Art is a lot of things. It is evocative, provocative and progressive. It is oftentimes meant to question or as a reaction to the status quo of the way our lives are lived and experienced. The art form of rock ‘n’ roll’s main driving purpose 50 years ago when The Rolling Stones first started cutting their teeth was just that. It was an attack on everything their generation saw as wrong with what was going on.
It however, like all art forms that our culture hangs onto long enough, has changed over the years. It has become capitalized, corporatized, and commoditized. It rarely has the same cultural punch or ability to shock parents like it once did because they grew up with it. Other musical genres have risen up in its place, rock ‘n’ roll gave way to metal, and punk, and hip-hop, and so on. They’ve all been treated similarly and now even hip-hop, the youngest major musical movement, rarely even has the same flair for cultural change it once did.
Throughout most of this cultural change and upheaval The Rolling Stones have stood like mountains both musically and monetarily. (Make no bones about it, the band is a corporate monster.) They haven’t had a top five hit since “Rock and a Hard Place” in 1989, but it hasn’t silenced their sound. It’s still alive and kicking in movies and TV shows, where it is used liberally but not overwhelmingly. They’re smart about it like any good business should be. It’s also seen in the influences of today’s rock music. It’s obvious for anybody to see without The Rolling Stones there is no anything. Even if they’re not making revolutionary work anymore they are a massive part of what modern music is, was, and will be, and it has been that way for 50 years.
This tour, these scant five dates, two that already happened at London’s O2 Arena and two that happen this week at Newark’s Prudential Center (not counting the 12.12.12 Concert for Sandy Relief they’ve announced) are supposed to be a celebration of those 50 years of their almost unexplainable longevity. They’re not attempting to hide the massive amount of money they’re making, Mick Jagger made fun of the ridiculous ticket prices that people are paying at both London shows and in Brooklyn the other night. They’re just trying to give the fans who can afford it some more of what they’re all after, that raw power that’s still alive in their best songs and that electric fervor they’ve been crafting all these years. Jagger himself said during a lull between one of their songs, “People always ask us, why do you keep touring? You. You’re the reason we really do this.” It was evident in the heart and soul he put into his performance. Never once did the man stop bouncing up and down excitedly flailing his arms and pointing like he is so iconic for doing. His voice never broke. He never missed a single lyric. Taking as much from the overtly joyous crowd as he was giving to them all night.
The rest of the band didn’t slouch either. It’s remarkable that most of these men approaching their twilights aren’t confined to nursing homes, much less able to play a rock show.
It speaks to both the wellspring of youth alive in their songs and the 20-plus years of confidence this current lineup, Keith Richards (guitar), Charlie Watts (drums), Ronnie Wood (guitar), Darryl Jones (bass), Chuck Leavell (keyboards), and their backup vocalists and saxophonists, have built they still sounded as spot on and tight as they did.
Charlie, the band’s secret weapon, never once lost the beat and kept Ronnie and Keith’s soaring guitars glued to each song. Their playing danced in and around each other all night even if they had troubles dancing themselves. It sounded spectacular especially in songs like their famous bluesy jams “Midnight Rambler,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” and “Before They Make Me Run,” one of two songs to feature Keith on lead vocals sounding far more coherent than he does in most of his interviews.
Their two previously announced guests, Mary J. Blige and Gary Clark, Jr. both added brilliant sparks to their respective songs. Blige performed the soaring female vocals of “Gimme Shelter” so perfectly it was easy to see why they asked her back from the first London show. She sounded so great that she could have easily been featured on the original track had she not been two years from being born when it was recorded. Gary Clark, Jr., often hailed by critics and fans alike as the modern-day savior of the blues, added a sharp-as-knives third guitar and his standard silky voice to “Going Down,” a thunderous cover of a Don Nix blues standard. His involvement closing a circle that starts with their influence from and admiration for blues legends like Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters to their appreciation of a budding modern day master like Clark.
But this—if it wasn’t made abundantly clear by the larger-than-life lips logo that they turned into their stage—was The Rolling Stones’ night, and they weren’t to be out-shined even with the Trinity Wall Street Choir and every fan in attendance singing along to the first song of their encore, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” After which they went right into the raucous and equally famous “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” before ending the two hour long set on a similar thematic note. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” may not be the same cultural firestorm it once was with it’s seemingly tame by modern standards discussion of sex and anti-consumerism, but it still rings true. They knew it back then. No matter what they or any of us do we’ll never be satisfied. No one who left the stadium that night was completely satisfied, but at least they got to experience a once in a lifetime concert.
The Rolling Stones at Barclays Center setlist
- “Get Off My Cloud”
- “I Wanna Be Your Man” (The Beatles cover)
- “The Last Time”
- “Paint It Black”
- “Gimme Shelter” (with Mary J. Blige)
- “Wild Horses”
- “Going Down” (Don Nix cover) (with Gary Clark, Jr.)
- “All Down the Line”
- “One More Shot”
- “Doom and Gloom”
- “Before They Make Me Run” (Keith Richards on lead vocals)
- “Happy” (Keith Richards on lead vocals)
- “Midnight Rambler”
- “Start Me Up”
- “Tumbling Dice”
- “Brown Sugar”
- “Sympathy for the Devil”
- “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (with The Choir of Trinity Wall Street)
- “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
- “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”