“If you want to live a long life, join the Rolling Stones.” Keith Richards said that seventeen years ago, and it’s still as true as ever. Just chew on this tidbit… the Stones have been touring America for twice as long as the members of the star-crossed 27 club were actually alive. They’ve been going so long that it’s a bit crazy to think that Bill Wyman has been out of the band for over a quarter century. Pick your favorite meme!
But there was a dose of reality recently, and this tour was delayed a bit when Mick Jagger needed a surgical procedure to replace a faulty heart valve. It’s hard to believe that only two months out from the surgery, the septuagenarian was sprinting around the gigantic stage, sashaying and shimmying like it was ’72 again. There’s a good reason that House of Love wrote a song that’s the topic of any endless variation of ‘best band ever list’ that Rolling Stone, Mojo, or whatever remaining mainstream music publications may still exist – because both bands made huge shadows over the landscape and have amazingly deep and broad catalogs of work.
And with a discography that contains dozens of well-known songs and a large number of out and out mega hits, how they would approach the set list was a question many had on their minds. Though they have sporadically released studio records of new songs over the last couple of decades, it’s an easy argument to make that 1981’s Tattoo You was the last solid batch of songs they released, and aside from Richards’ “Slipping Away” from Steel Wheels, they wisely focused on their formative decades. I can’t think of another band who could play selections from eleven records (and a couple of stellar non-album singles) and still have a top-to-bottom kickass set list.
The band has seen their share of turmoil, both from a distance and from up close, and they bookended the show remarkably with a version of “Street Fighting Man” that still showed a little fire in its belly, and somewhat epic take on “Gimme Shelter” to start the encore. Taking Merry Clayton’s iconic vocal part, Sasha Allen stood toe to toe with that legendary performance and Mick let her turn it into a bonafide duet as the song progressed. Spellbinding and spine-tingling. (And while we’re talking about backing band members, Jagger goofed when he introduced keyboardist Chuck Leavell as the bass player “Oops, he’s really on accordion” and I’d be totally remiss if I failed to mention the blistering sax solo that Karl Densen laid out during “Brown Sugar.”)
The man behind some of the best guitar riffs ever was a little shaky at times, but we’ll give Richards a pass just for being Keef. His song “Before They Make Me Run” is one of his very best, and he greeted the fans with “Good evening Boston, New England, wherever” before his telecaster locked horns with Wood’s telecaster. Wood in particular shined tonight, taking up some of the slack where Keith would drop out, and playing smartly and tightly all night long. Everyone knows that Charlie Watts is the human metronome, and despite his precision he’s not robotic at all, a difficult mix to get right.
Jagger just happens to rhyme with swagger and that can’t be a coincidence. During “Sympathy For The Devil” he looked the part with a red and black sequined jacket and jaunty top hat; during “Midnight Rambler” he laid down some mean harmonica, then did a call and response bit with the crowd while Richards was doing some fingerpicking, plectrum clenched between his teeth. “Miss You” had him playing a Strat and then raising it over his head while he did some hip gyrations. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” featured some of his best singing of the night and ended with him shaking maracas behind Watts. He even took a bit of jab at landlord Kraft’s buddy, when wishing everyone a happy Independence Day and joking that his side would have won had they held on to the airports.
I can’t say that not getting “Monkey Man” in the set wasn’t a tad disappointing, but it’s like quibbling over the fourth or fifth decimal point of a number. These guys are legends for good reason, and while I don’t think they can still claim the mantle of the world’s greatest rock and roll band, they were definitely roaming the world for a long time with that title and it was refreshing to see them still doing as they do, playing music and making everyone in the building happy about that.