LONDON The Rolling Stones hit the stage at London's O2 arena on Sunday with a roar of approval from a sea of silver-haired fans as they tore into old favorite "I Wanna Be Your Man".
A swaggering Mick Jagger dressed in sparkling silver and black rolled back the years with the 1960s hit as he bounced onto a stage shaped in the red lips logo that is the calling card for one of rock and roll's most enduring bands.
Lead singer Jagger, guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood and drummer Charlie Watts are all in their 60s and early 70s, but have promised a two-hour show that will stun the crowd and include former band members Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor as well as R&B singer Mary J. Blige and guitar great Jeff Beck.
"Everybody all right there in the cheap seats?" Jagger asked in reference to a controversy over the price of tickets. "They're not really cheap though are they? That's the trouble."
A sellout crowd of some 20,000 people was 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 at the first of five concerts celebrating the band's 50th anniversary.
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.
There has been talk of a wider tour, but for the time-being the only confirmed concerts are the five that have been announced. Two will be played at the O2 Arena in London, the first was under way on Sunday and another on Thursday with three others in the United States next month.
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 defended the prices, saying the shows are expensive to put on, although specialist music publication Billboard reported the band would earn $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 December 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)
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