Monday, 15 July 2013

Review of the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park, London. July 13, 2013

That's it. I've seen the Rolling Stones live. Never before and probably never again but I've done it. I'm pretty sure it was them, too. There in the distance, the snake-hipped guy with unbelievable energy, delighting a massive crowd with sheer rock 'n' roll presence from first song to last. The older-looking guitarist with the shock of grey hair and blue headband. The trim-looking grey-haired drummer in the green t-shirt crafting every rhythm with the minimum of effort. The younger looking guitarist with the spiky black hair. Yep - that's them.

Confirmation came on the big screens, massive like everything else at Hyde Park. A skyscraper-screen behind the band, two house-sized screens either side of the fake-oak tree-fringed super-stage, other jumbotrons stretching into the distance from Hyde Park Corner to Marble Arch. That stage was stunning; Mick suggested Mayor Boris should make it a permanent part of the London landscape.

The fear with outdoor gigs on this scale is that being a quarter of a mile away from the stage will kill the joy of being there. Not with the Stones, though. From our chosen vantage point, to the right of the no-man's land which separated us Tier Three hoi poloi from the Tier Two hobnobs, we had full sympathy with Jagger's devil. It helped that we were the other side of six foot tall, mind. I had sympathy with the five-footers around us - the screens and their raised smartphones were their only window on that honky tonk world.

There is something thrilling about hearing licks and riffs that are part of the national psyche being played live, something exhilarating about seeing the ageless, strutting legend from the TV stomping around in purple in the flesh, something epic about being part of the roar that greeted the opening chords of Satisfaction (1965!), Jumpin' Jack Flash (1968!) and Street Fighting Man (1968!). These are the songs on which all British rock 'n' roll is based.

The whoo-whoo refrain of Sympathy For The Devil was the abiding musical memory of the red hot day and night. Long before we'd allowed Jagger to introduce himself, the baying thousands and thousands and thousands were whoo-whooing between every song. When it finally came it was a triumph. Only the sensational Gimme Shelter came close, with Paint It, Black up there with the best of the rest. Mick the showman, an amazing 70 this month, disappeared and reappeared, sporting a fluffy black-feather shoulder warmer one minute, a white 60s mac the next, a black long-sleeved t-shirt when it got even hotter.

Keef left the astonishing end-to-end stage movement to his thinner half, sometimes seeming to zone out after another legendary chord sequence announced the start of another national treasure. When they gathered at the end, arms round each other and bowing as fireworks soared into the summer sky, it felt like we were paying our respects to friends who'd filled our heads with their music since the day we were born.

The show lasted just over two hours, the scorching 80-degrees day lasted more like nine for us. I went with 15-year-old Joseph. It might be his one and only chance to see the band that were having hits even before his ancient dad was born.

We started in the Village Hall tent with James Bay, a tall-hatted singer-songwriter from Hitchen via David Gray. Next up in the steamy Theatre, Valerie June, a snake-haired beautiful bluegrass singer from Memphis. Then it was a stroll across the parched yellow grass to see some Irish fiddle-de-dee popsters called Hudson Taylor on the main stage in place of Tom Odell. Tom's drum kit had made it, Tom hadn't.

We were lured back to the big oak stage after refreshments by the promising phone-app description of Manchester newcomers The 1975. They didn't sound much like Manchester to me. More like The Script.

You know who Jake Bugg reminds me of? Buddy Holly. Next time you hear some of his beatier ones, singalong with the words to Rave On or Peggy Sue and you'll know what I mean. He's great. Can you believe he's only 19? That's only four years older than Joe and a few more older than me.

The always hilarious Cuban Brothers - comedy LatAm wigs, big shades and snug underpants on show as usual - kept us entertained on the Carnival Stage as we queued for delicious £7 plates of paella and buffalo burgers, washed down with £4.50 Theakston's bitter, £2.50 Cokes, £1.50 bottles of water and £5.50 pints of Heineken when the walk to the bitter bar seemed just too far. A Rio-style costume parade and a Queen Bee procession melted in the heat.

At 1.30pm a pint was yours in a minute. By 6pm, it was a ten-minute wait and a chance to talk to friendly strangers - all white, all ages - about why we'd made the pilgrimage. Judging by the multitude of vintage tongue-and-lip tee-shirts, many people had made the journey many times before.

No doubt many will do it again, given the chance. The Stones have been doing farewell tours since 1982, but when you still look and sound like that, and when tens of thousands of people are willing to pay a £100 and up to see you keep doing it, you Don't Stop.

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