Old Trafford Sportball Stadium, Manchester
I should preface by saying that unlike many of you I’m a very casual fan but I’ve really warmed to them of late – so for years my favourite album was ’40 Licks’ but now it’s ‘Beggars Banquet’ (you get the idea). When I found out they were playing a few miles up the road I baulked at paying the guts of £90 but I managed to grab some cheap ‘Lucky Dip’ tickets – basically a way for the Stones to ensure there aren’t empty seats and perhaps to entice fairweather fans like me to take a punt for the price you’d pay for a 3rd tier Indie band at the Academy. The deal is you don’t know where you’re sitting/standing till you pick your tickets up, so you lower your expectations about where you’ll be and indeed whether it’ll be any good -a reasonable gamble.
This is a double-first for me, not only is this my first Stones gig but in spite of being an avid (almost) weekly gig-goer it’s also my first Stadium show. I’m used to turning up just after the support and waltzing in to my local grot-spot – fortunately the ticket agency sent lots of warnings about security checks and arriving promptly – just as well as it pretty much took an hour to walk around to the box office, pass through the gates and find our seats (pausing to spend £18 quid on two Fish, Chips & Peas…I mean how do these people make a profit?)
Our ‘Lucky Dip’ tickets alas were not in the ‘golden circle’ (aka the ‘No Filter Pit’) or on the pitch, but we got a decent central location on the rear seats facing the stage which is preferable to being up in the gods or facing awkwardly side-on half way down.
Our support was Richard Ashcroft aka him out of The Verve. I still like their first album but never liked the gloopy, whiny, mid-paced Indie-Bon-Jovi balladry that followed never mind his solo stuff. We take our seats in time for ‘Lucky Man’ and inevitably ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ which Richard wryly dedicates to Allen Klein -and to be fair, he pulls the stops out performs the song like a man who is supporting the stones in a massive Stadium in front of 50,000 people should.
Around 8.30pm (Keef’s breakfast time if it was 1968) yer actual bloomin’ Rolling Stones hove into view. Thankfully we are spared a montage of clips and newsreel footage to remind you who’s on – just a taped intro and into a one-two of Jumpin’ Jack Flash & It’s Only Rock n Roll. Sorry cynics but I can’t help but be moved by the thrill of being in the same post code as living music history – look…It’s Charlie Watts..playing the drums…over there…There’s Ronnie – I can almost see him! Fuck!
The sound is never great at big outdoor gigs but it’s surprisingly loud considering we’re at the back of the Enormodium particularly when Keef or Ronnie decide to hit a crunching power chord. The drums and bass are mixed low where we’re sitting but I’m guessing that’s to mitigate against delayed drum hits echoing around the stadium although the sound improves as we go along. I’m immediately struck by how loose and laid back they are. They could be jamming in the back room of the pub over the road, especially Charlie who swings away and takes it all in his stride as you’d expect. There’s little in the way of flashy FX, the screens mainly home in the band members so you can watch them do their thing – that’s the focus and all the better for it.
Sir Mick of course takes charge of crowd pleasing duties and he’s still running up and down platforms, swinging his minature hips, flailing limbs and doing everything you’d expect Mick Jagger to do any year since the 1960s, ever so slightly slower and without the lycra catsuit. Vocally he’s spot on. He perhaps has less vocal aerobics and high notes to wrongfoot him than Macca and certainly Brian Wilson, but he nails every song – he may have a few more laughter lines but the vocal chords are as sprightly as ever.
The audience banter is pat, but endearing – I’m strangely tickled by Mick asking if “anyone here’s from Stockport…oh and I forgot Bolton” and Mick claims they’ve been hanging out in the Northern Quarter and the Curry Mile (which I really want to believe even though I suspect Charlie stayed in his hotel room tending to his sock collection) and has a little dig at our troubled Northern Rail (there will be a topical local gag in every city I’m sure but it works a treat) . Keith mumbles charmingly about being glad to be in “Manchester…and its…environs”. The set is obviously packed with big hitters (although they could have played plenty more) but there’s few deep cuts for fans (count 3 tracks from Some Girls) and a storming cover of Like a Rolling Stone.
I really appreciated the fact this clearly isn’t a tightly choreographed, heavily rehearsed set unlike so many huge acts. A glance at Setlist.Fm shows how they’re jumbling the sets up each night and how much they’re winging it in front of 50,000. They’ve clearly got some set-pieces like Sympathy for the Devil which rely on a click track or Paint it Black which has some suitably ghostly lighting cues. Otherwise they stretch things out, there’s a few bum notes, fluffed cues and and it doesn’t matter. It’s not listless or sloppy and they’re certainly not phoning it in – they’re all smiles (even Charlie) and they’re clearly enjoying playing and occasionally trying to catch Mick out – and I like that even though they’ve got their seasoned supporting players it’s still all hinging on Charlie keeping it together – it makes the gig special – our one won’t be the same as your one. Depeche Mode take note.
Bloody thousands of ’em. All ages really, lots of people bringing their kids along as you’d expect – yer mainstream crowd who maybe see a live gig once in a blue moon mingling with some suitably wild and freaky folk who have seen the Stones so many times they have started to look like them – I saw a few who could stand in as stunt doubles for Ronnie or Keef.
It made me think..
So I was dead impressed and we were yammering on about it all the way home so that’s a good gig in my book. I can’t help feeling this might be a better performance than you might have seen 10 or even 20 years ago when Ron & Keef might have been a bit more refreshed. Hugely enjoyable well paced set, and played with style, class and grace – (compare and contrast to those Beach Boys 50 year reunion gigs for instance). Seasoned Stones watchers (easily spotted, especially the couple sporting their special VIP merch) might have their gripes and the usual bores will trot out clichéd arguments about their combined age and that they should call it a day. I strongly disagree, while Mick can sing and gyrate, Charlie can still swing behind the beat and Keef and Ronnie can hit a power chord and knock out a basic blues riff, why should they stop? In rock terms we’re still measuring ‘how long’ by The Stones. They’re the first band to get this far, and stay this big for this long and still put in a decent performance. They’re a massive part of rock history, and on the strength of tonight they were right to keep on keeping on – and I reckon they’re smart enough to know when to call it a day.
Set list here: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/the-rolling-stones/2018/old-trafford-football-stadium-manchester-england-63ed567f.html