What is it, in the sky? Is it a bird? Is that a badger? No, it’s Brian May rising from the top of the stage built around the Victoria Memorial. He plays the solo on “We Will Rock You” accompanied by a legion of drummers from the Royal Guard, clapping their hands to the beat and making Freddie Mercury’s mustache drumsticks. As the ancient scripture says, when Brian May rises above Buckingham Palace, let the work begin.
In the afternoon, as Mightini throngs with the same people who will steal their wheeled bin next week, thousands of flag-waving crowds throng the mall for a live concert of music, dance, and incomprehensible oddities. This is all to celebrate 70 years of forced slavery to a woman at the head of a family accused of using our money to ransom herself from legal troubles. Hooray! Thank you mom! Partigate, what Partigate?
Since the show opens with a touching parody of the Queen drinking tea with Paddington Bear, you can expect the evening to be pretty safe, comfortable, ageless friendly – George Ezra, Elton, Rod, Diana Ross. Kunts are presumably locked in the tower for the duration. But what we and an increasingly bemused stand full of royalty are getting is one of the most bizarre and ruthless barrages of random entertainment ever staged.
For two and a half hours, numbers are born on three stages set in front of the palace gates, without a second pause. Each performer gives 130 percent and squeezes all of their most exciting performances into their precious few minutes on stage. Whoever programmed the score must have done it on powerful stimulants; it’s as if they’ve ripped the names off their cast list and thrown them into the schedule in a frenzy, intending to create a show that would resemble the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics playing at the same time.
The effect is like a ball twisting on the floor while being brutally beaten by a 70 year old culture at the same time. Blink during the Elbow anthem “One Day Like This”, and suddenly Diversity has been dancing throughout the history of British pop music since Abbey Road in Stormzy within four minutes. Unleash much-needed Nurofen during comedian Doc Brown’s rousing rap about British sports, and by the time you gobble it up, Andrea Bocelli is already performing “Nessun Dorma”.
It is difficult to choose the brightest cultural combination of the evening. Topping the list should be Mimi Webb’s ’80s pop ode to romantic arson, House on Fire, which makes way for an interview with Andrew Lloyd Webber. HamiltonLin-Manuel Miranda in song at the piano. And that’s just the start of a fast-paced showcase of five different musicals reminiscent of the Royal Variety on meth, bouncing between Circle of Life, The Phantom of the Opera, Henry VIII’s six crappy R&B wives and Jason Donovan battling Any Dream. Not surprisingly, the Queen herself turned down the concert; she probably saw the rehearsal from the window and realized that her blood pressure would not hold.
Things get a little less exciting when the larger groups are given a bit of space to launch, but even then they tend to turn into 10-minute mega-mixes of their most bombastic moments. Adam Lambert, dressed like a sultan in a tanning bed, gives Queen the TV talent show edge they never needed as “Don’t Stop Me Now” hurries into “We’re the Champions.” From the purple boudoir, producer Jax Jones runs a carnival of Latin pop, rap and R&B, introducing guests Stefflon Don, Mabel and John Newman as if they were giving a quick refresher course in pop TikTok. Duran Duran survived the funk-filled “Notorious” with Nile Rodgers and then staged a sci-fi catwalk for “Girls on Film” while the entire palace façade was transformed into a giant screen of treacherous acts in the colors of the flag.
The most successful acts require their sweet time. Take Alicia Keys singing passionate soul pop like “Girl on Fire” and “Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down” while standing behind her piano in a regal black cape, as if trying to jump over the line for the throne. Celeste sings “What a Wonderful World” like a storm in the sky, to the magnificent orchestral accompaniment of Hans Zimmer. (All the while, visual effects turn the palace into a computer garden as part of a moving environmental section featuring the Royal Ballet and Prince William’s speech.) Prince Charles, introduced by Stephen Fry, is more flattering than Lord Melchett, the most touching tribute to his mother’s night, only to discover that he’s warming up Seagal and Ella Air, who spray phallic love rockets across the palace’s façade and launch a giant Corgi drone into the night sky.
By the end, the bomb just starts bombing. Performance Sounds of musicThe song “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” featuring Micah Paris and Nicola Roberts gets painfully overblown, with headliner Diana Ross taking none of it. She sings along – badly but sweetly – on “Chain Reaction” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, talks about her own vocal track and yet charms us all just by being so happy to be here. A strange end to a dizzying event that perhaps unconsciously acts as an ultra-meta commentary on the madness of the monarchy itself. Because frankly, if aliens had landed during those two and a half hours of servile obedience and wild pop surrealism, they would have thought we were helpless.