So, was it the last time the Rolling Stones will perform in the U.S.?
Watching the band at the last U.S. stop on their 50 & Counting Tour Monday night (June 24) at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., there was no indication that they may pack it in. In fact, depending on your perspective (and your age) their two-hour show either defied or defined what is possible for a band whose members are all AARP age. Which is to say, they are still the best rock and roll band in the world on a good night. And Monday was certainly that: a very good night.
They opened with their 1965 hit “Get Off Of My Cloud”; the audience (of very mixed ages, by the way) responded by getting off of their seats, barely sitting down for the rest of the night. After that, there was a false start — proving that for all their slick professionalism, the Stones aren’t too over-rehearsed — and then “It’s Only Rock And Roll (But I Like It).”
After that came “Paint It Black.” Charlie Watts, subdued as ever, pounded the drums — but it was all in the wrists. He remains one of the coolest but least attention-hungry drummers in rock and roll. “Gimme Shelter” followed, featuring the group’s powerful backing singer, Lisa Fischer (featured in the documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom, about support vocalists) sharing the spotlight with Mick Jagger. Earlier in the tour, Mary J. Blige and Lady Gaga took the iconic Merry Clayton vocal part in the song, but Fischer proved that she owns that song as much as anyone. She’s a reminder that you don’t have to be famous — or want to be — to be great. (The same goes for the band’s other backing singer, Bernard Fowler.) Meanwhile, the formidable guitar team of Keith Richards and Ron Wood demonstrated how they “weave” around each other, their distinct styles complementing the other’s: Richards’ stabbing at his instrument blending with Wood’s more fluid style.
After “Shelter,” Jagger welcomed the audience, noting that the band first came to Washington, D.C. in 1965, mentioning that back then, First Lady Ladybird Johnson used to come to see the band. “I don’t think President Obama is here tonight,” he said. “But I’m sure he’s listening in!”
Jagger then got behind an electric piano for a relatively rare track, “Worried About You” from 1981’s Tattoo You. His falsetto might not be quite what it was three decades ago, but the song nonetheless was one of the highlights of a night that had many.
Each night on this tour the band takes an online poll to decide the “fan’s choice” song, and tonight’s winner was “Street Fighting Man.” (For those keeping score, it beat out “Rocks Off,” “Just My Imagination,” “You Got Me Rocking” and “Live With Me.”) That was followed by one of the band’s funkiest numbers, “Emotional Rescue,” and again, Mick’s falsetto did the job.
The one-two punch of their new songs — “Doom And Gloom” and “One More Shot” — from last year’s compilation GRRR! were next. For the record, the new songs didn’t lead to a bathroom/beer line exodus, which is often the case at concerts by veteran acts (and has been the case with the Stones in the past). Both songs showed that they still have some new contributions to make to their unbelievable songbook.
“Honky Tonk Woman” followed, and then Jagger introduced the band before leaving the stage, giving the mic up to Richards, who joked, as he always does, “It’s good to be here — it’s good to be anywhere!” (Actually, given the chemicals that he’s ingested over the decades, he’s probably not joking.) After an emotional “You Got The Silver,” Richards rocked through “Before They Make Me Run,” a song that features one of his loveliest lyrics: “See my taillights fading/There’s not a dry eye in the house.”
Most shows on this tour have featured big-name celebrity guests — Carrie Underwood, John Mayer, Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift. They’ve been fun, but they also seem a bit forced. The one guest fans seem to appreciate the most is the one who could probably walk down the street without being recognized: former guitarist Mick Taylor. As he has done for most of the tour, he joined the band for “Midnight Rambler,” an epic guitar throwdown that also saw Jagger blasting through his harmonica going toe to toe with his former bandmate. It’s enough to make Stones fans wonder why he ever quit the band in the first place.
On “Miss You,” longtime touring bassist Daryl Jones plunked a deep groove on the song, bringing it a bit further into disco territory. A sweet moment during the song came when Jagger seemed like he was looking for something and Richards grabbed his shoulder and handed him his harmonica, mid-song.
A few of their biggest hits followed: “Start Me Up,” “Tumbling Dice,” and “Brown Sugar,” the last of which featured longtime sax player Bobby Keys replicating his original part on the song. As a drum loop from “Sympathy For The Devil” played, the band returned to the stage for the encore. Longtime touring pianist Chuck Leavell took the lead, giving the song a more gospel sound, before Jagger brought it back to sinister territory by hitting the stage armed with a feathered boa cloak and those six famous words: “Please allow me to introduce myself.”
They were joined by the Washington Chorus for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” giving it the presentation it has always deserved (they select a different local choir at every stop on the tour for that song). And then, arguably their two most iconic hits: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” joined once again by Mick Taylor.
Could it actually have been the proverbial last time? With Mick and Keith turning 70 later this year (Charlie is already there), it seems like a possibility.
After the show, fans gathered at the arena’s garage exit, watching the band’s black SUV convoy leave the building. As their taillights, in fact, faded down the street, most were no doubt hoping that that wouldn’t be band’s last goodbye. But if it was, they went out on top.