Notes on the Super Bowl in the rearview mirror.
The Super Bowl is over, the lights are back on in the Dome, and know we're left with the second week of Carnival starting tomorrow. Here are a few random post-Bowl thoughts:
- It was clear this weekend that hip-hop and urban R&B are the music America parties to. Over the course of the weekend, Lil Wayne, Nelly, Ludacris, Big Boi, Flo Rida and Pitbull performed (that I'm aware of). Add to that Justin Timberlake, Janelle Monae, Santigold, The Roots, Diplo and Solange Knowles (doing a DJ set), and the evidence is hard to argue with.
- The parties were largely entertainment events, self-consciously big with the excitement that names such as Justin Timberlake and Stevie Wonder carry doing half of the work. The two most musically satisfying events I saw were The Roots at Generations Hall on Sunday and Janelle Monae at the Bud Light Hotel Saturday. In a half-hour, Monae referenced three great African-American dance icons: Michael Jackson (she opened with J5's "I Want You Back"), James Brown (she did a version of the cape gag), and Prince (she covered "Let's Go Crazy"). Those moments gave her Bowie-esque retro-futurism roots, and reminded me how good her own songs are when "Cold War" and the ingenious groove of "Tightrope" hold up next to the Big Three.
The Roots were equally complex in their dizzying fusion of the African-American musical experience, and a portion of the show led by guitarist Kirk Douglas articulated a credible vision of black rock. When James Blood Ulmer recorded Black Rock in 1982, he seemed to understand "rock" to connote guitar-based hardness. Rock may have shaped his vision for the album, but it was hard to imagine a rock fan that would have been made happy by it. Vernon Reid's envisioned a black rock heavily influenced by the black rock pioneer, Jimi Hendrix. Sunday's Roots show was certainly hard and at times guitar-dominated, but they had two things their progenitors didn't. When they crunched into Guns 'N Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine," it was clear that they liked hard rock (a feeling you didn't get from Blood Ulmer), and they blithely borrowed from so many musics that they captured rock's unapologetic ease in its own secondhand skin.
- I periodically use The Food Network's Guy Fieri as the emblem of the dubious celebrity, so I should also give him credit. At The Roots show, he didn't hide in the VIP area upstairs or hang discreetly at the back of the room. Spiked white hair and all, he stood in the middle of the crowd, danced and pumped his fist with the rest of the audience.
- Big Boi's Thursday night set was a lot of fun as it was heavy on the Outkast, but as easy as he was with tongue-twisting lyrics his live vocal tone was one note. That obscured much of the wit in his material and made him seem more earnest and humorless than he and his music is.
- It's hard to imagine who considers Pitbull or Flo Rida their favorite artist, but it's easy to hear why they're so popular. Hit making producers and songwriters tend to be very good at what they do, and Pitbull and Flo Rida are competent enough not to get in the way of their efforts. Neither artist challenges the audience much, but the biggest hits rarely do.
- There's film of young Elvis explaining to a crowd that he was told by the show's producers that he couldn't dance, so he moved his finger instead in a way that suggested dancing, and the audience shrieked at that. I might not remember that exactly right because I haven't seen it in a while, but I've never forgotten the look on his face - bemused incredulity. "This is my life?" He was obviously amused by what he had become, and Justin Timberlake had that same look on Saturday night when he was a hotter ticket than Stevie Wonder. He couldn't have seen that coming in N'Sync days. Like Janelle Monae, he paid homage to Michael Jackson, in his case with a playful version of The Jacksons' "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)."
- If New Orleanians want something to worry about, the Super Bowl weekend gave them something to worry about. Not the temporary deforming and caricaturing of the city, but the city as a tourist destination for events like the Super Bowl. I suspect it brought in money that filtered a fair ways down the food chain, but for a tourist-based economy to flourish, we have to build the business infrastructure to support them. I think that's the future City Hall envisions, one that involves the development of party furniture rentals and industrial A/V. I was pleased to find out from a friend who was working with them that the dancing girls at the AXS TV/DirecTV Justin Timberlake parties were local. In most ways that I could tell, the city's efforts to host the game and surrounding circus worked, and if you didn't have to deal with the French Quarter, CBD or the Warehouse District, it probably didn't inconvenience you much. The downside is the focus on tourism as the engine for the city's long-term financial future. Ask workers in Vegas how that's working out for them. Remember 9/11 and how that worked out for us.
- If I were the NFL, I'd worry about the way the event has priced a large portion of the teams' fan bases out of the Super Bowl. The game has long been a financially tough ticket to afford, but the amount of corporate activity that surrounds the game made hotel rooms equally dear.
- Finally, celebrities often don't look very celebrity-like. Had Lea Michelle not been identified before she walked a red carpet, I wouldn't have recognized her, and Sir Paul McCartney is getting a touch jowly. At the Rolling Stone LIVE party Friday night, I looked at one guy with a ponytail trying to decide if he was a celebrity, and at that moment I realized he was trying to decide if I was somebody too. He reached out to shake my hand and we shook, two nobodies. I hope that wherever he is, he's telling this story the same way and reached the same conclusion.
During the Super Bowl weekend, I covered events for RollingStone.com. I've linked to my stories on Pitbull and Flo Rida, Justin Timberlake and The Roots in the text, but I've linked to them here as well.