The Rolling Stones, 02 Arena | reviews, news & interviews
The Rolling Stones, 02 Arena
The Rolling Stones, 02 Arena
Expensive blokeish nostalgia act are occasionally inspiring but run out of steam
My, my, what a big arena. First ever time I’ve set foot in the O2 Arena. Never before made it down here to view New Labour’s hubris. Another cherry about to be busted involves seeing tonight’s band – I’ve listened to The Rolling Stones for about 40 of my 48 years but never been near a gig of theirs. OK, I once did buy a tout ticket to see Keith Richards at the Town & Country when he toured solo in the early Nineties. And I also caught Charlie Watts’ big band at Ronnie Scott’s a decade ago. Both were great. But the Stones in a stadium? Nah.
Never imagined I’d get to this 18,000-capacity monster either. Then a friend scored tickets and, of course, I’m there. First impression: I’m one of the younger people here. And it’s very blokey. The vibe here is like that of a Premier League match – very ageing lad. Why, there’s Paul Weller! Now where’s Jeremy Clarkson?
8.24: the lights go down and the video screens fill with a montage of talking heads – Iggy, Elton, J Depp and lesser celebs – spouting nonsense about the Rolling Stones. Three minutes later a samba band are striding the aisles beating their drums, all adorned in masks featuring the ugly gorilla on the cover of the 300th Stones hits album. The Brazilian drums lend a tension to proceedings, signalling something dark and sexy. Then the lights come on and a bunch of skinny, wrinkly men are on stage.
Definitely not the last time – especially when people will pay these ticket prices
“Get Off My Cloud” opens proceedings and the sound is clean and harsh. Mick is wearing a silver lamé jacket and black hat and running every which way. They launch into “I Wanna Be Your Man” – Ronnie does Brian’s slide part as black and white images of Jones flood the video monitors. Mick then addresses the crowd, mentioning their South London origins and what a pint of milk, a loaf of bread and a concert ticket used to cost back then. Good joke (my ticket value is 375 quid and I’m not in the posh seats).
Straight into “The Last Time” with Mick drawling out “I don’t know”. Another teaser. They’re sounding powerful, no mess. Definitely not the last time – especially when people will pay these ticket prices. "Paint It Black" is taken slower, almost psychedelic in its guitar figure, and Mick has fun enunciating the words. Very tasty. I’m getting into this.
No I’m not: they’re playing “Gimme Shelter” – possibly my favourite rock song ever – but not feeling its ominous weight. And Florence Welch is brought on to murder the female vocal and mince around Mick. Sunday night got Mary J Blige: I believe we have been short-changed.
Seats are brought out for Keith and Ronnie to pluck "Lady Jane". I too have a seat. Then I’m standing because Eric Clapton – looking jovial – is joining them for a work out on Muddy Waters’ “Champagne & Reefer”. Eric, Ronnie and Keith each take a turn at a brief solo while Mick improvises a pro-legalisation verse that’s nice and droll. Eric’s gone without having added much and they’re ripping through “Live With Me”. The video screens fill with American music icons: Etta, Elvis, Miles, Leadbelly, Muddy, Merle, Louis, Chuck, Wolf etc. The band sound tight and tough and Charlie continues to work his magic.
“Miss You” and everything is perfect. Mick is playing guitar so singing rather than running and bassist Darryl Jones finally gets his chubby features on the video screens. He and Charlie build up a huge drum ‘n’ bass groove before Bobby Keys lets out a big, fat sax burp. These pensioners are suddenly sounding dangerous. Imagine if the Stones had stuck with being a white Chic – they might have truly accomplished something in the Eighties!
Then Mick announces “some new songs” and I sit down. “Doom & Gloom” and the other instantly forgotten tune are so bad even Jack White wouldn’t want to claim them. I get the feeling the evening has peaked. The couple next to me, who brought baby along (headphones on the poor mite’s head), fear he has been damaged forever and leave.
Bill Wyman is now playing bass and looking rather Benny Hillish: small, plump and vaguely sinister. Unfortunately, he’s joined for “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” – more a slogan than a song – and Mick is doing his monkey dance while the band snooze. Maybe they realise they’re losing me because “Honky Tonk Woman” follows and it is superb. What a magnificent slice of salacious barroom swagger. Charlie rocks the beat, Keith delivers those badass chords, pianist Chuck Lavell takes us down to New Orleans and Mick sings his ass off (as do the two black backing singers). All doubts cancelled: the Stones are the best rock'n'roll band ever!
Mick Taylor plays the best guitar of the night, hard, stinging blues rock lines that push everyone forward
Bill and Mick leave and Keith steps up to the mic, looking like Worzel Gummidge’s dad, and “sings” “Before They Make Me Run”, which remains arrant, tuneless nonsense, and the painful “Happy”. Mass exodus to the bar. Except for the blokes who worship Keef. I’m sure several near me are weeping with joy. Mick returns with Mick Taylor cradling a guitar. When Taylor joined the Stones he was referred to as “little Mick” but now a more apt title would be “Big Mac Mick”. He’s huge and resembles Barney from The Simpsons (with a mullet). They launch into “Midnight Rambler” and, mullet or not, Big Mac plays the best guitar of the night, hard, stinging blues rock lines that push everyone forward. Even Mick looks devilish and sexy as the band grind on this nasty number.
Then Taylor’s dismissed (boo! Bill got two tunes!) and “Start Me Up” is audience singalong time. I sit again. I rise for “Tumbling Dice”, hoping Big Mac will rejoin, but it’s not the case and, on what might just possibly be their greatest ever creation, they sound very flat. Even Charlie can’t make this one work.
“Brown Sugar” follows. Biff bam boom! But it doesn’t shake the O2’s foundations. “Sympathy For the Devil”, the most portentous tune of their regal era, is delivered with much theatricality and I’m dozing off. Then they’re gone. But we know the Stones will be back. At these prices there would be a riot if they weren’t.
The encore finds the band joined by two choirs of some two-dozen members for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. It begins beautifully but rapidly devolves into stadium fodder with the choirs rendered superfluous. A waste. They rip through "Jumping Jack Flash” but the exhaustion that set in around “Tumbling Dice” is clearly evident. “Satisfaction” closes things out and sounds great until Keith ruins things with a redundant two-note guitar solo.
10.45 and they’re off. Occasionally inspired and often enjoyable, the Stones left many a British bloke (and blokette) satisfied. As far as expensive nostalgia shows go this one did what it said on the premium card logo.
Final thought: I must take up jogging – Mick is one fit 70-year old.
Watch "Honky Tonk Women" filmed by audience member at the 02 Arena
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