LONDON (Reuters) - The Rolling Stones return to the stage on Sunday for a mini-tour they hope will prove that advancing years and bad blood are no barriers to satisfaction for sellout crowds.
In a burst of activity to celebrate 50 years in business, the veteran British rockers with an average age of 68 have produced a photo book, written two songs, collaborated on a documentary, released a greatest hits album, played warm-up gigs in Paris and committed to five concerts.
They also faced questions about high ticket prices to the two gigs in London and three in the United States that have given some followers the impression they are more interested in banking cash than bashing out the hits.
Yet that has done little to dampen broad enthusiasm for their return to the big stage five years after the “A Bigger Bang” tour became the most lucrative in pop history at the time, earning nearly $560 million.
Adding to the sense of occasion, the full-time quartet of Mick Jagger on vocals, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood on guitar and Charlie Watts on drums will be joined by former members Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor at London’s O2 Arena on Sunday.
Even before they step out for the first of two gigs in the British capital, the question on every Stones fan’s lips is what more they have up their sleeves, amid hints of a full tour and the possibility of a new studio album.
“It would be nice to think that wouldn’t be it,” said Paul Sexton, a music journalist who has met and interviewed the band in the run-up to the latest concerts.
“Once the machine gets fired up again, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be more live shows to come. If these dates went well, you could imagine sufficient momentum for some kind of recording project.”
The Stones first played at the Marquee Club in London in 1962, and with a changing lineup that settled with today’s foursome the band who had to compete with the Beatles quickly became one of the biggest groups in pop history.
Their blues-infused output slowed from the 1980s, and some critics argue they peaked in the 1960s and 70s, but the Stones’ longevity and a catalogue of hits like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women” have ensured the music world still cares.
Despite the promise of a major payout and another chance to enhance their legacy, the 50th anniversary celebrations were not always a certainty.
Jagger and Richards have bickered in the past and were at it again recently with Richards calling the charismatic frontman “unbearable” amid a stream of insults in his 2010 memoir “Life”.
He eventually apologized, clearing the way for the reunion.
“If you was married to somebody for 50 years, you can have your little spats here and there, and we don’t mind having them in public occasionally,” the guitarist told Rolling Stone magazine. “We can’t get divorced - we’re doing it for the kids!”
The Stones will play two gigs at the O2 Arena, where tickets cost 95 to 950 pounds ($1,500) for a VIP seat, before crossing the Atlantic for a show at Barclay Center, Brooklyn on December 8 and two at the Prudential Center, Newark on December 13 and 15.
Jagger has been quick to defend the pricing, saying that the shows were expensive to stage and tickets being traded on secondary sites for greater than their face value did not mean more money for the band.
As to what the five concerts could lead to, Richards said in a recent interview: “My experience with the Rolling Stones is that once the juggernaut starts rolling, it ain’t gonna stop.”
Jagger and Richards are the only two members of the Stones who were there at its inception in 1962. Watts joined in early 1963 and Wood was recruited in the mid-1970s to replace Mick Taylor when he left.
They are widely acknowledged as the greatest rock and roll band in history, producing more than 20 studio albums, selling an estimated 200 million copies, conquering the United States and charting the social and sexual mores of their time.
Their longevity is all the more surprising given their reputation for living in the fast lane. Wood is in his third year of sobriety after struggling with alcohol addiction and Richards said he is drinking less and “gave up smack” (heroin).
Reporting by Mike Collett-White