Show review: The Rolling Stones at Comerica Park Wed., July 8

WHO: Rolling Stones
WHEN: Wed., July 8
WHERE: Comerica Park

The Rolling Stones have been around for so long that even talking about their getting old is getting old. But at this point, with Jagger and Richards at 71, Charlie Watts at 74, and Ronnie Wood at 68, this band is made up of guys who should be retired even if they had normal jobs. At his age, I’d feel a little weird letting Mick Jagger be my dentist, or my accountant, let alone my rock ‘n’ roll entertainment for the evening.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when Mick and co. came on. From the very first song (“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”) Jagger was strutting like he’s been his whole life, pacing back and forth across the entirety of stage and dancing in that funny way he does where he just shakes his legs and spins. In fact, if you had put the younger, less-weathered Jagger face on the 71-year-old beanpole body, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. A few times throughout the set, much to the delight of the nearby fans, Jagger made full use of the long walkway jutting out from the middle of the stage and found himself surrounded by fans all below him. I have to say, despite his age, it’s still a pretty wondrous feeling to be only a few feet from Mick Jagger.

In town for the first time in almost a decade and on the home stretch of their “Zip Code” North American tour, the Stones played to a really fantastic crowd at Comerica Park. I always worry that bigger crowds mean a smaller percentage of people truly caring about the music, but at least where I was, the crowd gave the musicians its full attention. Even the wide walkway right in front of my field-level seat, where people passed to go get a beer or use the bathroom, was never very crowded unless Jagger was singing at the end of the walkway and people were trying to get as close as possible to him. (And when people did walk by to head to the concourse, at least half of them were still dancing.)

The main draw for the night was as much the Stones’ deep catalog of classics as it was for the musicians themselves in their current form. If you came to the show expecting The Stones of the ’70s, you probably would have been disappointed — timing was off in spots, notes were missed, tempos were slightly slower, and Jagger has lost his barbaric yawp. But the songs they played are some of the best songs ever recorded, and even if their full power was never quite fully recreated, they were great to hear.

The Stones’ set list was essentially all of the songs they basically have to play by this point in their careers, plus one or two surprises. There was supposedly a special emphasis on Sticky Fingers, because that’s the record that just got a deluxe reissue (“Zip Code” is also a play on that album’s cover), but after “Moonlight Mile” (which hardcore fans seemed to appreciate) and “Bitch” back to back there was no more until “Brown Sugar” at the end. Personally, I would have loved to hear “Wild Horses” in there, but of course, no one’s ever going to get their perfect dream Rolling Stones set list at a show they attend — too many hits, if there is such a thing. There was also a special song that was apparently chosen by online voting prior to the show. I was unaware of this, but the audience choice was “Rocks Off,” which was a pretty cool result even if the song was clearly under-rehearsed.

Keith Richards got a showcase midway through the concert, as he normally does, by singing lead on two songs back to back (“Before They Make Me Run” and “Happy”). By any traditional measure, his voice is awful at this point in his life, ravaged by cigarettes and god knows what else, but there’s so much wisdom and rock history and death-defying experience in Richards’s cracks and tears that his voice is still an intriguing, almost necessary listen. That said, when so many classic songs are available, it’s almost disappointing to eschew, I don’t know, a “Ruby Tuesday” or a “Street Fighting Man” in favor of the relatively weak Richards-sung tracks.

Most of the touring members got at least a small moment in the spotlight themselves as well. Bassist Darryl Jones was easy to ignore for the bulk of the show (probably a good thing for a bassist), but he shined on “Miss You,” while saxophone player Karl Denson ripped through his “Brown Sugar” moment. Most impressively, back-up singer Lisa Fischer took what was initially a messy “Gimme Shelter” and harnessed all her energy to demolish the house on her vocal solo.

Besides Richards and Jagger, guitarist Ronnie Wood and drummer Charlie Watts rounded out the official “core four” of this current Rolling Stones lineup. When Jagger wasn’t running all over the place, the four stood positioned in a pretty tight diamond formation, with the sidemen relegated to the edge of the stage. Watts now looks like the kind of guy who spends every day fishing, and he was never ever flashy, but he delivered what he’s been giving the band for 50 years: solid, efficient drumming. Ronnie Wood seemed to be the band member enjoying himself the most up there — he was the quickest to break out a smile, and the only one to light up a cigarette. He and Richards stayed close to each other and always seemed immensely curious about what the other was playing, like they were comparing notes, and neither of them thought twice before ripping off a guitar solo. Mick also engaged the crowd with some passing local references to Seger, Eminem, and Yoopers, but he gets extra points for introducing two of his band members as Ronnie “National Coney” Wood and Charlie “Lafayette Coney” Watts, as well as going above and beyond by breaking out the Temptations’ cover “Just My Imagination” just for the Motor City.

After the main set closer, “Brown Sugar” (which musically is as strong as ever but lyrically gets a little more uncomfortable every year), the band brought out the Oakland University Chorale for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which ran into an extended version of “Satisfaction.” Things weren’t quite ever tight enough for the Rolling Stones to get that ecstasy of chaos that defines their best work, but it wasn’t for a lack of guitar solos or jamming. It was at least nice to see that the band hasn’t devolved into just giving rote, bland performances of its songs. I mean, they’re obviously not doing this because they need money, so I have to believe they were up on stage just for the love of music and performing.

So I usually evaluate concerts based on how much more fun I have than if I had just stayed home and listened to the studio recordings. By that metric, The Stones don’t come out looking too pretty, but a lot of that just has to do with the fact that we’re dealing with some astounding recordings here. We’re talking about a band that made some of the best rock albums of all time, ones that still mostly hold up fantastically well today, and just because The Stones are past their prime now doesn’t mean they’re not great anymore. When The Stones are up there playing a song you’ve heard a million times before like “Honky Tonk Women” or “Tumbling Dice” or, Jesus Christ, “Sympathy for the Devil,” maybe you’re hearing the studio track in your head and you have to fix the mistakes and give Jagger way more of his old raw growling sexual power as you listen, but it’s still an overwhelming experience that makes your blood rush to every part of your body and your brain overload with electricity. I’m glad I went — if not because of the performance itself, at least because of the timeless, indescribably powerful music.

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