AS YET, NONE of them is eligible for a special bus pass, but with a combined age of 245, there's no denying that the Rolling Stones are old.
Old, but if this week's performance at Boston's Fenway Park is anything to go by, still very much the best. On Sunday night, the world's favourite bad boys kicked off their 31st world tour in Boston. By all accounts - the New York Times, Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times - they were electrifying and spectacular and ebullient.
Thirty-six thousand fans were taken on a strut down memory lane, peppered with new material from the upcoming A Bigger Bang album. There were fireworks, a dramatic set and detachable stage which carried the group 30 yards into the audience. The crowd certainly got what they wanted.
By any group's standards, that reception is gratifyingly warm. But for a cohort of 60-year-olds, who have been dismissed as ageing stars rocking past their bedtime, it was also reassuring. It's been more than 40 years since they broke on to the rock scene, or arguably gave birth to it, appearing as the uglier, edgier and hard-living antidote to The Beatles. Ever since, they have endured, evolving into the legend they always promised to become. And now, here they are at 62, (Jagger), 61 (Richards), 64 (Watts) and 58 (Wood), still satisfying.
How do they do it? Well, there is the music. The original Oasis, they have a global following of rock fans who celebrate them as the trailblazers of rock'n'roll. The songs which made them famous - among them Tumblin' Dice and Brown Sugar - continue to get crowds on their feet just as quickly as they ever did.
And their new material has gone down almost as well. They haven't tried to reinvent the wheel, but stuck to their classic sound, which, when you're the biggest band in the world, is not stupid. They may no longer be able to shock in the way they did - Sympathy for the Devil isn't quite so jaw-dropping when compared to the gun-touting, misogynistic, gangsta mumblings that pervade MTV. Indeed, the most controversial song of Sunday night's performance was the quasi-political NeoCon. Jagger assured the press it wasn't aimed at anyone, but that's debatable. "You call yourself a Christian, I call you a hypocrite/ You call yourself a patriot, Well I think you're full of shit". Incidentally, Governor Schwarzenegger was in the audience on Sunday night, and sold the neighbouring box seats to fund-raise for his campaign. And they say Americans don't do irony.
But the music is far from the full story. The men still have as strong a pulling power as ever, and now that the looks are fading, it must be the personality.
Jagger, of course, is the lynchpin of the band, and for a host of reasons remains irresistible. His claim that he has only laughter lines not wrinkles prompted jazz musician George Melly to counter that "nothing could be that funny". But while Jagger's no longer the picture of untainted youth, he still cuts a dash with the serpentine moves of a man half his age. After a two-hour set, he was still bounding the width of the stage, and given his reputation as a jet-setting Lothario, that shouldn't really come as a surprise. Some said the tour should have been sponsored by Viagra, but Jagger's dating record suggests he's in no need; he is still dating women over whom teenagers drool. Indeed, his brief encounters with Sophie Dahl and Uma Thurman are more than inspiring.
Keith Richards, too, has exceeded every expectation by still being alive. As one astute critic recently stated: "That man wouldn't die if you hit him in the face with a nuclear hammer." The drugs and debauchery of his youth have plainly had their effect, but thanks in no small part to Johnny Depp, Richards remains a cult icon among today's youth. Having attributed his performance as the shaky, unpredictable and hysterically amusing Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean to Richards, Depp should be celebrated as the man who kept Keith cool.
But, as much as these two stick to the stereotypes they created, there have been changes. Jagger maintains his wiry frame by training every other day and insists on a strict regime of eight hours' sleep every night. Ronnie Wood is now an accomplished artist, and teetotal. Having been married for 20 years, and with his spouse Jo for 28, he would appear to have less problems than Jagger with matrimonial commitment.
Much to everyone's relief, Charlie Watts has recovered from throat cancer, and still enjoys the quiet life with his wife, Shirley, to whom he's been married for more than 40 years . With his love of classical music and jazz, he is the nearest you get to a clean-living Stone.
You could say Sunday's gig proved that the Stones are defying time. They're not. They are old now, and the years do show. But they still, quite manifestly, have got what it takes to fill a stadium. And what's more, when they do, they still delight it.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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