Back home after my walk to Stratford and the unexpected surprise of finding out the Rolling Stones were playing there at the Olympic Park that evening, I was soon back on my laptop editing my notes to what will be Plains, Mountains, Plains Again the latest addition to the Om Recollections section of my website Traceless Path. If truth be told I was finding the editing pretty hard going, as to all intents and purposes, not a whole hell of a lot happened this time on my trip to India, apart from a week long jaunt with my wife Dawa Dolkar up to the north and hills of West Bengal before finally ending up in the Himalayan city of Gangtok, capital of Sikkim. Pretty much all, or at least most, of the rest of it is taken up with details of my efforts to get up at around 4 am in our house in the settlement down in South India each morning in order to do meditation. Only I suppose the details are not that descriptive at all of what actually went on if truth be told, or at least that is how it seems to me. They are just repetitive, filled with a lot of strange words about finding the sight of the guru by way of the light of the 3rd eye, projected awareness out of body so as to look back upon the form of the meditator, stuff like that, stuff which to be quite honest is not going to be material that are lot of people are going to relate to. Due to this it was fairly easy for me to get distracted from what I was supposed to be doing, the editing, by way of often jumping online at pretty frequent intervals, flitting from here to there. Either that or opening up my media library, creating playlists of music to listen to, which only distracted me further, one I had it pumping out of the speakers, or opening different programmes on the desktop, to have a tinker with this and that.
This time around, after ploughing through a bit more editing, I found myself on the official Rolling Stones website, curious to get a little bit more information on this current leg of their No Filter tour, what it comprised of, how many dates they were playing, see the schedule breakdown, the cities they were playing in, the usual stuff. Guess I did find it quite incredible that they were still out there doing it, playing live, playing to huge audiences at that, playing in stadiums across the land. Simple fact of the matter was they were now all in their mid-70s, with the exception of Ronnie Wood who was 69, so they were no spring chickens that was for sure. As I checked their No Filter dates page I saw they were in fact playing two shows at the Olympic Stadium, the first one being that night, May 22nd 2018, then three days later they were playing again on May 25th, Friday night. Not only that, I also saw that tickets for the 2nd London show were still available, and a number of them available through something called Lucky Dip where they were going for just 30 quid a throw, which really was a bit of a bargain whatever way you looked at it. A 30 quid Lucky Dip certainly compared very favourably to an average bog standard ticket which to see the Stones could be anything from 80 – 90 quid at least. It dawned on me it would be more than possible for me to go and see them if I wanted to and then just as suddenly I realised that I most certainly did want to go and see them, very much indeed in fact.
If truth be told it has always bugged me somewhat that I had never got round to see the Stones play live, as after all I was more than a little partial to their music, having in my collection pretty much everything they had released officially from Let It Bleed onwards. That was from the late 60s right up to the end of 2016 with their Blue & Lonesome album of blues covers released to great critical acclaim. This good reception certainly did make a bit of a change as usually anything new the Stones came out with, pretty much since Emotional Rescue back in the early 80s, had been almost universally panned, sometimes panned with relish it had to be said. So, yes, you see it really did seem that this time around I was destined to see them as, like I said, I was a bit of a fan. I had loads of their stuff, often in the deluxe edition version too, albums like Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street and Some Girls all of which had been given the expanded and re-mastered treatment over the last few years and I had bought them all. So there was form for me with the Stones and it definitely bugged me from time to time that I hadn’t seen them live and in the flesh.
If I sat down and really thought about it I realised I had been deliberating seeing them live since as far back as 1982 when they played a show at the Cardiff Arms Park, now long gone, in, naturally enough, Cardiff, South Wales. For reason or another, almost certainly financial although I can’t exactly remember, I hadn’t gone along to see them back then although I knew people who did. Since that first opportunity I guess it has then been a succession of vague, missed opportunities ever since, like when they played stadium shows in London, places like Wembley or Twickenham, just never quite got it together for some reason to go along. This time however it really did look like I was staring a gift horse in the mouth as not only were there still tickets available but if I ordered through the Lucky Dip option they were cheap as chips as well. On top of all that the show was at a location that was only 5 tube stops from where I lived, so what could be simpler than that? Nothing much could be simpler than that if truth be told.
