Graham Reid | | 7 min read
They won't go on the road again, and we can dismiss Keith Richards' comments like “you can never tell with this band”.
Could they be bothered going through this all over again in five or more years?
So this is the end.
But what does that mean?
No more writers banging on about their collective age being counted in centuries, no more references to the size of Mick Jagger's skinny hips or Richards' raddled features. No more talk about how much money they made rather than how they played.
We won't miss that and nor will they.
They could conceivably record again, but none of them seem to be disposed to writing new songs . . . and corralling them into a studio would prove difficult. And what would a new Stones album prove, or need to prove?
No one is demanding one, anyway.
So this is the end.
The farewell wave to another stadium crowd under inclement skies.
What happens now probably is the individual Stones fade from sight perhaps, and then one day The Announcement: a newsflash, a hashtag, the twittersphere going ballistic and the tributes and obituaries being written. And that really will be the end.
But what a great journey it has been, often against considerable odds as anyone who followed them in the Sixties and Seventies would attest. Look at what happened to them then, they were lucky to survive every year between '65 and '80.
If you really wanted, I could take you to the spot in the Waitakeres where I first heard the Rolling Stones' It's All Over Now. I was about 13 – on my way to a Scout camp – and it was the loudest song that had ever come across my transistor.
Without exaggeration, it changed my life.
As with most kids my age I was into pop music and had been taken by the Beatles, the Animals, the Searchers . . . and of course earlier Stones' songs like their cover of the Beatles' I Want To Be Your Man (much more lascivious than Ringo's jaunty effort) and Not Fade Away, a rough version of the Buddy Holly song.
But It's All Over Now was different. It sounded excitingly loud when the guitar chords came in: “Because I used to love her . . . KE-DANGGG!! . . . but it's all over now”.
It was also not a happy, clappy pop song like the Beatles' She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand. It was a bitter end to a relationship and the Stones – who had somehow acquired a bad-boy reputation even then – sounded like they meant it.
I missed the Stones on their first New Zealand tour in early '65 but as a 14-year old I was there at the Civic on March 1 the following year when they were supported by the Searchers. It was a short set – they did two shows that night – but they played The Last Time, a quiet new one Play With Fire, Not Fade Away, Get Off Of My Cloud, 19th Nervous Breakdown (which I never rated) and ended, of course, with Satisfaction.
Right there you get the idea of their breadth. Yes, they were mostly just blues-based songs but their subjects were adult: bitter separation (The Last Time), veiled menace (“don't you play with me 'coz you're playing with fire”), the pressures of daily life (Cloud), social comment (Breakdown) and of course sex in the guise of consumerism (Satisfaction).
The Stones sang about real things, and if any song announced the shift from pop to rock it was Satisfaction.
In later years the Stones were the soundtrack to parties in Ponsonby flats and their lyrics were much discussed.
It's perhaps hard for people today to take the Stones quite as seriously as we did in their first two decades, but it was a long way from their first single – a cover of Chuck Berry's Come On – to those massive tours and stadiums in the Seventies (Western Springs in February '73). But in that time there were drug busts, deaths, divorces . . .
For them too.
I guess I've seen them about half a dozen times, once from right down front in Auckland, another time in the back row of the highest tiered seats in a Chicago indoor stadium.
And now last night – for the last time perhaps – under glowering skies and light dustings of rain throughout the two hour-plus show.
“Anyway, we're all in it together,” said Jagger . . . and from then on there was no suggestion he was holding back or trying to stay dry. He strutted the long catwalks as if under a summer sun, although carpets had to pulled out to keep one area on stage from becoming slippery. He said he wished the could the carpet laid in his kitchen as quickly.
It has become fashionable, if not a lazy default setting, for critics to dismiss the Stones' live act as a group simply going through the motions. But given the energy Jagger expends and the spot-on playing of drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Darryl Jones (so long in the band he almost deserves Stones-status) that's a hard case to make.
