“This could be the last time,
This could be the last time,
May be the last time, I don’t know.”
The Rolling Stones did not play that 1964 hit at their show last night at MetLife Stadium, yet it was the one running through my head as I decided to purchase tickets as well when I arrived at the venue.
I’ve been a Stones fan since the riff of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” seared its way into my brain when I was about five or so. I’ve seen them twice before, once in 2003 at Madison Square Garden and again in 2005 at Giants Stadium (aka the old MetLife). I still consider them the best pure hard rock band of all time. And yet, I entered the stadium with a feeling of trepidation.
Many an unfunny joke has been made about the band’s increasingly advanced years, along with the prognostication that every tour since 1997 could be their last. Having heard some recordings of shows within the last year or so, I thought age had finally caught up with the band: the tempos dragged, Jagger sounded labored, and Keith wasn’t churning out riffs with the same verve and power he’s renowned for. For the first time in their life, the Stones really sounded like what they are: very old men playing rock and roll.
As the opening riff to “Jumping Jack Flash” jolted the stadium crowd onto their feet, any misgivings I may have had were erased. The band attacked the song, with Keith firing off power riffs, Charlie pounding the drums while keeping perfect time and tempo, and Mick strutted and prowled with the confidence and energy he’s always had.
From end to end, the band sounded virile, tough, and engaged on every song. There was no sluggishness, no dull moments, no sense of them going through the motions. They left all they could on that stage. Mick had the crowd in the palm of his hand as he led them through the singalong chorus of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and his banter was equal funny, witty, cheesy and sincere, acknowledging it was the 90th time they’ve played Jersey and how they love playing the Northeast more than anywhere else in America.
The set list speaks for itself: to name a few, “Tumbling Dice,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Miss You,” “Start Me Up,” “Brown Sugar,” “Gimme Shelter,” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” are some of the most important songs in all of rock and roll, and hearing them in person always feels like you’re experiencing a little bit of history. “Sympathy” and “Gimme Shelter” both felt especially potent in the wake of the current political atmosphere, and they played each with intimidating purpose.
While the set was heavy on the hits, the band was more than accommodating for hardcore fans craving deep cuts. Early on, they busted out their hit cover of Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” for the first time since 1990; in theory it’s not a song I love, but between the novelty of it being not done for so long and that they nailed it so well, it was one of the highlights of the evening. They followed it up with the sinister Let It Bleed track “Monkey Man,” the result of a four song online fan vote that beat out “Rocks Off,” “When the Whip Comes Down,” and “She’s So Cold.” An acoustic set done at the foot of the stage brought forth the raunchy title track from “Let It Bleed” as well as the darkly humorous Sticky Fingers gem “Dead Flowers.” After the band introductions, Keith took vocal duties for two songs, contrasting the gentle, ‘rocking chair’ swing of “You Got the Silver” with the raw grit of “Before They Make Me Run.”
The biggest highlight for me was when Mick returned to the stage to a rousing “Miss You,” followed by the two best songs of the evening: a powerful “Midnight Rambler” featured an incendiary extended jam with Ronnie and Keith trading riffs as smoothly as passing someone the salt, and Mick delivered his best vocal of the night, really leaning into the menacing titular character to a point that was almost scary. They followed it up with the song I most wanted to hear, a thunderous “Paint It Black” with Charlie at the helm, driving its signature Moroccan beat with brute force. The song’s bleak, nihilistic outlook has even more pathos today than it did 53 years ago, as the world has indeed grown darker and more chaotic, and Mick seemed to draw on that as he delivered another robust, passionate vocal.
Outside of the music, the band’s stage set up was a stunning spectacle of sight and sound. The sound system was phenomenal, with a punchy and dynamic sound that allowed for every instrument to be heard perfectly and every word Mick sang ring clear as bell. Each song had specific lighting and accompanying visuals, where it almost felt like each song was literally unfolding before your eyes. Finally, there was a pyrotechnic display at the end of “Satisfaction” that could only be appreciated (or perhaps even pulled off) in the vast, roofless stadium.
The Stones have a stellar group of supporting musicians led by longtime sidemen Chuck Leavell on keyboards, Bernard Fowler on percussion, and the great Darryl Jones on bass; Leavell’s coda to “Honky Tonk Women” and Jones’ solo during “Miss You” in particular were two of the evening’s biggest highlights instrumentally. Backing vocalist Sasha Allen was a charismatic and sexy presence throughout, letting Mick bump and grind on her during “Miss You” and absolutely nailing the iconic bridge of “Gimme Shelter.”
All in all, I feel confident in saying this: The Rolling Stones played a perfect show last night, bolstered by a wild crowd who stood up and sang along all night. They continue to defy expectations brought on by age and the abuses each of their bodies have taken over the years. They are still the best at what they do, and what they do is fucking incredible.
Jumping Jack Flash
You Got Me Rocking
Harlem Shuffle *
Monkey Man **
You Can’t Always Get You Want
— acoustic set —
Let It Bleed
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
* first since 8/25/90
** online choice
+ Keith Richards on lead vocals, Mick offstage
The Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger – lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, percussion
Keith Richards – guitars, backing vocals
Ronnie Wood – guitars, backing vocals
Charlie Watts – drums, percussion
Darryl Jones – bass
Chuck Leavell – keyboards, backing vocals
Sasha Allen – backing vocals
Karl Denson – saxophone
Tim Ries – saxophone, keyboards
Matt Clifford – keyboards, percussion, French horn, show introduction voice
Bernard Fowler – backing vocals, percussion