LONDON, Nov 25 (Reuters) - The Rolling Stones take to the
stage later on Sunday after a five-year hiatus to celebrate the
golden jubilee of one of the most successful and enduring bands
in rock and roll history.
Now in their mid-60s to early 70s, lead singer Mick Jagger,
guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood and drummer Charlie
Watts will perform five concerts - two at the O2 Arena in London
on Nov. 25 and 29 and three in the United States next month.
Joining them at the O2 on Sunday will be former band members
Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor, the first time the two ex-Stones
have performed with the group in more than 20 years.
And in a fresh announcement on Saturday, American R&B
singer-songwriter Mary J. Blige and guitar great Jeff Beck have
also been added to the lineup as special guests.
The flamboyant veterans behind a string of hits including
"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", "You Can't Always Get What You
Want" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" have promised a "stunning" gig
lasting more than two hours.
A sellout crowd of some 20,000 people is expected, in spite
of widespread complaints from fans at ticket prices that ranged
from 95 pounds ($150) to up to 950 pounds for a VIP seat.
Costs went far higher on secondary ticketing websites,
although by Friday eBay was offering several seats to Sunday's
show at below face value and there were places still officially
available at around 400 pounds apiece.
The band has defended the prices, saying that the shows are
expensive to put on, although Billboard, a specialist music
publication, reported that the quartet would be paid $25 million
for the four shows first announced. A fifth was added later.
BURST OF ACTIVITY
The concerts are the culmination of a busy few months of
events, rehearsals and recordings to mark 50 years since the
blues-infused rockers first took to the stage at the Marquee
Club on London's Oxford Street in July, 1962.
There has been a photo album, two new songs, a music video,
a documentary film, a blitz of media appearances and a handful
of warm-up gigs in Paris.
The O2 Arena was where another top band of the 1960s and
70s, Led Zeppelin, staged an eagerly awaited one-off reunion in
2007, and while the Stones have appeared together far more
regularly, it is their first arena performance in six years.
One factor behind the long break has been Wood's struggle
with alcohol addition, according to Rolling Stone magazine,
while Jagger and Richards also fell out over comments the
guitarist made about the singer in a 2010 autobiography.
"We can't get divorced - we're doing it for the kids!" joked
Richards in a recent interview after apologising to Jagger.
While the rock and roll excesses of the swinging 60s and 70s
are in the past for the band, and their very best songs may be
behind them, music critics praised their recent single "Doom and
Gloom" from the "GRRR!" greatest hits album just released.
And there have been hints from the band that the five gigs
which wind up at the Newark Prudential Center on Dec. 15 may not
be the end of their reunion.
"Once the juggernaut starts rolling, it ain't gonna stop,"
Richards told Rolling Stone. "So without sort of saying
definitely yes - yeah. We ain't doing all this for four gigs!"
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)