Before the show much was made about the fact it was 44 years ago when the Stones last played Hyde Park. It needs said that once standing in the field with a few minutes to go before the band hit the stage the importance of the occasion was palpable.
Come show time the intro video of “documentary footage” from that time in 1969 (44 years and one day earlier) made it even more real. How many bands touring today are (more or less) the same lineup from 44 years ago, let alone having been together for over 50? First song out of the trap was ‘Start Me Up’, complete with a rare bum second note. I guess this only shows that even after decades together and playing to huge crowds, nerves can still get the better of you (if only slightly) at such a performance as this. It was the only noticeable bum note of the entire show.
The crowd tonight was 65,000 strong. There were many ages and nationalities, all with a love for The Rolling Stones in common. In fact, never has Mick singing “…you make a grown man cry” seemed more appropriate as I look around the arena.
‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)’, and ‘Tumbling Dice’ were quick second and third tracks. The sound mix was crystal-clear, the view superb, the weather a balmy 28 degrees. This was a perfect summer Saturday night, with the best house band in town! We were treated to a rare outing for ‘All Down The Line’, then personal favourite ‘Beast of Burden’ followed before we were given the only post-1981 track of the set; new song ‘Doom and Gloom’.
The stage was spartan by some accounts, however not exactly under-stated. There were a few oak trees which made up the sides of the stage, and two massive wrap-around screens made up what is usually speaker stacks and cloth banners for the full left and right of the stage. A further screen filled in the gap behind the band. Full-size. Basically if it wasn’t an instrument, or band-member, everything you saw was a screen (or a tree).
The tree theme made the stage blend into the Hyde Park scenery as best it could – the screens showing images of trees helped. The sound desk rig and relays were all covered in leaves, giving everything a surreal forest feel which somehow worked. Mick quipped at one point, “Jeez check out this stage set – a cross between Wimbledon and the Pantomime Forest.”
Gary Clark Jr. joined the band onstage for a blisteringly good ‘Bitch’. ‘Paint It Black’, ‘Honky Tonk Women’, and the Keith Richards’ lead vocal tracks of ‘You Got The Silver’ and ‘Before They Make Me Run’ followed adding to the classic feel of the evening.
Previous guitarist Mick Taylor joined the band for ‘Midnight Rambler’, which was extra-special given that the 1969 Hyde Park show was his first ever performance with the band; Jagger joked tonight that “we found him in the pub and dragged him on stage in front of 200,000 people.” Taylor seemed very emotional come the end of the song.
Not that the earlier 13 tracks weren’t classic, but it is fair to say that the remaining 6 were just out-and-out home-run big hitters! ‘Gimme Shelter’, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Brown Sugar’ completed the main set. A sublime, truly goose-bump-enducing ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and a party atmosphere ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ completed the show.
Wow! I suppose it stands to reason that if you’ve been a band for over 50 years that you’d be good live. Especially when so many still revere your body of work. The first time I saw them was 18 years ago, and I’ve seen them a handful of times between then and now. However tonight had such a sense of occasion. The show was special, extra special. We won’t get 50 more years, but I would be surprised if a band this good, this match-fit, just hang up their instruments and put on their slippers.