I had originally intended to fill this space on Wednesday with some excited words on the first of this week’s three shows by The Rolling Stones at the O2 Arena, but I had urgent business in Birmingham with a former rock god whose new album may be the best thing he’s done in nigh on 30 years. But more on that later, let’s get back to the Stones.
If I’d had the chance to write about Tuesday’s show, I would have said unequivocally that it was one of the best I’ve seen them play, so good in fact in parts that I could barely imagine anything better – and this despite moments of wholly endearing sloppiness and an inclination towards the ramshackle that makes for hugely spontaneous entertainment: a version, for instance, of Rocks Off that Jagger thinks has ended, only to realise the band are carrying on without him, and an intro to an otherwise fabulous Beast Of Burden that seems like three or four different things being played simultaneously.
Elsewhere, however, the Stones are in formidable form and the big set pieces are delivered with peerless aplomb, Jagger’s sensational athleticism a wonder to behold and Keith and Ronnie Wood absolutely on fire – appropriately enough, as most of the headlines the next day are about the pair flaunting the smoking ban by lighting up on stage, for which briefly the venue is threatened with a paltry fine.
Anyway, I was back in North Greenwich again last night, for the second show, the end now in sight for the record-breaking Bigger Bang tour, an amen to which will be said on Sunday, a little over two years to its start in Boston and a year after they last played London, at Twickenham Stadium, shows that were an absolute masterclass in the presentation of stadium rock and how scale and spectacle doesn’t always reduce the music to an onerous irrelevancy. As great, in other words, as the shows looked, the Stones sounded even better.
And so to last night, the lights going down, a familiar excitement in the air, Keith suddenly there, centre stage, a grin as big as a bus, the tectonic opening chords to Start Me Up inspiring huge cheers as Jagger, limber as a cheetah, sashaying into the fray with gleeful exuberance. What follows over the next two hours, amazingly, is even better than what had seemed definitively thrilling on Tuesday.
There’s an early outing for a totally rambunctious Let’s Spend The Night Together, an entirely unexpected All Down The Line and Shine a Light, a ferocious Midnight Rambler, with much incendiary work from Keith, including at least one solo that threatens to blow the top off the former Millennium Dome.
The next thing you know, Keith is threatening to bring down the house when before a charmingly wrecked You Got The Silver, he very deliberately lights up a fag, takes a generous puff and chuckling hoarsely declares: “So go ahead and bust me, man.”
Whenever I write about them these days, I can fully expect a certain amount of grumpy correspondence from people who dourly and hopelessly refuse to believe that my enthusiasm for the Stones is not somehow misguided, evidence, I suppose, in the opinion of these dowdy agnostics, of an unstoppable decline into critical senility.
To which point of view, I can only politely demur. The Stones tonight are simply peerless – the B-stage performances of “Miss You”, “It’s Only Rock’N’Roll”, “Satisfaction” and “Honky Tonk Women” unbelievably exciting, but still outdone by rampaging versions of “Sympathy For The Devil”, “Paint It Black”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and the closing, single, encore of “Brown Sugar”.
Anyone got a ticket for Sunday they can spare?
The Stones’ set list for Thursday at the O2 Arena was:
Start Me Up
Let’s Spendd The Night Together
All Down The Line
She’s So Cold
Shine A Light
I’ll Go Crazy
You Got The Silver
I Wanna Hold You
It’s Only Rock’N’Roll
Hionky Tonk Woemn
Sympathy For The Devil
Paint It Black
Jumping Jack Flash