The Rolling Stones' "50 and Counting" tour arrives with some real baggage: It's their first tour in six years. In 2010, Keith Richards released a book that dissed Mick Jagger pretty badly. In the past decade, Ronnie Wood has been subjected to a few alcohol-related scrapes. Many-a critic has been waiting to pounce on the band for being "too old."1 But, when the Stones took the stage of the Wells Fargo Center on June 21, 2013, they made little pomp and circumstance about their golden anniversary and instead, put on a no-frills Rolling Stones show. Throughout the two and a half hour set, they showed thorough examples as to why they are the greatest rock and roll band ever.2
Throughout the show, the band ripped through a rock-oriented set, playing only one ballad, "You Got the Silver." First and foremost, Mick Jagger is in top form. Not only was he as energetic as he's always been, strutting and sassing it up on stage, but his voice has improved since the 2005 shows. Mick's voice dropped considerably in the 1980s and now it seems that he's finally mastered his newer, thicker voice. While his deeper voice has more Chicago blues rumble, he has now extended the sense of dynamics and feeling in his voice, so that on songs like "Gimme Shelter" the desperate howl sounds as sensitive as it was when originally recorded.
Likewise, Keith Richards, who is finally starting to look like his reputation suggested, still sounds phenomenal. Call it muscle memory, but no one can match the way his fingers move across those strings, blending soul, rock, country, and bayou twang into his distinctive, driving riffs.
The first half of the set was the most exciting. They opened with an unusual choice in "Get Off Of My Cloud" in lieu of the harder, better known rockers. But because the opening was unusual, it worked well, driving up the night's excitement. But when the band played the live rarity "Emotional Rescue" with Jagger nailing the falsetto, the spacey jam sounded otherworldly. Even more surprising, soul legend Aaron Neville joined the Stones for a live rendition of "Under the Boardwalk." Certainly, the band see the group as a financial benefit, but judging by their smiles while paying tribute to the doo wop of yesteryear, they all looked like they were having a complete blast on stage.3
The band also played two phenomenal blues-rock jams: An extended version of "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" that featured former Stone Mick Taylor on guitar. Although Taylor looked a little uncomfortable and awkward on the giant stage during the performance, musically, Richards, Taylor, and Ronnie Wood gelled their styles together and created magic with a dark, soulful jam seldom heard in modern music. And then, oh man, "The Midnight Rambler." The song, spread out into a full fifteen minutes, exhibited each member's strength. Jagger howled and whispered and sounded so genuine during it, it seemed like he just saw the creeper before taking the stage. Richards's guitar playing is so perfectly imperfect, holding notes just a split second into the next bar and giving the songs a beautiful, raw pulse. And then, the single note strikes during the section mid-period blew my mind. Drummer Charlie Watts and Wood combined their instruments to make single note cracks that filled the whole arena with a single, booming "KRAK!" that felt like a tree-sized hammer smashing down on a pool-sized anvil. Wow.4
Again, the show featured no frills, in contrast to the average giant rock show that often features fireworks, light shows and other gimmicks. Thank God. The Stones don't need special effects to show that they are the greatest band ever. But because the band treated it like a straight-up rock show and made no comment on their 50th anniversary themselves, I did get the feeling that this will be the last time…
1. Funnily enough, some of those critics have been waiting since 1976, suggesting that they themselves, are too old.
3. Except drummer Charlie Watts- Charlie Watts NEVER smiles.
4. Jen Platinum and I got the special "RS.com" $85 tickets, but somehow, we ended up REALLY close to the stage. It ruled.