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Scoff all you want. Call them old, call them a nostalgia act. The fact of the matter is the Rolling Stones still deliver a more exciting live show a half-century into their career than any other band around.
Performing their first U.S. concert after two November dates in London, they delivered their usual brand of high-octane rock ‘n’ roll that had the sold-out crowd at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center enthralled — even as the top tickets went for $800-plus after fees.
Although the order of the songs was slightly rearranged, with Mick Jagger perhaps having senior moments by occasionally forgetting which was to come next, Saturday’s set list was virtually the same as in London. They even brought back Mary J. Blige for a searing guest vocal on “Gimme Shelter,” though former Stones Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor sadly didn’t show up to lend a hand.
Not that the band needed it. Although there were a few sloppy moments — understandable, considering that this was only their third full show in years — they sounded absolutely terrific. Jagger, at 69, displayed a voice that seemed to have lost none of its power, and he moved about the stage with the lithe agility of a man half his age. Keith Richards’ and Ron Wood’s guitar playing featured the indelible, sinuous riffs for which they are renowned, and Charlie Watts’ drumming remains a marvel of variety and precision. Providing invaluable support, as usual, were Darryl Jones on bass and Chuck Leavell on keyboards.
As the new three-CD hits collection GRRR! well demonstrates, the band has an embarrassment of riches from which to draw. Even with 23 songs played in the course of their 140-minute set, such hits as “Time Is on My Side,” “19th Nervous Breakdown,” “Under My Thumb,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Street Fighting Man” and many others were omitted. But that still left room for plenty of classics. In obligatory fashion, they played their two new songs, “Doom and Gloom” and “One More Shot,” which feature the trademark Stones sound while not being particularly memorable.
The show, performed on a stage framed by their recently updated toothy mouth logo and featuring a giant circular runway, began with a film featuring amusing testimonials by such celebrities as Iggy Pop, who compares the sound of Richards’ guitar to “being hit in the face with a dead mackerel,” and Johnny Depp, who smilingly comments that they “write great songs to do bad things to.”
Such classics as “Paint It, Black,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Brown Sugar” and “Sympathy for the Devil” were delivered with no hint of rote, as if the band hadn’t done them thousands of times before. But they not surprisingly seemed even more engaged with less familiar numbers like Freddie King’s “Going Down,” featuring a guest appearance by rising bluesman Gary Clark Jr., whose blistering guitar solos seemed to inspire Richards to even greater heights. They reprised their version of Lennon and McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man” and delivered an epic rendition of the menacing “Midnight Rambler,” with Jagger contributing sterling harmonica playing.
Taking a well-deserved break midway through, Jagger left the stage as Richards stepped front and center to deliver his typically ragged lead vocals on his trademark numbers “Before They Make Me Run” and “Happy.” Jagger was in affable mood, frequently thanking the crowd and making the seemingly inevitable joke about journeying to this venue in downtown Brooklyn via subway. “People keep us asking us why we keep touring,” he commented toward the end of the evening. “The answer is, you’re the reason we really do this.”
The three-song encore — consisting of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (featuring the Trinity Church Choir), “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Satisfaction” — was as rousing as you would expect. But not as much as the sight of the four principal band members standing side by side at the show’s end to receive their accolades. Smiling and sweating with their arms draped over each other’s shoulders, they inspired hopes that this tour wouldn’t be, to quote the title of one of the songs they performed, “the last time.”
The band plays Dec. 13 and 15 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and Dec. 12 at the Concert for Sandy Relief at Madison Square Garden in NYC.
Get Off of My Cloud
I Wanna Be Your Man
The Last Time
Paint It, Black
All Down the Line
One More Shot
Doom and Gloom
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll
Honky Tonk Women
Before They Make Me Run
Start Me Up
Sympathy for the Devil
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
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