The Rolling Stones O2 Arena London 25 November 2012
I am sitting on the 06.15 train out of London, returning home after an amazing concert.
Well they pulled it off. Last night the Rolling Stones gave me and 20,000 other fans a night that we will remember for the rest of our lives. I should never have doubted how incredible they would be.
I travelled down to London on Sunday afternoon, arriving in time to meet my son David for a chat and a pizza. I travelled across London and arrived at the O2 around 7pm, to make sure I was there on time, as we had all been told that The Stones would be on stage at 8pm sharp. I bought a programme, and took my cheap (£250 ouch!) seat in the upper tier. A lot has been said and written about the expensive prices of ticket for these 50th anniversary gigs, with most floor and lower tier seats costing £400 and upwards, and I wondered if there would be a lot of empty seats, but on the night the O2 arena was packed. The stage was modelled on the Stones’ trademark lips and tongue, with a standing area in the centre of the tongue where lucky fans could get close up to our heroes. Actually, I had a pretty good view up there; I was seated in the fourth row of the balcony, directly opposite the stage and could see everything that was happening.
The proceedings started slightly later than advertised, at approx. 8.20pm with a video of stars giving their views on The Stones in their 50th year, including Elton John, Iggy Pop, Johnny Depp, Pete Townshend, The Black Keys and Angus Young. Iggy told us “hearing Keith Richards’ guitar is like being hit in the face by a wet mackerel”! Next a troop of 100 or so drummers in Grrr Gorilla suits paraded around the floor area, filling the arena with sound and rhythm. Then the lights went down and Jagger and co took to the stage. First song was “I Wanna Be Your Man”, with Mick wearing a black and white jacket and matching trilby. We were back in the 60s, and the sound and playing was superb. From where I sat I could hear every word clearly, and it was crisp and quite loud. A screen at either side of the stage and at the back, in the heart of the mouth, showed images of the band in their youth. Next was “Get Off My Cloud”, followed by “All Over Now”. Mick was in a playful mood asking “How is it up in the cheap seats?” and adding “Oh they aren’t really cheap are they?”, and joking about how the band missed out on the Queen’s jubilee and the Olympics ceremonies, but just made it “under the wire” for these gigs. He took off his jacket, all dressed in black for an amazing version of “Paint It Black” and the whole arena sang along; Ronnie and Keith sharing guitar parts, with Ronnie on an electric sitar. Ronnie Wood really shone in those first few numbers, taking on most of the lead parts. However, Keith came more to the fore as the show went on. “Gimme Shelter” saw the band welcome their first guest of the night, who was Mary J Blige, taking the vocals alongside Mick Jagger: “It’s Just a Shot Away”; great. The tone and the pace were then lowered a little for a beautiful version of “Wild Horses”. “All Down the Line” was accompanied by a video of the Stones’ influences and heroes: John Lee Hooker, James Brown, Howling Wolf, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, and a host of others appeared on the screen. The next guest to appear was “one of our contempories” Jeff Beck who led the band through “Going Down”, playing some amazing guitar; very flashy, loud, and for a few minutes outshining the band who were clearly loving it. The next song was “Out of Control” from Bridges to Babylon, which was less familiar to me. Mick then introduced the two new songs “One More Shot” and “Doom and Gloom”. I must say that these two new tracks are not my favourite Stones’ songs, but they sounded pretty good last night.
Original bass guitarist Bill Wyman joined the guys for the next two songs: spot on versions of “It’s Only Rock n Roll” and “Honky Tonk Women”. The band, and the crowd seemed genuinely pleased to see Bill, who looked well, and had a smile right across his face, obviously enjoying being back with his old mates. Jagger introduced the band members before the next song, including Bobby Keyes on brass, who has been with the band since I first saw them in 1971.
Keith took front of stage for the next couple of numbers: “Before They Make Me Run” and “Happy”, singing and playing well, and giving Mick a well-deserved breather. Jagger returned with Mick Taylor for an unbelievable version of “Midnight Rambler” which took me back to shows in the 70s, and seemed just as dark and moody as it did in those days. Many say that Taylor was the best guitarist The Stones ever had, and last night his bluesy playing was exactly what was needed. We were on the home stretch now, and next up were “Start Me Up”, “Tumbling Dice”, and “Brown Sugar”, all crowd pleasers, keeping up the pace. The last song was a classic version of “Sympathy for the Devil”, Mick looking the part in a long black furry cloak. Jagger, Wood, and Richards were running around the edge of the tongue, playing to the crowd. Mick in particular has so much and energy and seems so fit, he really was performing just as he did in the 70s. The band left the stage to a tremendous reception; they had delivered 100%, the last two hours had just flown over, and everyone in the arena cheered for more. They were quickly back, accompanied by a choir for a sweet version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, followed by closer “Jumping Jack Flash”, with the voices of the crowd almost drowning the band. They left the stage for the last time at 11pm, the crowd clapping and shouting for more; then the tongue logo appeared with the words “Thanks for coming; have a safe journey home” and we knew that it was finally over. Apparently the set list had also included “Satisfaction” as the last song, but the strict curfew prevented them from playing it. So that was it. You have to give it to them; they showed all their critics that they could still deliver, and at a level that I haven’t seen for a long, long time. This was one of the best times I have seen The Rolling Stones; much, much better than the last time I saw them at the O2 in 2007. I can honestly say that I can’t think of any band to match last night in terms of performance, energy and the rich back catalogue that they have to draw from. And yes Mick’s voice held out, Keith can still play (and well too), Ronnie was great, and I mustn’t forget to mention Charlie, who sits quietly at the back, keeping the beat. And you could tell that they were all enjoying it. The self-styled Greatest Rock n Roll Band in the World retains its crown for a while yet.
I caught a packed tube back to my Travelodge, which I reached at around midnight, and was up at 05.15 to catch this train. Wish I was going again on Thursday. Those of you who are, enjoy it. You won’t be disappointed.
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The Rolling Stones O2 Arena London 25 November 2012