This was a home-coming gig for a band who first became known for their residencies at the Crawdaddy Club, at the Station Hotel in Richmond, just down the road. Over forty years later the band are playing the second London date of their ‘A Bigger Bang’ tour which looks set to become the most financially rewarding tour in history.
And it’s no surprise seeing as I spent over £70 for a ticket way out in the nose-bleed seats of this rugby stadium. The high ticket prices were the main reason why I initially chose to pass on the Stones this time around. But with Keith Richards deciding to fall from a tree, reality kicked in and I realised that I was lucky to still be on the planet while this band is still in a fit shape to tour. So after an inebriated Sunday lunch, my friends and I decided to get tickets for the greatest rock and roll show on earth.
The opening act were the Charlatans. Unfortunately they were playing to an empty stadium. As a band who are close to my heart, I felt sorry for them but the problem was that there were seats on the pitch. This meant that people had a reserved spot which they could access at anytime, so there was no need to be waiting for the Stones when they could be drinking at the bar or buying rolling stones merchandise. Thus, the Charlatans played to an almost empty stadium. They delivered a greatest-hits set which, to be fair, sounded terrible from where I was sitting, this was perhaps down to the good old Stones trick of making the opening act sound like rubbish by not mixing their sound properly. This is the third time that I’ve seen the Stones and the third time that the opening slot has sounded poor. Their opening set finished with a rollocking ‘Sproston Green’, as always, and they left to polite applause from the crowd. And so started a short wait for the greatest, and oldest, rock and roll act on the planet.
Any initial worries I had about the price of the tickets was almost irrelevant by the time the house lights were dimmed and the graphics on the monstrously large screen at the centre of the stage started. With the cheers echoing around the stadium and increasing in volume, tingles started to run down my spine as I absorbed the start of a monumental concert. When the ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ guitar riff rang out of the speakers I knew that the £70 was money well spent.
Indeed, the songs came trough thick and thin, like some kind of live best-of. Only ‘She’s So Cold’ and ‘Live with Me’ were mini-rarities, while the new material, although strong (especially a raucous ‘Rough Justice’) has yet to gain that status. Every other song was a classic hit.
The first half of the concert ended with a magnificent ‘Tumbling Dice’, Jagger’s vocals showing no sign of the laryngitis that had lead to the band cancelling a few Spanish shows the week before. Then came Keith’s two-song ‘solo’ set. Once again we got ‘Slipping Away’ and ‘Before they make me Run’. It was a chance to see the legend on stage once again and I felt all warm inside. Keef really does make the Stones, so much so that it would be inconceivable for the band to tour without him. Just don’t let the daft bugger climb any trees.
‘Miss You’ started and then the stage ‘moved’ to the ‘B’ area in the middle of the crowd. The effect was slightly different to previous tours, instead of the band members moving out to the middle, the band continued to play as the stage itself moved to the middle of the crowd. This at least had the effect of exciting the individuals who could afford to buy pitch tickets. It was the only time where there seemed to be any real reaction from this crowd. It is fair to say that without a general admission policy and standing, stadium gigs have far less atmosphere.
‘Honky Tonk Women’ was another crowd favourite, as the stage moved back to the main area. Then came the greatest moment of the show. ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ started and was absolutely amazing. The band were on fire, the crowd were involved (even shouting “woo! woo!” before they were supposed to) and it was an amazing performance of an amazing song. Mick Jagger’s vocals were on top form throughout the song. Ronnie Wood was also on fine form tonight. Now sober, his guitar playing was better than ever and a reminder of why he was chosen to join the band in the first place. Meanwhile, Charlie was at the back looking pensive as he played the drums with style and a nonchalant panache. Along with ‘Gimmie Shelter’ (which we didn’t get tonight), ‘Sympathy’ is their masterpiece, a song that is timeless in its brilliance.
Once over, Keith returned to the limelight, marching to the centre of the stage and starting the riff to ‘Paint it Black’, before ‘Brown Sugar’ completed the trio of excellently performed songs. No one could have been disappointed at the energy on display, the passion, nor indeed the musical craftsmanship. They truly are the world’s greatest rock and roll band.
And if there were still any doubters in the crowd, they returned to play ‘Staisfaction’ as an encore. One of the greatest pop-rock songs ever, it capped off a beautiful night of rock and roll. With such performances, is it any wonder that they can get away with these outrageous prices for their tickets? There is not a single stadium act in the world that comes close to the performance witnessed tonight (and that includes U2, REM and Coldplay. And don’t even think of mentioning Robbie Williams). They are more than a rock and roll band, they are a phenomena who are stronger and better now than when I first saw them in 1999. Like vintage wine, they seem to be improving as the years go by. Let us hope that they come back to the UK relatively soon before age and stupidity (yes, that’s you Keith) gets the better of them.
Jumping Jack Flash
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll
She’s So Cold
Let’s Spend The Night Together
Live With Me
Rain Fall Down
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Slipping Away (Keith)
Before They Make Me Run (Keith)
Miss You (to B-stage)
Start Me Up
Honky Tonk Women (to main stage)
Sympathy For The Devil
Paint It Black