Wireless has always felt like a bit of a pretend festival, with its city setting and lack of camping. In its new home at the Olympic Park, on asroturf by some empty buildings, that feeling was even stronger. All the same on a scorching Sunday, shirtless London flocked to show off its muscles and tattoos, finding some of music’s giants at the end of an epic trek from Stratford.
If I had known how far we were going to have to walk I would have canvassed for sponsorship. The rewards were great, however. At a weekender that has evolved into the best place to hear urban pop and hip hop, this year Wireless hit the motherlode.
It felt like all of the biggest names in hip hop, from Snoop Dogg to Nas, and pop, from Emeli Sande to will.i.am, were in attendance. The headliners couldn’t get any bigger.
Though it was cruel to announce Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z as individual Friday and Saturday headliners, sell tickets for a few weeks and then reveal a joint show on the Sunday, those who managed to catch the grand finale picked well. A two-and-a-half hour set from the star pairing became even more stellar when Rihanna joined them to sing Run This Town.
There was some imbalance in the size of these heavyweights. Timberlake was all smiles and seemed to be living out a dream to be sharing a stage with the biggest name in hip hop. He grew in confidence after a stunning Cry Me a River, however, crowing to the rapper, “Go ahead, I’ll pass them on to you,” as he strolled away from the overwhelmed crowd.
Jay-Z, whose latest album became his first UK number one yesterday, has already done the co-headline tour thing last year, with Kanye West on the extraordinary Watch the Throne tour. This Legends of the Summer jaunt with Timberlake, making its debut here, had a less striking stage set-up and not as much interaction between the duo.
They frequently left the stage to the other rather than add more to the songs. Timberlake didn’t dare attempt Alicia Keys’s part on Empire State of Mind, though he did tack his take on New York, New York to its opening.
But what this two-headed system offers most of all is hits, delivered fast and plentiful. If you didn’t care for some of Jay-Z’s harsher fusions of rap and rock guitar, Timberlake would return with some sprightly funk a few moments later. And now the rapper has found a live formula that suits him, it wouldn’t be surprising if a Jay-Z/Rihanna face-off became next summer’s blockbuster.