review of a moment: scream at the end of the Superbowl Halftime show (who are you to judge? who who, who who?)
I knew what songs they would play going in to it. I just waited for one specific moment to see if I should cling to or abandon all hope.
I have yet to read the multitude of messageboard hate-threads deriding the Superbowl’s only halftime attraction, The Who, as a bunch of decrepit rockers too old to be good at their game. It’s always the case that people complain about the lack of movement or entertaining performance from these “old guard” entertainment acts that are meant to bridge the gap between boomer armchair-quarterbacks and their kids. It happened with The Boss last year, and people laughed at the Heartbreakers the year before. Hell, they even complained that Prince didn’t play Purple Rain.
But before we get too ahead of ourselves complaining about Roger Daltry’s tired voice and Pete Townsends occasional missed notes and chord flubs, we have to remember that any disappointment we feel, we brought on ourselves.
First, arguing the band’s current relevance is like getting mad at all the garbage in all the landfills in all the world. We built them, we keep them going. Their setlist can be read like this: “Song from Rock Band 2,” “Intro to CSI New York,” “Intro to CSI,” then “Go to the Mirror,” and finally “Intro to CSI Miami.” We can’t argue why these bands are getting asked to play, when their greatest hits catalogue has been co-opted by so many different buyers over the years that most iPod owners have the songs tagged as “TV Theme – CSI Miami,” or “Teenage Wasteland.*”
But second, and more saliently, the Superbowl demands a band that is just relevant enough to be “interesting,” like wallpaper that’s really badass but eventually becomes part of the room. The game is an example of pure spectacle; a guaranteed packed house and millions of viewers each year keep ad revenues high and tune in to watch the eleven minute game.** The remaining elements of the show, by necessity and self-preservation, must be engaging enough to keep viewers, but not so self-aware that they detract from the football itself. The moment the event becomes transparently not about football, the jig is up. That’s why we need the bands that will keep people tuned in for just enough catchy songs to fill a four-tune, 8-minute mashup.
This brings us to the scream. Me waiting with baited breath to hear that high-pitched wail that I knew would be coming. The ear-shattering scream that finishes off the pinacle record*** by the kings of the British mod scene is such a powerful and iconic moment. It is still unparalleled in terms of its epic use and it is quite possibly the reason why CSI: Miami is the most popular of the series.**** It gives me chills each time I hear it and I know I’m not alone.
As I listened to Daltry’s voice struggle to maintain some dignity at his now lower register, I realized there was no way he could possibly hit the note. He had been a little off pitch, missing some cues, and singing in a lower key in each song. My heart was already let down… then the synths began plunking.
He checked his ear monitor, the lights went out, and exploded in a burst of white as Daltry bent over at the waist and gave’r into the mic. He screamed. Loud. He did it. But he did it differently. He did it lower.
He changed the note to match his range. He gave the scream a deeper growl instead of his former high-pitched wail. Sure, it’s because he can’t hit those same notes, but he didn’t just half-ass it. He didn’t try to hit the old note and fail, and his voice didn’t crack. He made the sound less “Chris Cornell” and more “Tim McIlrath.” He made it relevant to his own register.
Those that were disappointed by the old rockers trying their best would do well to realize (as I did) that they lived up to our ludicrously impossible expectations in their own way. They can not be as youthful and energetic as we have kept them, porting their iconic memories into every truck commercial and videogame as if the actual performers were hermetically sealed from history. You ask a band to be kept alive on a few hit records and are surprised when their live show is less than it used to be; you ask them to be interesting enough to keep viewers tuned in and are shocked when they do something different with confidence and ease.
Tell me, who the fuck are you?
*For the last time, It’s called “Baba O’Riley,” God. Damnit.
**According to recent study, a one hour game is in no way one hour long.
***Arguable, yes, but Who’s Next is a fantastic departure from their earlier sound.
****It can’t be David Caruso. It MIGHT be the bikinis.