The Rolling Stones
Roll and Tumble Through North Texas
By Katherine Sartain
“So, its Verizon Stadium right?” Mick Jagger joked instead of catching his breath in between songs at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Saturday night. “T-Mobile Stadium? Cowboys Stadium?” The crowd roared with wondrous laughter.
The Rolling Stones earned their wild welcome during their 2015 North American Zip Code tour, stopping at JerryWorld for their first visit to North Texas since 2005. It was the Stones of old: Mick Jagger was as excessively passionate as ever; Keith Richards quietly gave as few shits outside of his guitar playing as any longtime fans can count on; Ronnie Wood donned the same haircut he’s had since 1962; Charlie Watts continued to challenge Keith Moon as one of the best drummers from the classic rock era. The Glimmer Twins, a self-dubbed nickname for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and fellow stage members ignited the entire metroplex for almost three hours, showering the audience with hits new and old, predominately from their late 60s to early 80s albums.
Opener:Grace Potter opened the night with 45 minutes of hard rocking songs from her quickly expanding discography, including two from her 2015 album Alive Tonight. An up and coming artist from Vermont, Potter embodies folk, rock, country and blues influences in her music, and has drawn comparisons to the likes of Norah Jones, Bonnie Raitt and Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick. You can catch Potter in solo performances and with her band, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, on their 2015 summer tour across North America.
And so it begins: After a long wait, the boyish men finally took the stage. They immediately knocked the audience to its feet from the get-go with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” an explosive and funky rock & roll anthem first introduced on the 1969 compilation album Through the Past, Darkly: Big Hits, Vol. 2. This first-person portrait of the group’s perpetual bad-boy image inspired a raucous applause by the audience. A brilliant opener
After a quick greeting, the hits continued with “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” from the 1974 album of the same title, also one of the first albums the band recorded without guitarist Mick Taylor, who left the band for personal reasons. The morbid lyrics of this hard rocking tune were accompanied by some of Jagger’s neck-thrashing dance moves. The ill-prepared teenager to my left produced the most bewildered facial response to Jagger’s hip thrusts that I have ever seen. He then, I hope, finally understood the reason behind the many pop music odes to this famous entertainer.
Throwing it back to 1967 next was “Let’s Spend the Night Together” from Flowers, an album which many regard as a cheap marketing ploy since many of the tracks had previously appeared on various LPs. Regardless of the motives behind production, each track on this album is innocently strong and personable. Mick sashayed from stage left to stage right, spreading his love and energy all around AT&T Stadium during the lighthearted tune.
Three songs in and Keith has yet to emerge from Mick’s shadow, although his neon green silk shirt seemed to want otherwise. I believe I saw Charlie Watts crack a minute smile behind his drum set while Mick was darting to and fro. But that could have been my mind fabricating Watts’ facial emotions, which are few and far between. Ronnie Wood was on his third cigarette and smiling like a young boy, as merry as ever.
The band’s brass entourage took the stage for the next tune, Exile on Main Street’s “Tumbling Dice.” Backed by a flashy multitude of dice and tongues on the giant screens behind them, the saxophones wailed and the backup singers heralded along with the thematic lyrics about gambling, loose women and the unceasing jagged lifestyle of the Stones in the ‘70s. The nuances of Keith’s guitar riffs and Chuck Leavall’s keyboard boldly shone above the lights and harmonies. Originally titled “Good Time Women”, this mid-tempo funk ballad roared through Mick’s seemingly unfaltering vocals and into the bones of the packed stadium. This performance showed us exactly how and why the group blossomed in the 70s as an arena band unmatched in power and showmanship. Exile contributed to this rise as well: deemed by many as the Stones finest album, the bleary lyrics mesh wonderfully with the country, rock, blues and gospel influences so very apparent in the 1972 double album that followed Sticky Fingers. Both albums set the bar higher and higher for rock bands to come after them, and still to this day do artists revel on the influential nature of these albums and others by the group. Every time one listens to Exile in its entirety, something new is introduced. The next tune, “Doom and Gloom”, was a new track released individually in 2013 along with a music video.
