The second night of the Stones’ Garden State stop on the No Filter Tour was a gas gas gas
One of my all-time favorite moments from MTV was the anticipation of The Rolling Stones’ long-awaited follow-up to Dirty Work, 1989’s Steel Wheels, which turns 30 this August 30th. I’ll never forget making it a point to schedule my time around the moment on television when they held that press conference in Grand Central Station on July 11, 1989, the summer before my sophomore year in high school.
It was around that time where my desire to see this band who I had loved so much growing up as a kid—having heard “Miss You” on WPLJ coming out the stock radio of my mom’s Ford Granada and then, later, seeing the “Start Me Up” video on the infant MTV in ’81—in a concert setting really began to take hold. Two of my best buds at the time, Mr. Vai and DJ Monkeybrainz, both had cushy summer jobs working with the school custodians, were easily able to afford their tickets to see the Stones on that Steel Wheels tour. Meanwhile, I was lucky to afford a cassette copy of the Flashpoint live album that followed in 1991 on my minimum wage gig ripping tickets at the local cinema. And year after year, on every subsequent tour, the cost for these Stones tickets got more expensive, and I found myself essentially getting priced out of seeing my favorite rock ‘n’ roll band, even though the flourishing alternative and indie rock movements provided a distracting reprieve in the 90s and 00s.
VIDEO: Rolling Stones’ July 11, 1989 Press Conference announcing Steel Wheels at Grand Central Station
If we are being perfectly real here, I had been lying in wait as a professional music journalist these last 22 years to bide my time, build my resume and approach the Stones’ hard-nosed publicist with a, um, respectable cache of stories I’ve written about the band throughout the years. So I reckoned that—with the mean age of the four main Stones about, what, 75?—this may very well be the last chance I get to catch these guys in concert. No dice, or as a certain big time player in rock journalism recently told me, ‘Unless your name is David Fricke you’ll never get anywhere with them’ or something to that effect. And I knew that going in, but thought perhaps my sad little story about the boy who lost his smile only to find it in the press section of MetLife the second night of the Stones’ two-night stand, coupled with some impressive clips of my previous Stones coverage, would make the case for the single pass I’m asking for. Nope. Nada.
So, I played the waiting game on StubHub and found a ticket right on the side of the stage, where the press normally sits. It cost me $206, plus the obligatory $55 in service charges. No sweat, this was an investment that I will work extra gigs to pay off, I’m thinking. I can’t miss the Stones this time around. So I said ‘fuck it’ and bought the ticket, with all apologies to my mother-in-law, who was still deciding whether to go with me when I succumbed to my kneejerk impulses. I’m sorry, Grandma! But again, I felt like Luke Skywalker just before he makes that killshot which destroys the Death Star in Episode IV. When it comes to stadium shows, I always prefer that side of the stage kinda spot. I’ve been sitting in the 100s in some capacity for like 20 years now. So when I saw that ticket for Section 111a on StubHub at that price, I had to jump on it.
And so began my kind of weird journey back to being not a music journalist or an editor but a fan again. Got my ticket online, hung out in the parking lot before the show, got my seat and promptly moved down closer to the stage and prepared for a moment I had been waiting literally 40 years to experience.
The Stones did not disappoint. Eschewing all the stupid headlining puns we are getting inundated with about “time being on their side” and whatnot (come on, people!), this band played perfectly. They defied all their detractors and critics laughing at them for being in their 70s and still going out there. Fuck that shit. They KILLED it last night. I’d love to see The Strokes summon up the kind of game at their upcoming show at Barclays that the Stones brought last night. It will never happen, because they could never achieve that kind of nirvana you experience when seeing the Rolling Stones in concert. Like I say, my mama got me into the Beatles, but I got myself into the Stones, which makes seeing them extra special. And I felt like, perhaps through some cosmic connection associated with my Facebook friendship with a fellow Ronnie, Mr. Wood that is, this band played the set I had secretly wanted them to play.