By now it was late, late afternoon on that Tuesday but before pressing the button I thought I would wait to go over it with Dawa Dolkar when she returned later that evening from her trip to Stockholm, I just would have to hope those Lucky Dips would still be around. Yes, I would wait in order to check with her to see if she wanted to go as well, even though I was pretty certain that she wouldn’t as she had little or no interest whatsoever in the music of the Rolling Stones. All the same it was only polite for me to wait a little bit just so she had the choice, I guess a part of me also needed to go over it with her, get her blessing, before I went ahead and splashed the cash, even if the amount of cash to be splashed was a relatively modest sum, probably 35 quid max when booking fees were taken into account. Predictably enough Dawa Dolkar was not interested in the slightest in seeing the Stones when I told her all about it later that evening, but she was fine with me going along, in fact she positively encouraged it.
So, around 10 that evening I was back on my lap top again, hungrily scrolling down the No Filter tour page on the Stones website. The Lucky Dip tickets were still available to order so without any further ado I pressed the button, but it was at that point that a pop up appeared on screen informing me that, as I was trying order through the Lucky Dip, I would have to order a minimum of 2 tickets. Those were the rules. Shit, that momentarily threw a spanner in the works, things were maybe not going to be quite so simple as I had hoped. There was always a catch to these things, too good to be true and all that, or at least that was how it seemed to me. The problem with ordering two tickets would be finding someone else to go with at short notice, it would not be easy, potential candidates seemed to me to be a bit thin on the ground once Dawa Dolkar was taken out of the equation. Still, the more I looked at it the more I realised that even if I bought a couple of Lucky Dips they were going to still end up cheaper than a normal full price ticket and there would of course always be the chance of disposing of the spare one way or another. Therefore I went ahead and made the order for a pair of Lucky Dips which, as I read through the their terms and conditions, were basically tickets for any part of the stadium, either seated or standing, near or far; I would only get to know where I was when I collected them from the box office on the day of the show. Done and dusted, there was no getting away from the fact that I was as pleased as punch when I printed my receipt with my order reference on it. After all, I now had a Rolling Stones show to look forward to, down in the Olympic stadium at the end of the week on Friday night, I mean what could be better than that?
Going back upstairs and confirming with Dawa Dolkar that I had indeed got a ticket, in fact due to the rules and regs concerning Lucky Dips I had got two of them, I sat down to think if there was anyone else who might want to come along to the see the Stones with me. There was my nephew Thinley Wangchen but he was working hard at the moment and pretty much oblivious to the existence of the Rolling Stones in any case, so he was out of the equation. Suddenly it dawned on me that Marc Murphy, my old partner in concert crime from my Dylan going days might very well be interested, so around 10.30 that evening I sent him a text, throwing in as bait that if he was up for it the ticket would be on me. Sure enough, a little over an hour later he texted me back saying that yes, he would love to see the Stones and that he would see me on Friday. This was great news, I sent him a quick reply telling him that the earlier we met up the better as we would have to collect the tickets from the box office. Felt a bit stupid, if truth be told, texting him that, as if in some way it might be putting a bit of pressure on him to show up on time when no pressure was needed. Even so it was good to know that both the tickets were going to be used, that I would have a companion, an old companion at that, to go and to see the Stones with me.
The day before the show, May 24th, I got an email from the Rolling Stones promoters setting out what was involved, what was required of me when I went to collect my Lucky Dip tickets. The email stated that when I went to the box office on the day of the show I would have to produce some form of photo id, my receipt with booking reference plus I would also have to bring along the other person who was coming with me to the show. Due to potential queues later in the day, it advised collecting the Lucky Dips between 1 – 3 pm. It was stated that these rules were strictly enforced and that if it was suspected in any way that the buyer was going to try and re-sell the tickets on at a higher price the order would immediately be cancelled and no refund would be issued. All seemed a bit strict to me, heavy even, especially the bit about the other person having to come along as well to the box office, but then again I knew that this was probably nothing out of the ordinary when it came to the Stones and how things were dealt with. Fall out of line and you would pay the price, simple as that, or at least that was how it seemed.
