Published on June 11th, 2018 | by Nigel Cartner0
The Rolling Stones Live at Old Trafford, Manchester – 5/6/18
Maybe The Last Time?
For perhaps the final time, the mighty Rolling Stones returned to Manchester after a fifteen-year hiatus to play the sixth gig of their European ‘No Filter’ Tour at Old Trafford Football Ground. Despite the old rockers being well into their seventies, there was no doubting the allure of seeing arguably the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time, for what was surely the most prestigious run of dates on the rock calendar this year.
It was an uncharacteristically sweltering evening in the north of England, as the scorching temperature mirrored the fiery act that was to grace the ‘Theatre of Dreams’. It was fitting that The Stones chose this venue really, as for many, including myself (first time seeing them), this was a dream come true to see such legends.
The enormity of the stage and screens was immediately striking as the stage extended into the crowd like a giant runway, fit for enigmatic frontman, Mick Jagger, to roam freely and strut his stuff. Four huge fresco like screens completed the set up, catering for those in the ‘nose bleed’ seats.
Supporting the landmark occasion was Richard Ashcroft, whose mixture of solo and Verve classics suitably revved up the crowd before the main event. He’s still a picture of sheer coolness, with his token hairstyle still looking great, and his vocals are still as piercing as ever. ‘Lucky Man’ and ‘Drugs Don’t Work’ were two songs performed to perfection, but arguably the highlight track was his finale song, ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, which Ashcroft sang with such passion and gusto, leading him to drop the mic and make a swaggering exit offstage while the band still played the outro. It’s no secret the legal dispute this song caused some twenty years ago between The Verve and The Rolling Stones that ended with Ashcroft having to forfeit the rights. It seems he doesn’t attribute blame to The Stones directly, as he makes a point of mentioning their former manager, Allen Klein, for the whole wrangling.
After a short interval, smoke began filtering out, and within minutes the crowd’s excitement was unleashed as the London rockers exploded onto the scene with ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’. Jagger immediately shifted into gear, strutting, skipping and shaking his way across the vast stage, and Keith Richards’ familiar riff ridden guitar, that has defined a whole genre, makes its presence felt, albeit a bit rusty and sluggish at first. Although Jagger’s vocal is on point, it takes a few songs for the band to find their groove, understandable given their advanced years, but the crowd don’t care. A Rolling Stones not quite on form from the off is still far better than most other bands at their best. But, there’s still a coolness and indestructible aura surrounding them, coupled with a sharp flamboyance to their dress sense with sparkly shirts and jackets, and token bandanas.
It doesn’t take long for any early wrinkles to be ironed out during ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and ‘Tumbling Dice’, and the majority of songs afterwards hit their mark. After the semi-surprise inclusion of, ‘Shattered’, and, ‘Just Your Fool’, the latter from their latest album, Blue & Lonesome, they perform, ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’, winner of the poll conducted online where fans can choose a song to be played. Jagger jokes, ‘We know that one!’ This said after his initial scepticism that Richards may not remember ‘Shattered’ too well as it hadn’t been played live for a while.
A cover of Bob Dylan’s classic, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ is aptly up next to the delight of the crowd, before a superlative rendition of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ follows, signifying that the band have well and truly found their mojo, with Wood performing a brilliant rocking solo complete with a full length dart down the runway, which delights the crowd as he lapped up his time in the spotlight. With the band in full flow, the energy reflects within the crowd, and the dancing and singing along to the timeless tracks that have been known for forty/fifty years is noticeable throughout the stadium.
If ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ is joyous and uplifting in its delivery, the following song is dark and eerie. The screen turned to black and white as ‘Paint it Black’ begins, a fast-paced bombardment with deep connections to Vietnam, which is possibly the Stones’ darkest hit with the use of a sitar to aid its psychedelic potency. The famous opening riff of, ‘Honkey Tonk Women’, followed to an almighty roar from the crowd, and was one of the highlight tracks of the night as the lyrics continued to be hurled back to the stage.
Jagger then took an opportunity to have a breather from his excessive dancing and powerful vocals by introducing the whole supporting cast of the band, before presenting his long-time bands mates: Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards, the latter two receiving the biggest, rapturous reception. Throughout the show Jagger was amusing, with quips about the Northern Rail saga and the current Pat Phelan Coronation Street storyline. He also recalls past venues they’ve performed at in Manchester, saying that the Odeon is now a car park, and that Free Trade Hall is now The Radisson Hotel, incidentally where they were staying that night. Given the stadium we were in, he also mused that Ronnie Wood is the equivalent of Ryan Giggs. In what capacity he meant in their similarity is up for debate.
After the band introductions Jagger leaves the stage, and to the crowd’s pleasure, let’s Richards take the reins for two tracks. He plays ‘You Got the Silver’ and ‘Before They Make Me Run’, showing that he’s not just a genius on the guitar, but also a very accomplished vocalist.
Jagger returned sporting a guitar for one of his definitive classics, ‘Sympathy of the Devil’, and like Richards before him, displays his multi-purpose and multi-talent within the band with a compelling opening. It’s not long before he freed himself of the instrument to continue strutting and belting out the inventive story like lyrics we all know so well.
An unexpected highlight was to follow as a prolonged rendition of ‘Miss You’ exceeded ten minutes, which saw Jagger, Wood and Richards swashbuckling down the runway for a prolonged period of jamming instrumentals with interludes of ‘Oooohs’ and ‘Ahhhhhs’ from Jagger. ‘Midnight Rambler’ is another lengthy onslaught of rhythm and blues rock with Jagger’s harmonica played subliminally yet again as it had done for a couple of previous tracks.
Fan favourites, ‘Start Me Up’ and ‘Brown Sugar’, followed, and with the crowd well and truly pumped, the band fed off that energy and delivered at the highest level. A brief break ensues before the standard encore, where arguably the best track of the night, ‘Gimme Shelter’ is performed, one of the coolest tracks ever written, made all the more captivating by the wailing female solo, which was performed excellently by Sasha Allen, taking the track to a different soulful dimension.
They end with perhaps their most famous track, 1965 hit, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, which brings the stadium down, and the instrumental outros end with a dazzling firework display. There isn’t a ‘We’ll see you again!’ statement from the band, suggesting that this really was the final Manchester show, and if it was to be the final appearance, they went out with an almighty bang.
The Rolling Stones did what they’ve been doing for over fifty years, and what no other band is doing in their seventies – still filling, playing and rocking out stadiums, which is testament to just how great and adored they are. It was an amazing show for many reasons and they had enough quality in their back catalogue to put on another five shows with completely different setlists. For first timers like myself, just to hear the familiar distinctive guitars of Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, the rhythmic beats of Charlie Watts, and watch Mick Jagger perform in the flesh was enough to appease my eyes and ears. The fact that they are even on this tour at this level and still delivering is defying science itself. I may have been too young to see them in their prime, but nonetheless, a box has been ticked and I can state that I have seen the greatest rock band of all time live. Maybe for the last time? I don’t know!