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Super Bowl Sounds: Springsteen and Jennifer Hudson

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"Tomorrow is Super Bowl XLIII, in which the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals will open for [Bruce] Springsteen," Seth Meyers said during "Weekend Update" on "Saturday Night Live."

And that's pretty much the way it played out Sunday evening--though not even the Boss' time-honored and well-rehearsed feel-good bombast could match the drama of James Harrison's interception and historic 100-yard touchdown return, which immediately preceded it.

Bruce-Springsteen-012609L

The music started in Tampa during the pre-game show as glossy country crooner Faith Hill delivered an unremarkable "America the Beautiful." Then Jennifer Hudson took the field and stepped onto the television screens of an estimated 100 million viewers, struggling to choke back a tear before powering through a bravura performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

As if the emotions of singing the national anthem at this point in time, after the inauguration of her fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama as president, weren't overwhelming enough, the Super Bowl also marked the first high-profile appearance by the 27-year-old singer since the killings of her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew in October. Dressed in a classy but casual black jacket and white top, Hudson seemed to put all of her pent-up feelings into her performance, and the crowd was with her for every soaring note.

As for the Boss, he filled all of his 12 minutes with vintage E Street Band histrionics.

"I want you to step back from the guacamole dip!" Springsteen said at the start, imitating the cadence of a revival-tent preacher. "I want you to put the chicken fingers down and turn your television all the way up! And what I want to know is, is there anybody alive out there?"

Actually, a significant portion of the audience probably was not alive when Springsteen first recorded and released three of the hoary oldies that dominated his four-song medley. It opened with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" (during which Bruce slid across the stage on his knees, smashing crotch-first into one of the cameras) and "Born to Run," both of which date back to 1975, and it closed somewhat jarringly (given the tune's subject matter of an aging jock who can't stop reliving the past) with "Glory Days," which was originally released in 1984.

The one tune that was fresh than a quarter-century old was the title track of "Working on a Dream," the new album Springsteen released last Tuesday. It got a mere 60 seconds of air time as the Boss, his wife, Patti Scialfa, and the absurdly do-rag-sporting guitarist Steven Van Zandt mugged for the cameras on a platform jutting into the crowd while a gospel choir was marched out behind them in an attempt to add some of the soul the tune otherwise sorely lacks.

Ironically, during a pre-game chat, when Bob Costas asked the Boss why he decided to do the halftime show this year after he'd passed several times before, Springsteen cracked, "I have an album to promote, dummy. It's not rocket science."

Given the staggering cost of advertising time during the Super Bowl, the Boss essentially scored a $36 million commercial for his mediocre new album and his upcoming concert tour. No wonder he proclaimed "I'm going to Disneyland!" at the end of the set.

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29 Comments

Okay, Jim, so I get your criticism of Springsteen, but your seeming praise for Jennifer Hudson's "performance" is a bit over-the-top. True, it was good to see that she's seemingly doing as well as can be expected since those horrific murders; but when you say she seemed to put loads of emotion into the performance, well, that's exactly what happened.

The Super Bowl Pre-Game Show was produced by Rickey Minor, A.K.A. the music director from American Idol, who has produced most of the pre-game shows since the early '90s. Because it's such a production, Minor insists that his singers lip-synch their songs. Thus, both Hudson's performance and Faith Hill's were as legitimately live as a Milli Vanilli concert.

