Hyde Park, London, 6/7/2013
published: 30 /
Despite excessive ticket and food prices, Anthony Dhanendran finds much still to admire in the Rolling Stones in the first of two shows at Hyde Park in London to conclude their 50th anniversary tour
“Will they be playing their 1969 set?” might have been question on many people’s lips at Hyde Park this time around, but it was closely followed by “How long is the queue for those £10 burgers?”
In the end, the Stones didn’t play their 1969 set, but the memory of that date was clearly in evidence: the show began with footage from ’69 and we did get ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, ‘Honky Tonk Women’, ‘Midnight Rambler’, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ from that performance 44 years and one day ago.
The audience back then, somewhere between a quarter of a million and twice that, couldn’t have been much more enthusiastic than the crowd today, despite the ravages of age showing upon many of them. When Mick asked “Were any of you here in 1969?” and thousands of people – improbably – shouted that they had, he followed it up with a nervous giggle and “Nice to see you. Welcome back.”
The 1969 gig was, of course, free. This one cost 95 pounds for the cheapest tickets, which got you pretty much a hundred yards back from the stage, unless you’d wanted to get there and stake out a place at midday. The holders of £195 tickets were guaranteed a view of the stage, at least, although even they had to muck in with the rest of us hoi polloi in the hour-long queues for the food on offer.
The gig was part of the ‘British Summer Time’ festival taking place across mid-July in Hyde Park, and for a 60,000 person show, it was reasonably well put together. The shops and bars were covered with some nicely stuccoed fake walls like some sort of hacienda. Lots and lots of Stones shirts are on display - some advertising today’s show, some for the recent O2 shows in November 2012, and some very old, for the 'Voodoo Lounge' and 'Steel Wheels' tours, and even one guy sporting a greying FC Halifax Town league t-shirt.
But if the long queues and absurd restrictions (no food may be brought in, nor drinks except water and juice cartons) could not detract from the main event, then nor could the rumours of terrible shows on this tour, nor even a slightly below-par performance at Glastonbury the previous weekend.
Let’s be honest – the Stones are not what they were. Mick does his best Peter Pan and, with the poise of a ballet dancer, as my wife Katy pointed out, he largely pulls it off. Charlie is, of course, stalwart and no-nonsense behind the drums, but Ronnie and Keith are not in such good shape.
It’s in the melody lines that the fraying shows – Mick’s voice can’t quite reach the highs it used to, but the guitar lines really left something to be desired. It was particularly noticeable on ‘Paint It, Black’ for which the band skipped the rather dainty, filigreed intro and turned it into a four-on-the-floor tubthumper.
Still, the sheer charisma on show and the quality of the songs mean that one is prepared to forgive them almost anything. The set began with a few classics: ‘Start Me Up’, ‘It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)’ and ‘Tumbling Dice’, and ‘Beast of Burden’ put in an appearance surprisingly early on. Of those, the more mellow, laid-back ‘Beast’ fared best with the old Stones, but most of us would be pleased, when we turn seventy, to have the kind of energy the band showed on all of those opening numbers.
Proving they’re no different from any other band, they refused to stick to the hits and stuck in a new song at which point lots of people left to make the 40-minute round trip to the toilets. And as though it were needed, Mick dutifully introduced us to the band on stage: “the Wembley Wham-a-roo, Charlie Watts”, another rhythm section stalwart in the form of Darryl Jones, who’s been touring with the band for over 20 years, and “Havin’ a quick fag be’ind the drums… Ronnie Wood”, who sheepishly appears a moment later, having stubbed out the offending cigarette.
After a couple of songs led by Keith, Mick reappears in an ill-advised white blouson – it looks like he's wearing a dressing gown – for ‘Honky Tonk Women’, and ‘Miss You’. Then a real highlight – the appearance of the superb Mick Taylor, who served five years with the band ending in 1974 and beginning, as Jagger points out from the stage, with the Hyde Park show in 1969.
‘Gimme Shelter’, with VT of spinning tapes running on the enormous screens behind the guitarists, sounded stunning, and the backing singer Lisa Fischer easily upstaged everyone with the remarkable solo in the middle.
Katy is slightly disappointed, having been hoping that Lisa was “really going to let rip”. The whole gig is a bit like that: a reminder of how things used to be, when the Stones really did let rip. But you have to forgive them their age, if that’s what it is, and despite the flubs (including Keith’s getting the very first chord of ‘Start Me Up’ wrong) they sound good. The sound mix is perfectly balanced for such a large event, and even the weather holds, with aeroplanes flying by on their way to Heathrow (“those of you on the right side of the cabin might be able to spot Mick Jagger down below”) and a police helicopter swooping by to take a look at one point.
The huge screens display an idyllic wood that's then lit aflame in red for ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ for which Mick, after another costume change, reappears in a spectacular black, feathered, maroon-lined cape.
On ‘Sympathy’, when it's just the aforementioned stalwart rhythm section, Chuck on keys and Mick singing, you can almost imagine it was 1969. By the end of the song the whole of the so-called (and underwhelming, given its name) Great Oak Stage is bathed in a conflagration of red. Then we get ‘Brown Sugar’, then “thank you and good night”.
Of course there’s an encore, consisting of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, with Mick on guitar and wearing a fetching gold lamé jacket but introduced by a proper chorus who've been brought in just for this song. And then, of course, we close with the return of Mick Taylor and ‘Satisfaction’, much to the satisfaction of the most vocal parts of the crowd, as the stage and several thousand people at the front are bathed in red confetti fired from cannons at the front, in an echo of 1969’s butterflies.
Like the Stones' career, 'Satisfaction' goes on just a little too long but, honestly, it’s impossible not to love them for it.