Rolling Stones Triumph in Hyde Park Homecoming

Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones perform in Hyde Park, July 6 (Getty Images)

Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie are all smiles as they roll through greatest hits during first Hyde Park show in 44 years

The great hope among longtime U.K. Stones-watchers, when the band announced three huge summer concerts, was that their Glastonbury and Hyde Park performances would put them truly front and center of the British public's imagination again. As in, not just with diehard fans, but admirers of all ages. Looking around a park of smiling faces, young and old, at their return to central London, there was an overwhelming sense of mission accomplished

Forty-four years after the fabled free concert they gave just days after Brian Jones' death, direct comparisons with the original show were pointless, except to say that the energy and professionalism they exude at pensionable age outstrips anything they could ever muster in those days. They may have taken the stage with a, frankly, discordant opening to "Start Me Up," but within moments, the charismatic excitement they generate was irresistible.

Live Review: Rolling Stones Rock Glastonbury

In a quarter-century of watching the Stones, I don't think I've ever seen them all smile so much on stage, nor maintain quite such momentum throughout two hours of classic hits. On a glorious summer's evening, all of Hyde Park gazed in awe at Mick Jagger's boundless showmanship on the vast video screens, behind the giant model trees that framed the stage, and had a collective I'll-have-what-he's-having moment.

This set differed quite considerably from their Glastonbury headliner a week earlier: "Beast of Burden" was in for "Wild Horses," and "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" was replaced by "Bitch," with a guest spot by Gary Clark Jr, who'd performed earlier on this "British Summer Time" bill. "All Down The Line" was drafted in as the fans' request selection of the evening. 

But the secret to this sort of longevity is to perform every song as if you've never done it before, and may never again. Even with a second Hyde Park show due a week later, it was never going to be difficult to invest such an evocative location with a real sense of occasion, and Jagger was clearly loving that aspect of the evening too. 

In one of many costume changes, he emerged for "Honky Tonk Women," a new song at the 1969 event, in an approximation of the white smock he famously wore that day, with a reference to "something I found at the back of the cupboard." Introducing Mick Taylor for his now de rigeur reunion appearance on an invigorating, 11-minute "Midnight Rambler," Jagger reminded us that the first Hyde Park was Taylor's first appearance with the band. "We just found him in the pub and put him on stage in front of 200,000 people," he said. "He's done it a few times since then." Watch a highlight from that show:

Charlie Watts was at his most redoubtable in the engine room, beaming with uncommon regularity behind the smallest, yet most powerful drumkit in rock 'n' roll, and Ronnie Wood more match-fit and focused than ever. There's no doubt that he's inherited more lead guitar lines, with Keith Richards now often in the rhythm role. But the Human Riff looked far more relaxed than at Glasto, and his lead vocals on You Got The Silver and Before They Make Me Run were remarkably supple. "Bless you all," he said on their completion. "Gold rings on ya."

Thus they roared to the set's closing "Brown Sugar," and back for the double-barreled encore of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "Satisfaction." Glitter shimmered in the twilight and fireworks whooshed and banged in approval. At this level of focused elation, further adventures in this impossible rock legend surely beckon.