LONDON 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 November 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 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 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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