February 5, 2014

RAINIS | MetLife Stadium Arcadium

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By JAMES RAINIS

In the middle of that snuff film that passed for a Super Bowl, there was a halftime show. Like all Super Bowl halftime shows, it was quite the technical spectacle. Over the course of a forty-five-minute interlude from Peyton Manning and co.’s collective breakdown at the hands of a group of grown men who call themselves the Legion of Boom (for which the aliens from Space Jam are likely to blame), a stage was erected, lights affixed, instruments prepared, microphones connected, audience members escorted onto the field and electrical systems double-checked (Roger Goodell’s special request), and then the entire contraption was undone, all without damaging the playing surface.

At some point in the interim, Bruno Mars performed. And it was a delightful performance, I guess. He and his band were dressed in gold Temptations-style jackets and played the Police-ripping “Locked Out of Heaven,” the Michael Jackson-tribute “Treasure” and a handful of other tunes that couldn’t really live up to the raucousness and fun of the first two. I’ll admit it: he’s no Beyoncé, but Bruno Mars has got some seriously fancy footwork and some decent tunes to back up his impressive range.

Then a group of shirtless middle-age men emerged from the upper-stage — reportedly, famed rock and roll quartet the Red Hot Chili Peppers — and exhibited the sort of forcible masculine posing and preening most masterfully performed by bands 20 years their junior. Aside from Anthony Kiedis’s genuinely perplexing leggings, the most egregious moment of the performance was guitarist Josh Klinghoffer’s ecstatic floundering about during the  “Give It Away” guitar solo. The guitar looked like it would fly off in any direction, and that, combined with Klinghoffer’s metallic-looking jacket and my eternal affection for former RHCP guitarist John Frusciante, made me question his admittance into the band even more. Who was he trying to impress, flailing about like a kindergartener breaking into a reserve of Fun Dip?

Despite my misgivings with the band for continuing on without their best asset (save the uber-talented bassist, Flea), I was generally happy that they somehow integrated themselves into a performance with pretty boy pop prince Bruno Mars without looking like a bunch of out-of-touch misfits. Then the Internet intelligentsia came down with a vengeance. Someone with way too much time on their hands and, consequently, way too much personal investment in the integrity of a Super Bowl halftime show, slowed the footage down and realized that RHCP’s instruments were not plugged in.

This led to what I’ve learned is called a “public relations shitshow.” Publications were aghast; how could the Chili Peppers, an authentic group of “real artists,” betray their fans like this? While Flea made a logical and grounded statement that basically boiled down to “the NFL didn’t want things to get screwed up, so we went along with it so we could be a part of a huge cultural thing and get rewarded handsomely for it,” fans asked why RHCP couldn’t pull a Nirvana or Oasis and mock the whole premise of miming a performance by completely phoning it in (Kurt Cobain’s absurd lounge-singer delivery of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Britain’s Top of the Pops is one for the ages). As one writer put it, “I remember a crazy funk/punk rock band from LA that would have told them to suck their kiss.”

Fan disappointment is reasonable. After all, they believed in bands like the Chili Peppers in the first place because they somehow represented something “more real” than the pop stars being paraded on MTV in the late ’80s/late ’90s. However, the Super Bowl halftime show is such an intricately timed extravaganza that it would be hard to defy the wishes of its showrunners. If a television broadcast performance is like making a soufflé, the Super Bowl halftime show is like making a soufflé out of your dog’s sense of humor. The clock is ticking as advertisers hope that nothing too scandalous happens, none of the acts can possibly sound check and the entire thing has to live up to its billing as “the biggest concert of the year.”

Sounds like a nightmare for anyone, but the Chili Peppers are professionals and tried to make it work. After all, they were just there to hedge the NFL’s bets on Bruno Mars; they ought to be thankful for the opportunity. While a “statement-making” moment of rebellion sounds cool in principle, if done by a bunch of dads it would be neutered of all its credibility and come off as lame and immature.

Fans treating this situation as a musical tragedy need some goddamn perspective. If the game hadn’t been so damned depressing, I’d argue that the entire incident would have gone unreported (or, realistically, would have been drowned out by post-game analysis of some indelible moment of athletic triumph tragically absent from Sunday’s game). This is an accepted reality in the modern age of live performance. For a band as reliably satisfying (and, in Anthony Kiedis’s case, reliably nonsensical), we should forgive the Chili Peppers for their impropriety and consider this all water under the bridge.

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