I don't want to take anything away from Hudson. Like I say, it's good to see her performing again. But let's not get too carried away here; what played over the P.A. system in Tampa was a studio recording. I understand why that's done, but it's always just a little bit disappointing.

it was fine for his audience......for an annoying hipster like you maybe not. i am sure you were foaming at the mouth with your friends in your unassuming clothes when bruce seemed to actually enjoy playing to an audience of fans of a barbaric, misogynistic and commercial sport and used a props, certain songs and minor lyric changes to make their experience more fun. i am glad you can point to the things that you find acceptable about bruce....it lets us know how very open minded you are....typing from your mac on a futon and sipping an $8 coffee. maybe wire, pavement, sigur ros or pj harvey will play next year and you will have to dog them for enjoying life and you'll be left to find something out of maximum rock n roll that you can cling to now.

if you want to dog a music related issue during the super bowl it should be the pathetic smashing pumpkins/billy corgan hyundai comercial.....but you probably didn't see that....you were listening to coltrane on vinyl until you knew it was about halftime and you HAD to tune in to take easy shots at springsteen who was playing to the kids that beat you up in school and the people that can't stand to be around you now.

cheer up and relax.

Jim, let me preface my remarks by telling you I'm 59 years old. My rebuttal to your effusive praise of Jennifer Hudson's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner misses the point of our national anthem. Ms. Hudson is a very talented singer and I enjoyed her performance in Dream Girls. "Pouring her feelings", into the singing of the anthem is not the proper venue for such emoting. No one cannot feel sympathy for Ms. Hudson over the tragic loss of her family members to a murderer. However, the national anthem should not be open to interruptive, artistic, emotional renderings. Give me Wayne Messmer's soaring vocalization of our nation's anthem in little over a minute of singing to stir the patriotic juices. Leave Ms. Hudson's extraordinary talented vocal skills for the stage,screen and recordings.

As to Bruce Springsteen's performance, when will the NFL and the networks learn that the demographic that actually cares and watches the Super Bowl when it comes to halftime we're restocking our plates, getting another beer and taking a bathroom break and not paying any attention to the theatrics on the field.

Thanks,

Steve Sarich

It is about time the superbowl hired a legend, like Springsteen. Someone that worked incredibly hard to get where he is now. You are way-off target on ripping him. Bruce did a great job, thank god no hip-hop or current pop musicians were used. People are tired of the bull crap entertainment like Justine Timberlake & Janet Jackson. Bruce is at the other end of the spectrum, representing the work ethic americans & especially young american need to learn to appreciate.

Hey Fat Boy....answer this one question

Have you ever said one nice thing about Bruce Springsteen ? Ever ?

He's nearing 60 and pouring out his heart and soul. What do you ever
pour out except the gravy ?

Okay...that was two questions. Go back to loving your bands you think
are so cool that nobody cares about.


Love Always,


Someone who hates you

How can you say Faith Hill version of American the Beautiful was Unremarkable?

It was beautiful & brought chills to me. Any person who loves our country was proud of the way she sang.

I am very disappointed in you for this comment.

Thanks for letting me share my views.

Sincerely, Rob Kinder Scottsdale AZ

First off I should note that I am 59 years old,I thought both Faith Hill and Jennifer Hudson gave well done, entertaining professional performances. Thank God Jennifer didn't Gospelize her performance. As to ' The Boss ' what a wasted 12 minutes, too bad for me that I had already gone to the bathroom.

Why don't you start every review of Springsteen with a disclaimer...
..."If you want an unbiased review of the Springsteen concert/new release read no further, because I, Jim DeRogatis, can't stand the guy and it will show up in everything I write about him."

At least Bruce actually performed, as opposed to the lip-synch jobs of the two ladies.

http://mikerodbard.blogspot.com

Jim, Jimbo, Tuna, why not save yourself some time and effort and just shorten your review to “I don’t like Bruce Springsteen, no way no how, not now, not ever.” It would save you a lot of effort, and people might respect you more for the honesty. Though I will say your review, along with your soul mate Kot’s over at the Trib, were not surprising at all. Both of you probably could have written them the day they announced that Bruce would play the SB, but really you needed to wait for add the song titles.

I should not even bother myself with your petty comments about Bruce, but I am tired of your snide insults about him and his beautiful body of recorded work. Yes, to you I am just one of many who are blind to his faults, to me you are just an angry, sad, jealous man. He has made more people happy in his life than you could ever hope to with your simple writing. Do all of us Bruce fans a favor and just ignore his future projects and we will be happy to do the same for you.

