LONDON (Reuters) - The Rolling Stones ended their two-year world tour in their home town of London on Sunday, leaving fans wondering if it would be their last ever show.
Such speculation has dogged the veteran rock band since the 1960s, but it intensifies each tour to the point where it is now a running joke between the group and journalists.
Predictably, frontman Mick Jagger made no grand announcements during the band’s two-hour show at the O2 arena, in Greenwich, southeast London. The venue is just 13 km from where they performed their first ever show, at the Marquee Club, in July 1962.
Instead, the 64-year-old singer, who barely broke sweat as he jumped around the stage, thanked fans for sticking with the band amid “fire and ice and storms and trees, and God knows what.”
The “trees” comment related to a mishap in April 2006 when guitarist Keith Richards slipped while on a break in Fiji. He required head surgery, which forced the band to reschedule its European tour set for that summer. At the time, it was reported that he fell from a palm tree, though he later denied that.
Since the “Bigger Bang” world tour began in Boston on Aug. 21, 2005, observers have wondered about the health of the death-defying guitarist, who has been friends with Jagger since childhood.
To the consternation of fans in Helsinki earlier this month, Richards actually toppled over on stage a few times. But the 63-year-old played with vigor on Sunday on such classic tunes as “Brown Sugar” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Richards said in the latest issue of the British music magazine Mojo that he is taking the anti-seizure medication Dilantin because of the head injury, but had abstained from cocaine for about 18 months. He continues to drink and smoke heavily.
For perhaps the first time, Richards and fellow guitarist Ronnie Wood did not smoke on stage on Sunday, following new anti-smoking regulations. But Richards could be seen taking a few hurried puffs off-stage.
The marathon tour comprised 146 performances in 31 countries and Puerto Rico. First-time stops included mainland China, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia, as well as last year’s Super Bowl in Detroit.
Along the way, Jagger and Richards each lost a parent, and Wood his older brother. Last October their former record label boss, Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, slipped backstage during their concert in New York, fell into a coma and died seven weeks later.
The North American shows, which accounted for just over half the performances, grossed $300 million and attracted 2.2 million people, according to Pollstar, a concert trade publication. Their well-reviewed album, “A Bigger Bang,” did not fare as well, slipping off the charts soon after its September 2005 release, a victim of the depressed state of the music industry.
Next on the band’s agenda is the April 2008 release of Martin Scorsese’s concert documentary, “Shine A Light.” Some fans hope that will be a good excuse for the Stones to tour again, but the band is not saying anything.