Olympic Opening Ceremony Celebration Concert – Review

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Hyde Park, London
3 out of 5

There are tens of thousands of cheerful people in Hyde Park but it's not entirely clear why. While the closing ceremony line-up of Blur, New Order and the Specials has a coherent vision, following a thread of left-of-centre British pop, this one seems to have been assembled by somebody who has no knowledge of pop music beyond what he has gleaned from a tattered fragment of an old V festival flyer, but senses deep in his bones that it is a business best left to white men.

It's not easy to construct a populist bill of four bands representing each country in the United Kingdom but this one underwhelms before a note has been played.

The crowd is so full of Olympic bonhomie (also booze) that the first hour of the opening ceremony, screened during a hiatus in the bill, elicits far bigger cheers than any of the bands.

The smart booking would have been Wenlock and Mandeville dancing to Chariots of Fire. It would have been smarter, at any rate, than Paolo Nutini, who starts briskly by performing perky pop reggae beneath a giant digitised Scottish flag, but proceeds to play an awful lot of midtempo blue-eyed soul, during which he pulls a pained grimace which denotes either intense soulfulness or significant gastric discomfort.

He addresses the crowd rarely, and when he does it's to announce that some new material is coming up, which proves about as welcome as a bomb threat.

Duran Duran, on the other hand, are nothing if not generous with the hits. Some might have chosen alternative ambassadors for English pop tonight but the likes of Notorious, Wild Boys and Save a Prayer come thick and fast, and it's hardly their fault if a vigorously orchestrated singalong to The Reflex is upstaged by the Red Arrows trailing streams of red, white and blue smoke in the opposite direction.

Simon Le Bon, wearing a jacket that looks to have been fashioned from the hide of an anglophile zebra, has a sense of occasion, gushing tirelessly about the Olympics at every opportunity.

"May we have a peaceful Games," he says, a little ominously, before a stirring Ordinary World. What does he know that we don't?

Then comes the hour-long break in which the screens flanking the stage broadcast what's going on in Stratford. It's rather unfair to the Stereophonics, or indeed any band, to have them come on directly after everybody has witnessed the ceremony's absurdly thrilling, decade-spanning medley of British pop classics.

For the audience, it's a bit like an old episode of Bullseye where Jim Bowen shows the losers what they could have won. For the band, it must be dispiriting to see so many people streaming away in order to continue watching telly elsewhere on site. A bit more charm would help.

The Stereophonics' visuals may put Nutini's Scottish flag in the shade but frontman Kelly Jones is equally taciturn between songs, plugging away professionally when he needs to be doing some Le Bon-style pandering.

Hence what would be, on a night where the biggest spectacular in London's history wasn't taking place on the other side of town, a decent Stereophonics gig proves murderously anticlimactic, although they've got enough festival experience to get the crowd back on side by the time they end with Handbags and Gladrags and Dakota.

Snow Patrol fare much better, partly because of frontman Gary Lightbody's easy rapport with the crowd and partly because they specialise in the kind of billowing, bittersweet anthems that might soundtrack closing-night montages of athletes weeping in their moments of triumph or defeat – one of them's even called Run.

Towards the end of their set, there's an incident of marvellous synchronicity. Just as they're about to play Chasing Cars, the big screens show Team GB entering the stadium and, for the duration of the song, Hyde Park and the Olympic Stadium feel genuinely connected for the first time. This may be a fundamentally misconceived and unnecessary event but it ends on an unexpected high.

Courtesy of The Guardian