Super Bowl Memories: U2, Bruce Springsteen, & The Who Rock Halftime
U2 AT THE SUPER BOWL – 2002
It was 21 years ago this Super Bowl Sunday (February 3rd, 2002) that U2 headlined the game’s legendary halftime show in New Orleans’ Superdome. Coming only months after the horrific 9/11 attacks, the band’s set, which only featured two songs — “It’s A Beautiful Day” and “Where The Streets Have No Name” — served as both a moment to rejoice and reflect. During the second song, a scrolling list of those that perished on 9/11 was rolled behind the band, with Bono ending the song by revealing an American flag serving as the lining of his jacket.
Only days after the Super Bowl appearance, Bono was honored for his philanthropic efforts at The Love Rocks event in Los Angeles. While accepting the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s (EIF) Heart Of Entertainment Award Bono spoke of the importance of the American dream and its need to thrive: “I promise you this — that those lives that were lost on September the 11th, that is their only fitting memorial. Not just the pursuit of justice, but the pursuit of a less dangerous, safer, fairer, more inclusive world. Thank you very much. (applause)”
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND AT THE SUPER BOWL – 2009
It was 14 years ago this Super Bowl Sunday (February 1st, 2009) that after years of turning the NFL down flat, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band performed an electrifying four-song medley during the halftime show at the Super Bowl in Tampa. Springsteen and the band — who unlike nearly all the halftime acts in recent memory actually looked as though they were enjoying themselves — were augmented by the Miami Horns on loan from their roadwork with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
Bruce and the band tore through abbreviated versions of “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” which in one of the many comical moments in the short set, saw Springsteen’s signature knee slide across the stage land him straight into the cameraman who caught it all on tape — including Springsteen cracking up at the bang-up; “Born To Run” which dropped the “Wendy let me in. . .” verse; the new “Working On A Dream” backed by the Inaugural Celebration Chorus, who first backed “The Boss” the previous month in Washington, D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial; and finally “Glory Days” with the baseball lyrics replaced with football terms including the no-brainer switch from “speedball” to “Hail Mary.” Springsteen and right-hand man Steve Van Zandt had fun vamping as they brought the song to a close.
The highpoint for die-hard fans was seeing Springsteen play his retired Fender hybrid Telecaster-Esquire guitar, which has been completely absent from his live shows over the past few years. The guitar — which has a Telecaster body and an Esquire neck — was Springsteen’s primary instrument from 1972 to 2000 and is pictured on the album covers of Born To Run, Live 1975-1985, Human Touch, Plugged, Greatest Hits, and the Wrecking Ball album.
We caught up with Nils Lofgren prior to the game and he explained the pros and cons of the band signing on for the half-time gig: “It goes way beyond a gig. First of all, TV is always never your favorite thing to do in a great band — because it removes the three hour sweat fast, the day of prep, the whole ease into this incredible environment. But that being said — it’s. . . after 40 years on the road, it’s without a doubt gonna be the best and greatest TV show opportunity any of us will ever have.”
At the pre-game press conference Springsteen explained why he changed his mind about performing such a high profile, creatively restrictive, and overtly commercial gig: “Initially it was a novelty, so it didn’t feel right. I had a talk with. . . I was with a young musician, talking about the Super Bowl. He said, ‘Why don’t you play the Super Bowl?’ I said, ‘Well, y’kinda playing in the middle of a football game, y’know?’ He said, ‘Man, I just hope one day my band’s big enough to play the Super Bowl.” I think why we said yes this year — they’ve asked us many times — was, one: (Exaggerated voice) We have a new album comin’ out, dummy! C’mon! There’s a new record in the stores (laughs). So — it just happened to come out this past week (laughs). So, we have our mercenary reasons, of course, y’know? Besides our deep love of football.”
Springsteen spoke to The New York Times about his decision to finally play the Super Bowl, explaining, “It was sort of, well, if we don’t do it now, what are we waiting for? I want to do it while I’m alive. At my age, it is tough to get word of your music out. If we weren’t doing these big things, there’s no middle things.”
He added: “It was very challenging to try and get (the set to fit into) that exact 12 minutes. I found that in a funny way it was very freeing. OK, these are your boundaries, so put everything that you have into just this box. If you do it right, you should feel the tension of it wanting to spread beyond that time frame. But it can’t.”
THE WHO AT THE SUPER BOWL – 2010
It was 13 years ago this Super Bowl Sunday (February 7th, 2010), that the Who performed a medley of five of their classic songs at the halftime show during the Super Bowl at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium. The band performed a nearly 12-minute set featuring abbreviated versions of “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Who Are You?,” “See Me, Feel Me,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Joining the band on stage was their longtime backline featuring Ringo Starr‘s son Zak Starkey on drums, John “Rabbit” Bundrick on keyboards, Pino Palladino on bass, and Pete Townshend‘s younger brother Simon Townshend on rhythm guitar.
Unlike the Who’s usual live shows, Townshend — decked out in black shades and trilby hat — kicked off “Pinball Wizard” with his modified acoustic Gibson J-200, before switching to his usual red Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster for the duration of the set. Zak Starkey was playing a clear D.W. drum kit with Zildjian cymbals painted with the Who’s iconic red, white, and blue “mod”-era bullseye.
Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend talked to the NFL Network after their pre-game press conference, with Daltrey revealing how hard it was paring the set down to only 12 minutes: “It’s been very difficult to do this because most of our songs are at least six minutes long. And we want to do more than one or two songs. It works as a cohesive piece of music.”
He said that he was absolutely awed by the massive halftime stage: “It’s extreme, (laughs) to say the least. It’s the biggest stage I’ve ever seen in my life, it’s amazing. And the quickest . . . and it is truly amazing how you do this. I mean, I’m completely stunned by the amount of organization to put a show on in the middle of a football pitch, and you’ve got 20 minutes to do it, get off and get the match started. It’s ridiculous, and they’re doing it — and it works.”
Townshend admitted that the songs chosen for the set were actually decided by committee: “Roger actually put the medley — or the selection of tracks — together, but I think we got a message from various people in, y’know, the NFL and music they’d like to hear and that’s what we reflected. There was some pressure from CBS that we only play songs that were associated with CSI (laughter) and I of course was going, ‘Yeah — let’s do that!”
Townshend was asked if it was going to be tough to get to full-on performance mode within such a short amount of time: “When I’m playing live and kind of. . . I don’t know what happens to me. I’m a mild mannered man and what actually happens when I get onstage with a guitar is that something happens, something triggers, like, an adrenaline rush, and I can pretty much rely on it. It’s like turning on a switch.”