Has London ever had a more dystopian venue than the Olympic Park? Compared to Wireless’s old home of Hyde Park this partially astroturfed gravel car park, exposed to an unforgiving sun, is like Coachella designed by an angry JG Ballard. Still, a formidable three-day lineup drawn from urban music‘s top table is worth risking heatstroke for. Having headlined a night each, Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake close the weekend together under the typically self-effacing name of Legends of the Summer.
Jay-Z’s presence is felt before he steps on stage. His shows have helped to professionalise live hip-hop after years of cruddy sound, intrusive hypemen and constant interruptions. Backed by a full band, Nas – in the late-afternoon slot – rips through 50 minutes of hard-nosed New York hip-hop with pugnacious urgency that makes A Tribe Called Quest’s traditional MC/DJ setup seem archaic, albeit fun. Legends of the Summer is on another plain entirely. Dressed in fire-engine red and arrayed across two levels, a vast and gifted band helps urban music’s two most enduringly dominant male stars steam through almost 40 hits in two and a half hours. When Jay-Z boasts, during a particularly dizzying sequence, “We got a million of these,” it feels like only a mild exaggeration.
Any show this long risks sagging in the middle, and the breakneck momentum ebbs when Jay-Z leaves Timberlake to dwell on his more long-winded new material. But otherwise the energy and showmanship is staggering. They deftly pass the baton back and forth and even merge songs: a hybrid of two Neptunes productions, Rock Your Body and I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me), illustrates how much their parallel careers have overlapped. Together, their joint charisma could power a starship. During Jay-Z’s songs, Timberlake is a tireless, versatile sideman, playing keyboards and singing hooks. On 99 Problems he not only plays guitar, inserting the riff from Walk This Way, but raps the role of a racist cop. The two men’s warm grins and conspiratorial glances reveal their genuine rapport and mutual delight in this alliance.
The faultless final stretch includes Run This Town, with surprise guest Rihanna, and a fierce techno-funk Sexy Back. But the crowning moment comes when Timberlake bookends a euphoric Empire State of Mind with verses from Sinatra’s New York, New York, because the spiritual precedent for this show isn’t Jay-Z’s previous collaborations, most recently with Kanye West, but the supremely confident showbiz chemistry of the Rat Pack at its height. Long may their imperial bromance continue.
- Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake Debut “Holy Grail” in England (hollywoodrama.wordpress.com)
- Justin Timberlake & Jay-Z At Wireless Festival: A Legendary ‘Holy Grail’ Unity (contactmusic.com)
- Jay-Z’s New Album Rev’s up Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake Concert Ticket Sales (prweb.com)
- Double Stabbing During Jay-Z & Justin Timberlake’s Wireless Festival Set, One Man In Critical Condition (contactmusic.com)
- Justin Timberlake, Wireless Festival London, review (telegraph.co.uk)
- Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake and Rihanna bring Wireless to a storming close (metro.co.uk)
- Wireless Festival, Olympic Park – music review (standard.co.uk)
- Rihanna joins Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake at Wireless (contactmusic.com)
- Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z kick off ‘Legends of the Summer’ tour (newsday.com)