Bruce Springsteen’s act was old and boring long ago.

I’m sorry for the loss suffered by Jennifer Hudson, but I have to take exception to the same boring, silly “soulful rendition “of the Star Spangled Banner.

Loud, boisterous, monotonous wailing done by every so called star doing their rendition sounds exactly the

Same as the last one. Can’t anyone sing the song like it was written? Enough already.

Len Miarecki

I don't get your hating on Bruce, Jim. What's the matter- still bitter about all those Springsteen fans dunking your head in the toilet back in high school? Bruce was great, and at least he had the balls to sing live, unlike Jennifer Hudson and Faith Hill (not knocking their performances, either).

Tell me- if Bruce sucks so badly, why was it so hard to get tickets to his show this morning?

Yeah Bruce slid across the stage. So what? You can't even touch your toes. In polls his performance is kicking A-- on all previous half time shows. I really feel sorry for you. What a miserable life it must be since you were born to bitch.

C'mon now Jim...tell the truth. You're just mad that Bruce told you to back away from the chicken fingers and guacamole. I would say that those are fighting words to you based on your picture and the times I've seen you in public. How can YOU say anyone looks absurd?

The whole Bruce debate thing on here amuses me, especially considering his choice to end on "Glory Days" was as uninspired as it was boring. But I really take exception to Billy D's final comment above:

"Tell me- if Bruce sucks so badly, why was it so hard to get tickets to his show this morning?"

Dude, while I appreciate your right to love Springsteen (and I enjoy much of his early work, too), you simply cannot conflate popularity with talent. I'm not necessarily accusing Springsteen of being untalented. What I would remind you, however, is that *N Sync and the Backstreet Boys were selling multiple millions of albums a week ten years ago. Bands like Matchbox 20 and Hootie & the Blowfish routinely played to sold-out auditoriums in their respective heydays. I still meet people who profess to love -- love! -- Nickelback. So I think it's safe to say that just because something is popular doesn't mean it's any good.

And to all you other people who have your knickers in a twist about Jim's loathing of Springsteen: Get over it! Jeez. Not every critic has to like the bands you like; and you're better off for hearing some dissenting opinions every once in awhile. I mean, one of my favorite records of '04 was the Polyphonic Spree's Together We're Heavy, which Entertainment Weekly said was second only to William Hung's Inspiration in their "Worst Album of the Year" category. I think I'm right and they're wrong. But it's not the end of the world that they don't like the Spree.

So too is it with DeRo not liking Bruce. I mean, seriously, the man is not a god, just a critic with a pen and two ears. And yelling at him like a crazed comic-book fanboy isn't gonna get him to reconsider.

...but seriously, Jim, "Born to Run" was an awesome single, and I can't believe you don't like it. Lunacy!

Wow, another Bruce whine fest from Chicago's less than finest hack. We get it. You don't like Bruce any more than you like Ryan Adams. It's nice to see how black and white you see things. Jeff Tweedy and your other pet bands can do no wrong while you can find nothing right in one of America's greatest live acts. Of course, this is from the same writer who's been churning the same lament to the state of R.E.M. for the past 15 years. I guess it's tough to be a failed "musician" (if drumming counts).

I can handle Jim and others not liking Bruce, I don’t listen to anything based on what others like or don’t like. Heck I’m the only one in my family who likes him so I’m used to that. What bothers me is the predictable nature of his critique. He could have written his review having never seen the halftime show.

“ Vintage Springsteen Histrionics” Really Jim? Bruce and the E-Street band performed like…Bruce and the E-street band? Who would have guessed? What were you hoping for? You want them to perform like Radiohead? WIlco? Led Zeppelin? Boyz to Men? What were you expecting? Bruce has done the revival thing for quite some time. The super bowl is not the time or place for him and the band to go all electronic and experimental, farting into bell jars and capturing the echo as a new cool innovation. However had he gone the risky route you would have skewered him for going down that road and not giving his fans the meat and potatoes they were looking for.

