Loud, sloppy, vibrant: after 50 years, Stones still giving satisfaction


It was when Mick Jagger sang about venting his “frustration” at the “demonstration” in You Can’t Always Get What You Want that the absurdity of the situation sank in. Frustration for Sir Mick nowadays is a rainy day in Mustique or reading about his “tiny todger” in Keith Richards’s memoir.

Genuine rock ’n’ roll rebellion and Sunday’s show at London’s O2, where the “cheap” seats started at £100 and VIP ticket-holders spent more than £1,000 to stand at the front, are separated by an immense divide. How do the Rolling Stones get away with it?

The answer lay on the stage, which was cleverly designed to resemble their logo of an open mouth with tongue lolling lasciviously outwards. Appetite explains the Stones’ endurance. No band has managed to incarnate desire and greed as seductively. The link between the sexual hysteria and violence of their early shows and Sunday night’s ruthlessly monetised spectacle boiled down to an insatiable aspect of human nature – our appetite for more.

This was a 50th anniversary show, the first of two gigs in London, with three more following in New York. It opened with a film showing celebrities gushing about the band, who proceeded to materialise from within the maw of the open-mouthed stage.

The first song was 1963’s Beatles-penned single I Wanna Be Your Man, which they launched straight into without a word of greeting, summoning the spirit of those long-ago days playing covers in dingy clubs. But the brash and thudding rendition conveyed a different impression – that of a semi-detached group of superstars who last played an arena show five years ago.

Even a band as fabled as the Stones need to be together to operate as a unit. The pleasure at this gig lay in watching Jagger, Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood and their regular touring partners gel together once again. Theirs was a watchful, exploratory performance, glancing at each other to check timings, re-acquainting themselves with their shared life as musicians.

Gimme Shelter, featuring a needless appearance by RB singer Mary J Blige, was one of the stumbles. Blige and Jagger bellowed the chorus at each other while the rest of the band lurched through the song. Richards gave a rascally grin, alone in his amusement at the shambles.

The music was loud, sloppy and vibrant. Meanwhile, Jagger was in astonishingly good voice, delivering Paint It Black with a theatrical quaver and capering around the looped thrust stage with a svelte grace that belied his 69 years. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012)