The Stones 2012/13 vintage is, we already know, a Grand Cru, following landmark gigs at the Dome last November and Glastonbury last weekend. But this latest alfresco show, almost 44 years to the day from their last appearance in Hyde Park, confirms that the “Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band In The World” has changed from brand cliche to mission statement.
At that 1969 show, they played from a stage little bigger than a flatbed truck, barely visible from the rear of the crowd; this time, the stage and speaker blocks are the size of Buckingham Palace, flanked by giant plastic oaks whose fake foliage fringes the proscenium and lighting gantries. As we wait for them to show, the whole edifice screens a continuation of the parkland which, as stage-time grows near, sprouts gigantic magic mushrooms. Then “Let's Spend The Night Together” accompanies news footage of the 1969 concert, and suddenly we're spending the night together with the Stones, lurching their way through “Start Me Up” with the full complement of louche panache.
They look great - healthy in a gnarled, knotty way, and styled with casual flamboyance. Mick's gold brocade jacket is discarded by the second song, but later on he'll wear two outfits clearly referencing the '69 show - a flimsy white thigh-length chemise, and a snazzy electric-blue jacket with a blue butterfly motif, recalling the insects released to commemorate Brian Jones' tragic death. And the set is virtually perfect, a litany of indestructible classics from “Tumbling Dice” and “Jumpin' Jack Flash” through to the final encore of “Satisfaction”.
Highlights tumble one after another. There's a raucous, driven “Down The Line”, backdropped by a tableau of originators, from Bo Diddley to Howlin' Wolf; a “Paint It Black” boasting Ronnie Wood's spiralling arabesques of electric sitar; Keith beaming broadly as he slashes out the riff to “Bitch” alongside young guest hotshot guitarist Gary Clark Jr.; Mick and backing singer Lisa Fisher duetting up a storm on “Gimme Shelter”; and Bobby Keys honking out that most emblematic of rock sax breaks on “Brown Sugar”, his greatest gift to music.
Mick Taylor later reprises his debut appearance as a Stone at that earlier Hyde Park concert, as part of the triple-braided blues funk of “Midnight Rambler”, whilst Jagger dances down the catwalk, hands clapping above his head while his microphone pokes suggestively from the top of his trousers. It all builds to a glorious climax with “Sympathy For The Devil”, played through a smokebomb pall against a fiery backdrop, Keith rasping out a piercing solo as the crowd starts up a chant of “whoo-whoo” that later rings round Hyde Park Corner underground like the demonic mating-call of dedicated hedonists. Which, in a way, it is.
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