Mick Jagger's flu caused the Rolling Stones to cancel the first night of the UK leg of their 40 Licks tour. But any fears that the singer's health problems, which have already caused two shows in the year-long stint to be rescheduled, would result in a diminished performance the following night were soon banished.
The Stones may have been an Establishment institution for far longer than they were ever a threat to public decency. Yet, in spite of the outlandish corporate trappings that surround their show, they are still working musicians, keen to prove worthy of their legacy and reputation.
Thundering tribal drums filled the darkening stadium, and suddenly there was Keith Richards, hammering out the unmistakable and never-bettered riff of "Brown Sugar". He was followed by Jagger, a freak of nature in a tailcoat, arms akimbo as he raced around the stage demanding total involvement from the audience. The shift from the ragged, ungainly nature of previous tours was immediately apparent. There was a pre- cision to both Jagger's vocal declamations and the expansive musical settings that the band gave to classics such as "You Can't Always Get What You Want".
Jagger and an emotional Keith Richards made clear that this was almost a homecoming gig for the band, who began playing residencies in nearby Richmond back in the days when the Prime Minister was more likely to despatch to the Tower than to give them a knighthood. Perhaps early song choices such as "You Got Me Rocking" and "Don't Stop" relied a little too heavily on recent albums. But once they hit their stride, the Stones proved invincible. "Wild Horses" was majestic, the two backing singers waltzing, and one helping out on acoustic guitar. Jagger acknowledged his own graceful vocal, saying "That was sweet'' when the song ended.
When Richards unleashed the foreboding, raga-inflected modal chords of "Paint It Black", the psychedelic onslaught reminded us that when it comes to stadium staging the Stones have few equals. They've used technology to enhance the meaning of the songs, many of them written at a time when a revolving mirror ball was the height of rock-theatrical sophistication.
Richards could laugh, stumble and fall over as he attempted his own peculiar version of Chuck Berry's duck walk during "Tumbling Dice", safe in the knowledge that, with his searing chords, he is playing as well as at any time during the last 40 years, if not better. Midway through the show a walkway emerged from the cantilevered stage, and the Stones crossed it to play a three-song set. "Street Fighting Man" was feral and ballistic, the highlight of the evening. Meanwhile, on the main stage, assorted Rolling Stones children and grandchildren watched - an extraordinary spectacle in itself, considering that a quarter of a century ago, in the wake of punk, the Stones' obituaries were being written.
Back on the main stage, a brilliant finale included "Gimme Shelter" and "Honky Tonk Women". The latter sounded as lascivious and decadent as the pornographic cartoon that accompanied it. The Stones may not provide family entertainment, but to invert one of their favourite old blues lyrics, what the little girls don't know, their mums and dads understand.Reuse content