Stones bringing it all back home in London

Published by Reuters


Long gone are the days when the Rolling Stones courted controversy with their sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll antics. Nowadays, the health of the surviving band members is more often the hot talking point.

The first signs were there when drummer Charlie Watts was diagnosed in 2004 with cancer of the throat, a disease which he has apparently defeated. Then came guitarist Keith Richards’ bizarre head injury, sustained earlier this year when he reportedly fell from a tree in Fiji. Richards, as befits his reputation, made a remarkable recovery.

With the start of their European tour accordingly delayed by six weeks, fellow guitarist Ron Wood entered rehab to deal with his alcoholism.

The latest health complaint to dog the band, a throat concern for frontman Mick Jagger, caused the band to pull dates in Spain in past week. But on Sunday night here in London, Jagger was in full voice, with the band reliable as ever.

The biggest show around rolled into town — Jagger, Richards, Watts, Wood and co., collectively back on home turf for the opening UK night of the behemoth “A Bigger Bang” tour. “It’s funny. You go around the world 10 times and end up where you started, in Twickenham, Richmond,” Jagger, a “local”, told the crowd at Twickenham Stadium.

The rock titans certainly made themselves feel at home, cranking out a slew of hits from their illustrious recording career. From the opening track “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, and its follow-up, “Start Me Up”, it was obvious that the band members certainly weren’t slowing down. Richards, introduced by Jagger to the audience as “chief headbanger”, was all-smiles from the first chord. The age lines are there to see on their faces, but the Stones’ years certainly haven’t been spent eating. Their bodies are all-sinew and muscle — Jagger’s biceps looking particularly ripped. These Rolling Stones gather no fat.

On numerous occasions, the Stones exposed a wealth of riches with respect to their catalogue. “Ruby Tuesday”, “Sympathy For the Devil”, “It’s Only Rock ’n Roll (But I Like It)”, “Brown Sugar”, and the encore “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” were on offer. At one point, a riser on which the band and backing musicians were huddled, disengaged from the stage and travelled towards the front of house. Who needs a catwalk? A mini-set which included “Miss You,” “Get Off Of My Cloud and “Honky Tonk Women” ensued.

Twickenham, whose stadium is the home of English rugby, hosted Sunday night’s concert by default. A performance on such grand a scale would usually be expected to play out at the reconstructed Wembley Stadium, but a series of set-backs has meant the latter venue is no-where near completion. “I think they’re going to get Wembley ready for the farewell tour of the Arctic Monkeys,” Jagger quipped.

By the numbers, the tour is looming to be the biggest-ever. Prior to Sunday night, “A Bigger Bang” reported $256.08 million in grosses from 72 shows in US arenas and international stadiums. They were scheduled to play another show Tuesday, before heading to Glasgow, Sheffield and Cardiff.

Perhaps surprisingly, a number of the “cheap seats” were noticeably empty, but then again tickets did cost upwards of $310 (165 pounds) each (including fees).

The band’s power to pull rock royalty, and beyond, remains undimmed. Australia’s former Wimbledon tennis act Pat Cash was one of the faces in the crowd. “It’s a really good show. It’s pretty astounding that they are still there,” Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes told after he caught the band in Nice, France. “The place was packed and it was fun to see.”

And packed Twickenham Stadium was too. It might only be rock and roll, but the Stones showed again that they still like it.