“We first played Coventry in 1963”, says Mick Jagger tonight. Even allowing for the practicalities of that – its Charlie Watts’ 77th Birthday today, together with Ronnie Wood’s 71st yesterday – then even if you just stop and consider the political and social changes in those 54 years it is remarkable that music made by men this age and that era still resonates.
The vast majority of the crowd weren’t born when The Stones played The Matrix Ballroom that day in the early 60s, but the Stones transcend any normal boundaries. There are few rock bands that are genuine legends, were genuine innovators and who genuinely captured the Zeitgeist, The Rolling Stones did and they are here to prove why.
At 8.20 tonight on come The Stones. There’s a cast of thousands but all that matters is Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood are among them and “Street Fighting Man” joins them. At 10.25 the quartet, alone, take their final bow after “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and there really is nothing on this planet to compare it to.
Because here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter if you’ve got all the back catalogue, or if you’re like me and own about four Stones albums (one of them a Greatest Hits, naturally) it doesn’t matter whether you liked them from the start or got into them because you heard a cover of “Heartbreaker” (criminally ignored in the vote for audience song tonight in favour of “Like A Rolling Stone”) on The Quireboys live album in the early 90s (absolutely true), it is impossible not to get swept along in the tide of near hysteria that descends on Coventry.
And that hysteria isn’t much to do with a slick production – the big screens are ace, but there aren’t the usual stadium trappings – it is only to do with the sheer charisma, the sheer….something, that The Rolling Stones have.
They, give or take the odd blues thing from the album they released recently – and “Ride ‘Em On Down” is superb – they keep firing the hits at you. These are not songs you may know, these are songs that everyone, everywhere in the world has heard of. “Only Rock And Roll (But I Like It)”, “Tumbling Dice”, “Paint It Black” and my personal favourite “Dead Flowers” would each be the signature tune of most careers, here they play on the undercard.
If we assume that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” amounts to half time – basically Jagger has a sit down after while Richards plays a couple, not least of which is “Happy” with excellent back up from Wood’s Lap Steel, the second half of the set finds a gear that ordinary people don’t possess.
Never mind adding “for their age” after those words either. This is no sympathy vote. By any measure, the last 45 minutes of this is incredible. The gathering dark (and a stadium gig is always best in the dark) allows the light show to kick in, but if you are going to play gigs for 50 odd years, then you’d best find a last six to close your set like “Sympathy For The Devil”, “Miss You” (more camp than a row of tents in Go Outdoors, but just you try to resist it), “Midnight Rambler” – an extended jam that almost goes trance like –“Start Me Up”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Brown Sugar” otherwise you can forget it.
Most of this works basically because Mick Jagger is the best there is. All other frontmen still try and copy him. They can’t get close on this evidence. He is phenomenal. A freak, a force of nature, whatever, but he’s brilliant here.
And he’s not finished. At least not until “Gimme Shelter” soars and the aforementioned “…Satisfaction” does its unmistakable stuff, Jagger racing from side to side time and again.
Saying that it’s only rock n roll is like saying football is only a game. Such a glib statement neglects to mention that music is a huge part of billions of lives, and the soundtrack to many people’s lives over the last six decades have been made by these men. You will likely as not never see their like again – hell, you might never see them again. And that is why this gig mattered more than most. That The Rolling Stones still have it, is beyond question.