In order to review a The Rolling Stones concert there are a few requirements. I have to mention that in spite or because of their age, they’re a pretty impressive live band. I have to mention Mick’s energy; that he has showed no signs of slowing down in the ten years since their last world tour. I definitely need to include a few song puns, saying that in spite of the rain, the 38,000 strong crowd left Satisfied knowing that they may have seen this classic band for The Last Time.
Disregarding facetiousness, the Stones did genuinely put on a great show – as I was expecting – although I was unsure it would match up to their performance at Wellington’s Caketin in 2006. It did, with an inspired setlist that included recent-era songs such as Doom And Gloom and Out Of Control, their cover of Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone as voted by the public and a Keith Richards set that managed to be one of the highlights of the night. Richards played three as opposed to his usual two, perhaps giving Mick a break after having to cancel an Australian show due to a throat infection. Richards’ You Got The Silver was the bluesiest moment of the night, his creaky vocals housing a lot of emotion, and the upbeat Before You Make Me Run was a welcome inclusion as well as the standard Happy. Mick’s stage presence is still something to be marveled at, shaking like a man possessed, venturing out onto the catwalk multiple times, in spite of the drizzly Auckland weather.
I hate to bring age into it again, but Charlie Watts, at 73, is a mother-fucking miracle. Most of the people I know in their 50s or 60s would find it tiring even attending a concert for a few hours. But at his age, still managing to hold down the grooves and with impressive flare is something to behold. His fills have always been sloppy but there is something unique and delicious in his grooves, part of the reason the ‘Stones repertoire is so diverse rhythmically compared to their contemporaries (of which are getting less and less) from the disco of Miss You, to the modern rock of Doom And Gloom. Rock drumming need not be perfectly tight, and Watts’ instinctively knows how to keep the beat just loose enough to roll, but tight enough to rock – and has lost none of this touch with the years.
I’ll digress slightly to talk about Stadium concert politics – I went for a few wanders during the show, attempted to view the concert from as many vantage points as possible. The giant screens and multicolored stage looked great from all angles, although the money orientated decision to have the G.A. section behind the costly front seated section, meant a lack of atmosphere in many place. The G.A. section was the most energetic in some ways, with a group of Argentinians sporting a hand-crafted Stones flag, and attempting crowd surfing. The seated areas had plenty of people getting up to dance, especially in the stands, and in their defense the majority of the seated floor crowd stood for nearly the entire show. So a minor gripe would be that the G.A. floor couldn’t have been extended to the front of the stage, or at least had a cheaper G.A. standing section and a pricier one right at the front, such as the set-up for Bruce Springsteen’s tour earlier in the year. I guess if you want a standing Stones show you’d have to see them at a festival, and seeing as this most probably will be their last New Zealand show and perhaps last tour – it’s true that You Can’t Always Get What You Want, but if you try.. (you know the rest).
The best place to be in the whole stadium was of course, right at the front, because although the screens were huge they couldn’t compensate for seeing the musicians in the flesh. I may have pulled another concert sneak and made my way near the catwalk.. but I’ll let the photo’s say the rest.
I haven’t discussed the rest of the band yet, and it would be a crime if I didn’t mention the great guitar work of Ronnie Wood, the youngest of the main four, and guest Stone Mick Taylor, who provided the best solos of the night during Midnight Rambler. On paper a Stones set of this era may appear formulaic, but when there, everything comes to life, with the professional ensemble of support musicians, the sax, keyboards and soaring backing vocals from Lisa Fischer, notably in Gimme Shelter. On stage banter and rapport between the band mates enthusiastic, Jagger reminiscing with the crowd about the Stones visiting Auckland for now nearly fifty years, mentioning the shows with Roy Orbison, and stating that it was too long perhaps.
Fifty years is an extremely long time for a rock band like this to be going, and to be going with all of the enthusiasm and camaraderie they’ve always appeared to have. A large amount of the audience perhaps turned up to celebrate this fact. Though the setlist was slightly familiar at times, they’ve lost none of their ability to entertain and still put on a show that’s probably a shit-ton better than Stadium acts half their age.
Original-era rock bands such as The Rolling Stones will soon fade away. Will we have a constant revolving platform of other bands aging and taking their place? Will it be Metallica next celebrating their 50th anniversary? Arctic Monkeys a generation after that? Or will rock audiences splinter and festivals that cater to the diverse tastes of those raised on electronic just as much as rock – metal just as much as rap – be the only places where crowds big enough to fill stadiums will come together to celebrate the strange movement that is modern rock. Or will the music industry finally collapse onto itself along with the capitalist machine due to irreparable human consequences, over-population and worsening global weather conditions. Who knows. For now, we still have our rock titan’s. And The Rolling Stones prove with their seemingly unstoppable stadium filling appeal and age defying energy, that just like any Renaissance-era statue – human achievements can be immortal.
Ok, that last paragraph was maybe a stretch too far, and I’d better end on a song pun, so not to break the cliche of Stones show reviews. It was Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, but we liked it.