There are three worthwhile types of concerts, Managing Editor David Sinclair explained to me.
There is the local concert where the music is great, the sound system is perfect, the setting is intimate. There is the big tour concert with bands like Fleetwood Mac, Allison Kraus and Union Station. The music is world class, the stage elaborate. Sound is taken up a whole decibel level, and the venue is large.
Then there are the Rolling Stones concerts.
There may be a few others on that scale, but not many like the one held Wednesday in Raleigh’s Carter Finley Stadium. Massive. Stage, speaker towers, sound, graphic screens, crowd. There aren’t many events on this scale, and even fewer that leave you feeling like those very expensive tickets were worth every penny.
This was the Stones’ greatest-hits-ever concert. We knew every lyric of every song. Lani and I would buy tickets again if they came back in October. In case you are wondering, the boys can still play like nobody’s business.
Keith Richards smiles through the whole thing, playing songs he must have played thousands of times before, like he’s still really enjoying this moment, every moment. Mick still struts and skips and moves incessantly, pandering to the crowd in ways only Mick Jagger can do. He’s still a showman, still in charge.
Charlie Watts is still unflappable, keeping a steady, recognizable underlying rhythm. Once in a while he breaks a smile. And Ron Wood, one of rock’s greatest guitarists ever, has a style all his own while interchanging licks with Keith (notice I call them by first names as if I know them, but in many ways I do) as seamlessly as they did decades ago.
The cast of lesser lights is world-class in its own right. Each lends something different to the total, as they should. A hard sax blaring here when it’s needed, a piano run there in just the right places. Background vocals that sound like angels. But they are replaceable. Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ron are not interchangeable parts.
The last time I saw the Rolling Stones was almost exactly 40 years ago to the day, July 4, 1975, in Memphis. Similar setup in the Memphis Bowl on a broiling hot day. Sitting in that white concrete stadium under cloudless skies, with temperatures around 100 and Mississippi River humidity was (I think) the closest to purgatory I’ve ever been.
Stevie Wonder opened for them, and I learned about statistics sitting in the stands, using the 50,000 people there as the sample group. The Stones were great, but not memorable. Maybe it was too hot even for the hottest rock ’n’ roll band in the world.
The year before, I had seen them in Knoxville in the university basketball arena, which seated about 13,000. Now, that was memorable, as most of the songs the band played in Raleigh were relatively new at the time.
That concert was the benchmark by which all others were measured, so I approached this one with a little apprehension. What if they came across as a bunch of doddering old men, a shell of their former selves, simply riding on the jet trail of glories past? While I was never as enamored with the Stones as The Beatles and Eric Clapton, I know their music very well, note for note in many cases. They can’t fake it.
Happily, they still rock. Maybe not with the absolute perfection of that ’74 gig, but they are so good it doesn’t matter.
As I looked at the crowd of 50,000 happy onlookers, the spectrum running from teens to octogenarians and all manner of styles, I wondered how and why this group can still fill stadiums at every stop, 50 years after the British invasion of music in the early 1960s.
There are probably two answers.
First, they can still entertain. It’s only rock ’n’ roll, but we like it, yes we do. And second, being able to play like that in their 70s, with that much joy, gives hope to the generation that grew up with them.
As suggested in an article a friend sent yesterday, if they can still do this at their age, then the aging generation of boomers who said “hope I die before I get old” can find meaning and purpose in the years beyond traditional retirement.
And for the younger set, if Mick Jagger at age 72 can find a fountain of youth and strut across the stage for the equivalent of 12 miles in every show, then all things must be possible.