‘Four old farts with The Stones‘ reads the back of a homemade shirt worn by a quartet of elderly gents who have clearly put the effort into getting togged up to see Mick and Keith’s mob play the second Saturday in a row at London’s Hyde Park.
This self-deprecating fashion statement says much about how certain elements of the band’s fanbase see themselves, their best years behind them with a wise acceptance of age. The Stones, however, see things differently. Age, it seems, is merely a number – a point which is evident when they kick off a marathon set with a slippery, rousing version of Start Me Up.
Keith appears to miscue the opening riff and the small, pink firework rockets that shoot up the foliage covered stage are slightly comical, but these are the only moments where the Stones flounder during a genuinely remarkable set, packed with crowd-pleasing moments as well as tunes designed to satisfy the connoisseur.
The opening flurry of songs is impressive enough – Start Me Up, It’s Only Rock’n'Roll (de-camped by the usage of video images of Stones heroes that include Leadbelly, B.B. King, James Brown and John Lee Hooker, the projections of which add a sense of romanticism to the proceedings), Tumbling Dice (where the band lock into a deep groove) and the disco-strut of Emotional Rescue (replacing last weekend’s airing of Beast Of Burden in the same slot) – and it confirms what previous reports from this run of shows suggest that the band’s stamina has been growing and that they have genuinely found themselves once again
Indeed, the casual ageism that has been aimed at the Stones is instantly swept aside tonight with the unfeasibly skinny Mick Jagger stamping, corralling and marshaling both the crowd and the band through the proceedings in particularly impressive form. While on previous occasions he appears to have been going through the motions, tonight that accusation falls away with every inter-song grin.
His penchant for the self-referential rears its head at one point: “I just wanted to go back to my closet and see whether it still fitted,” he cackles, donning a white smock that’s meant to recall the same outfit he wore at Hyde Park in 1969 (for the record, it looks nothing like the jacket from all those years ago). His crass gag is quickly forgotten as he the band launch into Honky Tonk Women.
A quick introduction of the entire band – backing vocalists, longstanding Stones acolytes such as sax man Bobby Keys and bassist Darryl Jones (the latter now 20 years into his tenure), Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts and, of course, Keith – sees him “starting to feel a bit like Jools Holland”, as he leaves the stage for Richards to serve up a spirited version of You Got The Silver (with Wood on pedal steel) and a fine rendition of Happy.
The closing run – Midnight Rambler (with Mick Taylor), a ferocious Gimme Shelter (with Jagger swapping vocals with the astounding Lisa Fischer), Jumping Jack Flash, Sympathy For The Devil (delivered with hellish, blood-red lightning and even greater music intensity) and a romping Brown Sugar – is impossible beat. In fact, only the Stones could top it such is the depth of their repertoire. And they do with an encore of a spine-tingling version of You Can’t Always Get What You Want (with full choir) and a wham-bam-thank-you-man finale of Satisfaction.
Tonight, the Stones render questions about their relevance redundant. On this form no other act on the planet can live with them. The real question, however, is whether this could really be the last time?
As we contemplate the issue, the band appear to have answer the question by posting a video from backstage on their Facebook page.
“We’ve had a fantastic time and we hope to see you again very soon,” says Jagger.
“I second that emotion!” smiles Keith.
51 & Counting may not have the same ring about it but who really gives a damn?