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MUSIC REVIEW

Kickoff concert fumbles with bad sound, blandness

FOXBOROUGH -- Alas, where was Janet Jackson when we needed her? There was no "wardrobe malfunction" at last night's nationally-televised pregame show at Gillette Stadium, but neither was there much real excitement. If any censors from the FCC were watching, they likely fell asleep before it was over.

Like many folks, I was expecting this special hour before the Patriots/Colts game to be packed with entertainment from guests Sir Elton John, Destiny's Child, Lenny Kravitz, Mary J. Blige, Toby Keith, and Jessica Simpson, but instead we got an underwhelming state of affairs. There seemed to be more documentary football footage than live music, and probably the whole hour had less than what you'd get in a Super Bowl halftime show.

No artist sang more than two songs -- and Keith and Simpson weren't even in the building. Simpson's brief, mechanical performance was beamed in from her show in Jacksonville, Fla. (prompting loud boos from many Gillette fans), while Keith performed on a stage in the Gillette parking lot. Many fans who didn't know this were looking around with puzzled faces because they couldn't find him, except on the video screens. Worse, he had sound difficulties that made for a spotty mess. Keith did his patriotic hit "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," but you could barely hear it. Perhaps it came across better on couch-potato TVs at home, but inside the stadium it was anticlimactic. Keith followed it with "Who's Your Daddy?", but again it didn't register much.

The long-awaited Destiny's Child reunion -- yes, Beyoncé Knowles was back with them -- was extremely brief. The group was a blur of choreography and backup dancers, but the lights were on in the stadium, the players were stretching on the field, and Beyoncé & Co. seemed like a sideshow. They performed on a stage in the corner of an endzone (there were four stages, but only Kravitz sang on the stage in the center of the field -- why did he have the clout to get that?) and the sound mix was generally atrocious everywhere.

John was at least given some star treatment -- the players left the field, the lights were turned off, and his name and that of the Boston Pops (which backed him) were flashed on the perimeter LED screens. He opened with new song "Answer in the Sky," which the NFL will use for a promotion to help a community service campaign. It was a mucky ballad, however, with Bernie Taupin lyrics to the effect that "if your heart is empty and there's no hope in sight/ There's a chance you'll find an answer in the sky." It improved with the line "all life is precious," but the song paled next to the classic hit that Elton sang next, "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," which rocked the house.

A manic Kravitz then rushed his mini-set, which climaxed with recent hit "Where are We Runnin'?" as fireworks were set off above the silver obelisk (with a big football on top) that was his main stage prop. Blink twice and he was gone. But at least things finished on a high note as Blige took over to sing the National Anthem -- and she did a magnificent job.

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