No, they ignored Steel Wheels entirely, even though they’ve been breaking out “Sad Sad Sad” over the course of this No Filter Tour. But the set all of us enjoyed was nothing short of sheer magic. Let It Bleed, which turns 50 on December 5th, remains my absolute favorite Rolling Stones album. It marked that turn from the psychedelic Brian Jones era and deeper into the lascivious viscera that made their work in the 1970s the most groundbreaking rock music ever made. That’s right. On this night, they played more than half the album, six of its nine tracks were represented. I mean, they always, always play “Gimme Shelter” and “Midnight Rambler,” though last night both warhorses seemed particularly amplified to a transcendent level, thanks to both Keef and Woody setting their guitars to Thurston Moore levels of volume. And the version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was beautiful in its proximity to the original studio version, with special thanks to essential auxiliary player Matt Clifford on French horn (he also announces the band to the stage and plays keyboards, too). But the song of the night from the online poll the band conducts for each tour stop miraculously landed on the single best track from Let It Bleed, “Monkey Man,” much to the delight of the gentleman sitting to my left who shared his story about the song being one of the first tunes that made him want to play music. And to me as well, having fallen in love with it after first hearing it jammed out by Johnny Depp and company on an episode of 21 Jump Street, this particular take led by the nimble funk bassline of former Miles Davis band member Darryl Jones, now a member of the Stones as long as his predecessor Bill Wyman in 2019. The fact they included a note-perfect version of the title track for Let It Bleed during their U2-esque acoustic performance in the middle of the crowd seemed almost gratuitous after “Monkey Man,” albeit in the best way possible. During Keith Richards’ portion of the show as Mick went off for a breather, he opened up with “You Got The Silver.” It was his finest moment of a night that saw him slopping up his solos at Jimmy Page levels in a couple of spots here and there.
This show was full of surprises. After kicking things off with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” they saluted the recently passed 25th anniversary of Voodoo Lounge with a charged up version of its hit single “You Got Me Rocking,” and then kicked it up a notch with a twangy take on “Tumbling Dice” that makes you hope their next studio album will be a country record. But the first of the true surprises came when they performed their version of the 1963 Bob & Earl hit “Harlem Shuffle” for the first time since 1990. Having listened to Dirty Work in the parking lot before the show, I like to think I willed this to happen, and they did such a great version of it. Another great moment of surprise was during that acoustic set when they broke out the Sticky Fingers country-rock rave-up “Dead Flowers,” and again when Keef kicked into his signature Some Girls song “Before They Make Me Run.”
However, it was the smash hit from their 1978 classic, and that song which kicked off my journey into becoming a lifelong Stones fan, that was the most magical moment of this night. It was just incredible how Mick and the boys Stones: the song served as the quintessential showcase for the extended band members, particularly longtime keyboardist Chuck Leavell, paying due homage to the late Ian MacLagan’s indelible Rhodes work on the original, as well saxophone great Karl Denson, channeling Mel Collins’ spirited solo while making it entirely his own. He and the band’s longtime horn player Tim Ries, along with Clifford at times, make one of the truly great brass sections in rock today. Much respect due to the groups longtime backup singers Sasha Allen and Bernard Fowler, who performed exceptionally throughout the night. Especially Allen on “Gimmie Shelter”, which should certainly bring a smile to Merry Clayton’s face.
And as someone who’s always considered Charlie Watts his favorite Stone, hearing his uncanny regard for timekeeping on every single song the band did last night is such a testament to the art of rock drumming and his standing as its eternal headmaster.
Meanwhile, God Bless Mick Jagger. At 76 and still relatively fresh off heart surgery, he bounded across the span of that entire stage structure in ways Julian Casablancas never will. He is the personification of the triumph of the human spirit that propels each generation to turn back the hands of time and control the aging process on one’s own terms. He should be celebrated for his tenacity, not ridiculed. You should be so lucky to have them moves like Jagger when you hit your mid-70s.
Leaving the MetLife parking lot, I chose Voodoo Lounge to soundtrack my journey back to the house, wishing they would have played more from the album—jeez it would have been cool to hear Keith sing “The Worst.” But who am I to complain; I’m lucky I was able to get a ticket into the place to begin with, and at a somewhat affordable price at that. And though I’m left feeling terrible about leaving Grandma behind, I’m grateful to have a mother-in-law who I can catch heat from over a Stones concert. My mom would be proud, no doubt.
VIDEO: The Rolling Stones perform “Let It Bleed” and “Dead Flowers” at MetLife Stadium, 8/5/2019
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
You Got Me Rocking
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Let It Bleed
Sympathy for the Devil
Honky Tonk Women
You Got the Silver
Before They Make Me Run
Paint It Black
Start Me Up
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction