By Paul Casciato
LONDON (Reuters) - The Rolling Stones blasted through the past into the present on Saturday with a rip-roaring show in London's Hyde Park that paid homage to their last concert here 44 years ago.
Frontman Mick Jagger strutted, howled and belted his way through a two-hour set that gave a nod to founding member Brian Jones, whose death in 1969 turned their last appearance at the royal park into a tribute.
"Anybody out there who was here in 1969?" Jagger called out to applause from a sea of grey hair after opening with "Start Me Up" and "It‘s only Rock and Roll".
"Well welcome back, it's nice to see you again."
Jones had already left the Stones the last time Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards and drummer Charlie Watts played the park at a gig meant to introduce his replacement, Mick Taylor. Guitarist Ronnie Wood joined in 1975.
But two days before their appearance, the 27-year-old Jones drowned in his swimming pool under the influence of drugs and alcohol, turning that concert into a commemoration.
Now the band with an average age of 69 stormed through the classics from "Brown Sugar" and "Honky Tonk Woman" to "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Sympathy for the Devil" - with rubber-lipped Jagger strumming the guitar for the latest single "Doom and Gloom".
The Stones bounded across the stage and along a catwalk stretching into the sea of 65,000 fans gathered on a sultry summer evening in 21st century central London, sipping beer. The unmistakable aroma of marijuana wafted in the air.
The night belonged to the reconciliation of past and present for a crowd of old and young steeped in Stones lore, watching the band on stage with images of past concerts occasionally flashing past on big screens rising up behind the band.
Jagger donned a white smock-like outfit similar to the one he wore in 1969, played the harmonica and quoted a piece of poetry. The references to Jones and the old days were unmistakable even if his name was never mentioned.
MICK TAYLOR TAKES A BRIEF TURN
Taylor - who left the Stones in 1974 - appeared on stage for a rollicking version of "Midnight Rambler," where he delivered a masterclass in the guitar solo before jamming in front of Watts with Wood and Richards.
"Mick's very first show was with us here," Jagger told the crowd. "We found him in a pub and put him in front of 250,000 people."
The crowd reflected the longevity of the band and their continued popularity across the generations.
"This is my birthday present from my dad," said 34-year-old Dan Kemsley, who had been waiting in front of the stage alongside his Stones-mad father John since noon.
Nostalgia has played a major part in the Rolling Stones' activities the past year as they celebrated 50 years in the music business and embarked on a North American tour.
The Rolling Stones lived up to their reputation as one of the greatest rock and roll bands when they played to more than 100,000 revelers at last weekend's Glastonbury festival.
The band emerged alongside the Beatles in the early 1960s to become one of the most successful groups in rock and roll history with hits such as "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "Satisfaction", which rounded off the show amid fireworks.
They last went on the road for their "A Bigger Bang" tour from 2005 to 2007, playing 144 shows around the world and grossing more than $550 million, making it one of the world's most lucrative rock tours.
They play another concert in Hyde Park on July 13.
Live performances have emerged as the major money earner in the music business as record sales go digital, with growing numbers of veteran acts returning to the stage and attracting well-heeled, aging fans willing to pay high ticket prices.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)