The Rolling Stones began their 50th anniversary tour with the biggest possible bang on Sunday night, as a host of special guests joined them for a hit-packed show in London’s O2 Arena. Former Stones comrades Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor returned to the ranks, while Mary J. Blige and Jeff Beck were also on hand to help with the celebrations.
Wyman – who left the Stones in 1992 – was greeted with warm applause and a handshake from Keith Richards as he returned to play bass on “It’s Only Rock and Roll” and “Honky Tonk Women.” But the biggest cheers came for Taylor, who hasn’t been a Stone since 1974 – he played trademark blues guitar solos on an extended version of “Midnight Rambler” and looked like he was enjoying every second of the reunion.
Blige brought a gospel feel to “Gimme Shelter,” trading vocal acrobatics with Mick Jagger, and Beck did a flashy guitar turn on 1969’s “I’m Going Down.” But, despite the headline-grabbing special guests, the evening remained very much about the Stones’ core members and their remarkable career, with the set spanning from their second-ever single, 1963’s “I Wanna Be Your Man” to their latest, 2012’s “Doom and Gloom.”
In fact, it ended up pretty much like anyone else’s 50th birthday party: there were some old friends, some laughs, some tears, plenty of memories and a lot of embarrassing dancing – plus it was all over in time for everyone to get the last train home.
That said, the evening began half an hour later than billed, at 8.30 p.m., with a video in which stars from Iggy Pop to Elton John and Johnny Depp to Nick Cave revealed how their first time hearing the Stones impacted them. Then a host of drummers wearing gorilla masks – a nod to the cover of their new hits compilation, GRRR! – paraded around the arena before “I Wanna Be Your Man” kicked things off.
Simian percussionists and the massive, lips-shaped stage set aside, this was a relatively gimmick-free Stones set, both in terms of stage production and musical feel. This was the Stones in the raw – or, at least, as raw as they can be after 50 years together and when playing in front of 20,000 fans. So hits like “Get Off of My Cloud,” “It’s All Over Now” and “Paint It Black,” plus a raucous “All Down the Line” were rattled through with minimum ceremony, at maximum volume.
Jagger, however, was in vintage showman form. In between pumping up the crowd with regular forays down a runway that ran around a central “lips” pit full of hardcore fans, he brought plenty of funnies, at one point even joking about the controversy over the cost of tickets for the show, which started at £90 (some were re-sold for thousands of pounds online).
“Everybody alright in the cheap seats?” Jagger asked. “They aren’t so cheap though, are they? That’s the trouble . . . ”
“What a year it’s been for British celebrations,” Jagger quipped later. “There was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee . . . We didn’t do that. The Olympics . . . We didn’t do that. James Bond’s 50th anniversary . . . And we didn’t do the song for that either! But I’m so glad that we’re here and that you’re here.”
Richards – while seemingly content to let Ronnie Wood do some of the heavy lifting on guitar – was in similarly jocular form. “It’s good to see you all,” Richards grinned as he took the mic for a two-song stint, “Before They Make Me Run” and “Happy,” adding, “It’s good to see anybody.”
The other members also took their moment in the sun, Wood milking the applause to such an extent that Jagger was moved to jokingly warn him that people “had to catch the last tube.” In contrast, drummer Charlie Watts only reluctantly stepped to the front of the stage to take his bow.
The set closed with a peerless run of classics, including “Start Me Up,” “Tumbling Dice” and “Brown Sugar,” before Jagger donned a feathery cloak for an epic “Sympathy for the Devil” to close the main set.
After a brief break they returned with not one, but two choirs for a stunning “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” before a final “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” with Richards’ kinetic riffing center stage, ended the evening with a massive crowd singalong.
True, even after 50 years, the Stones still couldn’t get any “Satisfaction” – the 1965 hit was the most notable absentee from the set, despite appearing on the set list handed to the media. But as Jagger left the stage, still jogging and shaking his maracas after two and a half hours and 23 songs, it was clear that even at these ticket prices, the Stones’ 50th anniversary shows deliver value for money.
“I Wanna Be Your Man”
“Get Off of My Cloud”
“It’s All Over Now”
“Paint It, Black”
“All Down the Line”
“I’m Going Down”
“Out of Control”
“One More Shot”
“Doom and Gloom”
“It’s Only Rock and Roll”
“Honky Tonk Women”
“Before They Make Me Run”
“Start Me Up”
“Sympathy for the Devil”
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”