The other person having to come along to the box office scenario, in order to collect the tickets, was a bit of a pain. I had hoped to nip down to the box office earlier in the day, collect the tickets when there was a lot less people about, as of course the Olympic stadium was only five stops away for me on the tube. Then when I met up with Marc in the late afternoon we would be able to head straight for the stadium and the show with nothing else to worry about. If he was now needed to come with me that would not be possible as Friday was a working day for him, and even if it saw him leaving his work a little bit early would still not mean him getting up to Stratford much before 5.30 due to the fact that he was having to come up all the way from Croydon, right across London in other words. It was all a bit difficult to predict just how busy it would be, having to collect the tickets from the box office at something approaching 6 pm. It would probably be peak time by then and potentially full of queues, possibly pretty long ones at that. For more than a little while I did mull over the possibility of going to the box office earlier in the day with Dawa Dolkar in tow so that she collect the spare ticket, after all the box office people were not going to know who the other ticket was for, but the more that I thought about it the more I felt it was only going to potentially create extra hassle. Better just meet up with Marc as planned then roll with the punches. Nevertheless on the day of the show I did alternate back and forth for quite a little while, going over whether or not I should drag Dawa Dolkar down to the Olympic Park, but the more the day wore on, the more I realised it was only going to be more trouble than it was worth. If we did go down it might then mean I would not have time to have a nice soak in the bath which I felt that I needed as the weather was pretty damn warm and I hadn’t had either a bath or shower since the Tuesday so was therefore beginning to get more than a little bit whiffy.
So, by around 4 in the afternoon I was properly bathed and ready to go, in fact getting ready to go took a hell of a lot longer than I expected , mainly due to the fact that the XXL Stones t-shirt I had bought the other day, and which really, if I think about, kicked this whole Stones thing into process, was way too big for me to wear over my jeans and therefore not an option for the show. This was a bit of bummer, I realised that if I had just gone for an XL then it would not have been a problem to sling it on over my jeans, but when I bought it I had been solely thinking of wearing it with shorts where XXL always felt so much better for me, thinking about it probably because it was such a hot day, especially standing there with my shades on in the glare of the outer edges of the park in front of that merchandise stand. It was a bit too cool now to go down to the show with just a t-shirt and pair of shorts, especially as the temperatures would drop even more come evening time, despite all the crowds and excitement. I was caught in two minds over what to wear for what seemed like a hell of a long time, in fact it was serious bout of chronic indecision that I fell into. Eventually I went for an black Dylan t-shirt worn over a pair of white Next jean trousers, along with a blue denim shirt over the t-shirt and a black pair of Sketchers. Just about OK I guess, at the end of the day. Sometimes the simple fact of the matter was that it just went all a bit pear shaped for me in the clothing department and I’m afraid this was just one of those occasions. If I had just gone for an XL black Stones t-shirt at the merchandise stand I would have fitted in perfectly, things would have been so much simpler, but of course I hadn’t and had ended up with a huge XXL yellow one instead. This had turned out to be a mistake and I was now paying the price for making that choice.
By the time I got to The Cow in Stratford, on the edge of The Street and Westfield Avenue and the place where I had arranged to meet up with Marc, it was just gone 5 and, as I fully expected, it was very, very busy. There were tons of Stones fans around basically, simple as that. The queue to get into The Cow was being managed by bouncers as the place was heaving with punters, all no doubt desperate for a nice cold beer to sip. All the same I was able to sit on a wooden bench directly opposite it without much of a problem and wait for Marc there. It was kind of nice, kind of cool, just to be able to sit there, still in the moment, in amongst what was an incredible amount of foot traffic and chatter from the people passing by. People heading this way and that, a good many of them no doubt waiting for friends, trying to hook up with the people they were going to see the Stones with, stuff like that. For some reason I was in a good space internally, feeling relaxed, aware and happy to go along with whatever flowed, not too worried in other words, about any potentially huge queues there might be at the box office when we finally got there to collect out tickets. After about 15 minutes or so I got a text from Marc telling me that he was now outside The Cow as well and indeed when I made an effort to see through the crowds I spotted him, I had just not seen him due to the sheer numbers of people, which was not too much of a surprise, that along with all the noise and confusion which went with it. We embraced each other warmly when we greeted as it had been a good 18 months or so since we had last met up.
