Each year, the act selected to play the Super Bowl halftime has 12 minutes to do its best gig ever before the biggest audience of its career. There’s no time to build momentum; you have to hit the stage at 100 miles per hour.
The Who (or what remains of them: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend) decided to go with a medley of some of their biggest hits for their moment in Miami and spilled the beans to Billboard a few weeks ago on their line-up. So how’d they do?
Confession: I love the Who. They’re brilliant. I was too young to see them in their heyday, but my appreciation for them has only grown over the years. It hurts me to say that they were terrible.
They opened with an extremely short verse of “Pinball Wizard,” and then very awkwardly switched to “Baba O’Riley.” There was absolutely no energy there; instead of anthemic, the songs just felt anemic. “Who Are You,” one of the most potent, muscular rock songs every recorded--at its full strength, it can peel paint off walls--sounded weak. Was it so wrong that I wanted Daltrey to slip and throw in the F-word? Just something to wake us all up? Plus, using lines from “Tommy” songs as bridges (“See Me, Feel Me” from “Tommy’s” finale just got one line) served no purpose unless they wanted to up their total song count.
The Who wrapped with “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Daltrey’s classic scream—one of the most feral rock and roll screams every committed to vinyl-- was there, but it was clearly pre-taped as there was not a camera within 100 yards of Daltrey when that scream went down, but then a camera went back on him right afterward.
While there was much talk that Daltrey and Townshend would be playing to pre-recorded tracks, there’s no doubt those vocals (other than the scream) were live. Daltrey’s voice is diminished, but it’s still powerful and there were moments during “Who are You” where he sounded great. For the most part, Townshend just sounded creaky. I felt like he should be yelling at us to get off his lawn. Townshend’s guitar playing sounded strong and lots of parents probably got to teach their kids about the Windmill, but the cameras cut away anytime he started to do something interesting. There was no passion whatsoever in the performance (I know, I know, they’ve been phoning it in live for years… I’ve seen them in concert enough to know that), but it’s still disappointing. If Daltrey and Townshend ever acknowledged each other during the set (other than the final bow) to even look at each other like “Man, can you believe we’re here?” or “Isn’t this fun?,” I missed it.
The circular stage was the winner. It was the star of the show with the different color lasers and images. The best image was of Townshend on guitar. It must have looked great up in the stands. The light show completely overwhelmed the performance. The Who's performance: C. The stage and production: A+.
Ever since Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime appearance with Justin Timberlake, no female breasts have been allowed on stage. It’s been veteran male-fronted acts ever since: Paul McCartney in 2005, Rolling Stones in 2006, Prince in 2007, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in 2008 and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in 2009.
For those of you who loved the Who’s performance and would like to recreate it, Rock Band will offer it as a $2 download later on today (for Xbox 360 and Wii; PS3 will arrive later, according to www.joystiq.com)