bruce Springsteen ie THE BOSS and the E Street Band to perform @ halftime of the SUPER BOWL and that's what Bruce and the Band did

It was great and that's how it should be, America don't need no political statements or performers going off into some rant

This is one of the few times during the year when Politics, Religion and Personal Opinions about how the wolrd is falling apart should be left alone


I thought it was a great performance.

Just out there having some fun. Let's not read in to it too much, just enjoy!

I know I did!

I felt Bruce did a bang up job even while sliding hard into the camera - he said expect a 12 minute party and he delivered it big time. In contrast to Petty's show last year, Tom played very well and true to his songs, but Bruce is much more interactive with the crowd and because the E Street Band is so good, that allows him to roam the stage.

Personally I give it an A+ jokes and all - Right on the money! Now you are gonna have to go pull him off the flying Dumbo ride...

2 out of 5 stars.... pretty boring halftime show. I know the Springsteen fans LOVE everything he does, and of course they believe that he can do no wrong but, I must say if you play PRINCE (and I am not even a Prince fan) and Springsteen's show back to back, Prince blows the Boss away. Springsteen is a great artist but halftime did nothing to earn him any new audience. Please do not confuse this review with a music review, it is strictly a halftime show review. Musically Bruce is amazing, and a gift to the world of music.

By having 12 minutes of high energy we saw a highlight reel of high energy and compressed joking around. When it is spread out over three to four hours the shtick is more natural. Bruce did a good job in devising a setlist (and delivering it) that would get everyone (well, almost everyone) rocking right away with no warmup and keep it going straight ahead for 100 milion people.

He sounded like he was out of breath as soon as he started singing. Too much running around and chicken fingers yelling before the start winded him...it was painfully obvious to those of us who are not die hard fans, just casual observers and trying to be objective.

I thought the Black Gospel singers was nothing but a cheap stunt to push Obama messages, and Bruce clearly isnt the "working man" he so likes to portray in his writings and songs. The guy has probably never had a real job in his life. Glad he's so happy and rich, but I wish he truly would lay off the politic pushing and trying to tell the world how we should think. He's no better than those he has bashed for decades.

Peace out or Knock out---your choice

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