In response to the FCC’s strict fines following Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s controversial “Nipplegate” incident in 2004, veteran rock artists were recruited by the NFL, including Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, and The Who.
Ironically, the latter’s appearance at Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010 ended the classic rock streak. Pop/radio friendly acts are currently the norm, with the past three years represented by The Black Eyed Peas, Madonna and Beyonce, respectively.
While The Who’s halftime show was surprisingly derided by a majority of critics (the band’s corporate advertisement of the CSI franchise was a primary factor) as well as lead singer Roger Daltrey during an impromptu interview immediately after the event, fans were much more supportive.
Without a doubt, the group was musically solid at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., delivering a 12-minute mini suite packed with their greatest hits to a capacity crowd of approximately 72,000 people. Notably, it was the band’s first concert since a Perth, Australia, gig some 10 months prior.
Daltrey, then 65, was in surprisingly excellent vocal form. Apparently, his first U.S. solo tour in approximately 15 years that ended the previous November must have oiled his vocal cords perfectly, as there was no sign of hoarseness or wrong notes to be found.
Wearing a striped black and white jacket with a sky blue scarf and black T-shirt, Daltrey was in his element as the legendary front man of rock. He didn’t speak until the very end of the performance, only managing a terse "Thank you" twice to the excited crowd.
In an intriguing twist compared to past Super Bowl performers, there was no audience surrounding the oval stage. But plenty of pyrotechnics were on display as the band's red, white, blue, and black insignia revolved in a circular motion.
Renowned guitarist Pete Townshend opened the show with some frantic acoustic strumming on his signature blond J-200 Gibson acoustic guitar. The song in question was "Pinball Wizard", an integral component of the classic 1969 concept long-player, Tommy.
Townshend, sporting a sleak, black coat rolled up to his elbows encasing a white shirt, wore shaded glasses during the full performance. A black top-hat with a red bandana under it rounded out his rock star persona.
The minute Daltrey opened his mouth to sing "Ever since I was a young boy, I played the silver ball, from Soho down to Brighton, I must have played 'em all," the past 40 years were a fleeting memory.
At only a scant 90 seconds, "Pinball Wizard" quickly gave way to "Baba O'Riley," aka “Teenage Wasteland”, taken from 1971’s Who’s Next. Ringo Starr's son, Zak Starkey, was powerful behind the drums in a stylish red Union Jack long-sleeve shirt, recalling his childhood "uncle" Keith Moon, The Who's highly inventive drummer who suddenly passed away in 1978.
The fourth original member of the band, bassist John Entwistle, inexplicably died in March 2002, and Pino Palladino has filled his role in the interim. Most notable for being a member of The John Mayer Trio, Palladino was only seen fleetingly during the performance, with Starkey's drumming getting the most attention from the various camera angles.
For the instrumental break in "Baba O'Riley" (a CSI theme song which airs on CBS), Daltrey let loose on harmonica, performing in tandem with John "Rabbit" Bundrick's synthesizer and Starkey's galloping drums.
Immediately after this interlude, "Who Are You," yet another CSI theme, jump started. The 1978 anthem was the most recent song in the band's catalog performed that night. While singing the repetitive, hook-laden chorus, it sounded as if Townshend was about to burst into laughter, though he quickly gained his composure.
Next, the chorus of "See Me, Feel Me," another standout selection on Tommy, was quickly delivered in about 30 seconds, segueing into a complete version of "Won't Get Fooled Again," the second cut taken from Who's Next. It was the third and final CSI song of the evening.
It was great hearing Townshend let loose on his classic riffs during "Won't Get Fooled Again". Starkey's drumming definitely anchored the performance, proving why he has been pivotal to The Who since 1996. Listening to Daltrey belt out a thunderous "Yeah!" after Starkey's solo was icing on the cake.
The Who left the crowd screaming for more as Daltrey exhorted, "Don't you get fooled, fooled, fooled, again!," with Townshend playing one final sublime riff on his Torino Red Fender Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster guitar. As evidence of the gig's gigantic proportion, The Who's official website crashed shortly after the performance.
Regarding new music, it would definitely have been a ballsy move to hear a new track during the quick halftime set. Case in point: Floss is a rock opera exploring advancing maturity announced prior to the Super Bowl appearance in August 2009. Inexplicably, the proposed follow-up to 2006’s Endless Wire remains unreleased.
Fans were hopeful that The Who would build on their Super Bowl gig by mounting a full U.S. tour as recent Super Bowl performers, including Petty and Springsteen, have done. Those tours ultimately landed in the Top 10 most successful North American tours in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
However, it was not to be, as the British rockers only scheduled one gig for the remainder of 2010 – a rare performance of the complete Quadrophenia album for their Teenage Cancer Trust benefit at London’s Royal Albert Hall on March 30.
Instead, Townshend set his sights on completing his autobiography, Who I Am, which debuted at No. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list in October 2012. The Who would not complete another full concert until the following month, when, due to the positive buzz surrounding Who I Am, they revisited Quadrophenia plus a selection of their greatest hits for an extended 38-city North American tour.
The well-received trek is scheduled to visit Europe in summer 2013. So if they visit your neck of the woods, make plans to see The Who in action. You won't regret it. In the meantime, stick around to view a 14-image slideshow. It appears at the top of this article with extremely candid images taken from The Who's impressive halftime show at Super Bowl XLIV.
Author's Note: The Who considered Elvis Presley to be one of their primary influences, best exemplified on their 2004 tribute song, "Real Good Looking Boy", featuring an interpolation of Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love With You." To read about the King of Rock and Roll's meteoric rise to worldwide fame, his appearance in music's first rockumentary, and why one prominent authority controversially believes "Mystery Train" was the singer's last honest recording until he returned from the Army in March 1960, visit the following exclusive interview: ["On The Brink of Becoming An Artistic Phenomenon..."].
Setlist, February 7, 2010, Super Bowl XLIV, Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens
- "Pinball Wizard" [first verse and chorus only]
- "Baba O'Riley"
- "Who Are You"
- "See Me, Feel Me" (only one line of chorus)
- "Won't Get Fooled Again"
Further Reading: Former Beatle George Harrison followed up his critically-acclaimed 1970 solo debut, All Things Must Pass, with a record that aimed for less lofty aspirations. While yet another number one album, Living in the Material World contained one song that remains largely undiscovered by the general record buying public. To read about "Don't Let Me Wait Too Long", definitely the most Beatlesque and commercial track that deserved to be a hit single, visit the following article: "Rediscovering A Superb Love Song..."
Further Reading No. 2: An esteemed member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's sophomore induction class, "Garden Party" singer Rick Nelson was on the verge of a mini comeback when his plane tragically caught on fire en route to a New Year's Eve gig on December 31, 1985. A rockabilly-themed album was in the final recording stages, and Nelson had found a new record label [Curb]. Unfortunately, the project was promptly placed in the dustbin whilst various figureheads argued over rights, whether the singer's vocals were satisfactory, and if the project deserved to see the light of day. Wrangling beyond the so-called myths revolving around the project, an in-depth feature ["True Love Ways: A Glimpse Inside the Tangled Web of Rick Nelson's Final Album"] sheds light on the ill-fated Curb sessions nearly 30 years later.
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