Certainly Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood have found something in what Richards calls their secret art of weaving: what it means is that he has now mastered the art of sometimes not playing much as all, other than key chords or short runs. He gets to pose and do that simian slouch, or laugh along with Ronnie. But when he let loose on solos he was right on the money.
If this was going through the motions one more time, then more than a few hipper and younger bands could do with this much commitment.
Opening with the now familiar Start Me Up they then went straight into It's Only Rock'n'Roll and You Got Me Rocking . . . all of them the mutant offspring of Chuck Berry's Little Queenie and Carol as evidenced in Richards and Woods guitar work.
This was a night of uneven returns: their treatment of Like A Rolling Atone was serviceable and enjoyable enough (if that was the audience's online choice as we were told it was a very odd one) and there were certainly a few flat spots. The “new” song Doom and Gloom lacked the menace and punch of the recording.
And although when Richards took centre stage for an affecting You Got the Silver and Before They Make Me Run (both in decent voice), his final number Happy saw him tested to the limit of his range. Not perfunctory so much as . . . yes, going through the motions perhaps.
But among the highpoints were a broody, swampy Out of Control and especially Midnight Rambler which opened with harmonica and guitar dueling between Jagger and returned guest-guitarist Mick Taylor.
This exploded into a lengthy extrapolation with Taylor taking the lead in some astonishing blues playing which showed he'd not lost his gift, and also upped the stakes for the others.
It was an inspirational centrepiece and an inspired decision to bring him on the tour . .. just a pity that for the closer, Satisfaction, when he returned he was on barely audible acoustic.
This was a crowd-pleasing set of few musical surprises in the song choices but it was hard to argue with Miss You (Jagger's exposure to and exploitation of New York dance music remarkably durable), the lengthy Gimme Shelter in which singer Lisa Fischer got to out-Clayton Merry on the extended stage as Jagger strutted and thrusted and shoved the microphone into his pants.
Yep, these are his visual cliches, but he owns them . . . and they work.
The Stones touring band – Chuck Leavell on keyboards a valuable player – is a highly disciplined unit (sax player Bobby Keys didn't make it) and primed to entertain.
And that – ever since they emerged out of the London club scene – is what the Rolling Stones have always been about. Other have lacquered other agendas over the top – the socio-political stuff, the last-man-standing status of Keith – but entertainment as much as art has always been the game they played.
And whether it was ticking off the classics – Jumping Jack Flash, Sympathy for the Devil and Brown Sugar in the closing overs – or bringing on the New Zealand Youth Choir for the choral part on You Can't Always Get What You Want, this was a night of great rock'n'roll entertainment . . . with some glam'n'glitz jackets on Jagger.
To end on an extended treatment of Satisfaction was always going to be a crowd-pleaser, but too often that famous riff has been reduced to bland but effective chords. On this night Richards reveled in the tight notes, just as he obviously enjoyed stepping out with huge chords on Brown Sugar.
And then it was thank you and good night and the deep bows.
The Stones have long ceased to provide any meaningful soundtrack to my life, and as an innovative musical force they stopped being relevant decades ago. Today they are no more rebels or rogues or roués than I am.
But although they became Stones Inc. and a business as much as a band, I went to see them.
Not for nostalgic reason, not because I quit Scouts shortly after hearing It's All Over Now, and not because I wanted to see how they look these days.
But because, whether we want to admit it or not, they once redefined pop into rock, and – like the bluesmen and black soul artists whose music they loved and lead me to – they also proved you needn't give up on youthful passions just because you get older.
What you can also never deny is they penned great songs which wrote themselves into the autobiographies of millions across the globe.
And whether you consider them a cliché, a self-parody or the world's greatest rock'n'roll band, on the evidence of this show they still had the swagger to pull it off.
For the last time?
It's all over now.
There is a considerable amount on the Rolling Stones -- including interviews -- at Elsewhere starting here.