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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Live: Pursuing immortality with The Rolling Stones

Posted by on Thu, Jul 2, 2015 at 11:42 AM

click to enlarge Ron Wood and Keith Richards, joking around late during The Rolling Stones' set at Carter-Finley Stadium on Wednesday - PHOTO BY DAN SCHRAM
  • Photo by Dan Schram
  • Ron Wood and Keith Richards, joking around late during The Rolling Stones' set at Carter-Finley Stadium on Wednesday
The Rolling Stones & The Avett Brothers
Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh
Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Rolling Stones exploit the best implicit touring marketing pitch money cannot buy: See them now, because there’s no telling if they’ll live long enough for you to see them again.

The age of the infamously hard-living Stones has been a punchline for decades, or so long it’s now simply a wonder of anti-science: How have they survived when so many of their peers and idols have passed on? And more important, how have they persisted to perform for more than two hours on a balmy and breezy Southern weeknight, while smoking onstage and sipping from mysterious cups, as they did on Wednesday for a stadium of 40,000 people in Raleigh? Despite the pyrotechnics and multi-hundred-dollar tickets, the stadium-tall projection screens and football-field-length catwalk, a Rolling Stones show is really a circus sideshow of rock ’n’ roll provided by biological freaks, a Ripley’s installation of three septuagenarians and a sexagenarian, all clad in crinkly reptilian skin, causing you to pose one constant question: How do they still do that?

The feeling occurred again and again during their hits-heavy 19-song set at Carter-Finley Stadium. During opener “Jumpin' Jack Flash,” Mick Jagger glided and jerked across the stadium-wide stage on legs that looked unhealthily thin, as though he were a marionette rescued from salvage. But save for a mid-show, two-song bit led by Keith Richards, he didn’t stop moving for two hours, as he flung the various jackets and shirts of a half-dozen wardrobe changes into alternate corners of his band’s perch. He always returned to a semi-sheer, incredibly tight black shirt, which he would push suggestively to his midriff to the knowing squeals of the crowd.
And there were the times that Richards—at 71, the actual paragon of YOLO—briskly jogged with his guitar, first from stage left during “Tumbling Dice” and much later during an extended take on “Midnight Rambler.” At one point, Ron Wood sprinted behind him, like a schoolboy cavorting on an English playground. The youngest of the bunch, Wood also dressed like someone’s Pinterest board. Wearing what appeared to be sparkling red Nike Dunks and skin-hugging pants, he traded flashy T-shirts throughout the night—a white unicorn sailing across a purple top, a slim yellow selection that made him look like light itself, a blue shirt that depicted a moon-and-ocean scene with silver glitter. In a stadium full of faded old Stones tour paraphernalia, unfortunate tie-dyes and golf bros in khakis and knit shirts, Wood often seemed the hippest and most sartorially minded dude in the place.

Except for, of course, Charlie Watts, the oldest and most consistent Stone. During last night’s set, he forewent all wardrobe changes, choosing instead to sit behind his simple kit in a bright red shirt and keep time as the rest of the band roamed. Amid such an extravagant performance and production, Watts remained the anchor and the essence, playing drums with a bemused look that suggested he’s always teasing out some complex math problem or thinking about the day’s deepest headlines. When Jagger, who introduced everyone except himself after a ragged and wonderful “Honky Tonk Women,” pulled a reluctant Watts to center stage to accept applause, Watts looked sincerely, endearingly annoyed with the frontman. After all this time, The Rolling Stones appeared to be a band of mere buddies, trading inside jokes and knowing laughs and sidelong winks throughout the night—old friends, getting older together.

click to enlarge All the young dudes - PHOTO BY DAN SCHRAM
  • Photo by Dan Schram
  • All the young dudes
And they still played, bless them, like a band of boys. The performances were righteously sloppy, the product of an act that, despite high production values, still cares more about attitude than execution. The entire band got lost during “Start Me Up,” and Wood and Richards botched more than a few notes during “Honky Tonk Women.” Richards seemed to forget some lyrics and cues during his two-song mini-set, depending on the help of background singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler during “Happy” and “Before They Make Me Run.” After more than five decades, The Rolling Stones make looking cool impossibly effortless, but playing the songs that help define that legacy can still seem a grand, glorious conquest.

But there were times of practiced perfection, too, as when Duke University’s Vespers Ensemble added the introduction, background vocals and side-to-side sways for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Beneath the settling dark, “Moonlight Mile” was sublime, as Jagger casually strummed an electric guitar that seemed to have been cast from silver snakeskin. (A description that could describe the band, too, it seems.) And during “Gimme Shelter,” Jagger strolled down the catwalk, hand in hand with the radiant Fischer, the background singer challenging the star of the show for supremacy. It was electrifying, a testament to how, on a good night and with a great band, a 46-year-old standby can seem new again. That promise rippled throughout the night. Indeed, despite the show's various production and publicity gimmicks, the real draw remained the appeal of a plain ol' rock ’n’ roll group, plowing through and stretching out their standards and having fun as they did so.

Last night, between The Avett Brothers’ potent 45-minute opening set and the extended animated illustration that preceded the Stones’ entrance, the 50-something businessman sitting next to me seemed nervous. A friend of bassist Darryl Jones, he’d flown from California to see the show, meet some of the members, sit on the 11th row, and, it seems, play air guitar in the aisle to “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” This was the only chance he would have on this tour to get away from work, so he’d cashed in some airline miles and made the trip for free. Jones had told him the show would start at 9:15 p.m., a fact that he began announcing around 9:09 p.m. and reiterated nearly every 90 seconds until the lights finally went down nine minutes late. In the interim, he acted as though he worried something had gone wrong backstage, that maybe the universe had finally caught up with the Glimmer Twins.

“Here we go,” he at last proclaimed when the band bounded from backstage. “Here they go.” He seemed beyond relieved, almost triumphant. For the next two hours, I never saw him look at his phone or fret about anything at all. He emailed occasional pictures to friends, sent some exclamatory texts and mostly provided running commentary to anyone within earshot. “I hope I can do that when I am 70,” he yelled as Jagger strutted and staggered during “It’s Only Rock ’n Roll (But I Like It).”

I nodded in agreement as he danced back toward his right, awkward and sweating and red. I realized that he—even in his 50s, just like me in my 30s—couldn’t do that thing Jagger was doing now, let alone in 20 years.

And that appreciation of someone else’s impossible immortality is, in large part, why we and tens of thousands of others had all come to see The Rolling Stones. We won't live forever, but goddamn, it's hard to imagine they will ever die.

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