I first saw one of them in London Bridge station. “You going too, mate?” By the time I reached Westfield shopping centre, the count was in the mid-forties and I had to stop because now they were coming thick and fast; every other man, woman and dog decked out in a tongue and lips tee like members of some latter-day cult.
For a lot of people across the city, this might have been the first indication that the Rolling Stones had a tour on. A far cry from five years back when a pair of Hyde Park dates both sold out in minutes flat, this year’s No Filter tour received curiously little promotion and many dates including this one failed to sell out. Granted, Hyde Park is a nice place to be even with 50,000 others, whereas the Stratford Olympic Stadium would still be a bit of a pain with only 50 fans.
For starters, the bag policy is stricter than Ryanair’s: women with handbags were seen escorted from the queue upon confirmation their bag was larger than A5. Security guards had been equipped with folded in half bits of paper to verify this. Pints of beer, too, were an eye-watering £6.40 – although that may have been a blessing in disguise as the army of portaloos couldn’t keep up with the, ahem, flow of 70,000-odd Stones fans as it was. But to top it off, it quickly became apparent that the Olympic Stadium hadn’t really been designed with acoustics in mind.
Oh well. Did they smash it? Hehe, you bet they did. Kicking off with a one-two punch of ‘Street Fighting Man’ and ‘Only Rock and Roll’ they had us on the ropes from the start but they were just getting warmed up. They really kicked into their groove five songs in with a cover of Eddie Taylor’s ‘Ride ‘em On Down’ and didn’t let up after that.
‘Fool to Cry’ was sung sweetly and a reminder that at 74 years old Mick Jagger is still a better singer than you. It modulated the tempo nicely after the lightning start, building it up again with ‘Can’t Always Get What You Want’ before closing the first half of the gig with a riotous extended ‘Honky Tonk Women’ complete with a swinging piano solo from Chuck Leavell. After that Mick introduced everybody on stage to roars of appreciation before popping backstage to get changed (despite having already somehow found time for three or four costume changes at this point!)
As is customary for Stones gigs these days, Keith Richards took centre stage for a pair of songs including ‘Before They Make Me Run’, with lines like “I wasn’t looking too good but I was feeling real well” delivered knowingly. His voice has always had a soulful fragility that complements Mick’s howling and the interlude was not only a great change of pace but also set up the second half to kick off with a bang – quite literally as the pyrotechnics were deployed for ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.
“Keith’s looking good for 307”
It was the first of three songs in a row that really got heaps of room to breathe, each running to perhaps ten minutes each. A stadium full of people chanted “ooh-oooh” back at the band as the music broke down into some more of Keith & Ronnie’s legendary weaving. ‘Miss You’ broke down similarly spectacularly with a seriously funky bass solo from Darryl Jones.
‘Midnight Rambler’ perhaps took the cake though, starting slow out of the gate, then ripping and roaring with some fancy fingerwork especially from Ronnie Wood, until the wheels almost fell off. Only Charlie Watts’ metronomic drum beats staying constant as the wailing and jangling of the other instruments reached a fever pitch, coming to an almost-stop only to be brought back for a triumphant second half with some good old-fashioned audience participation (“I said ohh ye-eah”).
They ran through three more songs wrapping up with a brass-loaded ‘Brown Sugar’, but nobody was fooled and the encore was underway within minutes scratching our ‘Gimme Shelter’ shaped itches nicely. The real last song came from ‘Satisfaction’, complete with another round of pyrotechnics and more bows than most theatre productions. Most of the crowd was singing it long after the show had ended, which I only know because crowd lack-of-management (sorry, couldn’t resist) was in place and the nearest tube station was over an hour’s shuffle away.
If you have an opportunity to see the Rolling Stones (tickets still available for Edinburgh, Cardiff and Twickenham yet) I really would. I certainly wouldn’t want to ever find myself on the wrong side of a “did you ever see the Rolling Stones grandpa?” If you have an opportunity to go to the so-called London Stadium for any reason though, I’d probably give it a miss.
Gareth from Kent