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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)

Todd Martens got it just right. Even by half Springsteen is the consumate performer, barn-raiser preacher showman. Yet, like his album, we kinda wonder who he is preaching to. Sales? Disneyland? Walmart? More catalogue sales?

It seems strange to this fan. With no need for further cash infusions or relevance, Bruce seems to be turning more and more toward Pop relevance seeking and as he does this, his music seems watered down. Boss Time? Dunno 'bout that. But I was disappointed. And when "Workin' On A Dream" showed up you could hear the ugh and crash. Quick next oldie!

But to hear Bruce tell it, his newest album, which this fan found mostly unlistenable, was right up there with his best work. Self delusion has never been one of the bosses traits, except maybe back when he released the dreadful Human Touch. But now more than ever this fan longs for Bruce the Rocker, not Bruce the Popster.

Guitar swings and back bends are fun and maybe that's what 1/2 time is about...But this felt more and more like advertising. And to part with "Disneyland?" Well, maybe the whole e-street crew was gettin' free passes to the park that night, but this fan doesn't give the "New" Bruce a pass at all.

Bruce Springsteen is a man of the people. If Superbowl fans aren't people of the man, then I don't know who is. He hit the mark, and hit it well, as he always does. It's mediocre music, sure, but it feels good enuff, just like the popular entertainment that soundtracks and wallpapers our lives is supposed to - and beer makes it even moreso.

Bruce is playing in the wrong ballpark. He sucked. He looked like he was going to croak any second. I love football, I watched the super bowl for the game, not for the halftime show. The super bowl is overrated for the simple fact that I've been reading much about how a lot of people just watched it for the halftime show. Pathetic.

Bruce Springsteen began his 12-minute halftime extravaganza by demanding American put down the guacamole. So, apparently, we'd have room for the thick cheese he was preparing to serve us.

With the country looking for anything to help snap it out of its collective fear and loathing, the time was right for Springsteen to accompany "Born to Run" and "Workin' on a Dream" (a lot more inspirational than Bruce gave it credit for being by trotting out a hokey choir for a verse and a half) with fist-pumping anthems like "Thunder Road" or even the oft-misunderstood but always revelling "Born in the USA" (after all, "Glory Days" is wistfully about days gone by, and not the least bit uplifting). Instead, Bruce trotted out "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" - pure hokum.

But he deserves to pick the songs he's given a mere 12 minutes to present to America, even if they are the wrong choices. What this viewer didn't know, however, was that The Boss had set out to make complete caricature of himself, which he did within moments of taking the stage.

After a sloppy 2 and a half minutes of "Freeze Out," Springsteen tore across the stage and slid on his knees into a photographer with his first bit of cheese. The fact that no one's tried this onstage in at least twenty five years was clearly lost on The Boss, who clearly had his heart set on making a fool of himself.

"Born to Run" followed and represented the high point of the set, if you can call it that. For the most part, Springsteen played it straight and let the magic of the music and lyrics carry the day. But quickly enough that was over, and on came "Workin' on a Dream."

The fact that Springsteen chose The Super Bowl to showcase his latest single shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. The fact that he was so interested in overkill that he brought out a choir for a verse and a half confirmed The Boss had completely given in to the overblown spectacle of the moment. What made it worse is that Springsteen brought Little Steven and (who else?) wife Patti Skankia out to strum guitars with him on a stage riser while the choir formed a line behind them between Bruce and the band. It was more than symbolic as this moment was all about Bruce, Patti (who after 18 years or so still looks like she's faking it on guitar) and what appears to have turned into an overblown sense of self importance.

But The Boss saved the best for last. "Glory Days" rumbled along amiably enough until LIttle Steven came up front to camp it up with Bruce. Soon there was a dancing referree rising out of the stage, limp-wristedly tossing a flag at Bruce at Steven for "over-time", and The Boss's final declaration that he was going to Disneyland. The only thing that would have made it more hokey would have been ... well, nothing. It was an embarrassment and an irresponsible waste of an important moment by a man who darned well knows better.

See ya' on Magic Mountain, Bruce ...

The majority of people posting here are failing to consider the irony in the Disneyland "plug" at the end of the set. For over 20 years Disney has used this campaign at the Superbowl, pre-recording commercials with big stars before the game to run afterwards... usually they manage to get the MVP to say it live, too. "What are you going to do next?" "I'm going to Disneyland!"

While self-promotion is good thing to criticize on Bruce's end, the whole set was completely hammed up, a joke that all of his long-time fans get: "yes, I took the money", he's saying, but honestly glorying in the moment not like a Britney Spears but like a man thrilled just to have the opportunity. His exuberance on stage is legendary, and in fact it's pretty much all that made an average guitar player into the rock monster that he is today... otherwise he'd be all over the country charts by now...

