BRAD WHEELER

Bieber pants through his hits, Cummings croons (most of) O Canada at Grey Cup

TORONTO — The Globe and Mail

Justin Bieber performs during the half-time show at the 100th Grey Cup game played in Toronto on Nov. 25, 2012 between the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

The assembled musical talent for the 100th playing of the Grey Cup was an unusual match-up of artists, its generational spread as broad as Canada is wide. Some of it worked, some of it did not, and if someone knows the true lyrics to O Canada, they need to call Burton Cummings, maybe.

Mounties have rhythm

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The members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, while delivering the Grey Cup to the Rogers Centre field, marched crisply and perfectly to the beat of Johnny Reid’s heartland crowd-rouser Fire It Up. And in what can only be interpreted as a call for national unity and a response to Justin Trudeau’s recently resurfaced anti-Alberta remarks, a collaborative squad of pan-Canadian pom-pom girls danced and smiled deliriously to Let’s Have a Party, the non-partisan anthem from the tightly-coiffed Scottish-Canadian star Reid.

Uh-oh Canada

We knew Burton Cummings had his own way to rock, but now it is clear he has his own way with the Canadian national anthem as well. The Stand Tall singer delivered O Canada while seated at a Yamaha electric piano, with a drum machine adding to a lounge-crooner aura. The freewheeling Winnipegger sang breezily and bilingually – as if offering an official-language Christmas carol – but forgot the line “God keep our land, glorious and free.” For his ignoble lyrical flub, no twoonie in the tip jar for him.

Grand truncated railroad

The sea-to-sea train journey of the actual Grey Cup this year made it impossible for Gordon Lightfoot to play anything but Canadian Railroad Trilogy, which he did, but in a severely edited form as the halftime concert’s opening act. Dressed in a natty velvet blazer and picking at an acoustic 12-string guitar, the translucent-skinned troubadour sang about restless railroad men with minds that were “overflowing with the visions of their day.” His voice was high and nasal, with his former rich tone a thing of the past.

Not digging the Trench

After Lightfoot’s performance, a script-reading Brian Williams bizarrely suggested that the iconic singer-songwriter had paved the way for the Canadian artists sharing the halftime entertainment roster. It is possible that Lightfoot claims no responsibility for Marianas Trench, a “west coast band from British Columbia,” as introduced by Williams. The emotive rockers’ male singer, dedicated to eyeliner and with an apparent speech impediment, offered original lyrics on Stutter such as “One for the money, two for the show / Three to get ready, and four to go.” No doubt some of the more mature fans at Rogers Centre hoped for the Glee-ish band to arrive at four as quickly as possible.

Call her, and maybe get a recorded message

The telegenic pop tart Carly Rae Jepsen sang to track on her allotted two songs, This Kiss and, as expected, that ubiquitous earworm hit of hers. The girly B.C. singer was perhaps the strangest choice to entertain the pro-football demographic. Granted, Call Me Maybe is as catchy as conjunctivitis, but the smash tune has played itself out at this point. And, as CBC comedian Steve Patterson perceptively tweeted, “if he hasn’t called by now, you can eliminate ‘maybe.’ He’s not calling.”

Whole lot of panting going on

Host Brian Williams was daring in his introduction of the show’s finale-headliner, solemnly hyping that if Justin Bieber wasn’t the biggest musical act in the world, he was “certainly one of them.” Somebody should inform the young man that he is much less buff than he believes himself to be. He proudly tweets photos of his top-less self. He tells Macleans magazine of his stringent workout regime. He wears a muscle shirt for his Grey Cup appearance. And yet he is utterly boyish in physique, almost unusually so for an 18-year-old. Regardless, his heavily choreographed production of the songs Boyfriend and Beauty and a Beat was entertaining and energetic enough. The staging was sharp. Bieber’s voice was low in the mix; Auto-Tune was employed on the second of his two selections. His trousers had an inexplicably generous in-seam cut, which he flicked at on more than one occasion. By the end, he panted into his head-phone microphone, tuckered more by his dancing than any singing involved.

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