Over five decades into their career, the Rolling Stones are still one of the best live rock and roll bands on the planet.
Before last night’s (August 5) Rolling Stones concert at New Jersey’s Metlife Stadium, a friend of mine joked about the band’s 1989 tour, for their Steel Wheels album. “The Steel Wheelchairs Tour,” she said, snarkily. I remember paying $30 for my ticket to see the Stones at Shea Stadium, grateful that I finally had my chance to see them. They didn’t tour for their previous two albums, 1983’s Undercover and 1986’s Dirty Work. Surely, this tour would be the last time they’d hit the road. After all, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were in their mid-40s! How much longer could they possibly go on?
Three decades, four studio albums and a bunch of multi-million dollar grossing tours later, we know the answer to that question: a really long time. Ron Wood, the youngest member of the Rolling Stones, is 72; Charlie Watts, the oldest, is 78. And yet, they play with fire and energy that would shame bands one-third of their age. On one hand, they have nothing to prove: their legacy is unmatched, and they’re still popular enough to sell out two nights at a football stadium (one suspects that they could have easily added at least one more date). On the other hand, they may indeed feel the need to prove that it is worth a few hundred dollars to see a rock and roll band of guys in their 70s play for two hours.
The answer is “hell yeah.” It’s not because of the massive video monitors, the incredible light show or the fireworks blasting off from the stage during the encore (“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”). It’s in the moments where you can imagine them taking the stage in a small bar or theater and blowing the roof off the joint because they’re so in the pocket. It’s when they bust out their 1986 cover of the Bob & Earl gem, “Harlem Shuffle” for the first time in nearly 30 years, just because they feel like it. It’s in the jam during “Midnight Rambler,” where they out-play every jam band on earth. It’s in the extended funk classic “Miss You,” when you realize that bassist Daryl Jones has been working with the Stones for nearly as long as Bill Wyman was a member of the group. And it’s when Mick, Keith, Charlie, and Ronnie play acoustically on the second stage, and you see Jagger and Richards sharing one mic during “Let It Bleed,” singing “We all need someone we can lean on/And if you want it, you can lean on me.”
How many more tours could they possibly have left? Don’t dwell on that, just see them now.
Promise of the Real, led by Lukas Nelson (son of Willie) pulled off the rare feat for a stadium opening act: they captured the attention of a full stadium and entertained them. They’re not a household name yet (despite the fact that Neil Young has been using them as his go-to backing band in recent years), but that may change. And if you’re curious about who will carry the torch for guitar-based rock and roll bands in the next few decades, POTR is a good bet.