Concert Reviews

On Super Bowl XLV's Performances: Lea Michele! Christina Aguilera! Black Eyed Peas!

Hey, the Big Day is here! And, with it, those highly anticipated music performances! It's all so exciting.

I'll be honest: I didn't pay too much attention to the pre-pregame stuff -- meaning Maroon 5's and Keith Urban's performances in tents outside of Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. I caught some, though -- enough to say that Maroon 5 sounded pretty terrible, with Adam Levine's live vocals coming off especially spotty, and that Urban sounded decent enough. He was certainly into his performance, or what I caught of it. But, I'm sorry, I still have a problem with a dude from Australia singing American country music and having lyrics that reference Georgia and Texas. What's wrong with Sydney and Brisbane, bruh?

Now, onto the juicy stuff. After the jump, thoughts on Lea Michele's take on"America the Beautiful" and on Christina Aguilera's performance of our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

And later? We'll be live-blogging the halftime performance from the Black Eyed Peas and, reportedly, Usher and Slash.

Gotta say, I kind of had high hopes for these pregame performances of America-loving songs from two ladies who both boast impressive pipes.

What we got, well, wasn't so hot.

Michele, quite obviously, was on board because of her role on Glee, which has the coveted post-Super Bowl slot in Fox's lineup tonight. I like her on Glee, though -- her Rachel Berry character is awkward and annoying in all the most endearing way, and, seriously, you couldn't ask for a better vocalist to portray her role on the show. Her voice is big, boasts a broad ranch, and it's got some character to boot. But, uh, this performance? It'd be easy to criticize it for being too musical theater-y, given her TV role and all -- but, no that wasn't it. Rather, it felt more like the fare heard in a Disney movie: It was big and sweeping, but a little too clean and lacking character. Berry's voice has that. This performance didn't show it. And the backing choir felt more cheesy than anything.

Aguilera, meanwhile, didn't fare too much better. Her talents as unquestionable, her voice perhaps the best of an entire generation. But Xtina's been slipping lately -- her whirlwing promotional tour and subsequent TV performances while touting her Burlesque movie mostly showed a vocalist who had been off her game. This performance seemed primed as her chance at redemption.

And, actually, it started off pretty great. Calm and controlled, her voice was on point -- not Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV on point, but close enough. But, man, did it fall apart quickly Right around the line "the bombs bursting in air," she kind of lost vocal control; she was swinging for the fences rather than taking doubles where she could get them, to use a bad baseball analogy. She never really connected, either. Blame her for never missing an opportunity to throw too much vibrato in where it isn't needed -- a problem she's often faced in live settings.

Her big screw up, though? She made a pretty big mess up on the line "O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming," instead singing "What so proudly we watched at the twilight's last gleaming." YEESH.

But, hey, she held the word "brave" for eight seconds after taking in a deep breath to offer it up. So that's something.

Oh, and for those of you betting at home, her rendition clocked in at one minute and 54 seconds, pretty much right on the dot. Which, not to brag, is exactly how long we'd predicted it'd be. Then again, we didn't expect her to miss an entire line.

7:02 Halftime performance live-blogging commences... now! For some background on our initial thoughts on the Black Eyed Peas' selection as the Super Bowl halftime performers, read this. In short: We're not too excited.

7:04 Thing is, we once really like the Black Eyed Peas. Back in their Behind the Front, pre-Fergie days.

7:06 OK, so the rumor, obviously, in case you haven't heard, is that both Usher and Slash are joining the Black Eyed Peas during this set. The band didn't comment during their pres conference. But Will.I.Am is supposedly promising "big things," and, shit, these announcers are really pimping the crap out of it, huh?

7:08 Does this Will.I.Am's cloud ad for count as part of the half-time show?

7:09 No surprise that BEP is opening with "I Gotta Feeling." Also not surprising: The space suits, and the fact that Will.I.Am's voice is Auto-Tuned.

7:10 Slight audio snafu there. Couldn't hear Fergie's first couple lyrics. OH WELL.

7:11 Interesting incorporation of the crowd dancers there, actually, as the band moves into "Boom Boom Pow." Pretty cool -- better, certainly, than the normal crowds-up-by-the-stage bit. The Tron suits and arrows are a nice touch. Those dancers are referred to as "Peapods,"
by the way.

7:13 Hey, an Apl.De.Ap sighting! He actually sings! The Peas are more than Fergie and Will! Oh, and here's Slash! He and Fergie have done "Sweet Child O' Mine" together before, so it's not altogether surprising. Also not surprising: The Peas stealing another band's tune to use as their own. But, hey, I guess this means we can expect Usher!

7:14 Speaking of stealing others' songs, this BEP track "Pump It" samples Dick Dale's surf rock classic, "Misirlou."

7:15 Back when the Peas weren't all mainstream and shit, this song was called "Let's Get Retarded." The NBA used it in playoff ads a few years back, in case you forgot.

7:16 Hey, it's Usher! As expected. With "OMG," which Will.I.Am produced. Fun fact: Usher was born in Dallas. WHAT'S UP, LOCAL TIE?


7:18 Speaking of which, "Where is the Love?"

7:19 Justin Timberlake was featured on this song originally. A cameo from him here would be pretty choice. Doubt it happens, though. Not with the whole Usher v. JT beef.

7:20 Nobody puts Fergie and Will.I.Am in a corner. But the Peas will, indeed, sample a cheesy song from Dirty Dancing as their intro to "Dirty Bit."

7:21 Surely, I'm not the only one who thinks these guys are dressed like a goth version of the legendary WWF tag team, Legion of Doom, right? I mean a more goth version, duh.

7:22 AND WE'RE DONE. It all comes full circle and we end where we started, with "I Gotta Feeling."

Final thoughts: Looks like we clocked in at eight songs in just about ten minutes. Gotta love medleys!

All in all, I gotta be honest: I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would. It was high energy and, certainly, these were the coolest visuals we've seen at a Super Bowl halftime show in a while. Really, those arrows and the Peapods in Tron suits were pretty awesome.

But that much is to be expected with this group. So, too, is the fact that they stuck to their biggest hits. Still, I would've like to have heard "Joints & Jam," although, let's admit, that was quite a futile hope.

So, too, was expecting the band to sound as pristine in this live setting as they do on record. Let's face it: The Peas are a highly produced outfit. And it showed at this performance.

Fergie's vocals were shakey at best. Will.I.Am needed Auto-Tune to pull off just rapping. Apl.De.Ap made only the tiniest appearance. I'm pretty sure Taboo didn't do anything but dance and be the hype man, but, I dunno, I might've missed it. And I hope I did, because, otherwise, that'd just be cruel. Taboo also made a tiny appearance.

Slash was cool -- pretty much the easiest cameo ever. Usher was fairly impressive, too, but that's also to be expected. Dude can dance, no surprise there.

So can the Peas, I guess. And their dancers.

As for a final verdict? I'm giving this a solid B-minus. You gotta figure the NFL is stoked -- they got exactly what they wanted. And people who like the Black Eyed Peas probably loved it. But until Fergie learns to sing as she dances, and until Will.I.Am stops just coming off as so goddamn pompous jerk all the time, I can't really justify a higher grade.

But this is a far better reaction than I expected to have. So, hey, fuck me.

The real thing to glean from all this: Super Bowl halftime performances just ain't what they used to be, huh? When was the last time we had a good one? Prince a few years ago? To be honest, I don't even remember. Was that one even all that good?

More important, does it matter?

Thing's just a necessary evil at this point.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman