With Grace Potter
AT&T Stadium, Arlington
Saturday, June 6, 2015
Keith Richards showed up late on Saturday night. Well, not literally. For the first half of the Rolling Stones' performance at AT&T Stadium he'd all but gone missing in action, slumping off to the side of stage in a near-stupor, only bothering to play about half of every song. But as Mick Jagger circled the stage to introduce the band, "Ambien Keith" snapped out of it.
He cracked a lopsided grin and throwing, not just flicking, his cigarette behind him strode up to the runway at the front of stage, his bright green jacket shining under the stage lights. "I want to take a moment to remember a great Texan, who we lost a few months ago," Richards said somberly in a low, gravelly tone. Then, clasping his hands, he said, "Let's get a round of applause for Bobby Keys."
Richards dedicated the next song, "Before They Make Me Run," to the late saxophonist, who had been a close friend and collaborator for over four decades. He sang it himself, giving exactly zero shits as his haggard voice would go off key or break up, hunching over in the middle of stage to trade licks with perennial kid brother Ronnie Wood. It lit a fire under the whole evening — or at least under Richards, which was about the same difference.
Up to that point, the Stones' show — their first in North Texas since the fall of 2005 — was a little uneven. It was a night heavy on the hits, and specifically their hit singles from the 1970s. For those hoping for some deep cuts, "Moonlight Mile" was about as deep as they got, which came directly after a searing version of "Bitch." (Both songs came from the recently reissued Sticky Fingers, which was also not the centerpiece some were predicting before the Zip Code tour kicked off last month.) Of course, the hits are just the thing most fans shell out good money for and, judging by the reaction to songs like "Honky Tonk Women" and "Miss You," they got what they paid for.
That shaky opening stretch was saved mostly by Jagger, who just about carried the show on his back. While the rest of the band seemed sluggish and even sloppy, biffing the riff to opener "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and proceeding from there, the 71-year old was a marvel of energy, shimmying and twirling and prancing all around the enormous stage. Ever the showman, he seemed compelled to constantly entertain, cracking jokes and charming the audience between songs rather than, you know, catch his breath. (Although maybe not everyone was won over by his buttered-up rendition of "All My Exes Live in Texas.")
That Richards was content to sit back and let Jagger run the show was nothing new; Jagger's been running the show for ages, ever since they became a bona-fide arena band in the '70s. It's his drive and vision, manifested so perfectly in his pin-balling stage presence, that pushed the Stones to the rarified world of multi-million-dollar tours and corporate sponsorships, and probably also the reason that they're still even a band. He's the ultimate rock star professional.
In fact, looking back at concert footage from the band's early days, the show Saturday compared more favorably than you might think. Even on a film like Gimme Shelter, shot all the way back in 1969, much of the nuance of the Stones' classic songs get lost in a live setting. (That's also why a new song like "Doom and Gloom" actually fits in pretty well: it was built to be played in stadiums.) That doesn't mean some of the mystique hasn't been lost, polished to the point of almost squeaky clean. If "Midnight Rambler" — once a startling bit of theater that was, after all, about rape — has transformed into a sing-along blues jam, then it's no surprise "Sympathy for the Devil" is now no more provocative than a tacky robe for Jagger to dress up in.
But hey, at the end of the day the Stones are still a pretty damn good rock band, and both of those songs were particular highlights in Arlington. What was crucial about them was that they came later in the night, after Richards had come to life and the band started operating as an actual band again. If Jagger, who still carries himself like he has something to prove, has helped make the Stones who they are, then he couldn't do it without Richards, who's helped keep them who they always were. After all these years, he still just wants to play guitar with his friends (even if it means getting filthy rich in the process).
The thing is, a lot of Richards' friends aren't around to jam with anymore, Keys among them. His dedication was a surprisingly genuine moment, one that helped keep the spectacle grounded; these guys may still be human after all. With all the speculation that this could be the Stones' last tour, it was also why, when Richards' signed off from his turn at the mic by saying, "Thank you, Texas," it felt a little bit like "goodbye."
Jumpin' Jack Flash
It's Only Rock 'N' Roll (But I Like It)
Let's Spend the Night Together
Doom and Gloom
Honky Tonk Women
Before They Make Me Run
Start Me Up
Sympathy for the Devil
You Can't Always Get What You Want
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction