By Brian Wise.
The Rolling Stones
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne – Wednesday, November 5, 2014
After a delay of 8 months the Rolling Stones were in Melbourne on the 14 On Fire tour that had been necessarily postponed earlier in the year. Yet at first it was a strangely subdued audience that greeted the band before eventually getting excited towards the end of the 19-song, two hour show.
Was there an element of anti-climax after such a delay? Was it the largely predictable set list? Was it the renowned conservatism of the Melbourne audience? Whatever the reasons, the redoubtable Mick Jagger and colleagues seemed to have to work harder than usual to get the fans animated. (Maybe it will be easier on Saturday at the outdoor venue at Hanging Rock).
It was hardly coincidence that the high points of last night’s concert featured guest guitarist Mick Taylor, singer Lisa Fischer and The Consort of Melbourne choir?
These were the moments, along with a colourful and threatening ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, were the least predictable, had the most edge and gave the musicians the greatest leeway in a set list that has been reliably primed with the ‘hits’ for a number of years, if not decades.
Kicking off with ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash,’ the band raced through a batch of trusted oldies and a couple of more recent songs, including a very nice version of ‘Wild Horses,’ until the Keith Richards bracket of ‘Before They Make Me Run’ and a ragged ‘Happy.’
It was pretty much straight ahead, unadorned rock ‘n’ roll until ‘Honky Tonk Women’ produced the first of several audience singalongs of the evening, encouraged by Jagger. If you wanted hits then most of them were here.
The band, anchored by Charlie Watts powerhouse drumming, sounded as tight as I had ever heard it. Jagger was his usual enthusiastic and athletic self and sounded in great voice (despite a cold). Keith Richards swaggered and Ron Wood played his partner in duelling guitars.
Of course, you have to keep reminding yourself that Jagger, Richards and Watts are all in their seventies now (Wood is the youngster at 67). Jagger’s energy, especially, is astonishing but it must also be difficult for the 73-year-old Watts to thump the drum kit for two hours without missing a beat. (On last night’s evidence the band could go on for quite a few years yet).
They are supported by a stellar cast of backing musicians, including keyboardist Chuck Leavell (who could have been at The Allman Brothers final shows at The Beacon Theater in New York the other week had it not been for this tour). Leavell not only played multiple keys and also sang consistently through the night. Bassist Darryl Jones, an alumni of Miles Davis’s group, completes the rhythm section, perfectly complementing Watts’ uncanny timing. The horn section comprised Tim Ries and Karl Denson (replacing Bobby Keys). Long-time backing singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler complete a lean but powerful band, capable of faithfully reproducing all of the hits.
The fact that Mick Taylor was in the classic line-up of the Stones that appeared in 1973 at Melbourne’s Kooyong Tennis stadium might have been one reason for the warm audience reception but it was soon clear that his playing elevated ‘Midnight Rambler’ to another level. That characteristic Stones’ chugging riff has rarely been bettered. Taylor’s appearance might have been all too brief (he returned later for the encore of ‘Satisfaction’) but it is a nice gesture for the Stones to have him back.
I can do without ‘Miss You,’ which was probably in the wrong spot sandwiched between ‘Rambler’ and ‘Gimme Shelter,’ the latter being nothing short of spectacular with Lisa Fischer taking centrestage and prowling the catwalk. ‘Sympathy For The Devil,’ saw Jagger enter wearing a colourful feathered cape and a video backdrop of fire that made the song appropriately threatening until he got the audience to singalong.
The first encore song, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, opening with the choir was another reminder of the greatness of 1969’s Let It Bleed (and the band’s other albums of that era) while ‘Satisfaction’ ended on an upbeat note.
In a year that has also seen Springsteen and Dylan tour here it seems odd that the most conservative act has been The Rolling Stones, once not only considered the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band but a threat to society as well.
Looking at the treasure trove of songs from the back catalogue that are begging to be resurrected in concert I, perhaps selfishly, wish that Mick and Keith were more adventurous in their song selection.
Just over a decade ago the Stones did an Enmore Theatre show in Sydney that included ‘Live With Me,’ Dead Flowers,’ ‘No Expectations’ and ‘Slipping Away,’ along with ‘Everybody Needs Somebody To Love’ and ‘That’s How Strong My Love is’ (two of their early covers).
People might be getting what they want but are they getting what they need?
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
You Got Me Rocking
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll
Doom & Gloom
Street Fighting Man
Out Of Control
Honky Tonk Women
Before They Make Me Run
Midnight Rambler (Mick Taylor)
Sympathy For The Devil
Start Me Up
You Cant’ Always Get What You Want
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction