Wednesday night at the Astoria was the Stones' one small-venue date in England. The demand for tickets was huge. So, lads, there's a good living still to be made at this game. Question was, how would the downsizing work?
Remarkably well, is the short answer. OK, so Mick may have run out of runway space, and the guitar amps were a touch on the Motörhead side. Like most guitarists, Keith likes to have the potential to be as loud as possible - even in small and intimate venues such as this one. But the set-list justified the choice of the Astoria. We didn't get any grunge blues, but instead we were treated to a nice, old-fashioned R&B set, some of which might have been aired at the old Ken Colyer club, about 100 yards away, in the 1960s.
After the Chuck-Berry-inspired "It's Only Rock'n'Roll", the band delved into covers territory, beginning with The Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", followed by "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love". The first time I heard that one live was when Solomon Burke played outside the Black Prince in Bexley when I was still at school. Up on the balcony, I noticed Andrew Lloyd Webber having trouble with the "you-you-you" chorus, despite the early warning from Mick that he expected something from the expensive seats. With the brass section relishing the workout, Mick tackled Otis Redding's "That's How Strong My Love Is" in the favoured key of B flat, so the parts sounded really fat. It was getting more Stax than Stones, and with "Going to a Go Go", the old Miracles disco workout, it was four covers in a row, surely a record.
Earlier in the evening, the seldom-heard "Hand of Fate" was a nice outing, as was "No Expectations", with Mick playing an old Gibson acoustic and Ronnie Wood accompanying with the acoustic slide guitar across his knees, just as Hank Williams would have had. Keith came to the mic, and the volume dropped down for his rendition of "The Nearness of You"; Charlie Watts' drumkit could finally be heard in its full dynamic range. "I learnt all my licks from Charlie," said Wildcat Will, Beth Orton's drummer, who stood next to me, nodding in time.
Mick must have been dusting his old cassettes down, as he sprung back on stage with another Redding tune, "Can't Turn You Loose", before the old five-string Fender Tele came back out for Keith to deliver the staccato opening of "Honky Tonk Women" - we were back on familiar territory and heading for home. Like a praying mantis, he prowled around the back of Mick in "Start Me Up", freeze-framing poses that come down the line from Chuck Berry and that he has developed into a weird ballet, while the animated singer in front motors on. With the sub-chorus, "You make a grown man cry", reaching a crescendo, and the backing voices of Lisa Fisher and Bernard Fowler punching across the guitar-lines, the band were really warming up and enjoying themselves, though some people in the balcony looked as though they might have been watching England playing cricket, such was their enthusiasm. In the beginning, I guess, you have the real fans; then, later, others come along to see what all the fuss is about, but don't add hugely to the atmosphere, shout out or dance. Back when it all began, we were all dancing all the time, except when there wasn't room. That's why people liked Mick: because he encouraged them to move and didn't stand like a statue - or Liam Gallagher - at the microphone.
Things have moved on since then, of course; there were 13 musicians on stage at the Astoria, of them only the four key members non-American. Special mention must be made here of the long-serving pianist and Hammond-player Chuck Leavell, whose hand can be seen above the others, cueing changes and endings, and of Bobby Keys, the aptly named horn-player, who has hung on in there - some achievement after the excesses of such road tours as Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs" escapade.
I heard from a roadie that the sound-check was excellent: laid-back and musical. I should have got down earlier for that one, where the band play for themselves without an audience.Reuse content