As to his choice of songs, it was 12 minutes, he did not have a whole lot of room to work with and you know darned well, or I hope you do, that when you play to a huge audience you have to toss in more cheddar cheese than Roquefort cheese. Look at the stones and what they played at Comisky vs. what got played at the United center or the Aragon. Certain set lists work in the right situations. Did you have similar criticism of Tom Petty, the Stones, Prince or Sir Paul for primarily playing older material at their superbowl appearances? I honestly can’t remember if you did. Besides Bruce is in a catch-22 with you and always will be. If he plays the oldies he’s resting on his laurels, if he plays newer material he is playing inferior material and shortchanging his fans. He can’t win and never will win with you. The suntimes needs to send an objective reporter to cover Bruce just as the Trib probably needs to send an objective reporter to cover Wilco as Kot is as incapable of reporting on them honestly as you are with Bruce.

You either don’t understand Bruce or more likely do understand and just don’t care for it, which is fine, but at least be honest about it.

Mark:

Point well taken, bud, but I'm not sure I agree. I remember hearing a rather impressed Jim DeRogatis review the "Concert for 9/11" thing by saying that Springsteen did one of the best jobs, playing "My City of Ruins" at an incredibly emotional point. I think the point you miss is that Bruce stopped taking chances after Born in the USA. I mean, Jim may not like Nebraska, but I think he'd at least admit that it was a daring departure.

The main criticism here, it seems to me anyways, is that those "vintage E-Street Band histrionics" are the same tired cliches that were tired cliches when he did them in the mid-'80s. Bruce is nearly 60 years old; it's time to stop waggin' the ass around. And having the brass section and guitars bounce back and forth in-rhythm is only cool if you're ZZ Top and it's 1983. It turns whatever Bruce could be into a nostalgia act, even when he's playing new stuff -- akin to the Stones or whatever the current incarnation of Mike Love's Beach Boys tour is right now (which probably includes Uncle Jesse on bongos, but that's a whole 'nother rant).

I don't know where you stand, Mark, but I was quite disappointed by Bruce's choice of "Glory Days" as a finale. I think it's a crappy song to begin with, but it further seemed uninspired, as if he couldn't be bothered to dig deep and do something unexpected like "Mary, Queen of Arkansas" or "She's the One." I mean, how awesome would "She's the One" have sounded with all the pomp and circumstance of the Super Bowl Halftime Show? And I think he could've gotten away with it, too. You're not going to get that awesomely radical re-interpretation of "Born in the U.S.A." that he did on slide guitar a few years back, but the fact is, the only reason the Super Bowl show isn't daring is because no one has tried to be yet. It remains a populist show catering to the lowest common denominator in musical taste. And Springsteen didn't help that by playing what I consider the worst song off my least favorite of his albums.

And that's the issue: Bruce often seems content to just do what's been popular before. It's like a formulaic sit-com or procedural drama. And let's face it, there are tons of those that're popular, but most of them aren't any good.

But at any rate, as a frequent poster here, I have to say, thanks for actually being respectful. It's nice to see that not everybody has to resort to Beavis-and-Butthead postings just because they don't like what a critic had to say.

Mary, Queen of Arkansas? At the Superbowl?

Seriously? I mean, seriously?!

Hudson's performance (lip-synched or not) was one of the best parts of the Super Bowl -- second to the ads of course

That's because he writes like beavis and butthead. He never discusses actual music, only the singer behind the song. There is no "criticism", no deep discussion of music or lyrics, only "look at me--the critic" headlines and predictible drivel. He does a great disservice by writing the endless crap, because the first impression or understanding of Springsteen the newcomer gets is this cynical cliched "analysis". The long time fans and rock music afficianados can brush off this junk, but with his "job" he is just a bloodsucking leech who gives the impression he knows what he is talking about and speaking "the truth". All he needs to do, short of disappearing, is preface his junk with a disclaimer.

