I was kind of scared to see the Rolling Stones. Not about the crowd, or the cost, or the hassle. No, I was concerned that the ancient Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood would put out a pathetic performance that would ruin my memory of the Rolling Stones forever. I saw Jethro Tull last summer. I love Tull and had seen them a bunch of times when we are all decades younger. But last summer’s show was terrible – Ian Anderson’s voice is shot and it killed the whole thing for me, and has now left a bitter taste in my mouth. But I went to see the Stones anyway at the massive MetLife stadium in the Meadowlands. You see, I had free tickets.
I have seen the Stones when they were (a) pretty young, (b) “old”, and now (c) geriatric. I’ve always been a fan, but haven’t been listening to their music much lately. With the show approaching, I did the Spotify “This is the Rolling Stones” playlist to get into the spirit. What I got was a lot of great memories as rocking songs from my early childhood through about 15 years ago were played. I also once again had a grudging realization that many of their songs are just great rockers. Jagger’s voice and mean/cutting lyrics. Richards signature guitar licks combined with Woods guitar weaves. Great backup musicians like Chuck Leavell and Daryl Jones. Man, it’s true: this is rock ‘n’ roll.
But what was it going to be like to see a 76 year old Mick Jagger, fresh from heart valve surgery, trying to perform songs that are 50+ years old? Richards is the same age, Charlie Watts is 78 and Ron Woods is the baby at 72. How would they all hold up? As you know, I’m big on performers who also rock, and if Jagger isn’t the best of the classic rock frontmen, I don’t know who is. You can have Freddie Mercury, Roger Daltry, Steven Tyler and Robert Plant. I’ll take Jagger and his over-the-top, exaggerated rooster strutting around the stage. My big question was this: can they still do it while most of their contemporaries need to take Advil just to get out of bed?
Before that question could be answered, we first had to hear the Wombats. A trio on a huge stadium stage, they were prohibited from using the runway down the middle of the field. The Stones are no fools. I had a buddy who saw the Stones in Jacksonville while he was in college. It was at the Gator Bowl in the hot sun. An up-and-coming band from Southern California opened for the Stones – Van Halen. As my buddy described it later, “the Stones were good, but damn, Van Halen blew them off the stage.” I’ve seen Van Halen, including the original lineup back in the day. I don’t doubt the story. Thus, the Stones now prohibit their opening acts from making full use of the stage. No more upstaging these guys!
Back to the Wombats. They were fine, but nothing special. I wouldn’t go out of my way to check them out. In fact, I think I went back to the food stand while they were playing, and chatted with my seatmates quite a bit during their performance. It wasn’t forgettable, but it wasn’t compelling, either.
The Wombats left to go back to wherever they had come from, and next up was the main attraction. I was checking out the crowd, and I’ll say this, it was pretty mixed in ages if not ethnicities. I saw plenty of young people at the show. I also saw massive amounts of boomers. They were buying all kinds of Stones paraphernalia and strutting around in their earlier Stones tour shirts. Some were wearing Stones capes, Stones hats, buttons, pins, pants, “Hawaiian” shirts with the tongue logo, and the like. I kept thinking that if they spent that money on seeing new rock bands, the world might be a better place.
Instead, they made the rich richer (probably at the same time lamenting about the nation’s income inequality). To each his own, but I was reading the comments to an article about the Stones ongoing tour, and there were a bunch of boomers saying that rock is dead, there is no good rock after 1985, blah blah. Yeah, right man, keep going to see the same bands that are stuck in the comfort zone of your youth, and I’ll go see the vibrant young talent that is still out there flying the flag. And I’ll go see the Stones, too. With free tickets, hahahaha.
Hey, here’s one thing I can’t figure out. If there was ever a group of guys that treated women like complete crap, it’s the Rolling Stones. I mean, the groupies, the lyrics to their songs, their lifestyle. Check out the lyrics to Some Girls:
Do you think they could even play that song now? It’s racist, sexist, and whatever “ist” there is, and it’s not an outlier in their catalog. If they were running for office, they would be crucified. Yet, the boomer women are all there, singing along to misogynistic slut songs. Someone explain this to me.
Despite being surrounded by a lot of aging rockers, I was still a bit shell-shocked when the Stones took the stage and I got a good view of them on the massive screens flanking the stage. Wow! Jagger, Richards and Wood were so old looking! Jagger was the one most prominently featured, and while he dyes his hair (at least Charlie Watts remains authentic in that regard) so that it has the appearance of youth, the rest of his face was what you would expect a 76 year old guy to look like. Dressed in a red sequined jacket and black pants, he sought the look of youth, but damn, those craggy features have AGED.
Then I started to think again. They all are fit and in good shape, particularly Jagger. They’re playing a great song (they started with Street Fighting Man), and Jagger is prancing and moving around the stage, which is massive. The sound is top flight. They aren’t trying to dazzle with props like in previous shows I attended (no massive penis, no honky tonk women). They’re just rocking.
And then I got completely over it and completely into the show. They played a set of great songs:
They had a solid backup band with horns, keys, and singers, albeit they haven’t ever mastered playing live performances as a tight and ripping unit. Nope, they’re still the sloppy live band that you’ve seen before, and some of the songs were just not played that well – for instance, Let’s Spend the Night Together was played too slow and they couldn’t replicate many of the great guitar riffs if they wanted to do so. And starting the “whoo hoo” at the beginning of Sympathy for the Devil rather than in the middle of the tune where it belongs, was not cool. But these are quibbles.
What was impressive is that the boys still have it. At the end of the show, I was tired from standing up, but Jagger must have done 3 or 4 miles on the stage. No, he doesn’t have the same moves that he did back in the day, but he did it from start to finish and was better than 95% of the young bands that I still see. The rest of the band was up to it, too. Rather than cringing, I was inspired by these guys.
I’m beginning to get a bit long in the tooth, but I’m not the least bit ready to give up on physical exertion. It’s heartening to know that 4 guys who have done massive amounts of drugs, exposed themselves to god knows what number of sexual partners resulting in who-knows-what in terms of auto-immune illnesses, swam in alcohol, and abused their bodies for decades are still capable of moving and grooving well into their mid-70s. Sure, they aren’t what they used to be, but they’re still pretty damn good. Also, they aren’t doing this just for one night. They are on tour, playing over 20 cities. Color me impressed.
You know that I’m reluctant to see these aging boomer bands. They command high ticket prices, play in massive venues, and the show is often spotty if not downright bad. But when a band like the Stones puts it all together and play like what I recently experienced, it restores my faith. As one of their contemporaries sang many years ago: Long live rock, I need it every day!
And get it I did. Two nights later, I was out catting around yet again. This time it was down at a much smaller, intimate venue that I love. Yup, Union Transfer. And it was a going away show for a band from Philly that deserves a lot more attention than they ever got. I’ll be back shortly with that review. And I’ve got tickets to three more shows in the next few weeks. The Kid is back and rockin’ – can you keep up? Only if your name is Jagger, hahaha.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.