The Rolling Stones are – as their own mythology has it – The World’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band.
Yet the past decade has seen a new generation snapping at their heels, while Keith Richards’ ongoing health issues with his hands has sparked fears from some quarters that the guitarist’s best days may sadly be behind him.
The band took the No Filter tour to London a few days ago, leaving thrilled audiences but split critics in their wake. Perhaps it was opening night blues, though; on the evidence of tonight’s wonderful, visceral, shit-kickin’ set The Rolling Stones may just remain the world’s most potent rock ‘n’ roll elixir.
Storming onstage with an unwieldy but inspired ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ it’s a reinvigorated set, a series of subtle shifts and changes helping the band to raise the temperature a little beyond this balmy early summer evening.
Rushing into ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ Mick Jagger is a preening mesh of limbs and lips, his body contorting in ways dancers half his age would struggle to aspire to. Charlie Watts, meanwhile, is a figure of unrushed cool on the drums, driving ‘It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll’ to its fiery conclusion.
In the run up to the show fans picked country-soaked ballad ‘Dead Flowers’ for the set list, and were rewarded with a warm, loose-limbed performance, a homage to the band’s endearing fascination with the tattered environs of Americana.
The opening chords of ‘Wild Horses’ have each side of the stadium on their feet, before Mick Jagger ushers supporting artist Florence Welch back out onstage. A codeine-soaked ballad to the lingering impact of love lost, her vocal – so calm, and affected – is the perfect tonic against Jagger’s blues driven husk.
It’s a real moment, with the pair’s chemistry – pursued by Jagger’s prowling eyes and snake-like hips – setting knees a-tremble across Newham.
Ronnie Wood supplies the Eastern-tinged guitar aspects for ‘Paint It Black’, while ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ is followed by Mick Jagger’s delirious introduction of the band.
Relishing every second, it’s a sign of the band’s enduring chemistry – they didn’t tour for the bulk of the 80s, remember – that they can still laugh like schoolboys onstage.
There’s an element of nostalgia, for sure, but it’s something the group play up to. Mick Jagger’s references to a London crowd – peppered with jokes about the Jubilee Line – are also marked by a swift blues cover, seemingly reminiscent of their days in the Ealing Club.
A lengthy, hellfire version of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ delights the crowd, before The Rolling Stones surge into their taut disco-era global hit ‘Miss You’. It’s a moment for long-time bass player Darryl Jones to occupy the stage; his solo is dexterous, technically perfect, and unbelievably funky. It’s little wonder Miles Davis sought him out while still a teenager.
‘Midnight Rambler’ finds Ronnie ‘n’ Keith on fine form, their distinctive guitar voices interlocking. Ronnie remains the more versatile, but Keith’s thumping rhythmic approach turns those lead lines into primitive hieroglyphs, the odd dose of feedback reminding us that the band can still push the needle into the red.
Closing with the almighty one-two of ‘Start Me Up’ and ‘Brown Sugar’, The Rolling Stones return with a lengthy, atmosphere trawl through ‘Gimme Shelter’. Jagger’s vocal feel vital, while Sasha Allen’s take on Merry Clayton’s iconic backing adds a surging gospel influence.
Ending with a thumping, exhausting ‘Satisfaction’ and some explosive pyrotechnics, it’s left for The Rolling Stones take clear the stage and take a bow, as committed to one another and the music as ever before.
Sure, complaints but could be made – no ‘Ruby Tuesday’, ‘The Last Time’, or ‘Bitch’, or ‘Angie’ - but simple distilling a 50 year catalogue into one set is a hopeless take. Simply put, The Rolling Stones and London are like whisky on the rocks; some things are meant to be together.
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Words: Robin Murray
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