Concert Review: The Rolling Stones, live in Philadelphia, 6-18-13

keef mick ronnie

keef mick ronnie

It had been a few years, me and Charlie and Keef and Ronnie and Mick. Sure, I saw them at 12-12-12, but the last time before that was 2002. I wouldn’t have even been here were it not for those magical $85 tickets, the Stones hating the scalpers so much they were doing everything they could to keep them out and get us in. The $85 tickets entitle you to a random envelope with two tickets in it; we had horrible seats in the very upper level at the side of the stage, but they were $85 (and that’s including fees!). Just when I was resigned that at least they were side stage, but worried I wouldn’t be able to stand and dance, at 8:50 a gentleman appeared at our section with a stack of tickets and we were magically upgraded downstairs to the first level. Where there was plenty of room to dance, and no one sat down for any reason except to catch their breath.

The stage is magnificent, elegant, practical, without any of the bombast of previous tours. The lineup too is without bombast (with the exception of Chuck Leavell; I will get to that later). The boys and Darryl and Lisa and Bernard and Bobby Keys and another sax player. No big horn section or additional vocalists. It was more than enough.

The show opens with a short film featuring fans of the band, famous and not, talking about what the Stones mean to them–this is a 50th Anniversary tour, after all–and it was beautiful and irreverent and silly and serious. And then there they are, that moment when you realize you are in the same room as the Rolling Stones.

I kind of questioned “Get Off Of My Cloud” as an opener and don’t think the boys quite found the right pace for it, and did not think the set reached true liftoff until “Gimme Shelter” and Lisa Fisher blasting things open vocally and energetically. “Wild Horses” also felt a little flat and I was not looking forward to Brad Paisley’s “special guest” appearance, especially once I realized the fix was in on the web vote — but he brought an emotional dimension to “Dead Flowers” I felt was missing from the song that preceded it.

And then – “Emotional Rescue“! Unbelievable that this came out this tour. Unbelievable that they worked it out. Unbelievable that it stayed. I love this record–it is the great, underrated NYC Stones album as far as I’m concerned–and it worked! Mick sold the vocals, the rhythm was dead on.

“I WILL BE YOUR KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR,” I deadpanned at the end, right out loud, in a moment of not believing I actually get to do this. The 20 something guy in the row in front of me is shaking his ass; a lot of us are doing exactly that, old white guys dancing up and down the stairs, drunk girls a couple rows up, me to the best of my ability in front of my seat, banging my knees on the row in front of me. The woman my age behind me is holding her phone up to film it. It was a real Philly audience, singing when they should sing, dancing when they should dance, talking when they shouldn’t but not yelling at anyone to sit down and getting down when it counted.

The two “new” songs were moments of “Oh, wait, I know this, it’s actually not half bad,” and then “Honky Tonk Women” got the vehicle back on track, as far as I was concerned. The guitars were up high enough in the mix and it all sounded good and true and proper. All the action was back with Ronnie, Keith and Darryl, though, Darryl holding it down, taking us into the groove where Bobby Keys stepped in. It was not Bobby’s best night, and that made me sad; I have said goodbye to enough legendary sax players for my lifetime already.

The band intros followed “Honky Tonk;” Charlie getting applause from Keith, Ronnie doing the “I’m not worthy” bow. Keith’s intro led into the solo set, which was preceded by what can only be described as a victory lap. He got the center mic, he got the spotlight, he waved and mugged and gave us that Rasta salute. Philly cheered and yelled and applauded and it was as sad as it was wonderful. I do not know that I could go to multiple shows and watch that every night. It would remind me too much of my mortality as well as theirs.

It was more of a Ronnie night than a Keith night, and there were sound problems with the guitar mix especially–they would suddenly be ON, like when you’re standing down front and the monitor near you gets turned on–but Keith was in lovely voice and full of energy. “You Got The Silver” was received with surprising attention, and “Before They Make Me Run” had a boisterous sing-a-long in our section.


