Anfield, Liverpool, 9/6/2022
published: 31 /
At the opening UK date of their Sixty Tour, and their first visit to Liverpool in over fifty years, The Rolling Stones’ retain their title of The World’s Greatest Rock N’ Roll Band. Richard Lewis reviews
“Five fragile remnants of an endangered species”, the memorable description Sunday Times journalist Philip Norman gave The Rolling Stones on their 1981 US Tour, a trek rumoured to be their final jaunt. While rock music has had the last rites administered scores of times since then, particularly over the past half decade, The Stones have, remained a constant, immovable presence.
Regardless of the vagaries of fashion, time, technology or the entire upheaval of the music industry, The World’s Greatest Rock N’ Roll Band have retained their title, playing to audiences of several million, commanding questionably high ticket prices and scoring eye wateringly huge profit margins each time they tour. The rumours that this really might be ‘The Last Time’, however, have understandably grown louder since the death of founder member Charlie Watts, the unflappable drummer who provided the beating heart of the band’s music.
Current tour ‘Sixty’, staged to celebrate the Stones’ staggeringly successful reign, sees the drum stool occupied by Steve Jordan, longstanding sideman for guitarist Keith Richards. A group who effectively invented the spectacle of the large arena/stadium tour with their 1969 North American dates, the current stage set up is remarkably simple. Aside from a catwalk jutting out into the pitch standing area and two huge screens, the stage is bare, with the visuals consisting largely of the band playing in close up.
Bang on the scheduled 8:45pm start time, the screens flicker into life with a montage of Charlie behind the kit through the years. The slashing introductory chords of ‘Street Fighting Man’ follows next and Mick Jagger resplendent in black and red leather jacket appears air punching the rhythm in front of the capacity crowd. Almost constantly in motion across the stage and along the catwalk, Jagger’s vocals have lost none of their edge, hurtling through the rapid fire verses of a raucous ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’, urging the audience on during ‘Tumbling Dice’ and leading a mass chorus of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’.
A very welcome recent development in the Stones’ setlists amidst the sure-fire, nailed-on crowd pleasers is the dusting off of rarely performed hits. Overlooked for decades, ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’, part of their breathtaking run of mid-sixties singles, is featured, as is ‘Out of Time’, courtesy of its inclusion in ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’. The band’s first visit to Liverpool since 1971 meanwhile is marked with a rampage through a track by “some local lads”, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, the Stones’ second single, gifted to them by Lennon – McCartney.
Seemingly powered by telepathy, the guitar interplay between Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood is as potent as ever, weaving their way between rhythm and lead seamlessly, Steve Jordan steering proceedings with superb elan. Long standing bassist Daryll Jones, in the job almost as long as original four-stringer Bill Wyman. takes a spotlit turn during ‘Miss You’, showcasing his exemplary foundation work.
Live stalwarts, ‘Honky Tonk Women’, greeted with an immediate roar of appreciation at the sound of its clopping cowbell and a punchy rendition of ‘Start Me Up’ retain their thrill decades on and hundreds of airings later. Stepping up to lead vocals as he and Ronnie switch to acoustics, Keith turns in a tender version of ‘You Got the Silver’, succeeded by another curveball, ‘Connection’ from 1966’s almost forgotten ‘Between the Buttons’.
As dusk envelops the stadium, the music darkens suitably as the spidery, Eastern tinged riff of ‘Paint It Black’ rings out. Staying with the demonic theme, a stadium-wide refrain of “whoo-whoo” backing vocals commences as soon as the pulsating rhythm track for ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ begins.
Fittingly for a group initially formed by Brian Jones as a bunch of teenaged blues obsessives, a blistering take on ‘Midnight Rambler’ is possibly the summit of the night. Diverting into Robert Johnson standard ‘Come On In My Kitchen’, the simpatico between The Glimmer Twins’ remains clearly apparent, the singer’s exemplary harmonica skills and the guitarist’s fretwork feeding off each other. Piloted by Richards’ throaty guitar, a wired rendition of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, increasing in velocity as it progresses closes the main set.
A spontaneous audience chorus of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ marks time before the encore, kickstarted by the spectral shimmer of ‘Gimme Shelter’. Updating the Vietnam-era theme for the present day, images of war-torn Ukraine are projected on the screens before switching to the nation’s flag, prompting a cheer.
Heralded by its indelible three-note riff, ‘Satisfaction’ supplies the barnstorming closer, the band’s and especially Jagger’s energy after two hours onstage remarkably undimmed. The backing musicians and the Stones take their bows to huge applause before seventy thousand truly sated fans stream out of Anfield. The World’s Greatest Rock N’ Roll Band, then. Still.
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