- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

That wasn’t so bad, was it, Bruce? After years of swearing off such nakedly commercial gambits, Bruce Springsteen entertained the tens thousands on hand for Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. - and, by extension, an international television audience of an estimated 1 billion.

Mr. Springsteen, ex-Catholic schoolboy that he is, brings an unstinting work ethic to any venue, big or small, in which he and his E Street Band find themselves.

From the moment Mr. Springsteen and saxophonist Clarence Clemons appeared in silhouette, leaning on each other in the style of 1975’s iconic “Born to Run” cover, it was evident the band planned to hit well-rehearsed marks for its allotted 12 minutes.

A consummate showman, Mr. Springsteen made every moment count, with amusing banter addressed at TV cameras, pared-down arrangements and smoothly plotted segues. He and the band were in sync with both the play clock and a sky-filling pyrotechnic display.

The tongue-in-cheek band biography “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” opened the segment. During the song, on which the E Street Band was bulked out with a full horn section, Mr. Springsteen turned one of his patented stage moves - a sprinting knee slide - into a gridiron-appropriate collision with a cameraman.

“Born to Run” came next. Mr. Springsteen left the second verse on the sidelines, but it hardly mattered. The song is one of the most reliable adrenaline-stokers in rock history, and Mr. Springsteen and the band delivered it as though they had been onstage for hours and were sweating through a characteristically dramatic encore.

Mr. Springsteen chose to use the third slot to promote the title track of the just-released “Working on a Dream” album. Productionwise, it was the show biz-iest moment of the set, with a berobed gospel choir and the on-field audience hoisting twinkly glow sticks.

The band closed with the beloved E Street hit “Glory Days.” The baseball references of the original were emended for the pertinent pigskin pastime: “I had a friend, was a big football player / back in high school / He could throw that Hail Mary / make you look like a fool.”

Mr. Springsteen and longtime-pal-turned-“Sopranos”-star Steven Van Zandt hammed up the final minute, pretending to be in a John Elway-worthy final drive against time. A National Football League referee appeared to toss a penalty flag - a contrived gag, but at that point, no one was complaining.

If it wasn’t quite the first Super Bowl after Sept. 11, the worst economy in a generation would have to suffice for a politically minded artist who’s uniquely positioned to summon up feelings of joy on the grandest of scales.

Mr. Springsteen’s spring tour of the United States, which stops at Verizon Center on May 18, is off to an auspicious start.

The pre-game entertainment came in briefer, but no less potent, parcels.

The pilots and crew of the US Airways flight that made a sensational emergency landing last month in the Hudson River was introduced before kickoff - a worthy tribute to a group of unlikely ordinary heroes.

Even more stirring was the rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Oscar-winning singer-actress Jennifer Hudson, making her first public appearance since the shocking murders of her mother, brother and nephew.

She found hidden rivulets of passion in the oft-performed anthem - and, one hopes, a measure of comfort in the rousing cheers with which the audience acknowledged her performance.

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