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Superstars belt out favorites, or lip synch them

By GINA VIVINETTO, Times Pop Music Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2003

Super Bowl XXXVII's dynamic halftime show might have helped convert any fans not already caught up in the game's excitement Sunday night. But macho guys craving roughhouse rock were probably puzzled by the estrogen bent of the performance.

Country superstar Shania Twain kicked off the set with Man! I Feel Like A Woman! Decked out in a futuristic goth cape, Twain put The Matrix in dominatrix. The singer opted to lip synch the tune, a disappointment to fans more interested in Twain's talent than her sexy good looks.

Twain's backing band pranced around her -- a good thing, since the Canadian singer's smooth pop country sound often doesn't require much from that fiddle player. Twain ended her set by being raised above the crowd in a cherry-picker crane.

Thankfully, the fun California ska-pop act No Doubt -- the only Americans on the bill -- saved the day with an energetic romp through its hit Just A Girl. Lead singer Gwen Stefani began by doing a few push-ups, then jumped to her feet, flaunting her famously bare midriff.

Stefani chose to sing live, and did so robustly, dancing and gyrating all over the stage. The blond bombshell made it a point to morph that song's lyrics for the event; she belted out, "I'm just a girl at the Super Bowl!" to crowd cheers. A group of punky-looking cheerleaders resembling the creepy pep squad of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit video emerged and flailed wildly. (Bucs fans note: The band and the squad both wore red.)

Next came Sting, who brought a pinch of testosterone to the festivities. The British pop star, a noted New Ager who does yoga, dusted off Message In A Bottle, his old chestnut with his former band, the Police. Sting, too, sang live, and midway was joined by the irrepressible Stefani. (Perhaps Twain was stuck in that crane? Or had she not prerecorded the requisite vocals?)

Backed by the No Doubt fellas, who donned various "sporty" accoutrements such as the black stripes under drummer Adrian Young's eyes, Sting and Stefani harmonized deliciously. In an interesting twist, Sting hit the chorus's high notes while Stefani tested the lower registers of her range.

What was all this gender ambiguity? And, at the Super Bowl, for heaven's sake. Hey, once upon a time, the Bucs, too, weren't ever supposed to be there.

For the television broadcast pregame festivities, country superstars the Dixie Chicks performed a spine-tingling, three-part harmonized national anthem. (It's standard for performers in charge of handling The Star-Spangled Banner duties to prerecord the song.) This performance marked the trio's first public appearance since Emily Robison gave birth to baby Charles in November.

Before the Chicks, pop songbird Celine Dion sang God Bless America. Who would guess from Dion's trademark over-the-top gusto on the patriotic tune that like, Twain, she's Canadian?

-- To contact Gina Vivinetto, e-mail .

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