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Not everybody’s favourite band. Not even close to being my favourite band. But Rolling Stones lasted long enough, built up hits enough, mythologised enough and just Rolling Stone-d enough to be a lot more than just a band.

Part of the mythology was their status as the greasy bar band that got huge but never entirely lost that loose, bluesy part of themselves, no matter how many empty shells of a spectacular show they could put on in a stadium near you.

Another part of that mythology was the nattily dressed, seemingly indifferent to the madness, core of the group, drummer Charlie Watts. Except he was very real. And with his death last week, Wind Back Wednesday returns to a 2003 night at the (relatively) small space of the Enmore Theatre to watch Charlie and those other blokes play a show that was as close to their roots as time, memory and media manipulation would allow.

Cynicism aside though, it kicked arse.



Enmore Theatre, February 20, 2003

Before the details, let's deal with the philosophy.

I've spent a lot of time in the past moaning about the fact that the Rolling Stones just didn't know when to call it quits. I've hardly been on my own there and it has not just been a post-boomer hissy fit about "protecting youth culture". I mean have you heard their albums since, oh, 1981? Dire stuff.

In one sense nothing has changed. If you're wondering whether they're relevant as recording artists, as new creative forces, then the answer is no, not for a long time and they don't deserve much space. But as performers, as a live act capable of exciting an audience and performing their songs better than anyone else? Yes, absolutely.

Set aside for the moment the fact that they are all about to hit pensionable age, that the songs that elicit the best responses are 30 to 40 years old, that even talking about them here apparently is stopping you reading about the Vines or Avril Lavigne, let's just look at the concert itself.

For 90 minutes they played a high-energy, pulsating rock show that reeked of experience but never fell into slickness; that was loud and dirty and funny and always had something for you to sing with; that featured a lead singer who held you, toyed with you and never stopped; that energised you and sent you out onto the street buzzing.

Buzzing not just because you were that close to one of the most famous bands of all time but because the essence of any great rock show was there. This was fun.

The intent was clear from the get go with the opening double of Midnight Rambler and Tumbling Dice, and Keith Richards looking like either an eccentric bohemian or an expensive wino (or maybe both), hunched over his guitar and cranking out the riffs. We weren't going to get the stadium Stones - the cash and flash merchants - but the bar-room Stones, the band that remembers what it's like to play on a humid night, to packed theatres where sweat intermingles and there is no big picture (or big picture screen), just right now, right here.

That became undeniable as they rolled out songs such as Neighbours (a strutting beefy Jerry Lee Lewis-style rave-up from their last tolerable album, Tattoo You), Rock Me Baby (a slowish blues augmented by AC/DC's Angus and Malcolm Young exchanging licks on guitars with Richards and Ron Wood) and Honky Tonk Women (done as lewd and as grimy as the best illicit sex).

And then there was the five- song soul covers bracket, all pumping, limber and sexy stuff with Jagger putting some authentic growl into I Can't Turn You Loose and That's How Strong My Love Is, playfully handling Going To A Go Go and going some way to wiping away the memory of his senseless murder of Dancing In The Street nearly 20 years ago.

Sure they did Start Me Up (an empty box of a song still living off its diverting wrapping - not that anybody else objected) but the compensations came in two unexpected ways. Firstly, a country rock double of Dead Flowers and No Expectations was a charming picking-out-a-tune-on-the-back-porch change of tempo. Then they played a messy, very loose Brown Sugar that threatened to fall apart several times but also showed they weren't just slick veterans picking up a pay cheque, but a proper band with fallible, searching musicians.

Naturally they finished with (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. No surprises there. But it was done in a way that sent us all out feeling like we were cock o' the walk, at least for now.

And that's not a bad compliment for any band, of any age.

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