We did not linger in the vicinity of The Cow for very long and soon were walking into the Olympic Park, past the Aquatics Centre which I knew so well from my weekly swims, and on our way to the stadium. We were both chatting rapidly, trying to catch up after the time spent apart during which, with the exception Christmas cards, we had not been in touch with each other at all. As for me I told Marc that I was still not working, at least not in any kind of official capacity, that I had been writing and editing stuff for my website, Traceless Path, along with various other pieces of stuff which had been generated by the courses I had been taking at City Lit in Covent Garden. Other than that the main thing I had been doing was providing as much assistance as I could to Dawa Dolkar with the work that she did. By way of return Marc told me that he was still at Tangle Teaze, the hair products company he had joined just before we had last met up, after a long time, well, nearly two years in fact, of being unemployed. From what he said this time around, I got the impression the initial glamour of it had long worn off for him, that he would not be sorry if an opportunity came along for him to move on somewhere else.
Turned out the Lucky Dip box office was at the far end of a small grass field to the south of the park, a little bit of a hike it had to be said, but the good thing about it was there was not much hassle in the way of long queues , we more or less walked straight up to one of the booths and got served immediately. After going through all the requirements by way of showing my booking receipt, photo id and the two of us as ticket holders, we were presented with a fanned out bunch of envelopes by the woman in the booth and told to pick one. I let Marc do the honours and it turned out we struck lucky as Marc chose an envelope which had 2 tickets inside it for the general admission floor area of the stadium arena, where you had the choice to either stand or find yourself an unreserved pair of seats. Standing was fine by me, in fact it was what I was hoping for, I wanted to be on my feet when seeing the Stones, felt it was important to be right in there, right in the mix, not in a seat somewhere up in the gods far from the action. I wanted to my maximise to as great a degree as possible my seeing the Stones live experience so I was satisfied with our choice, or rather Marc’s choice, as we walked back across the field to the stadium.
Once we had presented our tickets at the right entrance, gone through security, we were in an area just outside the stadium where all the food and drinks stands including those selling craft beers were located. We soon decided to join the queue for the Heineken stand, where they were serving fresh Heinekens looking well chilled and tasty. Craft beers were all very well when they were good but a potential pint of piss when not so, at least with a Heineken you knew what you were going to get, a just about above average lager which under the circumstances was just what we needed. Needless to say that once we got the beers in our hands, after queuing for around five or ten minutes, they pretty damn fine, both of us savouring that Dutch Heineken taste as we carried on our conversation, our catch up on all that we had been doing, or not doing, since we had last met up just over 18 months ago.
It turned out form our course of conversation that Marc’s unfortunate run of family bereavement had continued. Since 2012 Marc had lost his brother, mother, sister and now, at the end of last year, his sister’s husband whom he had been quite close to. It was a pretty rotten run in anyone’s book and I well believed him when he told me that he was now sick of the sight of the undertakers who he used up in Hull for all their funerals. Marc was a Hull lad and all his family had lived there, died there as well, and now he found himself of being in the position of last man standing. By way of contrast I told him that I had just been rollin’ along, sometimes floating, sometimes drifting, doing my writing, going to India, living life as it is lived in my part of East London, or at least how it is lived by me. In terms of black clouds the only thing I really had to contend with were those occasional times when I felt like I was little more than a completely useless piece of shit who had no job to speak of, who was bringing absolutely nothing to the table when it came to having to justify his existence in the eyes of others. No, apart from minor wobbles such as that there was really nothing too major to report to him, certainly no form of sadness approaching the loss and grief on the scale which Marc had experienced.
