25 November 2012
Keith Richards has said that the beauty of rock n roll is that every night a different band might be the world's greatest. Well, last night at the O2 Arena, it was the turn of the Rolling stones themselves to lay claim to the title they invented. And they did it with some style and panache.
"Its been an amazing journey" Mick Jagger said of the Stones career. "Fifty years to get from Dartford to Greenwich". The joke being, of course, that this is but a 15 minute bus ride to the rest of us. But its fair to say the Stones have taken a bit of a roundabout route on their journey from raw blues obsessives to veteran superstars.
An expansive two and a half hour set opened with a trio of early Beat boom hits, featuring Mick in a trilby, mincing and posturing in almost pastiche style as he pleaded "Ah wanna be your luuuuuveah babee" over Richards' juicy resonant chords, Charlie Watts driving it simply and effectively with a bouncing beat. In this age of tribute bands, it was a bit like the Stones paying tribute to themselves.
But it darkened with a riffing Paint It Black and then started really storming with Gimme Shelter. Two backing vocalists added richness and R'n'B superstar Mary J Blige came on to layer gospelly flair over Jagger's still ripping, harsh yet sweet vocals. Behind Jagger's energetic, camp performance, Richards and Ronnie Wood look like a pair of cadaverous buzzards, perhaps waiting for their hyperactive frontman to keel over. Standing side by side, Richards kept peaking over to see what Wood was playing, those guitars weaving together in mesmerising fashion, Woods flashier and faster, Richards sensitive and deft, while Watts pounded out the groove.
It is at this intersection of showbiz flashiness and wild rock that The Stones enter a realm of their own. Sympathy For The Devil was phenomenal, Tumbling Dice a rip roaring treat, Jumping Jack Flash a rocking blast.
Alongside a flashy turn from Jeff Beck, there were guest appearances by two old Stones, bassist Bill Wyman welcomed with nostalgic warmth but guitarist Mick Taylor greeted like a returning God, albeit a rather rotund one.
There must be something about being in the Stones that keeps weight off. Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood remain whippet thin and surprisingly healthy while Wyman and Taylor look like they have spent their decades out of the band eating all the pies. But Taylor can still play like a silver streak and the time-shifting blues jam of Midnight Rambler was incredible to behold, with Jagger as harp blowing blues conductor and three guitars tripping in and out of each other's space to hypnotic effect.
When looking for the secret of the stones, it is perhaps that they actually listen to each other while they play, and almost lose themselves in it, while their brilliant frontman keeps it all together. Encores included a gospelly You Can't Always Get What You Want. Well, maybe sometimes, for the right ticket price, you actually can.