The Rolling Stones live at the O2 Arena London, Thursday 29th November - review
Ticket prices are another story. This article centres on the mesmerizing experience that I now know first-hand stems from a Rolling Stones concert. My only regret is that I was not born in time to see them all.
My train from Cambridge down to London was long and filled with impatient frustration, overcome with indescribable excitement. Tonight is the night, I told myself, as I toiled to remember what my life was like before the Stones played their way into it. My first port of call was to check out the highly publicized Carnaby Street display and gift-shop (for sheer novelty only - I had spent enough on a ticket already). I remember thinking as I looked up towards the shimmering decorations, "This is Stones heaven". It added to the enchanting pre-gig build-up that was fizzing inside of me.
I made my way to the O2 Arena. Excitement built as tubes and tubes of Stones fans, from the carefree wealthy to the devoted fans that could not afford a ticket in their wallets - but certainly could in their hearts - converged upon North Greenwich station. I had never seen so many t-shirts bearing the tongue-lips design in one place before. In a way, I felt like I should have been at home with the crowd, and yet I couldn't help but feel a sense of lacking when I looked around. Many attendees (and I mean many) were seemingly upper-class big spenders who came because they could. This made me feel a little shoved, if not bulldozed into Block 403 while the champagne drinkers convened in the better seats and the tongue-pit. Nevertheless, once the hilarious fan/celebrity interview video was played and the "gorillas" started playing their drums, any hesitation I had was soon put to rest.
They opened with 'Get Off Of My Cloud', a change-up from their previous show on Sunday 25th, but still a great number to get the crowd moving. It was a surreal feeling to see and hear Mick sing, Charlie drum and Ronnie and Keith strum right in front of my eyes (small as they appeared, from block 403). Next up was their early hit, 'I Wanna Be Your Man', featuring a rocking slide-guitar solo from Ronnie Wood. It's a really fast paced tune and one which I have always had time for, and I very much appreciate that they chose to roll out these two songs as the introduction to their show instead of powerhouse numbers (which came down upon the audience like a ton of bricks later on). I was starting to register a lack of energy and movement from Keith Richards, but this was put to rest a bit in 'The Last Time' and to a full stop in 'Paint It, Black' when he played the classic riff. The supreme build-up at the end was matched was stomping feet from the crowd.
Fifth was 'Gimme Shelter', with another bone-chilling opening riff from Keith. This number saw the first guest appearance from Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine), whose amazing female vocal part wowed the crowd, especially at the 'rape, murder' part. An appreciative nod from Keith in her direction followed. After 'Gimme Shelter', Mick melted the hearts of the audience when he outwardly asked Keith if he still had the Bo Diddley record that he gave him at Dartford train station all those years ago. With Mick introducing the next song simply as 'a ballad', Ronnie and Keith sat down by the drums with their acoustic guitars and the band performed 'Lady Jane' for the first time live since 1967. The weaving of Keith's guitar parts with Ronnie's work on the 12-string was simply magical, taking the crowd right back to the time from which the song originates.
It was time for the next guest, who Mick (so he told us) first saw dancing in front of the Stones in a club. It was Eric Clapton. As a big fan of the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton both, this was very much the highlight of the show for me, and I had an uncontrollable grin on my face throughout the incredible performance of Muddy Waters' 'Champagne and Reefer'. Eric's first solo was incredible - he had engaged the drive-boost button on his signature Fender Stratocaster, making his tone that little bit extra dirty, powerful and loud. He took two turnarounds, building up in the first to produce a work of ingenuity in the second. This was followed by another verse by Mick (who wielded a harmonica, although did not use it but for the last bar in the song), then by a rocking solo by Ronnie. After this, Keith took a solo. Although he is no virtuoso blues guitarist (comparatively, anyway), the feeling that he put into his fervent solo was incredible, and something that can only be truly experienced by physical presence. I felt overpowered by the thick, robust notes issuing from his Gibson ES-335. This, matched with his overbearing stage presence, made his solo thunderously elegant. Eric's second solo may not have been as impressive as his first, but it still resounded with the notes of the best blues guitarist ever to have lived.
