'What a drag it is, getting old." But this - the reality of the The Rolling Stones' Bigger Splash tour touching down in Twickenham - isn't what I'd call a drag. Sure, I chuckle when the bloke in the gents snarls "If I have to step over another Zimmer frame..." but that says more about the audience than the band.
Ever since the watershed year of 1981, with their record-breaking stadium tour and the release of their last great single ("Undercover of the Night"), this has been the whole deal with the Stones. The world had never seen anyone at the decrepit-seeming age of 38 romping around a stage and in any given year since, they've been the eldest men still standing: to stop now, at 63, would be to spoil the fun. I want them to carry on till they're the ones with the Zimmers.
The Mick'n'Keef double-act is too enduringly entertaining to halt. You can tell me I'm being unfair by ignoring the drumming of Charlie Watts, the enormous snout of Ronnie Wood and even new-ish bassist Darryl Jones, but it's the moment when Keith - apparently none the worse for his palm-tree tumble - smiles and slaps Mick on the back that will live in the memory.
Keith, at least, has remained perpetually cool. The same can't be said for his sidekick, which hampers one's enjoyment somewhat. When I think of Mick Jagger, I want to think of the Nazi transvestite depicted by Nik Cohn and Guy Peellaert in their classic words-and-pictures fantasy book Rock Dreams.
Fortunately, from Row Z of the East Stand, you can just about squint and make that leap of the imagination. The show is no less spectacular for the change of venue. As well as the obligatory pyros and fireworks, there's a mini-stage which rolls out like a rail wagon to the middle of the crowd, what looks like a whole hotel complex of VIP balconies built over the band's heads, a giant inflatable Jagger-mouth into which they disappear, and a finale involving huge fabric streamers which look like triffid petals.
It starts with a bang. They open with "Jumpin' Jack Flash", and follow it with "Start Me Up" but perhaps inevitably, the momentum flags. There are a couple of new songs, there's a relatively obscure Sticky Fingers track ("Sway"), there's a version of "Midnight Rambler", there's a superfluous cover of Ray Charles's "(Night Time Is) The Right Time" during which everyone takes a bar/bog break, and there's a section where Keith - no great singer, bless 'im - hogs the limelight.
In the main, though, it's a pub jukebox version of Stones history - "Ruby Tuesday", "Tumbling Dice", "Honky Tonk Women", "Brown Sugar", "Satisfaction" - with the dark stuff, the weird stuff, the interesting stuff edited out (no "Paint it Black" or "Gimme Shelter" or "Street Fighting Man" tonight).
Three moments make me glad I was there. The first is "Miss You", their sleaze-disco classic, which single-handedly nukes the school of thought that they should have packed it in circa 1973. The second is "Sympathy For the Devil" which has Middlesex echoing to a thousand "wooh-woohs", and the third proves what an underrated lyricist Jagger is. Those monkey moves Mick throws during "It's Only Rock'n'Roll" may just be muscle-memory now, those words mere mechanics of jaw and tongue, but to me they're filled with meaning: "If I could stick my pen in my heart/And spill it all over the stage/Would it satisfy ya, would it slide on by ya/Would you think the boy is strange?" Not a drag at all. And, after all, this could be the last time, maybe the last time, I don't know.
The Daily Mail, in its inimitable style, recently ran a shock-horror story by Sarah Sands about the "dangerous teenage cult" of emo (the bastardised, pop-punk derivative of emotional hardcore). One of the bands singled out as a warning sign was My Chemical Romance.
Now, Gerard Way would have been a pin-up in any era, with his devastating, diamond-shaped face, and his looks have doubtless assisted the ascent of MCR to becoming Emo's first global breakthrough band.
His looks are a major part of the reason why the Hammersmith Palais is sardine-tin packed with teenagers in Converse trainers and eye-hiding MySpace haircuts. Except that Gerard hasn't read the script, and instead of black bird-nest hair and a ton of kohl, takes the stage with a new peroxide-white crop, wearing a guardsman's jacket and cavalry trousers in, well, OK, black, and generally looking so camp that the song title "You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison?" is bathed in newly-shed light.
And, indeed, this isn't My Chemical Romance at all, or so he insists. "Unfortunately My Chemical Romance couldn't make it tonight. We're not My Chemical Romance. Fuck those guys. We are The Black Parade!" (Eventually he'll drop the charade and admit that "We're back, motherfuckers!")
The Black Parade, it transpires, is the title of MCR's third album, the follow-up to Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge which revealed Way to be a far smarter songwriter than most of his emo peers. In amongst familiar fan faves such as "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)", "It's Not a Fashion Statement It's a Deathwish" and "The Ghost of You", we get previews of "Dead!" (which has a heavy touch of Bowie's "Five Years" about it), and the somewhat White Stripesy "House of Wolves" (introduced in the worst British accent you've ever heard).
Contrary to the Mail's story, which spoke of slashed wrists and eating disorders, Way says the message of The Black Parade is "keep yourself alive", and adds, "The whole thing with this band has always been that we wanted to save your lives. With this record we really needed to save our own."
The last Black Parade track to be unveiled is the best. "Cancer", a hushed ballad with lines about being "sick from all the chemo", hair loss, realising you'll never marry and that "the hardest part of death is leaving you", is sure to become MCR's "November Rain".
It may or may not save his life, but it's gonna make Gerard Way very rich indeed. Whether the Daily Mail likes it or not.Reuse content