With Super Bowl Sunday nearly upon us, you really can't help but marvel at just how far the halftime show has come these past ten years or so. When the Who open for the Colts (as well as that other team) on Sunday, they'll follow in the footsteps of a who's who of superstar rock acts which in recent years has included no less than Springsteen, McCartney, Petty, Prince, U2 and the Stones. It's definitely become a prestige gig.
It's easy to forget that the halftime tradition actually began way back when with the cheery, whitebread pablum of Up With People. Back in those days, halftime meant either time to make a beer run, a potty run, or at the very least time to switch the channel over to the Lingerie Bowl.
At the same time, the NFL's decision to book mostly big-deal, classic rock acts in the wake of Janet Jackson's infamous "Nipplegate" appearance several years ago speaks volumes about just how safe rock has really become.
The Stones may have once danced with Mr. D and sang about starfuckers and cocksuckers, but these days they are as about as threatening as an old rerun of Leave It To Beaver, and inspire at least double the nostalgia value. Much as I hate to admit it, acts like these are in many ways a sort of Up With People for the new millennium. Even sacred cows like Springsteen and U2 have to admit that playing for the NFL is about as corporate as corporate rock gets.
With Led Zeppelin unavailable for bookings at the moment, the Who was the most obvious next-best choice for this year's big show. The perennial number three of the big sixties rock triumvirate along with the Beatles and the Stones, it was simply their turn. Well at least as long as a certain golden god of rock was busy playing bluegrass with Alison Krauss anyway…
Following Springsteen's halftime show last year won't be easy for Townshend and Daltrey either. The Boss pulled off the amazing feat of basically condensing his three hour rock and roll marathon and rock and roll revival meeting into the NFL's slotted fifteen minutes.
I don't expect the Who to suck. We're gonna get "Pinball Wizard" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" just as we got "Born To Run" and "Glory Days" last year. Townshend will probably throw a few windmills up in there too.
But I also don't expect it to be great.
Unlike Springsteen, the Who have definitely shown their age in recent years. Daltrey is still a powerful frontman as he demonstrated on his solo tour last fall, but his voice hasn't aged well. Don't expect to hear that famous closing scream during "Won't Get Fooled Again." Townshend's hearing has become so damaged from all those years performing with the Guinness World record holders for loudest band in the world, that he often performs with acoustic guitars rather than electric these days. So I expect the Who's performance will be Tom Petty decent, but not quite Prince or Springsteen great.
Which brings us to next year. The betting line forms here for who you think may follow Townshend and company for the big game in 2011. Here are some possibilities to ponder before you lay your money down:
AC/DC: If I were a betting man, this is who I'd be putting my money on. The Aussie bad boys won't be the NFL's first choice, but I'm betting the Eagles turn them down again. AC/DC is the perfect alternative. They are classic rock icons, and their simple, chunky riffing fits the smashmouth mentality of football like a glove. Nothing says jockspeak quite like a song like "Big Balls" does (although they probably won't be allowed to play that one). Besides, there hasn't really been a bonafide hard rock act at the Superbowl since Kiss, right? If AC/DC is good enough for Walmart, they are good enough for football. Odds: Dead-even
The Eagles: Although I'm relatively certain the Eagles will turn them down again, I include them here on the off chance they'll actually say yes this year. After all, Springsteen finally did, right? What makes the Eagles such a no-brainer is the way they walk such a fine line between rock and country. You can't really go wrong with a safe bet like this. Everybody's happy, and by the time the first down of the third quarter is played, no one will remember what they just heard. Take it easy, indeed. Odds: 5-1
Kenny Chesney: Of course, if you want to go country, why not go all the way? Country music is still as American as apple pie, and well, the NFL itself, and Chesney's brand of twang plays more like a countrified version of big stadium rock anyway. The chicks dig him, all those guys who drive Ford pick-ups secretly want to be him, and as long as he stays as hot as he is, there's definitely going to be a Super Bowl in his future at some point. It probably won't be next year though. Odds: 15-1
John Mellencamp: The former Johnny Cougar would certainly play well with the football crowd — especially if he stuck with the hits like "Rockin' In The USA," "Pink Houses," and the rest. Mellencamp's always been the sort of guy who plays well with conservatives who really want to like Springsteen, but can't get past his pinko politics (even though Mellencamp's blue stripes aren't too far removed from Bruce's). Like Petty was a few years ago, Mellencamp is the sort of journeyman rocker who is a natural choice for the tailgating crowd. Odds: 10-1
Coldplay: Their music is big like U2, anthemic like Springsteen, and ever since they started wearing military style jackets in concert, they've even started to seem a bit more masculine than they used to. Love em' or hate em', they are also one of the biggest bands in the world and should have a new album ready to pimp by next year. The downside here of course is Chris Martin's still rather feminine falsetto, and some would say sometimes whiny sounding lyrics. Not exactly AC/DC tough, but don't count em' out either. Odds: 20-1
Neil Young: His songwriting pedigree is undeniable, and his classic rock credentials are impeccable — particularly if he packs up Crazy Horse for the ride. However, his unpredictability poses a problem. A crowd expecting "Rockin In The Free World" is just as likely to get something from Fork In The Road or an impromptu set of unreleased folkabilly tunes. Despite Neil's recent embrace of capitalism with 30-disc box sets and sky-high ticket prices, Neil would also likely shy away from anything as overtly corporate as the NFL. Springsteen got away with it only because the Boss is nothing if not a populist. Odds: 50-1
Bob Dylan: Dylan on the other hand doesn't seem to have much of a problem with appearing too corporate these days, what with the ads for Victoria Secret and all. Dylan's songs are also known and loved by pretty much everybody who has ever turned on a radio or sang at a karaoke bar. However, even if he played stuff like "Like A Rolling Stone," I just don't see the croak translating to a stadium full of rowdy football fans or a national television audience. Odds: 100-1