The Rolling Stones: Still big, still bangin’ away

Ticket for the Rolling Stones at Twickenham Stadium, 20 August 2006Last night I caught the train to Twickenham Stadium and saw my sixth gig by the Rolling Stones in just over a decade. And despite my general dislike of stadiums and annoyance at the outrageous ticket prices that the band now charge, I enjoyed it.

I’m forever seeing people moaning about the state of Keith and Ronnie’s musical chops, but I saw nothing but a fine display of rock ‘n’ roll guitar-slinging last night – not to mention the perfectly dangled cigarette. Mick, clearly recovered from the laryngitis that scuppered Spanish gigs last week, was on top form too, strapping on a guitar for Streets Of Love and looking pretty darn cool wearing it. (Sorry to get all tabloidy for a moment, but there’s still not an ounce of fat on him – his stomach is as flat as my windowsill.)

And, of course, Charlie’s good tonight, innee?

Gripes? Only one, really – and that’s the lack of surprises, in either setlist or production. The Stones’ MO hasn’t changed much over the last few tours: mix the best-loved hits from the most-celebrated records with a few classics from the ’60s and three tracks from the latest album – in this case A Bigger Bang. Keith does his bit in the middle, which always sounds great (we got Slipping Away and Before They Make Me Run last night), and the band play a few numbers on a little stage in the middle of the stadium with minimal production. Once Sympathy For The Devil kicks off and everything goes red for a bit, it’s a sprint down a very familiar path until Satisfaction rounds the night out.

If this was my first Stones gig, I’d have been thrilled. As it was, I was merely happy to see the band playing and performing so well, as it felt like I’d seen much of this set on the last tour. I was just a few seats away from where I sat in 2003, which cast an even stronger sense of deja vu over my evening.

I’m not blaming the Stones for where I parked my bum, the stage show’s still pretty, and when I heard the not-exactly-rapturous reception that any song that wasn’t on Forty Licks received (the people behind me were audibly scratching their heads at Midnight Rambler), I totally understand why the stadium setlist is built around the hits, with just the odd crumb thrown for the hardcore fan. But I can’t help wishing there were a few more Sways, just to provide some ‘oh my God’ moments for the faithful – some of whom paid more than 150 quid for the experience.

Me? I paid just over 50 (including fees), and still had to buy my own parachute. The view from the top of the stadium was actually pretty good – I was sat about a third of the way down, on the right. The guy and his wife sitting in front of me were plagued all night by a couple of women in front of them who insisted on standing up, despite being in the front row. (Annoyed man: “Excuse me, can you sit down, please?” Woman standing, jiggling her bum: “Sorry, no.”). It’s a scene I’ve witnessed so many times at gigs that it’s come to be an expected part of the night’s entertainment/annoyance (delete according to whether it affects my view).

I can understand people wanting to dance (I’ve been known to partake in the activity myself on occasion – in my own special way), but venues really ought to specify whether standing is acceptable at seated shows, especially ones that attract an older crowd, so that people are better informed before they buy tickets – or at least offer sections of seating that are guaranteed to remain seated during a show. The women who were standing had no idea whether the people behind them were physically able to stand. They might not have cared either, but hey…

Thanks go to the woman next door to me who regaled me with a tale of Mick and Tina Turner doing their thing at a charity show in 1994 – and offered me her crunchy snacks (that’s not a euphemism). A big boo goes to the person responsible for misspelling Ron Wood’s name – in half-inch-high gold letters – in the official programme. I didn’t buy one (15 quid?!), but I caught sight of the gaffe while nosing over the shoulder of the guy in front. Ronnie Woods, indeed.

See you back here in 2009, then? Oh, I expect so.

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