He takes cheap shots and he lacks credibility...and so do you, because you like to be his on-line buddy.

And I do feel sorry for you that you don't like Glory Days, a great song, or Born in the USA, a great, historic album. It really is a pity..

"They'll pass you by..
In the wink of a young girl's eye.."

Brendan,

Appreciate the comments. I do think we are viewing this two different ways. I view it this way. 1) it the super bowl, so a deep artistic statement is not going to happen, experimentation is out also. 2) it’s a stadium show broadcast worldwide so the venue sometimes dictates the choice of songs. In this case Glory days was appropriate for the setting. Is it his best song? Not hardly, but at a sports themed event at a huge venue, it fits. Sure it’s a predictable choice, but so too was Born to Run. Born in the USA might have been a better choice. But then again I would not have played E-Street either and would have replaced it with BITUSA. On this stage he’s going to play the hits, it’s that whole lowest common denominator thing. I know Jim did not like it but Bruce has got to at least get credit for tea bagging the world on his power slide. That was a first.

Is Bruce playing it safe these days? Sure is, he’s milking the cash cow, name huge established acts that don’t? I’ve said it before, but I see his albums as being less complete these days. A few good songs and a few clunkers, print out a million copies and ship ‘em out. More product than not these days. As to the stage act, how many artists re-invent their stage act after thirty years? He is what he is.

My main beef with Dero is that I could predict the review before the show even occurred, I could feel the word Jim was forming as the show was going on. Knowing full well that Jim was going to hammer the show I say who was being predictable and taking the safe route? Jim? Bruce? Both?

Mark,

Once again, your points are well taken, and I, too, have called Jim out on the predictability of his Springsteen criticisms (as well as his criticisms of latter-day R.E.M. records). But Jim's criticism of Bruce's opening mantra ("I want you to step back from the guacamole dip! I want you to put the chicken fingers down and turn your television all the way up! And what I want to know is, is there anybody alive out there?") is, to me, pretty legitimate -- it's hokey and stupid, and frankly, it's beneath a supposedly great artist to get up hootin' and hollerin' about chicken wings. And whether or not DeRo's review was half cooked-up beforehand anyways, there are points of legitimate criticism here that couldn't be replicated without his having seen the twelve minutes. Sometimes, I think being a fan of an act and reading a writer who is constantly negative on the same act really clouds a person to that (I know; I do it too).

I also have to disagree that the Super Bowl Halftime Show has to be anything. Springsteen refused to do it for a long time for precisely that reason -- it seemed like a contrivance. Natasha above calls me out for recommending "Mary Queen of Arkansas" as a potential song. I say, why not? What would the harm be in throwing a little culture shock people's way? I mean, both DeRo and Kot reported on how some of the teeny-bopper idiots at Lollapalooza were all pissy because Wilco played "It's Just That Simple," and it sounded too country for their tastes. Now, I'm a Wilco fan, and that's long been my favorite song off A.M.; but even if it weren't, I can recognize that it's a ballsy move to play a veritable country song for a group of deadened teens and twentysomethings raised on the post-grunge era. So Wilco wasn't paying much attention to their general audience; they played something daring from their back catalog, something that surely would please fans but might not make the average passer-by glance twice. That, to me, is the difference between a job-musician and an artist-musician.

Finally, I really don't think it's fair to say that you knew exactly what Jim's review would be. I really do believe that if Bruce had played a bunch of deep cuts, or three songs off the new record, Jim would have acknowledged that Springsteen was at least attempting to be daring. But I guess we get a little into chicken-and-egg territory here. Had Bruce not been so kitschy or predictable, would DeRo have changed his mind? Or, if DeRo were more open-minded about kitschy, predictable music, would he have enjoyed Bruce more? To me, the burden of proof is on the artist; but I can see it from your point of view, too. It's just where we part ways on this, I guess.