Mick picked up a guitar next for “Bitch” from Sticky Fingers, and the crowd thundered with excitement after the first chord. One of only three songs performed from this album, the fierce performance included a minutes-long guitar duel between Richards and Wood, the former of whom slowly began his ascent out of his upstage comfort zone and into the limelight. Seeing these decades-long brethren jamming out together on stage brought a wave of camaraderie and inspiration over the crowd, as well as the musicians on stage according to their faces. Sticky Fingers is considered by many fans and historians as one of the band’s greatest albums and a perfect representation of their increasing flounce and popularity in the 1970s, and was rereleased earlier this month in various forms with multiple additions and revised tracks to go along with it. The uniting power of this track was followed by the melancholy “Moonlight Mile,” a staple during this tour and another Sticky Fingers track. Standing and swaying center stage, 71-year-old Mick’s still intact vocal range blew the audience’s mind as he shimmered in the on-screen moonlight and strummed his acoustic guitar while Watts and Leavall supported the melody. This tune is one of only a handful in which Richards does not appear. The nostalgic lyrics are dense with drug and intimacy references, giving a glimpse behind the iron curtain of composers Jagger and Richards, softly personifying the usually stone-cold aura of the rockers. It is the archetypal album closer for any genre of music: potent yet placid.
For a brief moment Jagger donned a cowboy hat and chanted the openings lines to George Strait’s “All My Exes Live in Texas”, a sight I never thought I would ever see and was wonderfully convincing of the Stones’ country influences. “Thank you, Aaahhlington! Taylor Swift told me to say that,” he teased. This quickly flowed into “Rocks Off”, the opener on Exile. The song’s voyeuristic theme matched the same kind of performance as Jagger’s hips threw the audience’s attention back and forth and up and down the stage.
After a brief rest following this tune, Richards took to the mic to share a familial ode to the band’s late saxophonist and longtime friend Bobby Keys. A fellow Texan, Keys passed a few months back after playing with the band for more than 40 years. Richards led the vocals and Jagger danced with his cowbell in a dedication to Keys, “Honky Tonk Women” from the 1969 live album Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out! The Southern drawl encountered in Jagger’s usual version was slightly lost in Richards’ voice, but Watts’ funky drumming and Wood’s devilish guitar riffs supported the country, sing-along framework nonetheless. Richards’ also gave zero shits about his miniscule voice cracks and off-key instances during the song he normally does not sing. A second version much heavier in country influence was recorded on 1969’s Let It Bleed, titled “Country Honk.” “Thank you, Texas,” Richards said as he retreated back into the shadows for a brief second. Farewell to you, Mr. Keys.
Richards took to the mic again for “Before They Make Me Run” from 1978’s Some Girls. An album visibly flushed with Richards’ ever-deepening drug addictions and Jagger’s addiction to fame, it is filled to the brim with excitement and their own spin on disco, an up and coming genre at the time. This track, an anthem to Richards’ life-on-the-edge rock star lifestyle of his youth, resonated warmly in his voice as the lyrics illustrated the philosophies and motivations behind his soon-to-come drastic lifestyle change after being caught with enough heroin to be incarcerated for drug trafficking in 1977 in Canada. He proudly belted the lyrics as if renewing his vows directly to his wife, children and grandchildren. The next song, Exile’s “Happy,” seemed to strategically juxtapose this theme of redemption with a purely Richards-themed rock ‘n’ roll anthem supported by Wood on a pedal steel guitar. The lyrics presented risqué and freewheeling themes of “taking candy from strangers” and Richards’ open pledge to never live the conservative lifestyle of his father before him, who spent his days “working for the boss every night and day.” His usually smoky and whiskey-marred voice maintained sincerity and boldness as he proved to the audience how one can be happy in life without the assistance of drugs and lust and alcohol, all while ironically singing about all three. It was him telling us in his own way that although he has grown and matured later in life, this music and this band are what he and his buddies were put on this earth to do, and that they do it perfectly seems almost to be an understatement. When the song was over he once again retreated back into the shadows after giving the audience an authentic exhibition of the band’s timeless candor.
Mick and his boisterous harmonica introduced the next song, “Midnight Rambler,” from 1970’s Let It Bleed. A blues-rock composition heavy in wavering guitar riffs and varying tempos, the poignant lyrics are inspired by the famous 1960s Boston Strangler Albert De Salvo, who was eventually found guilty for raping and murdering 11 women. The melody seems innocent at first, but the more you listen to the track the more brooding and bleak the song becomes, the dismal lyrics overcoming the optimistic melody. This track exemplifies the blues roots of the album and the installation of harder-rocking, swarthier exhibitions in the bands growing discography. The eerie “Gimme Shelter,” performed two songs later in the night, is a prime example of the dark apocalyptic fantasy that is Let It Bleed. Backup vocalist Lisa Fischer matched, and in my opinion outshone, Jagger’s energy and passion in her harmony solo. Both singers cantered up and down the center aisle of the endless stage, filling the stadium with riveting emotion and powerful force all the way to the nosebleeds, eliciting sighs of awe upon the song’s close. The atmosphere complementing the performances of these two songs songs demonstrates the deep and unrelenting connection between the young, up-and-coming rock star boys of the album’s recording period and the celebratory-yet-homely attitudes of the men they have grown into today. All except for Mick’s anti-homely dance moves, of course, which I hope never change. They perform as if they firmly believe in every lyric and every note true to their deepest element. Let It Bleed involuntarily foreshadows the treacherous waters to come in the band members’ personal and professional lives throughout the next few decades.
