By Brian Wise
THE ROLLING STONES
MGM GRAND GARDEN ARENA, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
SATURDAY MAY 11, 2013
There is some irony in the fact that the Rolling Stones are celebrating their 50th anniversary with a stop in Las Vegas, the American capitol of decadence. You only have to walk out onto The Strip and see all the symbols that the band was once renowned for in its so-called heyday: sex, alcohol, drugs and money.
It is also the home to the show business spectacular: Elton John and Celine Dion are doing seasons there right now. Elvis did his final shows there just 8 months before he died.
But it is best not to ponder too much on the symbolism – after all, it is only rock ‘n’ roll and the Rolling Stones are now the ultimate survivors. It is almost inconceivable that the band has lasted more than half a century. That is almost as long as the entire recording career of John Lee Hooker – who played on until his passing at 83 years of age! Of course, they have a few years to go to catch Tony Bennett but given the current show, you just never know. The current tour is titled ‘Fifty And Counting’ but you would surely have to think that it is ‘counting down.’
Lining up to collect tickets, word was that the show was not sold out and that some ticket prices had been heavily reduced and apparently there were a few US$85 tickets available on the band’s website. A few scalpers were asking half price on US$750 tickets and not getting it.
Of course, Las Vegas is a captive audience anyway – the place is bulging with out-of-towners on the weekend. But there were still the die-hards. The man in front of me had flown in from Hawaii for the show and others had come from the UK just for this show. Nice that it coincides with a weekend in Vegas. Inside, the arena looked sold out to me.
The merchandising stalls were also going flat chat and no doubt these sales almost match the ticket revenue. When I questioned my sanity in buying tickets, and then US$40 t-shirts an Englishman next to me said, ‘You’re a fan. You do it.’ True. After all, how much longer will the band members really want to tour? How much longer can they tour?
Seeing the Stones in America, where the band established its reputation for live shows, is an experience in itself. The audience is always raucous, enthusiastic and here everyone stands up for the entire 140-minutes in the 15,000-seat arena, featuring the now famous semi-circular ‘lip’ walkway enclosing a 1,000 or so of the highest payers.
With no support act, the audience excitement was palpable in the hour leading up to the show with cheers and chants breaking out every few minutes. By the time the short intro film was shown the crowd was primed to almost fever pitch.
Of course, a Rolling Stones show revolves around frontman Mick Jagger who demonstrates an unrelenting energy that belies his senior citizen status. His energy is infectious as he prowls the stage and the runway trying to keep the audience engaged.
But Jagger is backed by a formidable band steered by Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, whose guitars lay down the riffs as if paving the path for each song. Charlie Watts fabulously solid drumming anchors the music and at times seems to be the single most important element in what is happening, keeping perfect time.
Chuck Leavell’s keyboard’s colours the sound and he adds vocals when required. Bobby Keyes and Tim Rees form a small but solid horn section. Lisa Fischer and Bernard Edwards add backing vocals – and compensate for the fact that Mick cannot quite reach the same high notes that he once did (understandable for someone fifty years into his career and still way better than Paul Simon when I recently saw him). It is a musical combination that has been together for a long time now – with additions now and then – and it is a finely honed machine.
The set started with ‘Get Off My Cloud’ and, as you might expect, was heavy on nostalgia. The hits just kept coming for the first half hour or so – ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll,’ ‘Paint It Black,’ a great version of ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘You Got Me Rockin’.’
Then, despite the fact that ‘Beast Of Burden’ was for voted by fans for inclusion it featured a guest spot from Katy Perry. Recent shows featured Tom Waits (‘Little Red Rooster’ in Oakland) and in San Jose, John Fogerty (‘It’s All Over Now’) and Bonnie Raitt (‘Let It Bleed’) made appearances. Nothing against Ms Perry, but it was easy to feel bit short-changed. Plus, this set also included ‘Emotional Rescue,’ ‘Miss You’ and the two new songs ‘Doom And Gloom’ and ‘One More Shot.’ Maybe this was geared to the perception of what a Vegas audience might want but the San Jose set list was a lot more satisfying.
Nevertheless, after a lull, things got back on track with ‘Honky Tonk Women’ (with a nice solo from Leavell), after which Jagger introduced the band. Pointing a seemingly reluctant Charlie Watts to the side of the arena he joked, ‘Charlie didn’t even know that part existed.’
The biggest ovation of the night came when Keith Richards then took the stage for his all too brief segment of ‘Before They Make Me Run’ and ‘Happy’, with Ron Wood on lap steel. ‘Welcome to Vegas, wherever it is,’ said Richards as the roar continued, ‘It’s goo to be here. It’s good to be anywhere.’
Richards seemed genuinely overwhelmed by the lengthy standing ovation. ‘Come on, we’ve got a show to do,’ he said as he launched another riff. (Of course, there are those of us who would just as happily see Richards doing his own tour).
The other highlight of the evening immediately ensued with the appearance of Mick Taylor on ‘Midnight Rambler.’ It was nice to see the Stones’ best ever guitarist back in the band even if for a cameo. Taylor showed that he still has the ability to add something unique top a song and it would have been nice to see him out there for a few more (he did return during the encore).
The final four songs ‘Start Me Up,’ ‘Tumbling Dice,’ ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ brought the main part of the show to a powerful conclusion, with both Keith and Ronnie roving the stage.
An encore of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ (with the Green Valley High Madrigal Singers), ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ and ‘Satisfaction’ (again with Mick Taylor) capped off a two hour-twenty minute show with 22-song set list. No-one was complaining that the show was not good value. The most frequently used word was ‘awesome.’
Again, Mick Jagger proved himself to be a consummate showman fronting a band that probably sounds better than at many other stages of their career. The Las Vegas show might not have reached the emotional and musical heights that we recently experienced in Australia with concerts from Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Those were exceptional and often unpredictable concerts that were short on nostalgia (especially in Young’s case), longer on creativity and will live in our memory for a very long time.
These days a Rolling Stones concert is an experience in itself, an opportunity to commune with legends and get a hint of what they were like when they were Gods.
1. Get Off My Cloud
2. It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll
3. Paint It Black
4. Gimme Shelter
5. You Got Me Rockin’
6. Beast Of Burden (with Katy Perry)
7. Emotional Rescue
8. All Down The Line
9. Doom & Gloom
10. One More Shot
11. Honky Tonk Women
12. Before They Make Me Run
14. Midnight Rambler (with Mick Taylor)
15. Miss You
16. Start Me Up
17. Tumbling Dice
18. Brown Sugar
19. Sympathy For The Devil
20. You Can’t Always Get What You Want (with the Green Valley High Madrigal Singers).
21. Jumping Jack Flash
22. Satisfaction (with Mick Taylor)