ROCK : Jumping Jagger's still flash

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The Independent Culture
RAPID, heady, perfectly co- ordinated, a marriage of technology and improvisation ... and that was just the camerawork. But you shouldn't say "just". At Wembley Stadium, the images on the screen that towers over the stage are a vital element, and, like the rest of the Rolling Stones' show on Tuesday, they were exceptionally well done. The prime moment was during "Satisfaction", when Keith Richards mouthed: "I love this song!" New bassist Darryl Jones got hardly any screen time, which seemed unfair until you realised that actually you didn't care whether you saw him or not. After all, no one was going to leave the stadium joking about how much Darryl had aged recently.

There were doubtless plenty of amusing "Stone Age"-type comments made about the rest of the band, though, and this should be the last time we hear them. OK, so Richards is tortoise-faced, but he's wiry enough to strip to his waistcoat and "Rolling Stones" wristbands without shame. As for Mick Jagger, he is not in good shape for his age, he is in good shape for any age. When he yanked up his T-shirt he revealed a torso which had the crowd gasping with envy - including those of us who weren't born when he first sang "Not Fade Away". He works for his money from start to finish, never letting up on his jester-boogie: arms stretched straight, rear-end wiggling. At first you thought he looked like someone dancing in front of their bedroom mirror, but of course it's the other way round: it's the people dancing in front of their mirrors who try to look like him. But matching all of his moves would be even more exhausting than reading every article on the band that has been printed in the past fortnight. I'd like to see Damon from Blur running across that stage for over two hours and living to tell the tale.

The stage, by the way, is an architectural marvel comparable to the Lloyds building - except that it looks good. Gangways stretch outwards, a massive lunar-landing module stands on either side, and reaching over the top is a giant desk-lamp.

The Stones jogged around this structure all night, and still had enough puff left over to sound sensational. Richards and Ron- nie Wood, the Siamese twins (or so it seemed from the amount of time they spent leaning against each other), set their danger- ous, unkempt blues licks against the perfect control of the rhy- thm section. Charlie Watts, the ever-diffident drummer, got the biggest cheer of the night: even the rest of the band prostrated themselves in We-Are-Not-Worthy fashion.

The set-list was as you might have expected - the only real surprise being that the Stones could still perform their old material with such indefatigable style. One of the best (and best-received) songs was Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone", which, thanks to Jagger's harmonica squall, rocked and rollicked like a Rolling Stones original.

The extra musicians added brass and vocals without swamping the mix, as they did on the Urban Jungle tour. My only com- plaint would be about keyboard player Chuck Leavell. As well as having criminally un-rock'n'roll hair (curly grey mop and beard), he played in a safely measured, top-LA-session-musician manner. It was a definite improvement when Richards took over briefly on "Honky Tonk Woman" - and he was chanking away at the top of the keyboard with one hand and one foot.

So how come we weren't quite getting no satisfaction for the first half of the show? Why wasn't it engaging even though the Stones' engines were fully engaged? Blame God. Keith Richards has often said that God joins the band for their stadium gigs. No, not Eric Clapton, who was once a contender for Ronnie Wood's job; the other God, the one who was around even before the band were, and who messes up their shows with bad weather. Tonight, the sky was too bright. After the downhome twang of "Wild Horses", Jagger pouted: "Does it ever get dark, do you think?" By 9.30 it did, and the atmosphere was right at last. Inflatable voodoo paraphernalia grew over the top of the screen - a snake, a witch-doctor, a goat's head - and the band revved through "Sympathy for the Devil", "Street Fighting Man", "Start Me Up", "It's Only Rock'n'Roll", "Brown Sugar" and "Jumping Jack Flash", all in a row.

And if that weren't enough, Bill Wyman made an appearance. A brief one, admittedly. He was on screen during "Honky Tonk Woman'', dressed as a woman himself, as part of a montage of lissom females (Wyman appeared between the Queen and Betty Boop). A petty jibe from his old bandmates, perhaps, but it serves him right for leaving the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world.

In its own peculiar way, Marianne Faithfull's show on Wednesday was as powerful as that of her ex-boyfriend. No inflatables or screens, just some chairs added to the Shepherd's Bush Empire's normally bare downstairs. It was a nice touch, not just because it improved the most uncomfortable venue in London, but because it added to the theatricality that is the essence of her music's wasted grandeur.

Angelo (Twin Peaks) Badalamenti, who co-wrote her latest album, A Secret Life (Island), al- most gets it right. But the record's ethereal arrangements - all distant synthesisers, electronic pulses, wistful twists of classical strings and woodwind - are far better suited to the mesmeric voice of Julee Cruise than to Faithfull's Dietrich croak. On Wednesday, she was backed by a rock band, and back in her element.

It's tempting to compare her Sixties pop career to Cilla Black's. Consider Cilla now, though, and you understand how unique Faithfull is. There are not a lorra lorra laughs at Faithfull's show. There are edgy, cold-sweating rock songs and trembling, resigned ballads, growled by a monochrome figure: black clothes, white face, almost white hair. The climax is "Why D'Ya Do It", the unparalleled, bilious, post-adultery stomper which makes Lorena Bobbitt seem mild and forgiving.

Jagger and Richards showed remarkable insight when they wrote "As Tears Go By" for Faithfull all those decades ago. You could call her the British blues singer, in that her music is broken-hearted and broken-willed, but never tries to be American. That's something that the Stones couldn't claim.