Once we had drunk our Heinekens we both agreed it was time to fill our stomachs, to get something to eat before the show. In that regard Marc was just as happy as I was to head straight for the fish and chips stand where for £9.50 a throw you could get a fresh piece of cod, not the largest piece in the world it had to be said, but fresh nevertheless, a healthy pile of chips and in the case of Marc a serving of bright green mushy peas. As I had coughed up for the tickets Marc had taken over the food and drinks expenses which was fine by me, he was always fair in that regard, and I was soon happily making my way through the hot food in the box that it came in. By now the numbers of people in and around this area in the front of the stadium had grown considerably and noise level was now high as people stood around in groups talking, eating and drinking. Since I had finished my fish and chips way before Marc, who had been eating but also describing to me the demise of the previous company where he had worked for many years before finally handing in his notice, a company which traded in chemicals, I went back to the Heineken stand to queue for a couple more Heinekens. By the time I had got the beers Marc had finished eating his fish, chips and mushy peas so we decided to make our way into the stadium with our drinks, to try to locate the correct entrance needed for us to get into the general admission section of the floor area of the stadium, a vast space where most of the Stones fans were going to be.
Once inside we worked our way into the crowd with our Heinekens in our hands. There was little chance of getting anywhere near the front of the floor area, close to where a catwalk projected out into the audience, we knew that was simply not going to happen as the people there would have been waiting for hours. There was also the fact that the floor was divided in two, the furthermost section towards the front was a closed off No Filter Pit area which required a different, more expensive ticket for which to gain entrance. Some of those had apparently also been available in the Lucky Dip but we didn’t get that lucky, nevertheless we worked our way through the crowd until we got to a point where we were not far away from one of the lighting rigs which also had speakers attached, both sited about halfway down the arena floor. Looking down the stadium floor to the stage we saw that the set was stripped back, stark almost, dominated by four huge black monolith towers which had LED projections on them which I have to say were fantastically clear to look at. Above the stage was a cantilever roof with lighting and then that catwalk which would no doubt be used by Jagger for his into the crowd and back.
It was noticeable to us right from the start just how much younger the majority of the crowd was compared to ourselves, it was also equally noticeable that a lot of people were drinking, noisily talking with each other, looking happy and excited. It reminded me that this was the Stones, the Stones in London, their home town and therefore the show was a special event. It was a coming together of the tribe, you only had to casually look around so as to see the huge numbers of people wearing various forms of clothing, with that red tongue logo emblazoned on either the front or back of them, to know for sure that this was indeed the case. Support for the show was Florence and the Machine, a group whose music I was not really that familiar with in terms of the sound they made but have since got to know through their How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful album which I have to say is stunningly good. Once they came on stage at around 7 pm they didn’t waste much time in getting down to business, a business which seemed to be particularly popular with the females in the audience; stirring, soaring, melodic stuff which was good, more than appropriate to stand there and listen to whilst sipping my Heineken as the sun slowly set on a warm May London evening where the daylight lingered through lengthening shadow. I didn’t really know them but I think I could get what it was that people saw in them, they clearly had plenty of material which worked very well when performed in front of a large group of people.
It was about halfway through the set of Florence and the Machine, pretty much once our Heinekens were finished as a matter of fact, that we decided to head on back out of that particular section of the crowd, back down the arena floor to the end so that we both could go up the steps to the bogs and have a piss. We both needed to be comfortable for the rest of the show, there would have been nothing worse than standing there for the next couple of hours as the intensity built whilst bursting for a leak. Coming back from the bogs, where a visit had been very much needed after those couple of Heinekens, it was now time for us to find our proper place on the arena floor from which to view the main show. Dead centre about three quarters of the way back was pretty much what we came up with. The four monolith towers high at the back, the cantilever roof, beneath the stage and catwalk projection, the two lighting and speaker rigs halfway down the floor and in the crowd, black islands amongst the masses; for all these we were in a perfect position to see and listen clearly. We were pretty much exactly where I wanted to be, the view it gave covered everything and would continue to unless a couple of giants suddenly appeared to stand right in front of us and obliterate everything.
Florence and the Machine had by now left the stage after their well received support set, now it was just a question of waiting a little bit longer for the Stones to come on. We were in the position that I wanted to be. OK, we were pretty far from the stage but that didn’t matter, it was still visible and in addition to that the four LED black monoliths would more than provide us with a detailed view of everything that was going to be going on. Yes, for the towers we had an excellent view, the two outer ones being angled away from each other, no doubt for maximum visual effect. We were also far enough away from the lighting and speaker rigs in the crowd to ensure we would be in one of the best places in the stadium to stand there and just bathe in the sound, that rock and roll celebratory noise of the Rolling Stones. There was space around us on the floor, it was clear that this second London show was not going to be completely sold out but still there were going to be over 60,000 people in the stadium once things kicked off.
