Review by Brian Wise.
T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada – Saturday October 22, 2016
It was 50 years ago this year that I saw my first concert – the Rolling Stones at The Palais, Melbourne, in1966. Not a bad start. So this was a night to think of anniversaries. It seemed somehow fitting that we should all be here 50 years on. But it almost didn’t happen.
Prior to the Stones’ appearance at Glastonbury a couple of years ago Charlie Watts claimed that he hated outdoor shows. As a drummer, he said it was too difficult to get the sound right. Mick Jagger might have the same feeling as a singer because they were forced to cancel the Wednesday night show at the new T-Mobile Arena when he contracted laryngitis – no doubt from their Desert Trip show in Indio the weekend before. So it was a few days spent nervously waiting to see if this show would happen.
Possibly one of the perks of being the world’s best known rock singer is access to the finest legal drugs and best medical help available because on Saturday evening there was almost no sign at all of Jagger’s vocal tribulations – apart from the fact that it was a couple of songs shy of their 20-song Desert Trip gigs. (I got a cold at the start of the month and it took three weeks to get rid of it!).
Of course, someone like Jagger is hardly going to do the show unless he is one hundred per cent. (In Bob Dylan’s case it sometime sounds as if he has a permanent case of laryngitis!). While there was no mention of a rescheduled date for the cancelled show everyone who had tickets was happy Saturday’s show went ahead. The feeling of anticipation was palpable.
As Jagger confessed during the show, while thanking the audience for their support, he has stopped counting how many years the group has been playing. Just five days earlier it was the 55th anniversary of the historic first meeting between Jagger and Keith Richards on Platform 2 at Dartford Station. This failed to get a mention. No time for sentimentality at a Stones gig – it is strictly on with the show.
A spirited ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ opened proceedings followed quickly by ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ (also celebrating 50 years since the band performed a censored version on The Ed Sullivan Show). Then it was on to ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and ‘Tumbling Dice,’ after which Jagger apologised for having to cancel the Wednesday show noting in reference to the Presidential Debate, “But there was another show in town. Was it a comedy? Or was it a tragedy?”
Jagger then related how the band had gone into the studio last year to record a few blues songs and how this had grown to become their new album due out in a few weeks. They then launched into a mighty version of Jimmy Reed’s ‘Ride ‘Em On Down,’ making you wonder if there is a possibility of some club shows to promote the album. Jagger excelled on harp while Richards and Wood fell in line so well that they sounded like they played the blues all the time. If you have heard the songs Mick and Keith recorded for the Jimmy Rogers tribute album some years back you’ll recognise that sound immediately and how it harks back to the band’s earliest days.
Jagger then joked about the new local hockey team that will have a home at the T-Mobile Arena and suggested some possible names, The Hookers, The Las Vegans. As a comedian he’s a great singer. The band then launched into ‘Paint It Black’ – also celebrating an anniversary this year. Not to labour the point too much but some context might be nice for fans – but maybe I was spoilt the other night by Elton John who seems to have made an art of introducing important songs.
‘Honky Tonk Women’ featured a rollicking barrel-house piano solo from Chuck Leavell, underscoring the important role of the backing musicians and singers in this outfit. This is the element that, along with Charlie Watts’ incredible drumming, holds the whole show together. If you want to charge top dollar these days then you have to sound great, not just good.
It was hardly surprising that the most enthusiastic ovation during the band introductions was the several minutes accorded to Keith Richards who then explained that he would do three songs because of the ‘situation’ (meaning Mick’s voice). As Keith fended off the applause, Jagger faded into the background.
‘Slipping Away’ was followed by a slashing version of ‘Little T&A’ with that classic chugging Stones sound. It was one of the evening’s undoubted highlights. For ‘Happy’, Ronnie sat to play slide guitar. It was a satisfying three-song cameo from Keith. (I’ve always thought that if they are ever in a position where a show could be cancelled because of Jagger’s voice most ticket holders would be pretty happy to get Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood as a substitute!)
It seemed to be a rejuvenated Mick Jagger when he returned with obligatory cape for ‘Midnight Rambler.’ He sounded so good that it was hard to believe that only three days earlier he had laryngitis. This is really the centrepiece of the show around which everything else hangs. Jagger’s strutting and running takes on a purpose and reminds you of the time when the song had a true sense of menace.
‘Miss You’ is not my favourite Stones’ song but here it was turned into a ten-minute funky epic with a bass solo from Darryl Jones and a sax solo from Tim Ries (who did a club show with Bernard Fowler on the Wednesday of the cancelled show). It worked well enough to get the audience involved and singing along at Jagger’s beckoning.
‘Gimme Shelter’ is the other song in the Stones set that reminds you of their heyday. Jagger was joined here by Sasha Allen (taking the place of Lisa Fischer) on the walkway that jutted into the audience. They danced and postured and again helped turn the song into another extended jam.
‘Start Me Up’ punctuated the bracket prior to ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ that not only had Charlie wearing headphones and showing just what a talented timekeeper he is but also allowed Jagger to get the audience involved. (‘Woo, woo!’)
A ragged version of ‘Brown Sugar’ with a sax solo from Karl Denson finished off the set before the band returned for the encore. ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ with the Green Valley High School Madrigal Choir featured a bizarre solo from Ronnie who seemed intent on injecting some of his own fire into the song. (A few other times during the night Ronnie made his presence felt – loudly).
‘Satisfaction’ has become the traditional show closer and got the audience dancing, clapping and singing. It ended exactly at the two-hour mark – maybe a few minutes short of the usual set due to Mr Jagger’s vocal problems. However, it was a power-packed 120 minutes – all killer, no filler (as they say).
Cynics might suggest that with a greatest hits package like this the Stones have found their perfect home in Las Vegas. But it is more than a case of being the world’s greatest cover band with the original lead singer!
There was enough this night to get excited about all over again. The promise of a new blues album, after all these years, is exciting stuff and the selection form that forthcoming album was sensational.
As a showman Jagger, even at 73 years of age (can you believe that?) has few peers and as a master of classic riffs neither does Keith Richards. It is pretty remarkable that after all these decades they are still doing it so well. The band doesn’t hit you on an emotional level like Bruce Springsteen or Paul McCartney but they sure as hell hit you on a visceral level. There are more than a few occasions during the set – on ‘Midnight Rambler, ‘Gimme Shelter,’ and ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ – that convince you that this was the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band.
- Jumping Jack Flash
- Let’s Spend The Night Together
- It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll
- Tumbling Dice
- Ride ‘Em On Down (from forthcoming Blue & Lonesome)
- Paint It Black
- Honky Tonk Women
- Slipping Away (Keith)
- Little T&A (Keith)
- Happy (Keith)
- Midnight Rambler
- Miss You
- Gimme Shelter
- Start Me Up
- Sympathy For The Devil
- Brown Sugar
- You Can’t Always Get What You Want
- (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction