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Live Review: Olympic Closing Ceremony Concert


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Although the world’s eyes were on the Olympic Stadium on Sunday 12th August, there was an equally exciting event happening in Hyde Park a few miles west. The Olympic Closing Ceremony Concert was subtitled ‘Best of British’, and looking at the line up, it’s difficult to argue with.

After securing a spot on the front row, I settled down in the blazing heat to watch the final rounds of the Olympics. I’m a sports cynic who had very little interest in the Games, but the atmosphere in Hyde Park was infectious, one of celebration and pride in what Great Britain had achieved in both hosting and competing in the games. But ultimately we were all there for the music, so first support act Bombay Bicycle Club were greeted with cheers when they took to the stage in the late afternoon sun. Their twinkly brand of guitar pop matched the weather perfectly, and it’s certainly rare to find indie music that makes you want to dance. I was particularly impressed by lead guitarist/singer Jack Steadman’s delicate and heartfelt vocals.

After Bombay Bicycle Club, Manchester music legends New Order were next to perform. Having been brought up listening to New Order songs, I was very excited to see them and I was not disappointed. The setlist was classic after classic, from the hypnotic Temptation to a pounding rendition of Blue Monday. Although I think the bass and synth-heavy set would be more suited to small indoor venues, it was more than enough to get a field of 60,000 people jumping. One of the more surreal moments of the day came when the band finished on Love Will Tear Us Apart, the mournful indie classic by Joy Division (the band which New Order was born out of). Hearing thousands of people singing the chorus whilst the sun burned down on the park was bizarre but enjoyable to be part of!

As the sun began to set, excitement began to build even more, and The Specials’ fantastic set only added to this. Their lively and energetic performance certainly rubbed off on the crowd, and soon we were all dancing along to their unique brand of two-tone ska music. I had so much fun chanting along to classics such as A Message To You Rudy and the legend Too Much Too Young. There was certainly a party atmosphere in the air that matched the occasion, with the band dedicating songs to the athletes of Team GB.

An hour later, the Closing Ceremony started, and we got to watch a few minutes of it. By the amounts of cheers already, you’d be forgiven for thinking we had all forgotten why we were there. But just moments later, a huge logo was beamed onto the screens: ‘BLUR’. The crowd erupted as we finally got what we’d all been waiting all day for, and the unmistakeable synths of Girls and Boys started up within seconds, as the audience took in the sight of a massive stage set resembling a motorway flyover streaked with neon lights.

The band delivered a perfect set, paced equally between short sharp rock songs and experimental ballads, fan favourites and classic hits. Lead singer Damon Albarn delivered a characteristically energetic performance, jumping around the stage like he was so excited to be there that he couldn’t stay still. His connection with the audience is something I’ve never seen before, and his speeches between songs about how the Olympics had been ‘a breath of fresh air’ for the country were met with eager agreement. Graham Coxon stole the show with his solos in Beetlebum and Country House, and rhythm section Alex James on bass and Dave Rowntree on drums seemed lost in the music and euphoria of playing to such a large crowd.

One of the funniest moments of the night had to be Phil Daniels joining the band on stage to sing his part in Parklife, along with the surprise appearance of Harry Enfield dressed up as a tea lady.

The sight of Albarn holding a Union Jack flag aloft above the endless crowd of 80,000 people was one I’ll never forget, but the show-stealing moment belonged to a moving rendition of Tender. The whole band seemed visibly overwhelmed as the line ‘Oh my baby, oh my baby, oh why, oh my’ came echoing back from the audience singing it in their thousands, and Albarn made the band stop playing so the refrain could be heard loud and clear, an unforgettable moment for all those caught up in it.

In the encore, Albarn explained that he wrote new song Under The Westway specifically for this concert, and his heartfelt dedication to the crowd was clearly very sincere, with no hint of unneccesary sentimentality. Before long it was time for final song The Universal, and never before has the line ‘it really really really could happen’ sounded so meaningful. At the end of the song, Albarn took a step back and looked over the audience, the bare emotion in the expression on his face one I’ll never forget.

Only the band will know if their waves as they walked off were truly ‘farewell’ or simply a ‘see you later’, but anyone who witnessed this performance will surely be hoping it was the latter.

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