There was some busy traffic around us, very busy indeed as a matter of fact, people walking into the crowd to see just how far forward they were going to be able to get, people who were drinks laden, people in groups, people on their own. There were also plenty of people walking out of the crowd with fixed looks on their faces, indicating they were on a mission, on their way in other words to buy more booze before getting back in there again, back into the mass of rising noise and excitement. But we were more than happy with where we were which as far as I was concerned was ground zero. There was a guy next to me around my height and I stood close to him, shoulder to shoulder, thus creating a wall, a human shield so as to prevent punters pushing their way through between us, something which could be most mightily irritating. The wall did it, did it nicely, as two people standing close together meant people had to walk around us, along with Marc to my right who more or less came up to my shoulder. People with beers, glasses of shorts with ice and jugs of Pimms were all around us as the noise grew and grew whilst those black monolith towers had the red tongue logo of the Stones emblazoned on each of their LED screens, red tongue logo against a bright yellow background. Then suddenly a brief announcement was made and the next thing we knew the band had appeared on stage to a rapturous reception from everyone in the stadium.
The number of times the Stones must have now done this through the course of their long, long career must by now have been countless, although not quite as there was always a number out there somewhere, always someone would know exactly how many shows they had done. Me and Marc had decided to go no further, to drink no more than those couple of Heinekens each, there was no point really, we were both high enough from the atmosphere, the occasion, the sight of the Rolling Stones right there in front of us, or at least right there at the other end of the stadium. There was also the fact that the drinking of more alcohol would almost certainly bring in the complication later on of having to go for another leak. That would inevitably mean losing our standing position, or at the very least facing a time consuming, perilous course to navigate if we were ever to find our way back to where we were, especially as there were now plenty of punters behind us. In fact there was never any chance of getting back to where we were, it was just a tiny raft of impermanence we were standing on after all, just the name of the game amongst those shifting sands of a mass of people in a state of high excitement. It was weird for me seeing the Rolling Stones up there on the stage, in the flesh, beneath the cantilever roof, crystal clear on the LED lit monolith towers. Their faces so familiar, faces I had seen countless times over the years, either on TV, in books, magazines, on album covers and on the Internet. I had even seen them a few years ago on the massive IMAX screen down in Waterloo when their Shine a Light film, which documented a couple of shows at the Beacon Theatre, New York, was being shown. Now here I was, one of the cast of thousands of Stones believers, many of them in uniform, who had come to participate once more in this unholy rock and roll ritual, pay homage at their satanic majesties request.
What followed in regard to the show was a set list which pretty much basically concentrated on the classics from the first decade of their career, the ones which worked so well when played live, something which had been proved again and again by the band for almost the last 50 years. Their Exile on Main Street album was released in 1972 and if you take that year, ’72, as the cut off point for the first 10 years of Stones history, logical enough since they began in ’62, then out of the 19 song set list played, no less than 14 of those songs came from that first 10 year period. Out of those 14 songs 9 were from that golden period when the Stones had one of the best winning streaks in rock history with Beggar’s Banquet (1968), Let it Bleed (1969), Sticky Fingers (1971) and Exile (1972). As for the remaining 5 songs of the set there were two from later in the 70s, It’s Only Rock n’ Roll (1973) and Miss You (1978), one from the 80s, Start Me Up (1981), one from the 90s, The Worst (1994) and finally Just Your Fool from their Blue & Lonesome covers album from 2016. So they did not exactly beat about the bush as to what particular time in their history they thought was worth dwelling on.
This did mean of course there was a heavy tilt in the set list structure, with so much of it concentrated on that period when they were pumping out the good stuff, the pure grade A heroin of the Stones canon, written when they were still lean and hungry, not quite the rock and roll superstars which by the mid 70s they had become. Although I do not think it is necessarily the case that it was all downhill from then on, post Exile, there is no denying that the urgency and inspiration slowly morphed into an ethic where they began to just produce what was expected of them, but ceased to really push the boundaries much further than that. Fair enough I guess, they had to all intents and purposes done what they had to do and that had been more than enough to ensure they would always have a rump of material at their disposal which was pure dynamite each and every time they wheeled it out on the road to play in front of countless thousands of people across the globe.
