There was a short, sharp downpour before the Rolling Stones took the stage at Twickenham stadium on Sunday, prompting a certain amount of unease. Puddles were hastily mopped up, for we know what can happen to brittle bones in the event of an unseemly tumble; and I’m guessing there was a hair dye issue too.
But the sky cleared – hey, clouds, get off of my gig – and so should the jokes about free bus passes. There is no band anywhere that can provide this much energy, commitment and stagecraft. Mick Jagger, lithe and nimble, stormed into “Jumping Jack Flash” with all the confidence
you would expect if you had the backing of one of the greatest riffs of all time.
The flow of hits was relentless: “Ruby Tuesday”, “Tumbling Dice”, “Honky Tonk Woman”, at the (well-judged) expense of newer material. Not that everything was perfect. The lighting and quality of image on the giant video screen were exemplary, but the over-amplified sound turned the band’s murky swagger into something indistinct, and Charlie Watts sounded like he was drumming on coconuts.
They ambitiously took on “Sway”, a masterly, rarely performed number from Sticky Fingers, but it lacked the lazy lurch that makes it stand out on the album, and we were reminded once more that Ronnie Wood is no Mick Taylor. It was a sharp exposure to the limitations of stadium rock, which has little time for subtle shading or texture.
But how it loves nature’s exhibitionists. Where Jagger is all upright strut, his partner in rock-and-roll accomplishment Keith Richards is of the slouch- and-crouch school. He frequently played his guitar round his ankles, down and dirty, and received the greatest ovation of the night when he came to the front of the stage.
Richards has become the greatest national symbol of indefatigability since Douglas Bader. He lit up when introduced to the crowd, but tossed the cigarette away soon after. It was the only note of restraint of the evening.
The stage effects intensified. We had hell fire with “Sympathy for the Devil”, a stage that slid into the crowd, and, during the encore of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, what can only be described as an ejaculation of fireworks from the stage sides: a hymn of teen frustration finding spectacular resolution in the London skies.