'Live With Me' and 'Miss You' followed, both featuring incredible saxophone solos by Bobby Keys and the latter a bass solo from Darryl Jones. Both are incredibly energetic numbers and really livened the crowd up. Next up was 'One More Shot' and 'Doom and Gloom', the two new songs featured on 'GRRR!'. The former was well performed, though at one point Mick became quite muddled with what part of the song he was at (having listened to the song a few times, I think it was actually the rest of the band, if even the just back-up vocalists, that were in the wrong), but nonetheless they carried on like the age-old rock-professionals they are. It was nice to hear Keith doing backup vocals, staying true to the original track. Before 'Doom and Gloom', Mick took the opportunity to thank fans for their endless support for the band over the years.
Bill Wyman, introduced as the 'man who remembers everything', performed well on 'It's Only Rock n' Roll' and 'Honky Tonk Women'. On the latter Keith played a beautiful solo while Mick moved across the stage, and then Chuck took on a classic piano solo. An interesting animation, depicting a naked woman climbing the Empire State Building being shot at by gorillas in planes, was displayed throughout 'Honky Tonk Women'.
At around the halfway mark, Mick introduced the band. Notable occurrences included Ronnie's introduction as Ronnie 'Wedding Bells' Wood and Charlie coming down off his drums to wave to the crowd after his introductions. The cheers got progressively louder until the roof was raised for Keith, who poured all his energy into 'Before They Make Me Run' and 'Happy' - two key songs that sum up the rock-star image that Keith embodies. The crouched pose that he struck on the final chord of 'Happy' will stay in my head for a long time - I managed to get a photo, albeit a blurry one.
After this, the stage went dark and all that could be heard were harmonica notes and guitar licks. When the lights came back on, there was Mick Taylor with his Gibson Les Paul and the band started into the live classic, 'Midnight Rambler'. Mick T's licks and fills were less sloppy than those which I had heard him perform on recordings from the previous show on Sunday, but still effortlessly ingenious. He looked in his element as he moved around the stage; like a true Rolling Stone. Mick (Jagger) moved around the stage during the instrumental section of the song - watching him do his stickman moves from a distance was utterly hilarious.
Next came the real powerhouses, beginning with 'Start Me Up', which really got the crowd up on their feet and singing along. Afterwards Mick asked, "Are you feeling good?" to a thunderous response. 'Tumbling Dice', whose classic riffs and vocals always seem to stir emotions in me, was performed brilliantly. Ronnie played a nice slide-guitar solo, but for me the song's flair stemmed from the classic back-up vocals by Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fischer. Keith's melodic guitar lines during the outro sent shivers down my spine. Not but a few seconds after 'Tumbling Dice', the band had already broken into 'Brown Sugar' which featured a classic saxophone solo by Bobby Keys. Mick really got the crowd involved at the end (as one would expect with the hit).
A slightly longer break preceded 'Sympathy for the Devil', probably because it was time for Mick to change into his big gorilla-style coat (only to take it off about two minutes later). Of course, the crowd recognized the renowned bongo-intro and began the woo-woos by its own initiative. Keith rocked out an amazing guitar solo. After Sympathy, Mick said goodnight - but I saw no one in the audience leave their seats, for everyone knew more was coming.
The London Youth Choir performing the introduction to YCAGWYW filled the darkness, and the crowd was almost silent as everyone listened, awestruck by their wonderful voices. The appreciative silence continued as Mick sang the opening verse. The powerful effect may have been intensified further if I hadn't known it was coming, but alas I couldn't help but look up footage of the Sunday show as it became available. Mick got the crowd singing along, and the choir sang superbly during the fast bit at the end.
The band finished with two classics - 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' and 'Satisfaction', the second of which featured an amazing solo by Keith as he strutted out onto the edge of the tongue and took center-stage. The band left for good after their final bow, for which Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman came out to join them.
Seeing the Rolling Stones live for the first time was definitely one of the best experiences of my life. Money well spent? That's simply a question I'm trying hard not to think about...
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