‘How’re you doing in the cheap seats? They’re not that cheap, though, that’s the problem,’ said Mick Jagger as he launched into the first of the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary concerts. Still, the electrifying combination of swagger, swing and blues transformed the O2 Arena into a raucous celebration of the self-proclaimed ‘greatest rock-and-roll band in the world’.
The Stones were last on stage in 2007, and the intervening years have done little to diminish the band’s sprightliness. Jagger remained the archetypal front man, while 71-year-old drummer Charlie Watts kept up the momentum. The gnarly fingers of guitarist Keith Richards did, however, sometimes fail to find the notes, his languid playing style exaggerated by age.
It wasn’t the onstage inflatable lips or light show that entertained the 20,000-strong crowd. It was the musicianship of the Stones. The choice of songs leaned towards their hits from the 1960s and 1970s, bombastically trotted out alongside this year’s single ‘Doom and Gloom’, which already sounded like a bona fide classic.
The highlight was the re-emergence of guitarist Mick Taylor. His one-song appearance in ‘Midnight Rambler’ confirmed that he is the most talented musician to grace the stage with the Stones — the music was indistinguishable from their glory days of 1969.
History will remember this gig as doing little to enhance the Stones’ reputation as a legendary live act. But it does nothing to damage it either.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 1 December 2012