Y'know, everybody's entitled to spout off on the Internet about how music critics who disagree with them are dumb and elitist and got beaten up by jocks in high school; god knows that's our right as Americans. (I mean, obviously since you had a thought, it's absolutely vital for the entire world to know about it, or at least to type it in quick and hit submit so the world will know you had a thought once.)

I would like to take this opportunity, considering all this, to mention how absolutely pathetic you people are who frame your criticisms of DeRogatis around the thesis, "YOU'RE FAT!" Congratulations, Paul A., BORN-2-RUN, and Todd: Not only are you what's wrong with the Internet, you're also what's wrong with America, the world, and humanity in general. I hope someone insults your appearance on your deathbeds.

Brendan,
The reason I "called you out" for recommending Mary Queen of Arkansas is: 1)Why on Earth would Bruce (or any artist, for that matter) play an old, obscure, slow acoustic number at the biggest party of the year on national television? It doesn't make sense. Are you just trying to prove you have some Bruce cred because you know of the song? 2)Mary QOA is probably the most maligned song amongst Springsteen fans, second probably only to "Pony Boy", which he didn't even write. While I agree that the halftime show doesn't "have to be" anything, it should be fun and appealing the greatest number of viewers. Bruce pulls out the rarities at his own shows, and sometimes they don't go over well (as in , people talking, going for beer, etc.) because most people in the audience don't know them. If you want to hear something obscure, go see him- maybe you'll get lucky.
Bruce said that he wanted the halftime show to be what you would see in "the last 12 minutes" of one of his concerts, which is, as anyone who has seen him can tell you, off the chart high energy after a 3 hour buildup. The "vintage E Street Band histrionics" Jim refers to are only one piece of that whole picture. And, I'd like to add, I think his calling some of Bruce's most beloved songs, Born to Run in particular, "hoary oldies" is just offensive. Surely, as an esteemed rock critic, Jim should know how iconic that song is. (I won't even mention what Bruce has said it means to him). I guess by that logic, Tony Bennett should never sing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" ever again.

Mary, Queen of Arkansas is actually a deeper and cool song that even Springsteen fans fail to appreciate...but that is true of any artist's audience; there are certain songs that take patience and concentration, and then..bam..one day while coming across it, the song hits you like a truck. And you can never again fail to love it. That's how I feel about M Q A. It is the first introduction to the character "Mary" whoever one wants her to be, and Bruce (at 23) carves out an innocent paen, while the musicianship of the young beach-bum bard with hardley a cent in his pocket speaks volumes.

That said, I agree with Natasha that it is an absurd proposition for someone to expect Bruce to play it in this type of an appearance. I do understand Brendan's desire for Bruce to pull out a chestnut, but I would favor a For You, or more recently, a Gypsy Biker, but in 12 minutes what can he really do anyway? And anyway, I totally disagree with Brendan's evaluation of Glory Days--a hit for the ages.

Hey "DeRo": read Jon Parles's NY Times article on the new music. Maybe you can learn from it as to how a writer strives to write about the MUSIC, the playing, the literary themes it expresses, the historical context within an artist's oeuvre and what it is setting out to do in today's soundscape. And then, try to WRITE about its relationship to the music and tour that precedes it, and the political edge of THAT music.

No, that's too much to expect from this "music critic". He fancies himself an "iconoclast". This immature attitude dictates and takes precedence over all other methodologies. "Who cares about the comparative quality and superiority of every release from the truly great artists, I must be an iconoclast!"

I'm not a Springsteen fan--I simply don't care about New Jersey, cars, factories or American Folklore--but your hate for him really is over the top.

Can't you just abstain from reviewing him?

He was just mad because Springsteen told him to put down the guacamole dip.

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on February 1, 2009 8:18 PM.

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