Score another one for the old folks. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's quarter-hour onstage at Super Bowl XLIII Sunday night may not have been the most contemporary booking the NFL could have landed - but, and we'll get to this in a minute, maybe it was - and yet it's hard to imagine Lil Wayne, the Jonas Brothers or Katy Perry putting on nearly as soul-stirring a performance, let alone one that wasn't upstaged by a fireworks display 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy could be proud of.
As Springsteen said during an intro familiar to anyone who's seen him in concert ("Is there anybody alive out there?! I said, is there anybody alive out there!?!"), it was certainly worth putting the chicken fingers down for. With about as many people onstage as on either sideline during the game, Springsteen and his Asbury Park brain trust put on a performance as memorable as Steelers linebacker James Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown - the longest play in Super Bowl history - that immediately preceded it.
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Part 2: "Working on a Dream" and "Glory Days"
Springsteen managed to do what very few thought he could: distill his prodigious body of work into a network-friendly 12-minute morsel that accomodated the NFL's need for spectacle - the fireworks, massive gospel choir during new single "Working on a Dream," the "referee" bounding onstage to throw an extremely cheesy (but genuinely funny) "delay of game" flag during the climax of "Glory Days" - without sacrificing his precious musical integrity. The fatback-thick, deep-swinging Stax/Muscle Shoals soul groove of opener "10th Avenue Freeze-Out," with sax-smelting "Big Man" Clarence Clemons resplendent in head-to-toe black, was proof enough of that.
And although nobody at home or Tampa's Raymond James Stadium probably stopped screaming, singing along, clapping their hands and/or stomping their feet long enough to, you know, think about it - the ratio of NBC cameras to attractive women in the front row seemed to approach 1:1 - Springsteen's song selection offered plenty of implicit commentary by itself. What becomes of the "runaway American dream" of "Born to Run," for example, in an age when the biggest dream most people can muster is to someday get their house/retirement plan/credit rating back? Along those same lines, was the jubilant gospel/"Proud Mary" arrangement of "Working on a Dream" enough to obscure Springsteen's tacit message that dreams these days are both a lot smaller in scale and harder to realize?
Questions like these will no doubt keep those in Aftermath's line of work in blog copy for weeks. Nowhere was this more evident than on "Glory Days." On the surface an ideal stadium-size closer for a performance (and audience) of this magnitude, the song is very clearly about a man - and, by extension, a society - all too aware his best days are well behind him, but can't help thinking about it over a few drinks "after she put her kids to bed." But think about this too: 25 years after Born in the U.S.A. and "Glory Days" were released, today Springsteen is once again the biggest rock star in America. Those glory days will pass you by, no doubt, but every once in a while they come back.
Don't forget tickets for the E Street Band's April 8 show at Toyota Center - please, please keep "Glory Days" in the set, Boss - go on sale 10 a.m. Saturday at www.livenation.com and www.toyotacentertix.com. Stay tuned for a review of "Working on a Dream."