There’s a somewhat inevitable air of anticlimax lingering about the final Friday of the itself inexplicably odd British Summer Time shindig, which was this summer somewhat hopelessly staged in London’s Hyde Park. The inaugural event in a way fits in succinctly with the brain-numbingly perennial blandness of Zone 1, with headliners for the homogeneously progenitor-friendly ‘festival’ of sorts including geriatric types the Rolling Stones, Lionel Richie, and various other old crocks the like of which time really ought to have forgotten long ago. Lest we ourselves forget, it was only last year that ‘The Boss’ hobbled over his allotted stage time, provoking reputedly vociferous uproar from the proprietors of the surrounding penthouses, and it’s for this that the Royal Park relinquished both Hyde Park Calling and this weekend’s Yahoo! Wireless – both of which relocated to what so disappointingly appears to be the only tangible legacy of London 2012 in the now paradoxically AstroTurfed Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
And so with all those 24-Carat kinds of contemporary pinup (Frank Ocean) and precocious-cum-impudent superstar (Kendrick Lamar) all flexing their figurative sinew somewhere somewhat more prestigious elsewhere, and the senescent Jon Bon Jovi et al. instead headed westwards toward the elaborate frills of Belgravia, it wouldn’t be too far wide of the mark to contend that Hyde Park has wound up with something of an inequitable deal this year. And with not only his great big red piano but so too this evening’s intended headliner – Sir Elton of John – so notably absent, the afternoon gets off to a decidedly flaccid start.
Tickets were, admittedly, then rendered freebies in the wake of the revelation that John had contracted appendicitis and could no longer comply with any already scheduled touring arrangements but in all honesty, you’d likely have to healthily remunerate many of today’s attendees were you wanting to indulge in mass Schadenfreude and cruelly compel them to relive the experience ever again. For with Hyde Park defaced by ineffably grotesque, pseudo-Mediterranean fasciae made to make the place out to be a little more accommodating than the oppressively commercialised perdition it really is, the whole cheapskate’s paradise has been hideously branded beyond all recognition. It’s another instance of industrialisation – replete with fake plastic trees – further disfeaturing nature, with the high street rather literally uprooted and relocated to one of the capital’s few truly revitalising sanctums of expansive verdancy.
Incomprehensibly, a Brazilian carnival flares up in a far corner and yet not only does it feel a wilful exertion of wholly artificial ‘British eccentricity’, but it’s met with an ultimate disinterest with barely a glassy eye lifted from ferociously savaged Pizza Express box, nor brutally overpriced beer trough. And lamentably for somebody of his enduring eminence, the arrival of domestic pub rocker Elvis Costello is met with equivalent ambivalence. You’d empathise with his plight too, were he and The Imposters not only too happy to return the call and apathetically phone in the likes of She and an unnecessarily honky-tonk rework of Pump It Up so oxymoronically void of all form of audible phwoar that it lacks all the prerequisite oomph to carry across such a vast expanse.
Trussed up in a sequinned pink trilby, he doesn’t exactly look the part, either: his teeth blackening, hair thinning and songs now seemingly rotting away into utter insignificance, it’s a thorough grounding Costello gets this afternoon. For if this is “rock’n’roll like it used to be in Pimlico back in ’52” then I’m nothing less than thrilled at feeling decidedly youthful amid a throng that recedes from the front as has Elvis’ hairline from his withered features. Indeed it’s frequently been remarked upon how often the lyrics to Oliver’s Army are mistaken for “all of the zombies” and only they are “here to stay” today, with even Costello himself resembling an old codger scarcely capable of recalling the haggard songs of his own collection. When he naturally contrives to cover Nick Lowe’s (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding, it sounds more decrepit than even he.
Thus sucked dry of all vigour, quite what Lowe himself – who opened proceedings to nigh on absolutely nobody a little earlier on in the afternoon – must’ve thought to it I flinch from even the mere thought thereof, and indeed there’s a little more vim to (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes. “Oh I used to be disgusted/ And now I try to be amused” he apprises in a snivelling croak, although he ultimately bemuses with greatest frequency and even this crowning moment – a remark needless to say tempered with relative moderation – veers off into atrocious travesty once he’s managed to somehow interpolate Purple Rain in the most ungainly manner imaginable. At the exact second he starts to caterwaul its enervating coda, all feels irredeemably lost and you’re left yearning for the implausible return of his deceased namesake.
It is, to all intents and purposes, perhaps the most vanilla live experience I’ve had the displeasure of yielding myself to in quite some while and indeed heatwave notwithstanding, the entire event is a squib of a thing damp enough to have you longing for the meteorological cruelties of Greenwich Mean Time to come back with increased verve. Britain, please reassure me our summers get better than this…