And then, all of a sudden, it was the opening to “Rambler” and there was Mick Taylor. It was one of those, “Gosh, I never thought I’d see this in my lifetime,” goose-bumpy moments. I love that there is no grand intro, that they don’t make a big deal about it, he’s just there and he’s playing and I’m listening to it. I love that the guitars and Darryl all huddle back at Charlie, I loved watching them work in concert and enjoy working together. The sounds coming out of those guitars were big and in your face, and Mick managed his penchant for both mischief and malice in the right amounts: the song had depth and danger; it didn’t lose the “tourists” and it had the power that I am always looking for in that particular number. The stage was red, Mick was real, full-on Mick. He pulled his shirt up 1/3 of the way and there was an audible squeal from the pit. It was glorious. It was “Midnight Rambler,” you know? It was fucking Midnight fucking Rambler. It did itself proud.

“Miss You” was another decided ass shaker, heavy and solid. It went on too long but so many of the songs just do, you know, they always have; listen to “Tumbling Dice” on any ’73 bootleg and that horn line just will never end (and you had coked-up Jagger to contend with as well). Back in the day when I was going to more of these I would time some of the songs just to try to make a point, back when the mailing lists were full of suggestions on how to improve the setlist, and bemoaning the presence of the ‘warhorses’. This tour is a warhorse. There is no pretending it is not. Those are the songs people are paying $600 to hear; they are not interested in “Jiving Sister Fanny” (although they SHOULD be).

The audience loved “Start Me Up,” the aformentioned “Tumbling Dice” was, indeed, still too long, and in a slot where I was hoping for “Street Fighting Man,” dedicated to Taksim Square, we got “Brown Sugar.” As I have aged, I have been bothered by this song more and more, and live I could not forgive it either. But I let myself yeah-yeah-yeah-WOO the gazillion million times Mick needs to do it.

And then it was the backing track to “Sympathy,” which I was actually fine with until Chuck Leavell came in and got all show-offy and flamboyant instead of just HITTING THOSE CHORDS. Just hit them! They stand alone! They are there unadorned FOR A REASON! And then Mick is out wrapped in this crazy scary fur and there is just a little touch of malevolence, just a little, a hint, a shading, this is not a R rated “Sympathy” but it’s not G rated either, and the guitars strike and snarl and make your insides feel warm.

“A choir,” I said in the encore, “That means–” “There’s a guy with a French horn up there, WHAT ELSE COULD IT BE,” said the SO. And yes, I am setlist sequencing in my head, moving the warhorses around like chess pieces all night. I have not been setlist watching simply because of lack of time, so it is more the gesture of a retired master than anything serious. They brought out a local choir to add a fantastic, picture-perfect background to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (yes, also too long) before taking us into “Jay-Jay-Eff,” I actually said out loud, the song that defines the Stones for me more than almost anything else. As Mick pranced around the runway, I pointed out that I thought that this was the song where Mick would come out in the cherry picker, which I saw in the exact same place I was standing at the moment, the site of the former JFK Stadium, back in 1981. My first show, down from NYC, learning the trick of coming down on NJ Transit to Camden and then SEPTA across the river into Center City and changing to head down to Pattison.

And then an encore; yes, we are getting an encore, even in a show sequenced to end at 10:58 and the encore to begin at 11:01, it is the only thing it could be, which is “Satisfaction.” There is MT again, back up with the guitars, and while I understand bringing him on and could have easily named half a dozen songs I would have loved to seen him play, this would not be one of them. I do not think he added to it, I think it bloated the song, which was having trouble picking up speed. And this is “Satisfaction,” which should be sharp and sear and be the aural equivalent of a mic drop. But that song is the riff and the rhythm, and the drum break makes the fucking song. I want crisp, dammit. Perhaps I want too much.

And then the bows, and they linger, waving at us, smiling at each other. I stood at the entrance to the tunnel, watching them leave, and with both hands, blew them all a kiss, in farewell and in thanks. For everything.