Review: Special guests keep The Rolling Stones going at 50

4.00

First Night: The Rolling Stones, 02 Arena, London

"It's been a great year for British celebrations," muses Mick Jagger at one point in last night's set. "There was the Queen's Diamond Jubilee… but we didn't do that. Then there was the Olympics… but we didn't do that. And the new Bond movie … but we didn't do that. But we're just glad we just got in under the wire to do this."

This, of course, is the Stones' own jubilee, their 50th-anniversary celebration, and while it might lack the sheer lavish spectacle of their world-tour stagings, the event's unique cachet is assured partly by the excellence of the set list, which visits beloved corners of the band's catalogue rarely featured in their usual shows, and partly by the presence of a few special guests.

It starts with a deliberate nod to their youth, with an elastic "I Wanna Be Your Man", the song written for them by Lennon & McCartney. Clad in white jacket and trilby over black shirt and strides, Jagger writhes like a whiplash with knots for joints, strutting on pipe-cleaner legs across the stage, except for the brief moment when his hips twirl implausibly. But he's in good voice, impressively strident here and on a "Get Off My Cloud" driven by a slinky funk twitch. "It's All Over Now" continues the vintage cruise, Ronnie Wood essaying a brief, tart guitar break before Keith Richards nonchalantly slices out the declamatory closing chords.

Wood's sitar-guitar arabesques decorate a dervish "Paint It Black", before Mary J Blige appears to duet on "Gimme Shelter": she's good, but sadly the song loses impetus partway through, as if estranged from the delirium that gave the original such potency. But a poignant "Wild Horses" is well received, as too is "Down the Line", which provides one of the night's welcome surprises, its backdrop montage of Howlin' Wolf, Hank Williams, the Staple Singers, Chuck Berry et al offering a one-stop nod to the band's influences.

Jeff Beck contributes his whizz-bang guitar pyrotechnics to a cover of "I'm Going Down", but it's the other guests who arouse the fondest memories, Bill Wyman stolid as ever on "It's Only Rock'n'Roll" and "Honky Tonk Women", and a jowly Mick Taylor summoning up the band's golden era on a lengthy "Midnight Rambler", his stinging lead lines locking well with Jagger's blues harmonica and the tight interplay of Keith and Ronnie's guitars. For seven minutes or so, the years fall away and it seems as if the group were still at the cutting edge of pop – something their two new numbers, sadly, never quite manage.

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