Hope Estate, Pokolbin, New South Wales, Australia. Saturday, November 15th.
Nestled between pastures and dusty roads in Pokolbin, about an hour’s drive from Newcastle, is Hope Estate. A celebrated winery situated in gentle green hills off a rural highway, Hope Estate turns into a unique showground when bands like The Rolling Stones come to town. Not that such an event occurs very often, and judging by the electricity in the air from the moments the gates opened in the mid-afternoon heat, the 18,000 capacity crowd knew it.
After support from local Australian acts British India and The Preachers, The Rolling Stones took to the stage at 8pm as an elaborate effects show championed their entrance. Boasting a simplistically chic stage set up, strobe lights, red rocket fireworks and two massive big screens, the visuals of the Stones’ Hunter Valley show were impressive enough. Kicking things off with ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, the band proved their sound was also as good as ever. Clean and solid, the venue’s acoustics weren’t excessively loud but projected the band’s seasoned sound comfortably to even those furthest away.
Now in their late 60s and early 70s, the Stones proved that they’re far from being a heritage act. With vigour beyond what many musicians half their age can muster, the band performed an intense, hit-heavy set, perfect for the diverse, excitable crowd. While songs like ‘Miss You’, ‘Rocks Off’ and ‘Start Me Up’ were well received, ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)’. ‘Paint It Black’, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Dead Flowers’ proved to be crowd favourite. ‘Dead Flowers’ saw frontman Mick Jagger pick up an acoustic guitar as he told the crowd he appreciated their being able to influence the set list, the song having been voted ahead of three others in the band’s online song poll.
Prowling and pouting his way across the massive stage, Jagger showed no signs of his recent throat infection – minus a quick brush off the nose mid-song, a move greeted by gentle laughter.. Making a point to visit and revisit all three runs of the stage, Jagger’s physical effort was rewarded with an increasingly responsive audience, and a three-song break in which he, drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Ronnie Wood left the stage while guitarist Keith Richards’ took on vocal duties. Playing ‘You Got the Silver’, ‘Before They Make Me Run’ and ‘Can’t Be Seen’, Richards’ performance was rawer but noticeably less refined than Jagger’s – a combination unique in itself but not entirely suited to the atmosphere Jagger had facilitated. The novelty of Richards’ position as frontman wore thin as the crowd grew lacklustre and bored in response to a voice and presence that didn’t quite meet the standards Jagger had set.
Having had a short rest and completed a quick outfit change, Watts, Wood and Jagger returned for the rest of the band’s rapid-fire set which stretched just past the 2-hour point. Ever-smiling, communicating among themselves and happily introducing the members of their long-time backing band, the Stones were in high spirits and provided a healthy dose of banter for the crowd. Usual greetings and thanks to the crowd were followed by remarkably on-point jokes. “Brilliant show! Where do you all come from?” Richards smiled wryly, a reference to the show’s rural setting but impressive turnout.
Appreciative of the chance to “play somewhere new”, Jagger added the band had “never played in a winery”. “Is this where you get your goon?” he asked a delighted crowd.
A sure highlight of the entire set, ‘Gimme Shelter’ was drawn out into an epic, all-in performance featuring several instrumental solos by the Stones’ support band. Most notably, the soulful, powerhouse voice of Lisa Fischer several times earned the spotlight, her commanding presence adding an extra special kick to the Stones’ feature-packed set.
After closing their set with ‘Brown Sugar’, the holy voices of the Sydney Philharmonia Choir saw in the Stones’ two-song encore with a brilliant introduction to ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ . The last song of the night, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ was received with rapturous enthusiasm by the crowd who sent the band off which equal enthusiasm as another display of fireworks completed the night’s thrills.