The Rolling Stones rode roughshod over China’s censors during their first show in the communist country on Saturday, serenading a largely foreign crowd with songs about Satan, sleaze bags and serial killers.
Much was made before their Shanghai show of a ban on playing five songs, including concert standards “Honky Tonk Women,” and “Brown Sugar.” But they managed to toss a few risque tunes into their two-hour set at the Shanghai Grand Stage.
“It’s nice to be here, the first time we’ve played in China,” Mick Jagger told the boisterous 8,000-strong crowd, as the Stones made their China debut after two failed attempts dating as far back as 1980. “It’s fantastic,” he said.
The group focused on its greatest hits as it raced through 18 songs spanning its 44-year career.
Highlights included “Oh No, Not You Again,” a new song in which Jagger boasts of staring at a woman’s cleavage; and odes to the Boston Strangler and the Satan in the concert classics “Midnight Rambler” and “Sympathy for the Devil,” respectively.
Jagger also practiced his Chinese on the crowd, welcoming and thanking everyone for coming, although a large number of the crowd were expatriates.
The lone musical nod to their host country came during a rendition of “Wild Horses,” in which China rock legend Cui Jian sang with Jagger and later promised the audience the group would return to China.
The Stones had hoped to play in China in 2003 but cancelled due to the deadly SARS outbreak that killed hundreds. A first attempt around 1980 reportedly got nowhere after a meeting between Jagger and Chinese officials in Washington went badly.
The China the Stones are visiting is a far cry from the socialist country they would have seen in 1980, or even just three years ago, packed with skyscrapers and luxury shops, testament to the nation’s rapid embrace of capitalism.
Despite advances in local pop culture, however, the band’s edgier music, with its racy lyrics, is a far cry from the syrupy ballads that now rule the Chinese airwaves.
The Shanghai date was part of the group’s “A Bigger Bang” world tour, in support of its album of the same name.
But a Chinese version of the album being sold at the show was mysteriously lacking several songs, just as the band’s 2002 hits compilation “Forty Licks” contained only 36 tracks after China censors excised songs thought too rough for local ears.
Tickets for the group’s maiden China show cost from 300 yuan ($37) all the way up to 3,000 yuan, on par with American prices.