By way of contrast to the time between 1969 and 1972, when they released those four albums which have served them so well over the course of time, we see that if we take 1990 as a start point, the Stones have released precisely three albums of new material, Voodoo Lounge, Bridges to Babylon and A Bigger Bang. If you also include Blue & Lonesome, the recent blues covers album, that adds up to a grand total of four new albums in 28 years, one new album every 7 years, hardly a prodigious output in anyone’s book. There have been other releases in this period of course, but they have been almost exclusively live albums – Flashpoint, Stripped, No Security, Live Licks, Shine a Light, Sweet Summer Sun and compilations – Jump Back, Forty Licks, Grrr!. In addition to these there has also been the From the Vault series of rather pricey live bootleg releases which have now been given official status in the Stones canon. Almost without exception these releases have focused on past glories, although there has been the odd smattering of new material in amongst it all, here and there, namely 2 new tracks tagged on to Flashpoint, 4 new tracks embedded in Forty Licks and finally 2 new tracks finishing off their 50 year career spanning retrospective Grrr! So, I guess it is not too surprising that nigh on the last 30 years of their career is only represented by just 2 songs – The Worst and Just Your Fool.
So this was the full set list –
Jumpin’ Jack Flash / Let’s Spend the Night Together / It’s Only Rock n’ Roll / Tumbling Dice / Just Your Fool / Dead Flowers / Wild Horses / You Can’t Always Get What You Want / Paint it Black / Honky Tonk Women / The Worst / Happy / Sympathy for the Devil / Miss You / Midnight Rambler / Start Me Up / Brown Sugar / Gimme Shelter / Satisfaction
It would be easy to conclude, quite simply, that the Stones are past it, washed up old rockers with no other place to go. However having now seen them live, right there in front of me in the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, I know without any doubt that this is just not the case. The songs they play are simply too good not to be played, the mass participation they engender is a powerful experience of the tribal primal on a scale that few are able to match. It is everyone together, not just us and them, all of us in communication with a deep, dark Devilish underside which, many years ago now, was born under the skies of London and which was now being all brought back home once again. Looking at them up on the stage I did feel that somehow Mick and Keith really did make that journey out to the crossroads at midnight, made a pact with the big black unknown so as to set out on the path to what they have become, which ultimately is a pair of rock and roll survivors surpassed by none. There was a sense of homecoming too, London lads with a London sound makin’ good, whilst shot through with a good streak of pure Chicago blues. They might have all now found riches beyond the wildest dreams of the average man or woman in the street but that still didn’t bar them from cutting it up raw, playing ferocious, getting lost in the music and taking us along for the ride.
The first half of the set took us from Jumpin’ Jack Flash through to Honky Tonk Women. An amazing opener, Flash, I was born in a cross fire hurricane /And howled at the morning driving rain, through an ecstatic Let’s Spend the Night Together, a raucous, if not downright sensational It’s Only Rock n’ Roll, a Sticky Fingers brace by way of Wild Horses and Dead Flowers, a fabulous, revelatory You Can’t Always get What You Want and then to that Honky Tonk, It’s the honky tonk women / Gimme, gimme, the honky tonk blues / It’s the Honky Tonk Women / Alright! Jagger then takes a break whilst Keith sings a couple of his songs, The Worst, which funnily enough did happen to be the worst song of the night, sounding too weak, too fragile to hold up in a stadium setting, and then Happy which started out ramshackle ragged but clicked into its groove halfway through and then made you wish that it would go on forever. Keith is not as animated as Jagger but then again why should he be? The truth is we should be grateful for the simple fact that he is still alive and out of the countless Keith stories, one of the ones I like best is when he describes in his autobiography Life, the making of his Some Girls song Before They Make Run, the fact that he stayed up for nine days in a row until he was satisfied that he had finally nailed it.