“Midnight Rambler” was followed by “Miss You,” a hit track from Some Girls. This up-tempo disco-punk tune lightened the mood with Mick’s guitar, Watts’ four-beat drumming and the ethereal saxophones. The decadent and spunky lyrics matched the same style of rhythm and soulful blues the song is known and loved for. The song faded into “Gimme Shelter” which segued into a pyro-maniacal performance of the carnal “Start Me Up” from 1981’s Tattoo You. The grown men in the crowd danced and boogied as if being personally honored. None, however, appeared to be crying, a sight that would have been the pinnacle of lyrical sorcery. The loud fire show of this song was followed by a wardrobe change into a red-caped Jagger and matching band mates for “Sympathy for the Devil,” the night’s only performance from 1968’s Beggars Banquet. Strong in psychedelic and Delta blues roots, this album incorporates some of the meanest slide guitar in all of rock ‘n’ roll. Thank you, Ron, Keith and Mick (Taylor). This tune comprised maracas, African-inspired conga drums, echoing ooh’s and aah’s and a fiery backdrop to support the demonic lyrics of a song that now, 47 years later, seems to inspire simply jovial sing-along dance parties instead of the ponderous political and morbid themes present in the lyrics. Richards proved his insatiable strive for perfection in his razor-sharp guitar licks, matching the rhythm and metaphoric power of the devilish flames behind and above him and inspiring true sympathy for the devil embodied in Jagger’s performance. As one of the band’s most representational and well-revered songs, the audience was elated by the stellar performance.
“Sympathy” was followed by Sticky Fingers’ opening track “Brown Sugar.” Initiated with one of the most iconic guitar riffs in rock ‘n’ roll history, the simultaneous electric guitar and horns throughout the song remind us why this band is so prominent in genre pioneering and progression. The lyrics have been known to off-put many of the band’s more conservative listeners, with a career-long debate of the true meaning. A few thorough exegeses of the song have yielded a common conclusion of a story about (possibly nonconsensual) cunnilingus between a Colonial slave owner and a black slave girl. “Brown sugar was in fact a term for Mexican smack. Mick [Jagger] just wrote it for a chick,” Richards notoriously rebutted in an interview with the magazine New Musical Express after the album’s production. “God knows what I’m on about on that song, it’s such a mishmash all the nasty subjects in one go,” Jagger told the same magazine in a 1995 interview. Regardless of one’s moralistic preferences, it is damn near impossible to not enjoy the compelling sounds of the blues-rock tune, which everyone in attendance Saturday night did exactly.
The band took a short break after the final song, only to reappear for the encore minutes later with the University of Texas – Arlington a capella choir backing them for the gospel-infused “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” once again off of Let It Bleed. The choir, the backup singers and the instrument tamers on stage idled and crescendoed for more than seven minutes of optimistic yet downtrodden thematic messages. Leavall’s keyboard and Watts’ drums drove the rise into an up-tempo ballad of classical and rock fusion. This philosophical meditation is often considered the Stones’ version of The Beatle’s “Hey Jude,” in their similar majesty and uplifting power both in melody and live performance, as well as their never before seen length for pop songs of their time. I hope those UTA students realize how lucky they are! The long night ended with a rowdy “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” the oldest song of the night, from 1965’s Out Of Our Heads. It was a perfectly metaphorical (lyrically, that is) ending to a night that I never thought I would get the chance to experience, and a night I will never forget.
Richards’ tale of near-impossible survival and the depths of his personal motivation are discussed heavily in his autobiography Life, a book I recommend to anyone and everyone, Stones fanatic or not.
Visit the Stones’ website to learn more about former band members who assisted in the band’s rise to stardom and other news.
Here’s the set list for the night, given to us in an expected Cowboy style: