This past weekend was one of the warmest on record in London, and the hottest ticket in town was the Hard Rock Calling festival in Hyde Park. The three-day festival boasted headliners [artist id="1006"]Pearl Jam[/artist], [artist id="19226"]Stevie Wonder[/artist] and [artist id="12165"]Paul McCartney[/artist], with a mix of rock and pop acts rounding out the bill, including Ben Harper and Relentless7, the Gaslight Anthem, Jamiroquai, Corinne Bailey Rae and Elvis Costello.
It was the headliners who stole the show each night, and on Friday Pearl Jam had the honor of closing out the first night’s festivities. Eddie Vedder hit the stage prior to PJ’s set, joining Harper and his band for a rousing rendition of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.”
By 8 p.m. the estimated 55,000 in attendance packed the grounds when Pearl Jam kicked off their two-hour set with “Given to Fly.” The energy was massive from the get-go, with fists pumping and women sitting atop shoulders throughout the crowd (a few hedonistic ones popped their tops off for the JumboTron). After tearing through the first few songs, Vedder addressed his audience, which stretched all the way back to the entrance. Swigging from a bottle of wine, he said, “It feels incredibly good to be here. Somehow over the years we’ve been given the license to make as much f—in’ noise as possible.” But concerned for the crushing crowd, he asked all 55,000 to take three steps backwards.
The energy continued with “Once” and “World Wide Suicide” until Pearl Jam slowed things down with a crowd sing-along, “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.” But they picked up the pace just a few songs later with “Even Flow” as fans sang the chorus even louder than the stage’s massive speakers. Guitarist Mike McCready wowed fans by playing his guitar solo behind his head.
PJ then upped the ante, treating fans to a new song called “Of the Earth.” Vedder noted that it had never been recorded and that if things went well it would end up on the next album. He then joked that it was like auditioning for “American Idol.” Judging by the crowd’s approval, the upbeat song was a success.
The band capped off the night with “Better Man,” an emotional rendition of “Just Breathe” and an encore of “Go” and “Alive,” the last of which was the loudest sing-along of the night.
Saturday, though just as crowded as Friday, was a much mellower day, with Corinne Bailey Rae’s sultry sounds and Jamiroquai’s funky tunes leading into Stevie Wonder’s headlining set. Jam’s frontman Jay Kay (wearing what could be described as an offensive Native American headdress) called Stevie “the Master.” He urged fans to give Wonder a proper English welcome, and they did when the legend finally hit the stage.
Not known for being punctual, Wonder kept fans waiting only 15 minutes for his scheduled set. Hyde Park enforces a 10:15 p.m. curfew, so Stevie was just barely able to squeeze in his two-hour set. But he squeezed in a lot, playing songs that spanned his massive 50-year catalog.
Wonder hit the stage with a gleaming white keytar and got the crowd involved instantly with the first of many call and responses. The enthusiasm was mutual, as Stevie got down on the ground and jammed on his keytar while he was on his back. By the second song, “Master Blaster,” he had the crowd dancing.
Amy Winehouse was spotted on the side of the stage during Wonder’s set, sparking rumors that she would join him onstage. That never happened, but his two hours, a mix of comedic and poignant moments, were full enough without any guest appearances. At one point Stevie freestyled, “We love you, Michael Jackson. We’ll see you when you get to heaven,” and later he covered MJ’s “Human Nature,” a touching moment one year after the King of Pop’s death.
The set closed out with rousing renditions of “Sir Duke,” a Temptations cover of “My Girl” that lead right into “Isn’t She Lovely,” “My Cherie Amour” and “Superstition.”
From one legend to the next, Sunday saw the headlining set of Sir Paul McCartney. Backstage was abuzz in celebrity activity, as the Jonas Brothers, Kings of Leon, Kate Beckinsale and Gwyneth Paltrow were all on hand for Macca’s set.
Sir Paul hit the stage promptly at 7:30 p.m., dressed in black from head to toe. It was a brave wardrobe choice as temperatures hit 90 degrees that day. After the first couple of tunes, McCartney addressed the crowd. He declared, “Good evening, Hyde Park. Gotta feelin’ we’re gonna have a rockin’ good time tonight!” Then he took a moment to soak it all in before launching into the Beatles classic “All My Loving,” an instant sing-along.
McCartney was a delight, sharing jovial banter with the crowd between songs. For most of the tunes, which, you guessed it, spanned his entire catalogue, Paul took time to explain their origins. It was almost like an episode of VH1 “Storytellers” and felt like an intimate club show, despite the 50,000 in attendance.
McCartney recalled seeing Jimi Hendrix cover “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” just days after its release. He discussed songs he’d written for his late wife, Linda, and fellow Beatle John Lennon. After every song, he gave a heartfelt “Thank you” and a bow, as if each was his last.
Of all those songs, it’s hard to single out moments, but highlights came toward the end of the set with a slew of classics: “Let It Be,” “Live and Let Die” (with a huge fireworks display) and “Hey Jude,” delivered with boisterous “na na na nas” from the crowd.
McCartney returned with two encores that pushed the show well into three amazing hours, far exceeding the 10:15 curfew (but that’s something you can get away with when you’ve been knighted). Songs included “Get Back,” “Helter Skelter” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” capping off a great weekend of headlining performances as well as the end of Sir Paul’s worldwide tour.
Moments after McCartney exited the stage, an ecstatic Joe and Nick Jonas shared their highlights of the show. Nick told MTV News, “My favorite song? Obviously ‘Hey Jude’ comes first always.” The brothers agreed that “Blackbird” was a second favorite, and Nick admitted to recording it on his phone. Joe added, ” ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’ is pretty incredible.”