There are only so many superlatives that you can pin on The Rolling Stones and their never-ending rock and roll circus. Having long coursed uncharted waters, at least for a rock band, the loss of drummer Charlie Watts last year at the age of 80 has only injected further urgency in the clamour to witness this most indefatigable of bands in the flesh before we lose them forever.
Touching down in Hyde Park for the second of two shows – which Mick Jagger later claims as their 203rd gig in London since they started plying their musical trade over sixty years ago – they cut a lean, mean musical outfit that somehow continues to raise two fingers to Father Time.
“We played with Charlie Watts for sixty years. We really miss him,” laments Jagger to a montage of images playing in memoriam to the late drummer behind him. “We dedicate this show to Charlie,” he adds, finger lifted to the air. From there, the barricades are not so much pushed as kicked down. The urgent strut of 1965 single and set opener Get Off of My Cloud is a blast. Sounding as urgent as ever, squint and you’d think Jagger was nearing thirty rather than eighty, his lithe frame somehow able to contort for almost the full two-hour-and-twenty-minute show. You’re left thinking that when he does eventually pass, his body should surely be left to medical science to understand quite how all this was possible. It’s mindboggling.
The likes of 19th Nervous Breakdown and Tumbling Dice continue tickle the sell-out Hyde Park crowd and ensure that the party atmosphere keeps on ‘rolling’. For the latter, Jagger slips out of his sequinned jacket and paces the stage like a man possessed. Out of Time, a Jagger/Richards composition that struck gold for the homely rasp of blue-eyed sixties soul singer Chris Farlowe, is dusted down, and offers a delicious reminder of the pedigree of this songwriting partnership: a timeless tune that should have been exhumed from the archives long ago, and you sense that the band feel this too.
Behind Jagger, the Stones’ engine room continue to make light work in keeping ‘the Greatest Rock and Roll Band’ on the tracks. Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood tirelessly ‘weave’ and trade guitar licks just as they’ve done since the mid-70s. Their unique chemistry showing no sign of rust, or the impression of a cortisol-frazzled entity on the verge of the knacker’s yard.
Richards remains a figure from another era, the roguish charm of a mystical gypsy clinging to him as he draws riffs and licks from his Telecaster. Ronnie Wood, his Peter Pan-esque, boyish foil, may do more of the heavy-lifting when it comes to axe work, but both complement one another, and you couldn’t shove anyone else alongside the other in the hope for anywhere near the same push-and-pull.
The delicate Angie has its tour debut, as does their swinging cover of Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. But it is the final third of the show that, the retired Brown Sugar aside, nestles alongside the tried-and-tested bevvy of bangers that have been etched on every set list for the last thirty years or more. And they hit just as hard. Paint It Black, Miss You, Start Me Up, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Sympathy for the Devil…there really is nothing you can say about these heavy-duty titans of popular song.
No other band is more seasoned when it comes to the art of putting on a stadium show or playing to a gigantic festival crowd. Inexplicably, the Stones have lost none of their ability to provide a brilliant spectacle. This writer last saw them in 2007, and there’s even an argument to be made that they are a tighter proposition now than they were then.
They round off with the iconic (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction to a bellowing crowd. Whether or not this could have been the last time, Jagger and Co could depart knowing that their 203rd London show rocked just as hard as their first. The Rolling Stones continue to defy time, logic, and expectations. Thank the powers that be that we still have them with us.
The Rolling Stones played:
(Charlie Watts Tribute)
Get Off of My Cloud
19th Nervous Breakdown
Out of Time
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Like a Rolling Stone
You Got Me Rocking
Honky Tonk Women
You Got the Silver
Paint It Black
Start Me Up
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Sympathy for the Devil
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction