"Maybe that is the step forward on this record, to be able to have the freedom to have humour sitting alongside songs that are deadly earnest, and the two actually balance out each other."
-- Edge, on All That You Can't Leave Behind
Like A Video: MLK/Where The Streets Have No Name (Super Bowl XXXVI)
January 29, 2014
[Ed. note: This is the 22nd in a series of essays by the @U2 staff about U2-related visuals and videos. Some essays may be informational and educational, while others may be more personal.]
There have been some amazing Super Bowl halftime performances. From Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" to Bruce Springsteen's knee slide across the stage to Diana Ross leaving the stadium in a helicopter, the halftime show has evolved into a spectacle as noteworthy as the game itself. For my money, there has never been a better or more meaningful show than U2's performance at Super Bowl XXXVI. In particular, the band's rendition of "Where The Streets Have No Name" with an "MLK" lead-in was not only a great performance, but also a stirring homage and necessary pick-me-up for the United States.
After a rousing rendition of "Beautiful Day," the lights go down, a banner unravels with the words "September 11th 2001" and a synthesizer sustains a long note in the background. I recall watching this live and not being sure what was going to happen next. Admittedly, I was skeptical. Like many people, by January of 2002, I had grown a bit weary of much of the 9/11 talk. I desperately wanted the country to find the strength and wherewithal to say, "OK, that was a terrible tragedy. We've grieved, and now it's time to put into action the lessons we've learned and repair our fractured psyche." This performance gave us just that.
And then Bono and Edge start singing "MLK"...
Sleep, sleep tonight
It was a wonderful tribute to the victims of that terrible day. Tender, sweet, appropriate. Watching it now, 12 years later, I still get goose bumps when I hear Edge's harmony floating above Bono's vocals. As the names scrolled upward, I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, that's a lot of people." But I also remember being just as curious about the order of songs. "What a strange song to sing last. Should've done 'Beautiful Day' after this one to end on a high note," I thought. I had no clue what was coming next.
And then Edge begins the intro to "Streets"...
And I promptly lost my mind. Perhaps it was my U2 naiveté at the time (my first concert experience wouldn't come until more than three years later in 2005), but I did not see that coming. At all. Here was my favorite band about to perform my favorite song at America's biggest sporting event. What. A. Moment. How could this get any better?
And then Bono calls out to the country: "America..."
It was as if the band looked straight into America's eyes and said, "We see you've been struggling. Maybe this can start cheering you up. This one's for the rest of you. Come on, get up!"
And then Bono lets out a primal scream...
The lights go up and the crowd erupts. He's done that scream in the intro before, but this one felt different. This one was cathartic. It was what I think America wanted to do, but up to this point hadn't had the opportunity: to purge the grief, anger, frustration and confusion that had been building since that September day.
I've watched this video dozens of times and that moment still gives me the chills.
And then the banner falls...
Bono sings "Love, love, love," bright lights shine behind the band and the whole stadium is now included in the performance. An already intense and emotionally gut-wrenching show had just been taken up a notch. My heart could barely take it. Of course Bono sings of love! Of course Bono makes a heart shape with his hands and puts it over his chest! This is what he does. This is what U2 does. And this is precisely what the United States needed at that moment. We needed a song about hope, love, rebirth, determination and solidarity. We needed someone to yell in our face and urge us to get back on our feet.
And then Bono opens his jacket...
He reveals an American flag lining and the waterworks begin. I'm not ashamed to admit that I cry every time I watch it. Every. Single. Time. Of all the incredible Super Bowl halftime show moments, for me, this is THE moment. I don't think there's another rock star on the planet who could have successfully pulled it off. It didn't seem forced or trite or saccharine. It was the perfect band singing the perfect song at the perfect time. It didn't matter if you liked football or not. It didn't matter if you were watching the game just for the commercials. It didn't matter if you liked U2 or not. None of that mattered because this halftime show was an important performance. It was a necessary performance. America needed a shot in the arm like this, a wake-up call to shake us out of the post-9/11 doldrums that had understandably gripped the nation for months.
And then all that was left was a glowing heart in the middle of the field...
(c) @U2/Endrinal, 2014.