That’s a Wrap

08.12.12

Olympics Closing Ceremonies: London Rocks Out

The Spice Girls, Annie Lennox, and more British icons turned out to bid farewell to the Olympics as thousands of athletes cheered. Tom Sykes reviews the best and worst. Plus, photos.

Prince Harry represented his vacationing grandma in London tonight, presiding over a spectacular Olympics closing ceremony featuring Russell Brand performing “I Am the Walrus,” the Spice Girls getting what they really, really want atop London taxis, and, apparently, Monty Python’s Eric Idle fired across the stadium from a giant canon.

The five Spice Girls, including Victoria Beckham, were driven into the stadium shortly before 11 p.m. London time to perform a short medley of their classic hits to a packed crowd of 80,000 onlookers, which included thousands of athletes who competed in the Games.

No one was expecting a virtuoso performance, which was lucky, and the event surged forward on the party spirit of those in the Olympic stadium.

Eric Idle represented British comedy when he performed “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Life of Brian after a body double was fired across the stage. And yes, he sang that line: “Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it…”

But while the opening ceremony, masterminded by filmmaker Danny Boyle, dropped jaws around the world with its baffling, brilliant, and frankly bonkers portrayal of modern Britain, Sunday night’s event was a more conventional rendering of the green and pleasant land: George Michael, Madness, John Lennon and Jessie J.

The wrap-up was masterminded by Kim Gavin, the man who produces live concerts for the pop group Take That. And while it was an undeniably accessible show, it was bound to suffer from the comparison to the vaulting ambition of the opening ceremony.

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Madness performs their 1982 hit single, "Our House."

The first hour and a half of the three-hour show was hampered by a lack of bona fide legends. Unfortunately for Gavin, one of the most widely reported items, that Kate Bush would be performing a new version of “Running Up That Hill,” came not to pass, while an alleged new remastering of video of John Lennon performing “Imagine” plucked at the heartstrings but was far from groundbreaking. Similarly, a taped “performance” of David Bowie’s “Fashion” featuring British supermodels Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss felt empty and a bit pointless without the presence of the Dame himself. Liam Gallagher performing the Oasis classic “Wonderwall” on his own without brother Noel, could have, in other circumstances, been nothing short of a tragic synonym for the decline of Britain’s Olympic spirit.

By contrast, when live acts were sourced, the energy changed completely. Madness and Annie Lennox were good, even if we had seen them at the Jubilee concert just six weeks ago. The Pet Shop Boys and George Michael sung their socks off. The Kaiser Chiefs performed one of the classic anthems from The Who’s Quadrophenia, riding pillion on Vespas, and Ed Sheeran shone performing a gorgeous version of “Wish You Were Here” with Nick Mason of Pink Floyd. Ray Davis of the Kinks arrived on stage in another London taxi and performed a staggering version of his masterpiece “Waterloo Sunset,” his cosmic vision of London as a young lover’s “paradise” never seeming so appropriate—and given wonderful resonance by his crackling, aging voice.

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Russell Brand enters Willy Wonka's world of pure imagination.

For the finale, Brian May was joined on stage by Jessie J. for an astoundingly energetic performance of "We Will Rock You" followed, somewhat bathetically, by the national anthem of Greece, which is always played at Olympics closing ceremonies in honor of that nation's founding role in both the modern and ancient Olympics.

The stagecraft was fabulous—the events took place on a stage constructed above a 130-meter-wide Union Jack artwork on the floor by Damien Hirst which went by the name "Beautiful Union Jack Celebratory Patriotic Olympic Explosion in an Electric Storm Painting."  It's one of the largest reproductions of a Hirst work ever produced.

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The Spice Girls kicked off their long-awaited reunion with a performance of "Wannabe."

At 11:30 p.m., the Olympic baton was handed to Brazil, the next host nation for the summer Games (Russia will host the winter events in 2014). The Brazilian delegation then gave the London crowd a glimpse of what to expect in 2016, with carnival outfits, samba dancers, and bossa nova booming out through the night sky.

British athlete Seb Coe, his voice cracking with emotion, said in his closing speech in the final minutes before the flame was extinguished that London had proved itself "worthy" of the trust placed in it. There were huge cheers when he thanked the army, "those who stood guard to keep us safe," and for the "tens of thousands of volunteers who gave their time, their boundless enthusiasm and their good will, and have the right to say tonight, 'I made London 2012.'"

He finished by saying, "When our time came, Britain, we did it right."

At 11:48, Jaques Rogge, chairman of the IOC, declared the games closed. The London flame was gently extinguished over the next 12 minutes, sung out by British popsters Take That. Gary Barlow, the lead singer, had been in doubt for tonight's show after his infant child died this week, but gave a powerful performance of "Rule the World," after which British ballerina Darcey Bussell descended from the heavens.

After the flame was extinguished, the final performance of the night fell to British rockers The Who.

Put it this way: the closing ceremony was fun, but Mr. Bean, the queen, and Danny Boyle have nothing to worry about.