Mick, Keef, and the boys bring the rock & roll circus to Barclay Center and Rock NYC is on the scene
By Iman Lababedi
Towards the end of the Rolling Stones eagerly anticipated performance at Barclay Center, Mick Jagger said, “People always ask us, why do you keep touring? You’re the reason we really do this.” This isn’t true, the Stones do it for money. If they did it for us, they would hire guitar great Gary Clark Jr and tour sweaty nightclubs playing the blues. Clark joined the band for Freddie King‘s “Going Down” followed by the Glimmer Twins own “All Down The Line” and this is what we paid our hard earned bucks for. “Going Down” was easily one of the best live performances I’ve heard from the band in years, all that was missing was Mick Taylor. Jagger traded vocal licks with Gary and Wood and Richards threw down on him and the not yet thirty year old Clark was equal to the task. “All Down The Line”, an Exile On Main Streetguitar plus horns boogieing in the Deep South, cut the version from the Stones 2006 Beacon Theater gig for the Scorcese movie to shreds. Shredding shredded.
But the rest of the set was the real reason the Stones do this. Setting themselves up for a World Tour to help celebrate their 50th Anniversary, the extremely expensive ($150 for a nosebleed but I had to cough up $350) nostalgia show from the greatest rock and roll band ever, past their prime. So how much you enjoyed it depends on how much you still get off on the Stones darkly through the past energetically songs. Me? I don’t get off on it the way I used to and the bigger the song the more tired I am. From “Jumping Jack Flash” to Satisfaction” , “Tumbling Dice”, “Brown Sugar” this was the Stones as written and a little less.
Keith Richards seemed tired and more than willing to let newcomer Ron Wood do the heavy lifting. “Before They Make Me Run” is a pleasant enough midset lull but I think his injury has taken a toll and except here and there, Richards isn’t the thunderclap riff master of all time. Ron saved”Happy” with his slide guitar. Charlie Watts was exactly the same as always, indeed, decade after decade, central position. Watts is the model of consistency and responsibility. At the end of the 1965 tour diary “Charlie Is My Darling”, Watts claims he can’t wait to get home to his wife. Unlike the rest of the band, Bill Wyman was caught up in the lifestyle , Brian Jones was a lost soul, Mick Taylor too young, Richards and Jagger the biggest rock stars of all time, for Watts it remains a job, a paycheck, hard work for which he gets real real paid. Of the back up players, Bobby Keys sax solo on “Brown Sugar” and Daryl Kings Jones (thanks Rob O’Connor) bass solo on “Miss You” saved the former and helped the latter.
Whatever my reservations about the playing and the price, I have none whatsoever about Mick’s performance. His dancing on “All Along The Line” and harp playing on “Midnight Rambler” made fun at the question of age. This is sixty-nine years old? THIS??? The man did not stop moving and great performances massed up, the duet with Mary J. Blige on “Gimme Shelter” was a perfect and sexy lockstep duet, the first song of the encore, made fresh by the use of Grammy nominated The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, who start off sweet and end up in double time, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” sounded as if it was just written and the “practiced at the art of deception” line was returned to its position as testament to sex and betrayal. A great “Miss You” shows Jagger’s range narrowing but really, who goes to the Stones for Jaggers vocal range? You go for the MC, and from the tip of the stage to the lip of the tongue shaped runway, Jagger didn’t stop for a moment. It would have been a great performance by a 25 year old man and a testament to just how much it matters to Jagger that he is seen for what he is: the greatest rock and roll front man of all time, a snake oil con man who took with James Brown and ran with him.
But too much of the set wasn’t really good enough, there was no excuse for never ending versions of “Wild Horses”; ”Satisfaction” sounded tired and “Start Me Up” sounded old. ”Cloud” sounded rusty.
In 1980 I saw the Stones perform a terrible terrible set, as they attempted to pay tribute to their past while preening their egos, that wasn’t this Stones. In 1998, I saw the Stones covering “Like A Rolling Stone”. It remains a thrilling memory, the tour itself remains a thrilling memory, the Stones are not that band either . They are nostalgia merchants, good, maybe great ones. When they (inevitably) play Metlife next summer, I’ll be there to see if they’ve managed to kick the shit right off the shoes that covered it too often last night. .
(Iman Lababedi is editor at large for Rock NYC. For more in-depth reviews and insightful coverage of the music scene in New York and around the world, visit rocknycliveandrecorded.com.