At first, the news didn't feel right, didn't feel true: a rock god who rails against the bloat of America agreeing to centerpiece a fat-cat sports spectacle that's dubiously, unmistakably born in the U.S.A.
But tramps like us, we forgive, we forget, we flick our Bics to the sky and suck up the moment. That's also pretty darn American.
So I ask you: How AWESOME was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's halftime set at Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday? Did you drop the guac and chicken wings when he dropped to the stage? Did you get up and boogie to the old-school shuffle of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, a groovy salute to his loyal band?
During the show, I was supposed to be on the sideline, somewhere warm and tan near the Arizona Cardinals cheerleaders. But I was sucked into the tsunami of volunteer "fans" rushing the stage. I was helpless to fight back, to take notes. I could only sing and hug and smile. I'm selfish that way.
In a news conference last week, the 59-year-old icon said the idea of playing the Super Bowl had always seemed like "a novelty." But the Boss had a change of heart. He had a new album coming out. He had a still-vital band.
So he took the gig. And though his country is going through tough times (or maybe because of that), the Blue-Collar Bard didn't use Sunday's show to preach or proselytize. Instead, dressed in black, looking fit, and joking, mugging, goofing and sliding, he did what comes naturally, packing a life-affirming encore into a ferocious 12-minute pocket of eternity.
In 2007, Prince was hailed as the best Super Bowl halftime act ever. Is there a new king of the intermission? Hmmm …
After Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, which featured hobbled Big Man Clarence Clemons (the sax player was wheeled onto the field five minutes before showtime and sat there awkwardly), Bruce lit into Born to Run, which seemed like a weird song in the No. 2 slot. But it's so darn rousing, it works anywhere.
The third song was the title cut from his new album, Working on a Dream, and despite the onstage choir, and the flashlights in the crowd, it was pedestrian at best, dull at worst. (Full disclosure: Security yanked me back to the sideline during this song, so maybe I'm just surly.)
Then came the finale, Glory Days, which gently tweaks the glorification of sports culture but also embraces it with sing-along warmth. Springsteen even tinkered with the lyrics, making it sports appropriate: "I had a friend, was a big football player, back in high school." Best touch of the show right there.
After a cheeseball bit with a ref calling a time penalty on the band and throwing a flag, Springsteen bid adieu by screaming: "I'm going to Disneyland!" And with that, the fireworks lit up the sky.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.