The Super Bowl Halftime show – A future rock classic?

The Super Bowl halftime show, glamorous, spectacular and it would now seem an annual place for classic rockers to show off their stuff.


The Who

The Who, Roger Daltrey & Pete Townsend (c) AP Photo/Rob Carr

The annual spectacular known as the Super Bowl has often provided highs and lows both on and off the field for sporting fans and casual viewers alike. As the trend of the event being watched by ever increasing amounts of hundreds of millions of people globally, it is interesting to note that the spectacle of the half time show has come to rely on aging rockers in recent years. The Who are the latest to join the long list of performers in the forty four year history of the event, joining others who have carved a path of glory on one of the world’s biggest stages.

Save perhaps for the opening and closing ceremonies of World Cups and summer Olympic games, the annual Super Bowl of American football provides one of the grandest stages on which an artist can be asked to perform at. Of course only the biggest and brightest names are chosen for the half time show, usually comprising of a whirlwind stage being erected and typical American glitz and fireworks. It is compelling and interesting to note however that since 2005 megastars of the classic rock genre have graced the stage and delivered memorable performances, perhaps not for the artists themselves but certainly for the Super Bowl audiences.

Beginning this current trend was Paul McCartney in the early months of 2005. With a typical medley of his more famous songs including “Baby you can drive my car” “Get Back” and “Live and Let die” the decision to go for a vintage rock act, Sir Paul of course hot off of endorsing the iPod at the time, was heralded as a bold move considering the predominantly RnB and hip hop dominated music scene of the era. Criticism of the performance were mainly down to the distinctly flat sounding production of the clearly pre-recorded set list, the typical NFL and American broadcasting paranoia that when the cameras were on, never trust a rocker, even one in his sixties.

This was followed in 2006 with the ever enduring Rolling Stones. Like Macca before them, The Stones, led by the increasingly thinning, handbag face of Mick Jagger, this performance still showed many critics of the group, who have failed to release anything of great note in what seems like a lifetime, that they could still get the job done. The band had come under some criticism having publicly lambasted The Eagles that year for apparently over charging fans to see them play a “best of” set list, confusing considering Jagger et al had been doing that for the better part of forty years. Typical crowd pleasers like “Start Me Up” and ”(I can’t get no) satisfaction” were included as Jagger stomped around the giant lip logo stage, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood being propped up by their guitars and Charlie Watts looking distinctly bored on drums.

Next in 2007 and 2008 were Prince and Tom Petty respectively. For Prince this was a return to a stage he had graced in his heyday and for Tom Petty a chance to take a break from his ‘King of the Hill’ acting and perform to the predominantly American audience that he enjoys huge popularity with. Highlights of the performances were a thrilling rendition of “All along the watchtower” and “Purple Rain” from Prince, although once again The Artist was upstaged by his flamboyant symbol guitar which dazzled the flashing camera bulbs. Petty’s highlights were, in truth, the entire set including “Free Fallin’” “Won’t back Down” and an obvious “American Girl”. The usual lack of enthusiasm displayed by the crowd, 71000 plus strong, taking away a little from the well performed shows put on by both acts.

Which brings the list neatly to last year’s performance from The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Singing his ever popular “Born to Run” and “Glory Days” the press at the time took the surprising turn of lambasting their hero for not playing “Born in the USA”, The Boss seemingly still a little embittered by his blatantly social issue based song being used by George Bush snr’ presidential campaign in the early 1990s.

So it would appear that the popularity of rock music is as powerful a selling tool as it is a predominantly thriving music culture and scene. Although it must be stated that the performers and artists contributions to the Super Bowl halftime shows were by no means “classic’ on their parts, it still remains one of the most watched events of the sporting and televisual year and to have classic rock represented in such a large way can only be good. This begs the question as to how long this trend will continue, and also who will fill the pretty big shoes already. The likes of U2, Phil Collins, ZZ Top and Michael Jackson have also headlined the event and with KISS, AC/DC and others now refinding their form, surely it must only be a matter of time before the powers at be make the Super Bowl halftime show a kick ass rock fest to keep the frothing fans thirsty for more.

Jonathan Whitelaw


All of the above performances can be found on YouTube. Band Links: http://www.thewho.com, http://www.rollingstones.com, http://www.tompetty.com, http://www.lotusflow3r.com, http://www.brucespringsteen.net, http://www.youtube.com

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