The veteran British rockers were on Friday the biggest name lined up for Harbour Fest, a three-week event designed to boost the territory's economy and morale, which took a big hit earlier this year when SARS swept through the region.

But the party, organised by the American Chamber of Commerce, could leave taxpayers with a hangover costing at least HKD 100 million, thanks in part to slow ticket sales and the hefty fees charged by the Western acts.

The Rolling Stones were reported to have charged US$5 million, and other acts such as rocker Neil Young and tenor Jose Carreras do not come cheap.

The band cancelled its HK show
last year because of SARS

The government said earlier this week it would appoint a commission to probe the event, which wraps on Sunday when the Rolling Stones perform a second show.

The controversy was far from the minds of the largely expatriate crowd that packed the 13,000-seat Tamar Site arena in central Hong Kong for the Stones show.

 

 

Special guest

Watching from the wings was former US President Bill Clinton - dubbed "rent-a-guest" by drummer Charlie Watts in the band's new DVD. Clinton sang and clapped along when the band performed its anthem I Can't Get No Satisfaction.

The band did not acknowledge the presence of its famous guest, who was in town for a conference of CEOs. Instead it focused on whipping up the fans with a 110-minute set packed with hits such as Brown Sugar, Paint It, Black and Jumpin' Jack Flash.

"It has taken us a long time to get here," singer Mick Jagger
told the audience. "And now we're finally here, and we're glad
we made it."

The Stones were originally due to play in Hong Kong last March but were forced to cancel the shows because of the SARS epidemic.

Hong Kong marks the final stop of a world tour that began in Boston in September 2002 and took the Stones to 21 countries.