“Welcome to the American Express British Summer Time Covid super-spreader event,” jokes Mick Jagger, a man who, at 78, appears to have kicked coronavirus in the crotch and come out street fighting. For an hour now he’s been strutting, writhing and arm-flapping across the Hyde Park stage like he’s taking part in a freeform dance-off with himself, cheerleading some of the greatest blues rock known to man. And he’s far from done yet.
Jagger’s bout of Covid just a fortnight ago might have stymied two of The Rolling Stones’ European shows, but for this second of two BST gigs he’s back on prime form, twitching and stamping up the ego ramp bellowing “Get Off of My Cloud” like the iconic rock showman he is. Judging by his several impassioned harmonica solos, he’s retained the lung capacity of a free-diver a third his age.
That Jagger would bounce – and shuffle, jerk, and jive – back was never in much doubt. Though the opening montage of footage of late drummer Charlie Watts acts as a touching reminder of their vulnerability, there remains something immortal about the Stones. Their look is one of rarefied rock’n’roll glitz – Ronnie Wood playing a shimmering gold guitar, Keith Richards garage-casual in bandana and handcuff bracelet, and Jagger resplendent in a variety of glittery and shamanic jackets.
“Adele’s a wonderful singer,” he quips after his third change of outfit, “but I have more sparkly dresses than she has.” Yet there’s still a youthful, electric danger to “19th Nervous Breakdown” and the heat-haze southern rock of “Tumbling Dice”, even if six decades of musical evolution has left such 12-bar riots far behind.
Crucially, they’ve come to embrace that inherent energy. On some tours, the Stones would over-indulge their pre-rock roots with Robert Johnson and Chuck Berry covers and lengthy jams, as gentlemen of a certain age deeply indebted to roadhouse rock and Mississippi blues are wont to do. Tonight, though, they spectacularly cut the slack. An early run of party starters gives way to the most sing-along ballad section imaginable: “Angie” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” virtually get the towers of Park Lane swank pads swaying along. Mid-set, “Honky Tonk Women” is delivered leisurely, but with steamy rock panache, while the customary cover is one of the greatest songs ever written – a stately take on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. Even the band introductions ahead of Richards taking the mic for a tight couple of blues tunes (“You Got the Silver” and “Happy”) are pure entertainment. Jagger declares Wood “the Botticelli of Belgravia” with “a young family to support”.
Disco rocker “Miss You”, with Jagger now in a glittery Star Trek jacket, is overstretched with solos and “Midnight Rambler” is a honky tonk and harmonica workout too far, grinding to a virtual halt about 10 minutes in. But the dark Morricone exotica of “Paint It Black” rejuvenates the set, kicking off a closing cascade of seminal rock’n’roll hits that makes the Stones sound as edgy and confrontational as they were at the sharp end of Sixties and Seventies counterculture. “Sympathy for the Devil” is the ultimate in insidious voodoo rock, Jagger dressed as a sparkling green toreador version of Belzebub as he confesses to his many historical atrocities with a cultivated charm. And “Gimme Shelter” – originally a blustery diatribe against Vietnam and Western urban violence – remains sadly relevant. It comes accompanied by stage-wide footage of bombed-out apartment blocks and Ukrainian flags as, out on the ramp, Jagger and backing singer Sasha Allen face off in a barnstorming rock’n’roll tiff.
Sixty years on, The Rolling Stones are still the world’s greatest dark-hearted party band, and Hyde Park has a surfeit of tunes to sing on the Tube: a strident “Start Me Up”, a storming “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, an ageless “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. If this event super-spreads anything, it’s jubilance.