As I made my way through State Farm Stadium to see The Rolling Stones, many of the people around me agreed with my general assessment of the show’s logistics: It was an absolute clusterfuck. It was as if the event planners and the stadium had wildly, tremendously, HILARIOUSLY underestimated the popularity of The Rolling Stones.
You could feel an audible sense of relief as those giant lips flared to life on the projection screens and Charlie Watts, wearing a bright yellow shirt, strolled out to take his place behind his kit. He was followed by the rest of the gang: Mick Jagger, leathery yet regal, in a sequined black coat; Keith Richards; and Ronnie Wood, wearing a shaggy hairdo that would probably get him a "YOU ARE THE FATHER" result on Maury if Paul Westerberg and/or Tommy Stinson ever hit him with a paternity test.
Supporting the band was a tight ensemble of sax players, dueling keyboardists, back-up singers, and a bass player who made you say "Bill Wyman who?" with every deft note he plucked. Opening with "Jumpin' Jack Flash," the first thing that popped out about the Stones live is how rough they sound. I mean that in a good way. They weren't over-rehearsed or polished. Their chops as lifelong musicians are apparent, as is their tight chemistry.
But time hasn't dimmed whatever spurred them on to be a blues-rock band. Richards' and Wood's guitar playing was jagged and woolly, a refreshing contrast to the note-for-note perfection you hear from other legacy bands like Queen that just want to recreate their hits live. "Jumpin' Jack Flash," by contrast, sounded like a different beast in person. The song had aged and changed in interesting ways, just like the people who made it.
Jagger's voice has held up remarkably well.
There were moments throughout the show (like on "Tumbling Dice") when back-up singers Bernard Fowler and Sasha Allen picked up some of the high notes and vocal whoops that Jagger couldn't quite hit, but in most respects sounded like Mick Fucking Jagger. This is no mean feat, considering the fact I've seen younger bands touring the nostalgia circuit the sound like their singer got a voice transplant.
The musical MVP of the night, though, was Charlie Watts. There is no stopping him behind the kit: The man didn't miss a beat, displaying an unerring instinct when it comes to playing it light or putting some muscle in his hits. And he did it all while wearing the same impassive, almost bored look on his face. He's Buster Keaton on the backbeat.
They wisely kept their set focused on their '60s and '70s material, playing a smattering of cuts from records like Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St., and Some Girls. The Stones have been altering their setlists from night
The end of "Dead Flowers" actually ended up triggering the most chaotic moment of the night when Watts hurled one of his drumsticks into the crowd. The stick ricocheted off the head of one of my esteemed colleagues and rebounded into the aisle. A pair of men pounced on top of it and furiously fought a tug-of-war over it. You'd think Watts' drumstick was a set of nude Tomi Lahren photos, considering the absolute ferocity these two white boomers displayed before security guards came along to break it up.
The best part about it? The whole thing happened as the band launched into "Sympathy For The Devil" — their timing could not have been better.
That was probably the thing I missed most about The Stones: that sense of danger that pervades so much of their work. Jagger can be romantic, wistful, playful, and melancholy. He can also be perverse and sadistic, leering with delight over whatever lyrical transgressions he's committing.
That side of him was gone tonight. He was in entertainer mode. Few are better at it, but there were moments where wish he would sing "You make a dead man cum" at the end of "Start Me Up." It's probably silly of me to expect someone who's a grandfather now to still be Turner from Performance, but the allure of rock 'n' roll mythology is hard to shake.
What was delightful was seeing how much fun they were having up there. The way Watts would break into a grin in the middle of "Get Off Of My Cloud" when Jagger spontaneously hopped behind him (shortly after Jagger almost collided with Wood while sashaying across the stage).
They'd take songs like "Miss You" and "Midnight Rambler" and extend them into long jams, vamping in a way that didn't seem at all planned. The Stones were also pretty generous toward their touring band. Each member got a spotlight moment throughout the show. Bassist Darryl Jones, in particular, seized his moment on "Miss You," turning that song into a clinic on head-bobbing disco bass lines. Sasha Allen also got to take center stage for a bit during the encore on "Gimme Shelter," belting out the climax on the same catwalk that Jagger had been shedding coats on all night long.
They gave "Satisfaction" the stretched-out jammy treatment, but it was worth it. What's the sacrifice of a few hours compared to the thrill of getting to see these old rock gods climb down from Olympus and give us the thunder one last time? We will never see their likes again.
"Jumpin’ Jack Flash"
"Let's Spend The Night Together"
"Sad Sad Sad"
"Get Off Of My Cloud"
"You Can't Always Get What You Want"
"Sympathy For The Devil"
"Honky Tonk Women"
"You Got The Silver"
"Before They Make Me Run"
"Paint It Black"
"Start Me Up"
"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Last Night: The Rolling Stones at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.
The Crowd: HUGE. A very broad spectrum of fans
Overheard: “Charlie wanted to get my face tattooed on his back.” – Jagger, expressing his disappointment that the Stones’ rescheduled show meant that he missed the Hell City Tattoo Fest.
Random Notebook Dump: Shoutout to my Esteemed Colleague for taking that drumstick shot to the head like a champ.