This self-deprecation was nowhere more clear than at Friday's press conference (Springsteen's first since 1987) when he answered the question "Why did you say yes to the Superbowl this time" as follows: "Because I have a new album coming out, dummy." It would be one thing if he tried to pretend he didn't do it for the money/exposure, and bought into all the hype, but that's not the case. The whole thing was a great "party", and his final comment, in my opinion, made the show matter.

While he can be knocked for effectively declaring himself the MVP (which, without that particular great game, most other years he would be!), at the same his comment completely undoes the whole thing: he said it for free, saying "yeah, look at me fully selling out"... while capitalism has the ability to take a threat and turn it into a profit (e.g. everything with Che Guevara's face on it, for which you pay a capitalist to say you're a socialist), Bruce is doing the same thing from the other end of the equation, taking Disney's commercialism - and by implication, in his whole hammed up show, the mega-marketing bonanza that is the Superbowl - and turning it on it head.

What's most interesting to me here is that everyone still wins: Disney (like Ronald Reagan listening to "Born in the U.S.A.") can claim to have Springsteen's support - take a look at Disney "fan" sites and message boards, they're all ecstatic to have Bruce's support - and the tried-and-true Springsteen fan can claim it, as I'm doing, as yet another ironic move on his part (e.g. playing "57 Channels and Nothing On" in his first National TV appearance). No such thing as bad publicity indeed... and he put on a hell of a fun show, too. The person above who claimed that Bruce and the band have always had a message that they shouldn't be taken too seriously nailed it... and if anyone reading this really thinks that Bruce was plugging Disneyland, my friend, the joke is on you.

(Wouldn't it be great if Disney actually HAD paid him for this... he'd get the money for using it sarcastically... and still everyone would get the publicity. It's stunning when you think about it.)

I thought he was horrible. I don't understand why everyone liked it so much. It looked like what it was; a 60 year old man running around pretending to be 20. Also, good job on sliding right into the camera.

I vote yes for him. I am heartily sick of rock stars--including Springsteen--trying to be political leaders. A non-political performance was a relief. This was the Super Bowl, not the Democratic Convention.

That "Up With People" B.S. was a big, blatant, commercial turd of nauseating, pandering money grubbing sickness! It was terrible! Yuck! Springsteen SUCKS! Always has, always will.

I'm not a big fan of Bruce but I gotta respect his success. But as a musician I had a real problem hearing anything but the bass [which I play] drums and an occasional sax. He had a huge band behind him, bordering on becoming an orchestra and 5 guitarist on one stage is at best 3 too many. I mean I know the E Street Band is a big unit, but with the addition of the horn section, well a couple of my guitarist buddies and I were saying, "can you hear a guitar?" And the answer was "No." Whoever did the sound mix did them a huge disservice.

So, I'll aways wonder why waste the talents of Nils Lofgren and Little Stevie Van Zant, not to mention Springsteen himself who can play some hot licks himself with a clown behind the mixing board, although from the looks of things nobody was really gonna play any serious guitar in a 12 minute gig dominated by 4 songs and a whole lot of schtick, most of it a waste of time.

All in all, it was still better than having some idiot rapper, or some other kid who can't sing, can only play bar chords or someone who has to lipsink while she or he dances around like all of that really matters. Please....give me the old geezers [the Stones, T P and the Heartbreakers, Sir Paul, Prince, Bruce, and someday when the NFL has some serious b---s they'll have Neil Young or even CSN&Y] any day. Or even AC/DC, ha, ha....

I guess Springsteen performed at the Super Bowl? Who cares??? He sucked then, sucks now and always will. Time to retire Bruce.

This is what happens when newspapers have no money and they let hacks write an article.
This is not serious journalism, this is a guy who lives in his moms basement.
Whether you like Springsteen or not, I have to say, it was a pretty exciting show.
I heard there was a football game afterwards.
I would like to say this was a well crafted piece, but that would be a lie.
Time to go ask your mom what is for dinner.

Springsteen jumped the shark.

Springsteen jumped the shark.


MARTENS: I noticed you said you weren't a "big fan" of the "Boss time" schtick, etc., at Springsteen's concerts. I've seen three of his concerts: one in the early 80s, in Austin; one in the mid 80s, in Frankfurt (while living there); and one in KC, in 2002 or 2003, after "The Rising" album. In ALL of these concerts, Springsteen not only performed above and beyond the call of duty (3 hours of great music and piano-jumping, etc), he ALWAYS did some goofy, entertaining stuff (in Austin, during an Xmas show, it was Santa hats and hideNseek from the spotlight during "Fire"). And he ALWAYS comes up with some humorous or silly stuff to say. So if you weren't a big fan of the "boss time" routine, you've probably never been a fan of Springsteens shows in general. Which explains why you're trying to make it look as if Springsteen "sold out" by making jokes during the NFL hallf time show.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of the quality of his music (art, or not art) Springsteen is inarguably an entertainer. When he does schtick, when he jumps on pianos, when he poses and vamps and tells stories, that, Mr. Martens, is entertainment. To complain about it, or try to paint it as a serious artist demeaning himself is merely more of the silliness that exists due to any and everybody being able to set themselves up as thoughtful critics now that the internet gives them a forum.

Any further discussion of this (which will undoubtedly continue after I vanish) is only feeding _your_ ego.
Hope it helps you make it through the night.

What a horrible half-time show. My grandpa who is older than him, could have performed a sophisticated electric show. Gramps wouldn't jump around on the stage, or jump a piano. My dog, well that is another question.
Whether you were in the chorus, band, or neither, you should realize he cannot carry a tune, let alone a note. If not, you are tone deaf. The only salvation is his band, period!
Does Paul McCartney, Charley Pride, or Tina Turner perform the same teeny bopper wannabe gramps antics?
Similarly, I compare Madonna with her concave thighs on tour, and Cher competing with Britney Spears, who is soon to be on her way out.
Springsteen’s and other fans need their heads examined.
And not only is our “Country”, but the world, suffering to keep jobs, avoid foreclosures, evictions, , and keep medical insurance, RX drugs and treatment, while at the same time worshipping and supporting these celebrities, athletes, their many multi-million $ homes and lifestyles!

These are not people you should idolize. Idolize the man next door, your neighbor. Perhaps when you are standing in the soup and bread lines you may (probably not) remember this message.

I'll leave the personal insults out as they're unnecessary, but I would like to echo what others have said. Having seen dozens of his shows, Springsteen gave what amounted to a mini-version of his usual schtick. I saw no pandering to the NFL, just an effort by him to relate to the audience, an audience of football fans. "Hamming it up" is what he does. If you haven't already, check out his version of "Raise Your Hand" from his live CD set in thr 80's, where he tells a radio audience to turn the volume up "as loud as the m-f-er will go". Better yet, if the chicken fingers line bothered you (and please know I was actually eating some as he said it), think back to John Lennon telling a Royal Audience back in the mid-60's to "rattle their jewelry".

The man is 58 years old. He had the energy of someone half as young as he is. While his music isn't for everyone, there was no denying the effort and the will to entertain. He obviously can't please everyone, but he certainly pleased enough.

Food for thought. Who is this generation's Springsteen? Anyone? Bueller?

This was a Superbowl Halftime Show! It was meant to be fun and entertaining! Bruce has plenty of opportunities to state political opinions and beliefs and he uses them (for example, his rallies for Obama, Kerry and the majority of his last album). Can't the guy just have a little fun once in a while?

"Now you are gonna have to go pull him off the flying Dumbo ride..."

Can I volunteer to do the pulling? :)

"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."

OK...billy bour, you are obviously a guy who doesn't like Springsteen or his politics - which is fine, but has NOTHING to do with his halftime performance. As was the point of much of this article, Bruce appropriately left the politics behind during Superbowl Sunday. Were you even paying attention? Cuz my hunch is that, since you obviously do not care for the artist, you were most likely out of the room, in search of another beer at the time he was performing. Again, totally fine and appropriate at a Super Bowl celebration - but then don't pollute my internets with your ill-informed opinion.

And woodstock1969 who says the Boss "has not made good stuff since the 80s"? Well, you've obviously not even paid attention to the Boss since the 80s - which was when he was married to the "hot model". He dumped her a couple of decades ago and married a good ol' Jersey girl (who is attractive but saying she's a hot model is an extreme stretch). So again - don't waste my time with your ignorance.

Look, like Springsteen or not, that is your choice - but don't let your petty jealousies show by dissing him for being successful at what he does. How much money he makes or whether or not he's ever had a "real job" have nothing to do with whether or not he is a good musician or performer or whether or not he put on a great halftime show.

If you "got" Springsteen you would not knock him for the guacomole/chicken fingers comment. Have you ever been to one of his concerts? Thank you Don Crum for expressing my thoughts so well...others too. Like someone said...either you get him or you don't....your loss if you don't. I'll take his music anyday-20 years from now over Beyonce, Britney, or the other crap that's out today.

In summary, regarding Bruce, the poet, the performer, the dry sense of humor..."If I have to explain it you wouldn't understand" ....go listen to your TOP 40.

My phone was ringing off the hook with people explaining it "was the best halftime show ever."

Let's enjoy some positivity. Bruce owes no explanations. And he and the band rocked.

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