Oh, must I? (now with added contemplative coda!)


I’m busy chasing deadlines this week, so have had little desire to be bashing away at a keyboard for any longer than is strictly necessary. And yet, there’s this…this…this thing hanging over me:

“Why I Enjoyed The Rolling Stones Concert At Wembley Arena On Friday Night.” Three hundred words minimum, to be posted on your blog by Sunday at the latest. You do realise that this work is two days overdue, don’t you? And did you come to me and ask for an extension? Because I certainly don’t recall any such conversation taking place…

Sigh. Mutter. Sorrysorrywon’thappenagain.

(Thinks: it’s a good job that the YACCS comments system has been down since the weekend. They’d have been all over me like a pack of wolves, that lot.)

Trouble is: there’s nothing to be said about the Rolling Stones in concert that hasn’t been said before, many thousands of times over, by just about every rock hack on the planet. Blah blah Jagger the consummate showman blah blah where does he get his energy from blah blah still together after 40 years blah blah something amusing about Keith Richards and wrinkles blah blah good old Charlie Watts eh (mention the silver hair) blah blah the years roll back blah blah still the greatest rock and roll band in the world will this do?

All of which is true, of course. Yes, the Stones were fantastic. A no-nonsense, back-to-basics show which simply served to show that, musically, this band are still masters of their craft. The main thought which I took away with me: my God, these guys can play.

Personal highlights: a beautiful Love In Vain (the only slow track of the night)…an intense, intoxicating extended jam in the middle of Midnight Rambler…rollicking, swaggering renditions of Tumbling Dice and Happy (both from Exile On Main Street)…

…but all these were as nothing compared to the moment when the band left the stage, sauntered towards us along a narrow catwalk in the middle of the crowd, and took up positions on a much smaller spur stage, slap bang in the middle of the arena, complete with a second drumkit and a separate PA system. As we were fairly centrally positioned, about two thirds of the way back on the main floor, we now had an absolutely excellent close-up view of the band. Dymbel quickly shot down our aisle as far as he could go. A few minutes later, I joined him – by now so close that, as Dymbel said, you could see just how much make-up they were all wearing. What had until then been a standard large scale arena show now took on much of the feeling of an intimate, rough and ready club gig, as the Stones bashed out raucous, electrifying versions of Respectable, (no, not the Mel & Kim hit – children, please!) It’s Only Rock & Roll and Dymbel’s all-time favourite, Brown Sugar. It was one of those moments – one of those perfect, exultant, oh my God, I can’t believe I’m experiencing this rock and roll moments – that can only come along a handful of times in a lifetime. Yes, that good.

(Besides – and this struck me like a flying mallet, as soon as the track started up – in a year where I’ve inexplicably found myself hanging out with Conservative politicians, judges, senior clergymen, national newspaper columnists, assorted Prominent Members of the Business Community, and various other assorted Great & Good Pillars Of The Wotsit, just how lyrically appropriate is Respectable to My Life As She Is Currently Lived, anyway? OK, so we haven’t taken heroin with the President just yet, but, y’know, give it time?)

Not that the show wasn’t without its longueurs, mind. Keith’s solo spot turned out to be everybody’s toilet break, there was an interminable blues jam (into which time they could comfortably have fitted all three of the biggest omissions: Gimme Shelter, Sympathy For The Devil and You Can’t Always Get What You Want), and their cover of the O’Jays’ Love Train was as baffling as it was pointless. But when The Greatest Rock & Roll Band In The World (TM) is fired up and pumping out Jumping Jack Flash to a delirious home crowd (of all ages, it should be pointed out – no Yes-style gleaming oceans of male pattern baldness here), then such trifles can be forgiven. Some living legends deserve their status.

OK, can I go outside and play now please?

Update: No, that’s not quite got it. That’s not quite the whole story. There are two further observations which still need to be made.

Firstly – the lack of danger, of threat, of menace, which underpins so much (if by no means all) of the Stones’ best work. If they had played Gimme Shelter, or Sympathy For The Devil, or You Can’t Always Get What You Want (and all three songs are still very much part of their live repetoire), then would these qualities have re-surfaced in any way? Or is this something we should not reasonably be expecting from a contented bunch of comfortable family men in their late 50s and early 60s? This show was all about lovingly crafted musicianship, neatly judged showmanship, and a sense of collective celebration. Plenty of other equally great shows are also about nothing more than that. Maybe that’s enough. But I’m not sure.

Secondly – that Jagger fellow. I found him strangely obtuse. Yes, he was the consummate showman. Yes, his energy levels never dipped for one second. Yes, he threw every classic Jagger-esque shape in the book, and then some. And yet, I could never quite shake off the feeling that behind the performance, astonishing and compelling as it was, there was something of a void. With Richards, Wood and Watts alike, you could readily, visibly, sense their huge and genuine enjoyment at being onstage. They would catch each other’s eyes and grin. They would lose themselves in their playing. With Jagger, however, the mask never slipped. I couldn’t help wondering whether his onstage persona had long since ossified, and that all we were seeing was a perfectly executed sequence of stock postures. Consequently – and despite his undeniable expertise at whipping us up into the requisite frenzies at the right moments – Jagger never quite made a full emotional connection with his audience, in the way that I’ve witnessed with artists as unlikely as Robbie Williams and Neil Diamond, for instance. It was never personal. But, once again, maybe that was enough. Open verdict, then?

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