Measured Extravagance

27 January 2003 - 12:28 a.m.

It's funny, how hard it can be to find the right level of tension to fuel a live performance. It's why I thought Shania Twain's performance during the Super Bowl halftime show was the least successful of the four performances I caught (I'm rather sorry I missed the anthem); I'm okay with her variety of candied country, but performance-wise, I was shaking my head after the break and thinking, "X-factor: Shania didn't have it, Gwen and Sting do." She was simultaneously trying too hard and not trying hard enough - trying too hard, in that her smiling-at and playing-to the audience was so insistent that I kept wondering how she could possibly be singing through that pageant smile; not trying hard enough, in that, for all that smiling and strutting and arm-waving, she just didn't seem there; even if she wasn't lip-synching, she might as well have been. (Or, put another way: when I feel compelled to check out your midriff to see whether you're breathing, it doesn't matter whether you're faking or not.)

Stefani, Sting and Bon Jovi - at least I believed they were singing. Bon Jovi I normally like, but the arrangement sounded wrong in the arena and there was again an element of trying-too-hard too-close-to-the-script-ness. I wouldn't count myself as a No Doubt fan - in fact, I didn't like their song, and the costumes were ug-LY, but I was hooked by Gwen's opening pushups and amused at what seemed to be her squad of neo-punk cheerleaders.

And then there's Mr. Gordon Sumner. Just a middle-aged guy wearing a casual t-shirt/pants combination (of course, almost anything would seem demure after Shania and Gwen's getups), with a decent voice - and enough charisma to detonate entire cities sans gunpowder. And Gwen joined him for the second verse of "Message in a Bottle," and they sounded quite good, and I thought, it wouldn't have added up on paper. If you look at my usual aesthetic preferences, I tend to prefer performers on the dressier side (whether it be flamboyant or simply classy); I like clear, powerful voices; I'm actually fond of an awful lot of empty-calorie pop. But even with the studded bra and short skirt and superwatt smile (or because of it?), I didn't find Shania sexy, whereas Gwen Stefani's arch looks and low voice had me going mmmm. Sting's kiss to her fingers as the crowd applauded was also a charming touch.

X-factor. Hmmm.

Though I suppose it isn't really an x when I break it down like this, is it? But perhaps it still is, because I'm certain other people who watched the Bowl are now scratching their heads and wondering how much beer I'd had to affect my perceptions that much by the end of the second quarter. But perhaps more of us would agree that Penn and Teller sharing a post-game pickle (taken from the jar in which they'd stuffed their pre-game prediction) was a cute grace note? (Even more of us might agree that sitting through post-game shows is pretty lame, but hey, I still had beer, I still had crocheting. . .)

(And not nearly as lame as the putz who just tried to fax my home telephone. At 12:17 a.m. We live in a marvelous age, but. . .)

One year ago: "Last night, my cat turned into a bouquet of fish."

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