It really seemed after the two Keith songs and Jagger was back on stage, that things moved up a couple of gears. Jagger really was a performer out of a different order, nearly 75 of age but more energised as the set went on by way of those dancing, prancing runs down the catwalk through the middle of the screaming crowd. How will he ever be able to let go of it? Sympathy for the Devil kicked things off for the second half and for me served as a pivotal moment of the show, the most important song of the night, hitting the nail on the head of the tribal primal, all come together as one. It was a supplication, a homage, a requirement that it should be played to the standard that it was, and all just as the darkness was coming on. High above the stadium there was a smeared moon, nearly full, high in that darkening late evening London sky, way above those neon lit monoliths it all just seemed so appropriate. From Sympathy onwards the remainder of the set never really lets up in intensity, with the simple fact of the matter that right down the line until Satisfaction, final song of the encore, the Stones wheeled out their arsenal of some of the best songs ever written in the history of rock music when it came to bring them to the people, slamming them down, one after another, in front of a crowd of over 50,000. They blazed through the decades by way of golden afterglow, seared through with an electric life which still cut the mustard to the point of sounding downright fantastic.
So, now you know what I made of it all from where I was standing. Thought it was incredible, enjoyed every minute of it, one of the most concentrated shows I had witnessed, concentrated in the sense that I was concentrating, that I didn’t want to miss a minute of it, new found acolyte just wanting to take it all in. Guess it was meant to be. It came out of nowhere, no way a few days ago could I have seen that coming. Simple fact of the matter was that at little more than 30 quid a ticket through the Lucky Dip, and with the venue being a mere five stops away on the tube, it was an opportunity too good to miss. I mean, if I hadn’t seen the Stones this time then I definitely without any question or shadow of doubt never, ever would have.
At the start of things, this little No Filter adventure, this personal mini tour which didn’t geographically have to go very far, but which spiritually took me to places I hadn’t visited in quite a while, at the start of it I was feeling, how can we say?, a little washed out, something like that. Back on that hot sunny Tuesday earlier in the week, in Wanstead walking past Chestnuts, there was that depressing situation of wanting to take another piss a mere 10 or 15 minutes after having just had one. The sweat it brought on to my brow, the confused scenario in my mind as I walked into Leytonstone, wandering what the hell to do about it. Stood my ground though when on the stadium floor, no wobbles, no urination dereliction or anything like that, just straight up standing in a perfect position to bathe in the sound of the band, watch them up on the monoliths. For that, to all the gods I was more than thankful. Needless to say however, I was pretty tired at the end of it. The Stones came on at around 8.10, finished the encore of their 19 song set at 10.20, so it was more or less a 2 hours and 10 minutes job. Of course if I factor in the time before that, starting off from when I met Marc Murphy outside The Cow, it was a 5 straight hours standing on my pegs, not only that but the walk back from the stadium, in amongst the 60,000 strong crowd took over 50 minutes by the time we finally got to Stratford tube station. That meant when I got on the tube, Central Line eastbound to Woodford, I had done well over 20,000 steps according to the counter on my mobile phone, not bad, not bad at all.
Yes, the whole thing came straight out of the blue. At the beginning of the week I had not even realised the Stones were due to playing a couple of shows in Stratford. At sometime, someplace I had seen they were due to play but that piece of information had long been forgotten since that point when it was first taken in, probably sometime earlier in the year before I had made another trip out to India, the one being chronicled in Plains, Mountains, Plains Again. Even when I first saw that Keith Richards lookalike in the Stratford Centre I obviously realised that then the Stones were in town, but I didn’t know or particularly care at that moment for how long. It was only later, after I had got my t-shirt, that big yellow XXL, and I was browsing the Net back home, when I saw there was another show lined up at the Olympic Stadium. Not only that, but tickets were still available for it, on top of that tickets were still available for it in the form of those reduced price Lucky Dips. So the stars were aligned for it this time around, aligned for me to finally see the Stones, to partake in that glorious, unholy communion of the primal tribal which is the experience of seeing them play live. All of it right on my doorstep, more or less, right next to the Aquatics Centre, a place I have been going to on and off, more or less every week in fact for about the last 18 months, in order to swim, to power those lengths up and down the Olympic sized pool, all 24 of them, so as to stay fit, to stay in the game, this game called life.