LOS ANGELES — I’m normally against concerts in arenas. Dating back to when I saw old Kanye at the United Center during the Glow in the Dark Tour in 2008. A concert is supposed to be an obnoxiously loud party where people drink, smoke, meditate, or whatever to become fully enveloped by the atmosphere and music take themselves to a place outside of their normal reality. As much as that artist formerly known as Kanye West commanded an entire stage that resembled the surface of the moon, that great show in the 22,000-seat United Center still does not top a Big K.R.I.T. and Freddie Gibbs concert I saw in a club less than a mile east a few years later.
Outside of Prince sending me into a trance at the Superdome in 2014 while playing “Purple Rain,” nothing has changed my mind that concerts are better in smaller venues. However, just like Prince closing out that Essence Fest show in 2014, the 10-15 minutes of the Dr. Dre led halftime show at Super Bowl LVI was a 10-15 injection of raw energy.
The set list of songs by Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar consisted of “The Next Episode,” “California Love,” “In Da Club,” “Alright,” “Family Affair,” “No More Drama” — Mary a halftime show is a party environment not a post-breakup playlist — “M.A.A.D. City,” “Alright,” “Forgot About Dre,” “Lose Yourself,” and “Still D.R.E.”
You may have heard each of these songs a minimum of 7 million times in your life, but that is what made this show so much fun.
There was only one real surprise during the show, 50 Cent reenacting his “In Da Club” video by hanging from the ceiling. Outside of that it was lowriders in the field, C-walkers, and Dre, Snoop Dogg and the whole lineup letting this crowd of 70,000 belt their hearts out to their favorite songs — that were primarily here to watch a football game.
Because the Super Bowl halftime show is actually a concert, the point is to engage the entire audience. The reason intimate club shows are fun is because they are attended by people who are passionate about the artist and those shows are usually cheap enough for any fan to afford. Stadium concerts are for mega stars. The people who go are those who can easily afford the tickets, those who have saved for months for the tickets — or willing to throw down a month’s rent and worry about the consequences later — and those who get tickets for free.
And it’s not the same audience cross-section as a 2,000-person club performance, where it’s like, “smoking indoors is illegal, but it is technically medicine so go for it.” At the Super Bowl, halftime shows are giant productions, but only so often are the artists able to excite the entire crowd. Huey Lewis and the News does it for a decently-sized swath of America, but certainly not for everyone.
Hip-hop, unlike rock and roll, is still a relatively new genre of music. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg are pioneers of the art form, but Snoop is 50 and Dre turns 57 later this week. The people who were still young when NWA and The Eastsidaz scared the hell out of middle-aged Americans. Those kids are the middle-aged Americans now, and maybe their children, nieces, and nephews are just old enough to remember Dre in his heyday, but even if they’re not, they at least know he’s friends with Kendrick Lamar.
It’s the reason why this show was so highly anticipated. It was truly targeted for the average American. That’s why the energy level in SoFi Stadium was in the red for most of the performance. Most of us know the words to “Next Episode,” “California Love,” “In Da Club,” and “Lose Yourself.” So even if your purpose of flying to LAX was to watch the Bengals, or fighting L.A. traffic on a Sunday afternoon to see the Rams, it was a show that could grab you by the chest and shake you into at least a head nod.
It goes to show that sometimes universal appeal comes in a different-looking package, and makes a crowd of 70,000 feel like a club of diehards, even if it’s only for a few minutes