The Rolling Stones are a force of nature. How else to explain a project that has survived what they have? Years lost to addiction, truculent rows, and the loss of close friends, their mutual history could sink lesser groups. But here, now, they represent what they’ve always represented – rock ‘n’ roll at its most potent, at its most illicit and intoxicating. Sure, it’s not perfect, but in terms of rowdy, rough-house outlaw music, few can come close.
Returning to Hyde Park, this is a show framed by loss and release. The band first played the Central London park back in 1968, a wake of sorts for the late Brian Jones. This time round, the set opens with a montage of dearly loved drummer Charlie Watts on the big screens, the genial drummer having passed away last summer. Mick Jagger introduces the set as a salute to his band mate, and then suddenly the mood switches again: ‘Street Fighting Man’ is electric, the frontman matched either side by a grinning, beaming Keith Richards and the ever-buoyant Ronnie Wood.
‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ dips into that glorious 60s run of smash hit singles, before a leering Mick surges into ‘Tumbling Dice’. A showcase of their inexhaustible catalogue, tonight’s performance isn’t just a parade of iconic Top 40 cuts – ‘Out Of Time’ is dug out for a swirling, enchanting performance, while ‘Sticky Fingers’ number ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ is given an elastic workout.
Indeed, the show represents a point of evolution in many ways. Stalwart bassist Darryl Jones shines on ‘Miss You’, the extended breakdown illustrating the potency that his skills can bring to the band. Drummer Steve Jordan certainly doesn’t have an easy job filling the space left by Charlie Watts, but his subtle, under-stated performance captures the easy-going swing of the late English percussionist.
With these musicians at their side, the Rolling Stones certainly don’t feel like a band trapped by the past. Switching up the set list, you’re treated to rock staples such as ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ but you’re also invited to soak up psychedelic-leaning tracks like ‘She’s A Rainbow’. The sharp interplay reaches its apogee on the near-10 minute version of ‘Midnight Rambler’, Keith Richard clawing at his guitar while Mick Jagger’s harmonica conjures shades of lucifer in the skies.
Closing with an epic ‘Gimme Shelter’ and a frantic ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’, there’s just about enough time for the assembled masses to grab their breath, before The Rolling Stones return for a quickfire encore. A helter-skelter ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ follows, before the band bid adieu with a rollicking, deeply raw take on ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’.
Departing, it’s impossible to sum up the sheer fortitude, the explosive energy that the Rolling Stones retain. Mick Jagger – who turns 78 shortly – never misses a beat, while Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood remain the perma-grinning rock icons of old. A band who reframed pop culture, the Rolling Stones defy the passing of the years to achieve a truly remarkable degree of permanency.
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Words: Robin Murray
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