The Rolling Stones thrill Abu Dhabi

The band kicked off their latest jaunt in the capital with a two hour performance that may have lacked in surprises but was packed with enough hits to keep both the faithful and first-timers happy.

The Rolling Stones performing at the du Arena in Abu Dhabi. Lee Hoagland / The National
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It was labelled as a new tour by the Rolling Stones, but their du Arena show last night was business as usual for the legendary rockers.

The band kicked off their latest jaunt in the capital with a two hour performance that may have lacked in surprises but packed with enough hits to keep both the faithful and first-timers happy. The concert also cemented du Arena as the region’s leading concert venue.

The Yas Island music hub has hosted many top stars but the Rolling Stones’ mammoth stage-set up was arguably one to be rivalled.

However, those used to extra space in the Fire Pit and Golden Circle areas of the arena received a rude shock; the combination of over 30,000 people and the 40 metre T-Shaped stage split both sections in two, cramming fans in on both sides.

Fortunately the stage was elevated to such a height that even the vertically challenged had a decent view of the wrinkly rockers.

Arriving on stage to the sound of tribal drumming, the Stones launched into Start Me Up for their opening number.

Frontman Mick Jagger was up for it. Dressed in a sparkly red jacket — the first of nearly half a dozen costume changes — the 70-year-old’s voice was in fine form as he delivered the lines with utter conviction.

The energy was maintained with the follow up, the stomping It’s Only Rock’n’roll.

The song was another demonstration of the band’s influence on the rockers who followed in their footsteps; when Jagger stretched the lyric “strange” in the opening verse it was hard not to think of Oasis singer Liam Gallagher who made this vocal technique his stock in trade.

The cobwebs were truly blown away with You Got Me Rocking.

Anchored by Charlie Watts’s powerful drumming, guitarist Keith Richards and Ronnie Woods locked onto a sturdy groove while a howling Jagger — supported by long-time backing vocalists Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler — delivered that memorable chorus that conquered stadiums for two decades.

The band then turned away from their primal rock sounds to explore some of their more musically adventurous material.

Tumbling Dice remains one of their most dynamic offerings, its magic lying in how that standard rhythm and blues riff majestically swells into emotional gospel refrains.

Brought back from a near thirty year retirement, the funk-inspired Emotional Rescue gave the crowd plenty of opportunity to practice their falsettos before the tempo died down with the stinging acoustic led ballad Angie.

Jagger remained a consummate frontman throughout the show. Ever so gracious, he kept peppering his banter with Arabic phrases such as “shukran jazeelan” (thank you very much) and “kaifa halek?” (how are you?).

The best moment was when he exercised his UAE knowledge by attempting to mention the seven emirates. Astonishingly the tongue twister Umm Al Qaiwain got a mention but Ajman was forgotten.

After a few more high points with the tetchy Paint It Black (the crowd singing the famed sitar parts) and the rollicking Honky Tonk Women, the set took a worryingly slow turn with Keith Richards taking the lead on the languorous bluesy numbers Slipping Away and Before They Make Me Run.

This was followed by an epic take of the evocative Midnight Rambler.

The performances remained strong throughout — particular Richards growly take on Before They Make Me Run — but sequenced together it represented a rather large chunk of the set where the pace remained too languid.

Another disappointing feature was the low-key welcome guitarist Mick Taylor received as part of the show.

The former Stone simply walked on stage to assist Richards on Slipping Away before really shining (and being properly introduced) during Midnight Rambler where he traded guitar licks with Jagger’s harmonica. It seemed a rather odd way to treat a special guest, particularly one that was responsible for many of the band’s best musical moments.

The set went back on track with Gimme Shelter (voted by fans online as the UAE’s favourite Rolling Stones song) and the set closer Jumpin’ Jack Flash with its riffs inspiring a mass of air guitars.

The two encores boasted Brown Sugar and the elegiac You Can’t Always Get What You Want, the choral accompaniment in the latter performed splendidly by the Abu Dhabi group The Al Khubairat Singers.

The band called it a night with I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, the crowd po-goed along with the hip-swivelling Jagger with the final notes triggering fireworks from the roof of the venue.

Not everyone would have been satisfied with the band’s set list. Some of the glaring omissions this time around included Get Off My Cloud, Ruby Tuesday and Wild Horses.

That said, The Rolling Stones’ Abu Dhabi show was a solid performance.

The 14 On Fire Tour may not be that different to their previous performances, but it remains another celebration of rock’n’roll by a revered band who fifty years on, are still showing us how it’s done.