The Rolling Stones @ Twickenham Stadium

The Rolling Stones continued to defy the physical symptoms of ageing and flu, to deliver one of their strongest performances in the last decade to 60,000 fans on their home ground of Twickenham.

When your legions of fans are predominantly white, middle class and enjoying the fruits of their hard-earned private pensions, they want a little bit more than your ubiquitous t-shirt and programme, you know. Of course, these items are available to suit all sizes, tastes, bank balances and tour locations, but the ‘true’ fan appreciates the necessity of such trophies as the entire ranges of mugs, pins, key rings, tobacco tins, pocket watches, stickers, fridge magnets, zippo lighters and mouse mats (in various designs and album covers). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Among the expansive range of clothing on offer (from lingeree to leather jackets) the rugby jumper (unique to this venue) is a nice touch. And it’s yours for £80! Welcome to The Rolling Stones: The greatest rock n’ roll merchandising enterprise in the world…

Pitted against this, the tour sponsor (who we won’t mention, just to annoy their marketing department) certainly have an uphill struggle in the battle for brand-awareness today. Still, they’ve given it everything they’ve got and it’s a valiant effort that incorporates specially-decorated tour busses (strategically placed), enormous logos draped over the stadium’s outer walls, and they have even made an inflatable archway over the main entrance (branded, obviously).

Strangely, only mobile-phone cameras are allowed in the stadium (something to do with the sponsor) but don’t worry – for a souvenir, you can purchase a choice of ‘professionally shot’ official photos after the event, or a DVD of the performance, as it’s all being filmed. Signs warn that entrance to the event confirms your permission to be filmed, so, presumably, those who are camera shy or on witness protection schemes can purchase their ’40 Licks’ facemask in the foyer.

Unburdened of cash, we finally enter the venue, to find a pleasantly civilised, intimate and well-organised setting – in stark contrast the the vast concrete chaos of Wembley. The backdrop forms a picture-postcard view, with trees, fields and a little church spire. Most shocking of all, the pitch is entirely seated. On further thought, the majority of the audience are of an age where one would offer them one’s seat on a bus, so it makes sense, and it makes us chuckle. We are truly the youngest fans here.

“Who’s the support band?”, asks the lady infront. “Star something”, comes the reply, “Never heard of ’em”. Judging by the politely curious applause that greets the band on their hike to the center of the stage, not many here have. Still, Starsailor get into the spirit and spend the next hour shamelessly selling their new album ‘Silence is Easy’. To his credit, James Walsh is in particularly fine voice today, and the familiar tones of ‘Alcoholic’ and ‘Poor Misguided Fool’ go down well. Unfortunately, we are then presented with the new album more or less in its entirely. It’s not bad, but a set of new songs is not what the party requires. A closing ‘Good Souls’ is paltry recompense for what ultimately comes across as a dry and slightly arrogant gesture.

Far more entertaining is the drunken character who manages to steal the attention and respect of the whole crowd, through his series of comedy cartwheels across the back of the pitch. Apparently this act contravenes the terms and conditions of the event, and so an army of heavies are duly despatched to remove the rogue performer, to be immediately deafened by 60,000 boos. A riot nearly breaks out and the character is swiftly returned to his original spot.

Next Page: The Stones!,Almost forty years (to the day) since the Rolling Stones last performed in Twickenham (at the Eel Pie Island Club), the house lights dim and and eerie blue hue envelopes the stage. Thankfully, the sponsor banners decorating either side have been taken down. For a moment, it amuses us greatly that the company in question had paid all those millions… for Starsailor. Then, the tribal beats kick in, and a lump of pure excitement forms in the back of the throat. The TV screens have also mysteriously vanished (but you can purchase binoculars from the walking vendors).

[r-zone1]Then, as if by magic, any trace of consumer-driven cynicism is instantly banished to the same pit as the flu virus, as a sprightly Mick Jagger sprints forth, leaping and punching the air, his swaggering co-horts in tow. The Stones are in the house, and that’s all that matters. Kicking straight into ‘Brown Sugar’, pensioners become screaming teeny boppers – on-stage, on the pitch and all over the terraces. It’s a frightening phenomenon, but the euphoria envelopes like a tsunami – you couldn’t resist it if you tried. ‘You Got Me Rocking’ then sees the stage transform mechanically, and four new giant screens appear from no-where, a different Stone in each.

[l-zone3]”Welcome to Twickenham!”, bellows Jagger, “It’s nice of you to come!”, before the band launch into the only new song of the night, “Don’t Stop”. It’s not exactly a classic, but all the rest certainly are, especially a vocally-revitalised ‘Rocks Off’ that sounds as good as it did when they played it in 1971. The pace is slowed right down for a raw, tear-jerking ‘Wild Horses’ that sees Jagger in the best voice we have witnessed live in over a decade of Stones gigs – not bad for a 60 year old with laryngitis! ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ features an awe-inspiring speed-metal ending that spirals gloriously out of control until Charlie is the last man playing! We can’t believe what we are seeing. Limits are being pushed that haven’t been explored for a long time. It’s thrilling.

[r-zone2]There’s no time to catch our breath before the gigantic drum intro that can only be ‘Paint it Black’ pounds us into open-mouthed submission. A gang of key-chain p-rock kidz are moshing on the balcony! Ok, so we’re not the youngest people here any more, but who cares, when the Stones are rocking like it’s 1978. After a joyous ‘Tumblin’ Dice’, it’s time to introduce the band. Charlie is ‘The Wembley Whammer’, Ronnie, the ‘Hillingdon Harlot’, but obviously Keith, ‘The Sage of Sidcup’ gets the wildest applause, before taking center stage and giving Mick a break for a couple of songs. ‘Slippin’ Away’ reveals the human riff to be in great form, and good voice, and ‘Happy’ is as triumphant as it will always be, whilst Keef continues to defy the laws of life and death. We can’t understand a single word he says.

An explosion of tribal drumming hails the start of a triumphant ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, the ending of which has been re-worked into an exhilierating crescendo that blows Norman Cook’s attempt clean out of the water. It doesn’t get much better than 60,000 people screaming “Whoo Whoo!”.

[l-zone5]Next, the band re-convene, via a narrow footbridge to a small square platform in the middle of the pitch. It’s time to go back to the roots, with a stripped-down line-up of the four main men, plus bass (Daryl Jones) and and keyboards (Chuck Leavell). We get the impression that this is the enjoyable part for the band, as they blast through a profane ‘Star Star’, oldie ‘I Just Wanna Make Love to You’ and rocksolid ‘Street Fighting Man’. Then it’s back to the full band on the main stage as Lisa Fischer is allowed to steal the lime-light with her neck-hair-raising banshee howls through ‘Gimme Shelter’.

[r-zone4]The final section is clearly just-for-the-crowd, and the band do their very best to pretend that they’re not just going through the motions through ‘Honky Tonk Women’, ‘Start me Up’, ‘Satisfaction’ and encore ‘Jumping Jack Flash’. The stunning horn-driven outro of the latter is, however, a crowning moment for a truly triumphant return to form, and start of their UK tour. All things considered, it shouldn’t be this good. It just is.

Set List

Brown Sugar
You Got Me Rocking
Don’t Stop
Rocks Off
Wild Horses
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Paint it Black
Tumblin’ Dice
Band Introductions
Slipping Away
Sympathy For the Devil
Star Star
I Just Wanna Make Love to You
Street Fighting Man
Gimme Shelter
Honky Tonk Women
Start Me Up
Jumping Jack Flash