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Olympics: Concert ceremony closes London Games

Published August 12, 2012 11:05 pm

London's music, glee, irreverence make the event more of a party than a farewell.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

London • In the end, the British weren't going to settle for "Chariots of Fire" and their national anthem to be the songs that defined the 30th Summer Olympic Games.

They played "God Save the Queen" 29 times at these London Games as a record number of British athletes ascended to the tops of podiums to claim gold medals. The Games belonged to the United Kingdom, at least until London Mayor Boris Johnson handed the keys over to Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes. The Brits drove the car, so they got to pick the music.

And, boy, do they like to rock out with the windows down.

Sunday's Closing Ceremony was a surreal, sixth-gear, six-string sendoff to an Olympics that gave us Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah, Gabrielle Douglas, Missy Franklin and, for one last time, Michael Phelps.

Sixteen days earlier at the Opening Ceremony, Queen Elizabeth II jumped out of a helicopter (or so they had you believe), but she was not in Olympic Stadium on Sunday. Instead, there was just Queen (no definite article, no Freddie Mercury), The Who and the Pet Shop Boys. There were boy bands from the present (One Direction) and the past (Take That).

Faster, higher, stronger … Louder?

Throughout the night there were performances from members of The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Oasis and Genesis. DJ Fatboy Slim performed inside a giant octopus that was borne from a psychedelic bus, on top of which comedian Russell Brand had sung "I Am the Walrus."

Pause for bewilderment. Russell Brand but no Elton John?

"These were happy and glorious Games," International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said.

He must be a Spice Girls fan. There, in high heels, on top of bedazzled taxis, singing "Wannabe," were Ginger, Posh, Scary, Sporty and Baby, reunited.

And for every older fan who didn't understand the point of the Spice Girls, there was Eric Idle, from "Monty Python," performing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" after he failed to be shot from a cannon.

The ceremony began in a drab, newspaper-covered London (ahem, not that newspapers, cough, are drab), with scale models of city landmarks, such as Big Ben and the Tower Bridge. Winston Churchill burst from the peak of the clock tower, halting the screeching and screaming commotion. Naturally, a street party broke out. The '80s band Madness played its hit, "Our House," while trucks shed their newspaper coatings and suddenly were pink and yellow and orange and blue.

Gold, silver and bronze weren't the only colors of the Games.

And why wouldn't this peacock strut its stuff (even if the one in the United States, NBC, remains in the doghouse with viewers for tape delays)? While Great Britain finished fourth in the total medal count behind the United State, China and Russia, it was a stunning showing on home turf for "Team GB."

So, forgive them if Sunday felt more like their celebration party than a farewell to the world. The show was a star-a-minute, thrill-a-second, turn-your-head-or-miss-it, "Wait-was-that … ?" spectacle that on Monday will have feet tapping in cubicles from London to Liechtenstein to Logan.

But that's a good way to describe the Olympics, too. Over the course of two weeks, 303 events were contested by athletes from across the world. The Olympics don't happen in time with NBC's nightly highlights package. They are a dizzying affair, which in this instance stretched to every end of the island.

Sunday night, they were condensed into three hours of irreverence and nutty glee.

It was an all-time Grammys Dream Team — although, seriously, where was Elton John?

The Closing Ceremony, it should be noted, does in fact serve a purpose: The passing of the Games from one host city to the next. And, of course, true to the evening, Brazil — Rio de Janeiro hosts the 2016 Summer Games — gave its acceptance speech with music. Bold, Brazilian beats and rhythms suddenly were the flavor of the night, a gentle reminder how quickly these Olympics come and go.

Wasn't this stadium just filled with anticipation and people singing "na-na-na-na" while Paul McCartney played "Hey Jude" at the Opening Ceremony?

"We lit the flame and we lit up the world," London 2012 Chairman Sebastian Coe said. "For the third time in its history, London was granted the trust of the Olympic movement and once again we have shown ourselves worthy of that trust."

Then, the Olympic flame was slowly extinguished. It was the only time boos were heard all night. The caldron was formed of copper flower petals representing each nation, and they slowly descended back into individual flames.

But, as it was all night, the nation most prominently on display was Britain. As a sendoff, a very familiar guitar riff broke out. At the end of a rock concert jam-packed as could be imagined, remaining members of The Who, notably Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, broke out in their iconic "Baba O'Riley." It was the first of four songs to close the night.

Then, confetti rained and coated the ground like it was the Winter Olympics, and performers and athletes migrated toward the exits together. And so did the spectators.

The enduring image, however, may not have come at the end, but much earlier, somewhere between "West End Girls" and George Michael. There, John Lennon, who was slain in 1980, appeared on each of the big screens above the stadium. In a video remastered by Yoko Ono, Lennon sang "Imagine" as 101 pieces of broken sculpture were brought together in the center of the stadium to form his face.

"Imagine all the people," Lennon sang to a stadium of 80,000 people representing every country on Earth, "sharing all the world."

boram@sltrib.com

Twitter: @oramb —

By the numbers

303 events were contested in 16 days at the London Olympics.

The Closing Ceremony, titled "A Symphony of British Music," was a rock concert featuring The Who, Queen, George Michael and a video appearance by John Lennon.

The Olympic flame was extinguished and the Summer Games were officially handed off from London to Rio de Janeiro, which plays host in 2016.