Monday, August 13, 2012

Public Readings - The Who, Spice Girls not enough to save a Jessie J-Centric Closing Olympics Ceremony

Public Readings - The Who, Spice Girls not enough to save a Jessie J-Centric Closing Olympics Ceremony. The closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics paid powerful testimony to the most important British musician of all time… Jessie J.

Well, apparently that’s what the director, Stephen Daldry, believes, since he not only had the provincially popular songstress singing the Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancin’” but also reappearing at the big finale to belt out “We Will Rock You.” There is no cold shower quite like the one that occurs when the surprise lead singer for a climactic Queen reunion turns out to be Jessie J.

Daldry (whose most recent film was the dud Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) was probably never destined to win the kudos for his musical tastes that the opening ceremony’s director, Danny Boyle, did. But his presentation was still greeted with an unexpected degree of virulence in the Twitter-verse, as the artsier first half of the ceremony gave way to an apparently random assortment of once or currently popular British musicians.

By the time Annie Lennox entered the stadium on the mast of a full-sized, moving ship, it became apparent that this was less the art project that Boyle had given us two weeks ago than the Brit-pop equivalent of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The most eagerly anticipated part of the show, the Spice Girls’ reunion, seemed hurried and almost squeezed in. The five Girls arrived on stage in separate taxis, got off just long enough for an abridged photo-op version of “Wanna-Be,” then sat astride their cabs’ tops again to ride around the stadium again to the tune of “Spice Up Your Life.” There was no interaction to speak of, between the five. They agreed to reunite, but they apparently never agreed to perform together.

At least Roger Waters and David Gilmour were never seriously on the rumor list, so there was no great disappointment when Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” was strummed and sung by young British hotshot Ed Sheehan. The song did benefit from the presence of Nick Mason as drummer, and from a tightrope artist who recreated the cover handshake (and inflammation) from Wish You Were Here at the end.

It was not an altogether legends-free telecast. For rock fans, the show reached its real climax about a half-hour in when Ray Davies emerged to sing the loveliest ode London ever inspired, “Waterloo Sunset.” And he wasn’t even lip-synching. Hearing 80,000 people sing the recurring “Sha la la” made one of rock’s loneliest ballads a globally communal experience its writer could never have imagined as he sullenly looked out his window all those decades ago.

And after a tease when the Kaiser Chiefs did an admirable, yet disappointing Who-less rendition of “Pinball Wizard,” Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend did show up to rock some classics from The Who to close out the set. Even if it resembled their thrown-together Super Bowl best-of montage, it was a moment when actual British rock stars showed up to, well, rock.

The musical performances were essentially split into two halves—the first, and best, being a conceptual tribute to a day in the life of London. Madness performed “Our House,” and what was once a slightly ironic tribute to middle class life became, not unreasonably, a wholly celebrative sing-along and ode to universality.

After a brief bit of Blur, the Pet Shop Boys revived “West End Girls,” and the regional theme fit, even if the costuming didn’t. They and their dancers wore black or orange conical hats, suggesting nothing so much as the Great Pumpkin making his mark at a KKK rally.

One Direction were the odd men out in this opening portion, lip-synching “What Makes You Beautiful” for no apparent thematic reason other than to keep the younger set tuned in between the opening rounds of ’60s-’80s nostalgia-appeal rockers.

Kate Bush was another rumored veteran who proved a no-show, though a recorded version of “Running Up That Hill” proved a highlight, as dancers moved 303 white blocks (in honor of 303 Olympic events) up the stage inclines to finally form a pyramid, barely skirting a copyright infringement on Roger Waters’ Wall staging.

The second portion of the musical entertainment began with George Michael wailing his solipsistic ode to setting himself free from Wham!, “Freedom.” We’re in the 2010s now, and Michael’s greatest signature song and would-be anthem for an Olympic generation is still his kiss-off to Andrew Ridgeley. On a night of garish costumes, anyway, his huge silver skull belt buckle still stood out as a particularly curious fashion choice.

Speaking of fashion, a recorded David Bowie medley, played over a montage of his various guises over the years, led viewers to believe that an actual Bowie live appearance—a true rarity for the now-reclusive superstar—might be the surprise Daldry had to pull out of his hat. But no—it was just a lead-in to the playing of Bowie’s “Fashion,” which provided the soundtrack for a salute to British models, including Kate Moss and (on double duty) Victoria Beckham, who did the catwalk thing, to considerable puzzlement.

Nothing says “entertainment equivalent of great Olympian feats” like Kate Moss strutting. Unless it’s Fat Boy Slim doing a hand-synching routine, during which he pretended to twiddle some knobs for a couple of even more inexplicable minutes.

Neither of these was a low point, strangely enough. That would be Russell Brand covering the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus”… following a brief snippet of “Pure Imagination,” which would surely have Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory director Mel Stuart spinning in his grave, if he hadn’t just died two days ago and the funeral had already occurred. Brand seems to be at the nadir of his popularity in the States, but Daldry seemed to think there would be no one better to pay homage to John Lennon.

And then it was time for A Salute to Jessie J, who appeared in a semi-nude bodysuit, as a giant lighted octopus emerged from center stage—surely, given the English nature of the night, an homage to British author Ian Fleming’sOctopussy? As Taio Cruz joined her, barely bothering to lip-synch, for his signature “Dynamite,” it became altogether evident there would be no popular artist Daldry would deem unworthy of Olympic status… even if a lot of them had apparently turned him down.

Noel Gallagher was also not in the building as brother Liam sang “Wonderwall” under the band name of “Beady Eye”—a caption that probably made a few viewers think the Oasis classic was being performed by a sub-Kaiser Chiefs cover band.

Having Eric Idle sing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” from Life of Brian—complete with S-word!—probably seemed like a good idea at the time, even if the comedy wore off halfway through the extended version and we were left with a song about the inevitability of death as a probably unintentionally ironic Olympic theme.

Not so extended was Muse’s abridged version of the official Olympics rock song, “Survival,” the inevitable begrudging appearance of which was kind of like one of those American Idol coronation songs that everyone instantly hated but has to show up anyhow. Diving onto his knees like a true rock god as fireworks went off around him, singer Matt Bellamy did his best to pretend that he wasn’t already embarrassed by this song that he will never live down, or that his guitar histrionics didn’t seem shameful in comparison to the guy who’d be supplanting him in mere moments, Brian May.

May’s guitar solo briefly lent the proceedings a Live Aid-style moment of occasion. And then the surprise Queen singer was Jessie J… or “[expletive] Jessie J,” as she was coming to be known on Twitter, at least on this less favorable side of the pond.

Could there be any more indignities left in this salute to British rock? Yes! At ceremony’s end, the baton was officially handed to 2016 Olympics host Brazil, and, against all odds and common sensibility, Duran Duran did not come out and perform “Rio.” But at least the Brazilian troupe that did perform before The Who managed to bar Jessie J from taking the stage.