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IoS pop review: The Rolling Stones, O2, London
Bobby Womack, The Forum, London
Purveyors of fine rock'n'roll since 1962: Their Satanic Majesties were long ago replaced by some cuddly gents. But never let anyone tell you The Rolling Stones are too old to sparkle
Sunday 02 December 2012
You can't always get what you want. Not if what you want is The Rolling Stones with a steely edge of evil, rather than the golden glow of nostalgia. If what you want is the Stones as documented via the utter amoral depravity of Robert Frank's documentary Cocksucker Blues or the arty extremism of Jean-Luc Godard's Sympathy for the Devil, not the sentimental poignancy of Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light. The Stones who inspired Guy Peellaert's infamous painting of the band as Nazi paedophiles, not the cosily misogynist animations on the big screen tonight for "Honky Tonk Women" (no criticism, by the way: The Rolling Stones are proof that a certain measure of misogyny is the bitter beating heart of rock'n'roll). If you want nasty, not nice – if, basically, you want them to bring on the badass – then Grrr! isn't the tour for you.
What you get for your money – a reported £10,000 for secondary market front-row seats, and a bare minimum £90 for a bog-standard bucket seat (we've come a long way since the free concert in Hyde Park) – is still pretty damn great.
On a stage in the shape of their mouth logo – the inflatable arch forms the upper lip, the runway loop forms the tongue – there they stand, 50 years on. And let's nail the age thing once and for all. Nobody tells blues or folk singers when to retire. While there's blood in their veins and breath in their lungs, why should the Stones?
The praise surrounding comeback single "Doom and Gloom" has been faintly patronising, as though everyone's surprised that The Rolling Stones are still capable of sounding like The Rolling Stones. Self-evidently, they've still got the skills. Keith Richards, with a face that looks like it's fallen out of more than one coconut tree, has the cut-and-thrust chops to match his charisma. The skull-cheeked Charlie Watts and the suspiciously lustrous-haired Ronnie Wood can play a bit too. And the astonishingly lithe Mick, dancing for over two hours like an electrocuted gibbon? He's got ... well, he's got them moves like Jagger.
The recent rash of Jagger references in pop – Cher Lloyd, Kesha, Maroon 5, Black Eyed Peas – may seem baffling, but he still clearly holds some sort of sexual power over the imagination. After he stashes his microphone phallically into the waistband of his jeans, someone throws a black bra at his feet.
From "Get Off of My Cloud" through to "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", it's a safe, hits-based set. I might have coughed up 10 grand for the unplayed "Emotional Rescue" and "Undercover of the Night" (or at least, 90 quid), but it's hard to complain about a set whose majestic moments include the pummeling psych-noir of "Paint it Black", the peerless sleaze-disco of "Miss You", and the satanic samba of "Sympathy for the Devil", for which the singer inexplicably dons a black shag-pile carpet.
There's much local banter about Mick and Keith swapping Bo Diddley records at Dartford station. And there are guests. A velvet-suited Florence Welch is wheeled out to bellow – and, frankly, ruin – "Gimme Shelter". Eric Clapton, whom Jagger remembers dancing down the front at their early gigs, comes out for Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer", and is kept on the far side of the stage. Former member Mick Taylor is brought on for a stint, as is Bill Wyman (talking of whom, in the current climate it's probably for the best that "Stray Cat Blues" – "I can see that you're 15 years old… No I don't want your ID" – is omitted from the set). The loudest cheers, however, come whenever Keith steps forward for some no-nonsense riffing. And when he slashes the opening chords of "Jumpin' Jack Flash", you reach a simple realisation: if you don't like The Rolling Stones, you don't like rock'n'roll. And I like it, like it, yes I do.
If Bobby Womack was only remembered for writing "It's All Over Now" before the Stones got their grubby paws on it, he might have been a footnote in rock history. But his is a life story and a career you couldn't make up. Shunned by the soul community for shacking up with Sam Cooke's widow (only, to divorce her back in 1970), afflicted by cocaine addiction and devastated by the suicide of his son, and almost killed by severe pneumonia and cancer, he's somehow still standing. And, it must be said, looking mighty fine in a scarlet pimp-cap, leather jacket and shades.
Womack's latest album, The Bravest Man in the Universe, has been hailed as one of 2012's finest, and a selection of its electro-organic lo-fi soul jewels is performed at The Forum with collaborators Damon Albarn (who has used Womack's larynx to glorious effect with Gorillaz) and XL Recordings' Richard Russell. As it ends, Damon falls to his knees in we're-not-worthy supplication (Bobby doesn't even notice), and spends the second section of the show cheerleading from the side, in fanboy heaven.
You can't blame him. Womack has the kind of voice – rough edged but sweet – that transcends reason and demands assent, and songs to die for, from the Blaxploitation classic "Across 110th Street", to the sublime "If You Think You're Lonely Now", which juxtaposes the sound of a "quiet storm" bedroom jam with a lyric that's full of vengeance served cold.
There aren't many singers who could get away with calling not one but two albums The Poet. But, as Damon knows and tonight shows, there's only one Bobby Womack.
Glasvegas, the kings of emotionally charged Spectoresque rock, play O2 Academy, Manchester (tonight); O2 Academy, Newcastle (Mon); Ironworks, Inverness (Wed); The Garage, Aberdeen (Thu); The Garage, Glasgow (Sat); and more. Meanwhile, Madness take their Charge of the Mad Brigade tour to Bournemouth International Centre (Mon); Pavilions, Plymouth (Tue); The Capital FM Arena, Nottingham (Thu); Liverpool Echo Arena (Fri) and Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle (Sat).
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