By Randall Roberts
Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
12:30 PM PST, January 21, 2013
Amid the pomp of Monday’s inaugural ceremonies were a number of visual non-sequiturs, and most of them involved Jay-Z -- at least those not involving the sight of a former American Idol winner up there.
There he was, in the same frame as Sen. Al Franken, comedian and former Saturday Night Live writer. The rapper was shown filing out with wife Beyonce, who’d just nailed an assured performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner," while behind him former Republican vice presidential candidate and avowed AC/DC fan Sen. Paul Ryan tried to hide a star-struck grin.
For all the Jay-Z coverage, those tuning in late might have mistakenly believed there’d been some sort of Brooklyn coup, especially as the rapper signed autographs near the podium later. He should have grabbed the microphone for a quick 16-bar freestyle.
Better yet, there was a perfect spot during Kelly Clarkson’s rendition of “My Country Tis of Thee” for a Jay-Z cameo, but (perhaps wisely, given the security) he didn't step up.
Clarkson performed the song, written in 1831, with the United States Marine Band. They began it quietly, as a low-voiced seduction, as if she were in a candlelit room with America. It was a gutsy introduction, and she sustained this tone for the first few verses, only gradually lifting her voice. But, then, as is Clarkson’s wont, the slow-burn intro turned large as booming brass lifted her voice. The seduction climbed as the singer, whose own victory in the American Idol-style democracy earned her millions of votes and began her on this journey, hit a round of soulful, confident climaxes.
James Taylor took a more understated -- and pitchy -- approach, playing an acoustic guitar to offer “America the Beautiful.” The singer, best known for hits like “Fire & Rain” and “You’ve Got a Friend,” wore a layer of fleece between his overcoat and his shirt and tie; it looked as though he’d dug into his trunk for his camping jacket on the way to the event. (Formal black fleece might have been more appropriate.)
Beyonce closed the inauguration with "The Star-Spangled Banner," and did so with a grace that transcended the anthem’s rocky lyrical construction and curious phrasing. She floated through the song as the cameras panned the crowd -- Obama staring into the distance as if he were modeling for Mt. Rushmore, his wife Michelle breaking into a little smile as Beyonce effortlessly hit her notes. Behind her former President Bill Clinton watched attentively.
When the anthem concluded, Beyonce smiled to the masses, walked past Vice President Joe Biden, who seemed to want to shake her hand. She missed it, though, as she had her sights on the president. After greeting him, Beyonce returned to her position with Jay-Z. The rapper gave the R&B singer a big hug as they stood on the inaugural stage, officially stamped into the American history books.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit
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