SOUND OFF Special Edition: 2014 Super Bowl Rockets Us To Mars, With Diva Dynamite
The 2014 Super Bowl match-up between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks may have been plagued by some bizarre play-by-plays and off-the-wall athletic antics, yet the real spectacle lied in the performances by Renee Fleming, Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers - yes, that sentence now exists and that unlikely combination indeed was presented... with awesome results!
Young, Wild, Free, Old & Crazy
Old and young, reserved and wild, sports fans and neophytes - the Super Bowl is a spectacular celebration like no other in American culture except perhaps Thanksgiving insofar as the cultural, social and traditional mark it always makes every single year. And, the sheer amount of people who participate in the festivities of the holiday is simply astounding. The 2014 Super Bowl was no exception, but, this being a performing arts-centric column, it was the theatricality of the night that made it well worth watching for the Broadway babies and performance junkies among us. After all, perhaps the most recognizable and renown modern opera diva was supplanted by the world's most successful pop songwriter and performer as well as one of rock's most beloved acts of all time for a triptych of performances worth savoring - and revisiting - again and again.
Renee Fleming has already cemented herself as one of the world's most notable and important vocalists in her decades atop the operatic food chain, having explored many other facets of music through her superlative sequence of recorded work, as well - look no further than her 2012 collection of modern pop and rock covers, DARK HOPE, for further proof of that; not to mention her musical theatre and Great American Songbook coverage elsewhere in her extensive recorded oeuvre. Yet, the song with which to instill an impression on an audience like none other is undoubtedly to take on the National Anthem at a highly visible event - and it doesn't get any bigger than the Super Bowl. And, as it turns out, it doesn't get any better than Renee Fleming singing it. Sensational. Stunning. Spine-tingling. Note-perfect. Never better - ever. This is the one performance of the National Anthem that people will unquestionably now reference for years, decades, maybe even centuries to come as one of the very finest renditions if not the most unforgettably powerful of all. Furthermore, were it to be released as a single, it would not be hard to imagine the track caressing the highest heights of the iTunes charts, even in this day and age - a true fait accompli for a modern classical music star, to say the very least. Truly, there was nothing but brilliance on display in this masterful singing of a notoriously tricky and rangey song. Expert performer expectedly excelling - and bringing that extra special something to it all, too. Wow.
Without the overt pageantry, bevy of back-up dancers and other assorted elaborate accoutrement of 2012's halftime show headliner Madonna, not the hi-tech wizardry of Beyonce last year, Bruno Mars dialed down the drama to strip the show back to the basics, more or less, thereby offering an entertainment extravaganza with an emphasis on musicianship and showmanship, with amply appealing results. Indeed, just as Fleming made it all about the music in her awe-inspiring vocal turn, so did Mars - milking his masterful back catalogue of confections for their palpable, danceable energy and explosive pop power. And how!
Entering on a moving platform through the arena itself - not unlike the throne flanked by thousands (OK, a little less) in 2012 by Madonna - Mars kicked off the halftime show proper with a prologue led by a chorus of kids singing his hit "Young Girls" complete with operatic reworking before launching into a percussive take on The Police-esque ska-tinged "Locked Out Of Heaven", soon arriving onstage to take the mic and show all of America why he is the 21st century's answer to James Brown and Prince. Sure, lines like "Your sex takes me to paradise" are not traditional family fare, but pop has never been sacrosanct or bereft of sex - nor has the halftime show (lest we forget this was the 10th anniversary of Janet Jackson's unfortunate Nipple-gate, no less). Compared to that, a little lyrical rambunctiousness and bump and grinding was positively tame. The tone struck by Mars was just right - part Vegas, part pop, all entertainment. Next in the medley came the funky, Jackson 5-tinged "Treasure" before we saw him launching into a rocket-fueled "Runaway". If this trio of tunes didn't get you up and dancing - the only goal of the show as expressed by Mars in his pre-show discussion of what he was planning for it all - then you don't know how to have fun. Plus, how cool were the simple but incredibly effective uses of that LED screen, particularly the black-out show effect? Fosse-tastic - eat your heart out Beyonce.
The opening song of Bruno Mars stupendous UNORTHODOX JUKEBOX, "Young Girls", references, "Those young, wild girls," while the final track is titled "Old & Crazy". Well, all were represented in the audience of the Super Bowl, without any doubt whatsoever - and, the same could be said for the onstage entertainment, as well. Although the Red Hot Chili Peppers will remain Forever Young in our hearts for many of us, their showing last night was a far cry from the outlandish naked-except-for-socks moments that first saw the California crew igniting audiences alight with their raucous rock. No socks, no shirts - no problem. They have grown up, but can still get rowdy when called to do so - and they did just that last night. Surely, some will complain that there comes an age in everyone's life when it is time to put your shirt back on, except perhaps at the beach - taut torso and six-pack or not - but one simply cannot deny the Red Hot Chili Peppers that privilege as long as they can command this kind of excitement and create this kind of energy through seemingly sheer force of will. Plus, who wants to see them too cleaned up anyway? Not me. Adding just the right amount of rock irreverence, it was an inspired choice to include them in Bruno's set - particularly given the utmost classiness and sophistication exhibited by Fleming in her elegant opening performance of the National Anthem.
Then, of course, came Mars doing what he does best - belting out those beautiful mini-masterpieces as only he can. Certainly, pop music doesn't get any better than "Just The Way You Are" and few if any major musical acts in this day and age possess the consistently enjoyable and reliably strong-voiced type of performance style Mars always brings when he performs. And, it was brought - with some worthwhile surprises, too.
To crib a phrase from one of Bruno Mars's recent hits, "When I Was Your Man" - Bruno Mars is the man. He just reminded us why. And, hey, Renee Fleming wasn't too shabby either! Diva supreme and pop dynamite blasting off with some help by rock legends, all in one surefire showcase of some of America's best entertainers.
View Renee Fleming's performance of the National Anthem below.
View Bruno Mars & The Red Hot Chili Peppers Halftime Show below.