It’s only rock’n’roll? Don’t you believe it.
Must-see gigs from America, Tremonti, Supersonic Blues Machine, Big Big Train and No Hot Ashes. Plus full gig listings – find out who’s playing where and when.
While it’s pretty preposterous to imagine that the Rolling Stones might actually be getting better as they march inexorably towards their 80s, on all available evidence presented here tonight it appears to be so, for this is a vintage show.
Ironically, loyal long-time fans are becoming increasingly nervous of purchasing tickets for gigs that could potentially leave a bitter aftertaste. It’s widely reasoned that we’re nearing a time when
The Greatest Rock ’N’ Roll Band In The World™ will simply cease to deliver to the standard expected of their rank; that fingers will seize up, synapses snap a little too slowly to keep perfect time and that all-important larynx at centre stage surrender to the inevitable ravages of time. And no one wants their final earful of the live Stones to be a disappointment, to echo in their memory as the night they should have stayed at home.
There were visible, if forgivable, hairline cracks on display at Hyde Park in 2013, for those sober enough to detect them, and that was five years ago. So where are we now? Are the Stones as eternal as the Mount Rushmore monument their stoic demeanour recalls?
The ease with which all concerned casually deliver relaxed and intuitive performances (in what can be one of the most soulless music venues on earth) would seem to suggest that there’s absolutely nothing lacking in today’s Stones. They retain their almost supernatural ability to tessellate like no other ensemble on earth in order to serve up a timeless, crowd-pleasing whole that still far exceeds the sum of its – or anybody else’s – parts.
Spooling back 42 years, when tickets for the Stones’ Knebworth show of 1976 went on sale, rumours were rife that it could be their last stand. New boy Ron Wood had barely settled in, but these people were in their thirties – how much longer could they possibly go on? How times have changed. Yet one thing remains constant: though the doubters may doubt, the Stones keep Rolling.
The 2018 Stones’ constituency is broader than one might imagine. Obviously there are more 50- and 60-somethings in attendance than you’d expect to find at the average rock show, but the Stones made a lot of new friends when they played their first Glastonbury in 2013, both in the field and, as it went out live, on the after-pub couch.
In the interim, Keith Richards’s role as the nation’s favourite incorrigible uncle has only expanded, thanks to the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise and his weekend let loose as BBC2’s late-night programmer. And Mick Jagger? The potency of his allure remains one of the wonders of nature. As he wiggles his hips suggestively, I’m surrounded by women in their mid-20s who are, quite literally, whooping. Mick Jagger is 74.
Prior to these wild scenes (that septuagenarian men should probably not pin too much wild hope on), we have a support slot from Liam Gallagher to contend with. Marmite turns probably don’t come much more broadly divisive. His swaggering arrogance-as-attitude, jutting chin, matchless wardrobe, short fuse, excellent hair and that voice are all present, but increasingly, you really have to wonder what it is he’s so angry about. Bullish aggression was always a major part of Oasis’s appeal, yet while it played well to a footie-weaned Britpop yobberati, today’s Liam has distilled it to a caricature of macho fury that both defines and handicaps his vocal performance. He’ll need to rein it in if he’s ever to reclaim his finest form, but for tonight, a short, sharp, Oasis-heavy set (with Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs guesting on Some Might Say and Cigarettes And Alcohol) is more than enough to please a tough crowd.
Tonight’s main attraction explode onto the stage with a forthright assault on Street Fighting Man that almost goes by unnoticed. The first minutes of any Stones show are all about the visuals. There’s an introduction, a riff, and as the Stones and supporting cast hove into view, it’s as if a charisma bomb has been detonated on stage. Time slips out of phase as necks crane, eyes squint, huge screens flicker into life and suddenly there they are. Largerthan-life dots on the horizon caper beneath 50-foot close-ups. Hyper-reality engages as Jagger pirouettes, preens, darts, bumps, grinds, flips, flops and flies. His energy’s exhausting, his voice utterly extraordinary. No one sings like Jagger. No one would dare.
Keith and Ronnie: corvine, lean as junkyard dogs, casual in their dual delivery of a shared magic; intertwining, improvising on iconic themes with an instinctive ingenuity all their own, they shrug from ‘what-the-fuck’ loose to tight as a drum in the time it takes Charlie Watts to deploy a Chicago shuffle.
And Charlie? Charlie’s everybody’s darling, sharp as a razor, reliable as taxes, and complementing his precisely creased blue shirt with scarlet socks.
By the time your brain’s finished processing the utterly bedazzling fabulousness peculiar to any in-the-flesh Stones encounter, the band have favoured our ears with It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll, Tumbling Dice and Paint It Black. It’s awe-inspiring stuff.
Jagger recalls playing the blues and seeing his first skinhead “near ’ere at Dalston Baths” as he introduces Blue & Lonesome’s Ride ’Em On
Down, before shining brightest on Black And Blue’s rarely aired Fool To Cry. As stratospheric falsettos punctuate a truly stunning vocal performance, you can finally forgive the song its schmaltz.
After Keith does his bit, it’s a set-piece-packed romp to the finish: Sympathy For The Devil, a magnificent Miss You to showcase bassist Darryl Jones, taut psychodrama Midnight Rambler, Start Me Up, Jumping Jack Flash, Brown Sugar. As glorious as it’s predictable, the Stones’ set-list is peerlessly strong, and as they encore with Gimme Shelter and an uproarious Satisfaction, it’s hard to see an end in sight for this most magnificent of all rock bands.
As they prepare to take their final bows, no one wants to say goodbye, least of all them.
Street fighting men: Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards. ‘It’s hard to see an end in sight for this most magnificent of all rock bands.’