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Not to Defend the Red Hot Chili Peppers, But Calm Down about Their Fake Super Bowl Performance

By Luke O'Neil

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It's being called one of the most inauthentic performances in Super Bowl history, with fans clamoring for an explanation for why the product on the field was a pale imitation of the original – and we're not just talking about the Denver Broncos' effort.

The internet is in an uproar this week, which is the typical internet default setting of course, about the shocking accusations that the Red Hot Chili Peppers appear to have been mimicking their set during the halftime show. USA Today has got the photos from the grassy knoll that unravel this stunning conspiracy, showing Flea and Josh Klinghoffer's guitars sans cables or wireless pickups. "Fury Erupts Over Red Hot Chili Peppers Unplugged Guitar at Super Bowl," read one hyperventilating headline. "Red Hot Chili Peppers Didn’t Even Plug In Their Guitars For The Super Bowl," cried another. And to those people I say: Welcome to your first ever televised musical performance.


The Super Bowl's ACTUAL fake performer.

As we learn over and over again every year when this subject comes up—and it always comes up— performances on huge stages like the Super Bowl are often aided by pre-recorded music. Back in 2009, even Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, the unimpeachable icons of everything pure and “authentic” about rock and roll, played to backing tracks. The reason? There are simply too many potential technical problems that could go wrong, especially at such a whirlwind production as a halftime show, that simply aren't worth the risk. Sure, it might work in a regular concert setting, but you're not going to ask a hundred million people to chill out for a minute while the guitarist fiddles with his tuner, and the drummer tightens his snare drum for the tenth time. “Hey thanks for coming out you guys, and thanks for the Air Force flyover for opening. Make sure to stick around for the Seahawks. We'll be out front at the merch table after the game.”

Not going to happen.

"There is no way you can set up a full band in five minutes with microphones, get all the settings right and expect to get quality sound," Hank Neuberger, a producer for the broadcast of the Grammy Awards told the Chicago Tribune back around the time of the Springsteen performance. "The Super Bowl has been doing that for years with virtually all the bands."


Now THIS is how you fake a performance.

The same is often true of the performance of the National Anthem, which has many fewer moving parts than a full band stage production. Jennifer Hudson performed to a pre-recorded track when she opened the game a few years back. You'll likely remember the furor over Beyonce's singing of the anthem at the presidential inauguration as well. The list goes on and onMadonna utilized backing tracks for her performance last year. Whitney Houston's performance at the Super Bowl, literally the most beloved Super Bowl musical number of all time, was itself pre-recorded.

Here's a pretty good indicator that what you're about to watch is an artifice: it takes place at the damn Super Bowl. You want the pure musical experience unadulterated by bells and whistles, go support a local band in your hometown tonight. Even there, it takes roughly 17 hours for a divey rock club to soundcheck a band who's going to play to six people into diarrhea-noise form. Imagine multiplying that by a factor of 100 hundred million.

Blues rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa was one of the critics that got the ball rolling on Chordghazi the other night, tweeting “Flea... I mean we all know, but for god's sake at least try to humor the children.”

But in Flea's defense, not trying to fully sell the illusion may have been the more honest move. When the UK electronic duo Disclosure were accused of performing without their equipment plugged in over the summer in London, they responded to the waves of mockery and scorn by saying they deliberately left everything unplugged so they wouldn't be perceived as misleading the audience. That seems to have been the veteran bass player's intent as well.

I'm sympathetic to the idea that music is supposed to be performed live, and could be persuaded that such a thing as “authenticity” actually still exists, but if you're looking for that at the Super Bowl, the literal emblem of everything anodyne and pre-packaged for the broadest potential audience in the world, then you're in the wrong place. The only thing inauthentic here is the feigned outrage over a non-scandal. 

 

Luke O'Neil typed this all himself. No trickery. Follow him on Twitter - @lukeoneil47

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