Truly, nobody does this better than The Rolling Stones. On the second sold-out night at Stratford’s London Stadium, they hold tens of thousands of awestruck punters in the palms of their hands for a 130-minute powerhouse display of a rock show. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts. Faces as familiar as family members, there is almost a slight sense of disbelief at seeming them appear and then rock, really rock in front of you. Time may be ticking on but it is diminishing none of their potency or power.
With a different support slot selected for each date of this run, tonight’s comes from a returning and resurgent Florence + The Machine. It doesn’t take long before she is charging down the full length of the runway at a terrifying speed, only seemingly stopping just in time. She packs more into a nine-song 40 minute slot than 99% of headliners can, taking in the biggest crowd-pleasing moments of ‘Dog Days Are Over’, ‘You’ve Got The Love’ and ‘Shake It Out’, as well as introducing new single ‘Hunger’ – a slow-burning number that slots in perfectly to the collection. Florence has already shown at Glastonbury that she is perfectly suited to headline these kinds of events and arenas, and tonight was another shining example of her power on the big stage.
You could power London for weeks on the crackle of electricity in the air as The Stones emerge. Charlie Watts appears first, flanked by Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards, before, finally, Mick Jagger struts into view. With the addition of their usual touring band, the stage is packed to the rafters with pure talent of the very, very highest order. Then boom, into a sensational ’Jumpin’ Jack Flash’. The noise from the stadium is deafening, the energy emanating from the stage incredible. I witness one man in the golden circle stand with hands on the top of his head and mouth hanging open in disbelief for the entirety of this song. He isn’t alone in being stunned into shock by this entrance. Only The Stones at top speed can do that to someone. “Alright Stratford? Anyone from Dartford here tonight?” This is as close to home as The Stones can ever get.
With Richards and Wood giggling like a couple of schoolboys at points, Jagger as loose-limbed as ever sprinting from side to side, backwards and forwards down the runway, the hits just roll and roll. Florence joins them on-stage for a beautiful ‘Wild Horses’, while the old darkness of ‘Paint It, Black’ still feels as potent and dangerous as ever. ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, ‘Honky Tonk Women’, ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’, ‘Its Only Rock ’N’ Roll’, anthems that were instrumental in powering this island to the forefront of rock music. There is room and time for Richards to take front and centre for performances of ‘The Worst’ and ‘Happy’, before burning red flares on either side of the stage announce the arrival of a gargantuan, slithering version of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ that ends with huge laser spotlights shining down on the stage.
As the night wears on, this is one London party that shows no sign of stopping – it staggers belief that we are watching performers in their 70s: the energy and stamina on display is unbelievable. Yet, as well as that, it is the sheer power to rock that is most impressive. Nobody occupies the top spot in their profession for as long as The Stones have. 68 years since Jagger and Richards became friends, 57 years since they started playing music together, and they are still packing out stadiums around the world whenever they want. As the night finally ends with a huge version of ‘Gimme Shelter’ and the fireworks fire over us to ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, the overriding sensation is one of gratitude and privilege at being able to witness such an incredible show. Long may it continue.