Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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This was originally published as free content, in Robert Christgau's And It Don't Stop newsletter. You can have Christgau's posts delivered to your mailbox if you subscribe.

The Big Lookback: The Rolling Stones

From Blender, a review of the Stones at Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Connecticut August 26, 2005

I was still at the The Village Voice when Blender assigned me to review first the Rolling Stones' surprisingly animated 2005 A Bigger Bang and then their predictably expert 8/26/05 Hartford concert--the first time I'd seen them since I abandoned a kiddie party to catch their athletic Shea Stadium show in 1989. By 2005 the kiddie was a Stones fan and a freshman at New Paltz, whence we planned to race to Hartford. Unfortunately, I-84 was so backed up that racing was barely a theory until, too close to showtime, I talked my way into VIP parking, ran as fast as my aging knees could carry me to the press gate, and then backtracked to locate Nina. Whew--made it.

We were 15 or 20 rows back--so close, Nina remembers, that we could "smell the pyro"--but stood a lot anyway, with the parents of somebody in Nina faves Maroon 5 nearby. Maroon 5 opened, and knew what they were doing, too. But after a reasonable break, the headliners showed them how it's done. I can't count how many times I've seen the Stones, not just in New York but Montreal (my barely audible first rock concert), D.C. (whence I mailed an Exile on Main Street postcard to remind my inamorata there was life outside her ashram) and Toronto (where I stood on the feet of the guy crowding up behind me). Hartford was at least as good as any of those.

The setlist was Blender's requirement, but the Rick Stabile lead was my idea, though locating him for the fact checkers took some doing. I also like the "what rights?" line. But my proudest moment in this review was that as Bush II's Iraq war wore on I was given room to report on who this Ameriquest sponsor was, and now I can report more. Ameriquest's president, Roland Arnall, was a politically active macher who occupied a $30 million L.A. estate formerly owned by Engelbert Humperdinck. At the time, he was also U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands. In 1996 he paid a $3 million fine for encouraging predatory lending practices that targeted minority, elderly, and female home buyers, charging additional fees of up to 12 percent of the full loan amount. In 2004 his wife co-chaired the Republican Convention. The $325 million I mention was to cover penalties for the $50 billion in subprime mortgages his company had floated in 2004 alone. Ameriquest wasn't the only bad actor in the subprime scam, and Arnall had his "good causes." But the short of it is that the corporate sponsor of the Bigger Bang Tour was a key player in the subprime disaster Bush left Obama to struggle out of in 2009.

They may be greedheads but they're our greedheads, did I say? That's hard to get your head around sometimes. But I can add this. My filmmaker friend Bernard MacMahon, one of the canniest and calmest music watchers I know, caught the 2021 tour in L.A. It was his first Stones show, and with Mick now 78 was, let us say, very impressed, which isn't that common. I had predicted to him that new drummer Steve Jordan would respect Charlie's legacy. Bernard reports that instead Jordan and longtime non-Bill Wyman bassist Darryl Jones transformed that definitive groove and it sounded great.

Rick Stabile is a salesman in his fifties who couldn't get what he wanted, Mike's Hard Lemonade, but got what he needed, Smirnoff Ice. An Eagles fanatic who'd passed on their $200 tickets in 2004, he gladly coughed up $101 apiece for two seats at the rear of East Hartford's 33,000-capacity Rentschler Field. "How can you be a rock fan and never see the Rolling Stones? You're not gonna see the Beatles."

Stabile is lucky he waited--this tour burns. At 46, covering Shea Stadium's centerfield like Lenny Dykstra, Jagger was battling midlife crisis. At 62, he's defying death. In 1995, the deft live Stripped CD polished the Stones' groove. In 2005, without repeating one title from Stripped, the Bigger Bang tour wallops their beat. Its signature move caps the encore, when Mick Jagger climaxes a two-hour performance by running nonstop for 65 yards across a silver-and-black set that suggests a home audio console doubling as a suburban office building. Hey, they're the world's greatest rock and roll band again.

The deepest songbook this side of Bob Dylan's is where it starts, and it's growing--1997's "Out of Control" is now a staple, muted trumpet shading spectral guitar, and "Oh No, Not You Again" and "Rough Justice" from their new A Bigger Bang album stand proud alongside "Satisfaction" and "Tumbling Dice." But band means band, and as Charlie Watts defied death the modern way, with oncology, Jagger and Keith Richards went back to reveling in their togetherness. Hence their revitalized songwriting--and the rocking energy of the tour.

Chestnuts were dusted off--"Beast of Burden"'s sweet new guitar part welcome, "All Down the Line"'s horn blasts in place, "Ruby Tuesday"'s flute unmissed. But from "Start Me Up" to "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Brown Sugar," warhorses ridden like Arabian steeds carried the night, typified by the wild intensity of Richards crouching behind keyboardist Chuck Leavell to wail on "Satisfaction"--played, like "Miss You" and "Honky Tonk Women," from a movable mini-stage that brought the band halfway into a throng that otherwise got close only via exceptional amplification and video direction. (Audacious touch: black-and-white Stones looking cuddly in 1974 as the craggy monsters onstage ripped through 1980's "She's So Cold.") Jagger's voice never faltered; Richards should--yeah sure--give up cigarettes before he's singing through a tube.

As the Stones have always told us, pleasure is of the moment, signifying nothing beyond itself. They get miffed when reporters ask whether they're in it for art or money because they don't recognize the distinction. And after all, this tour will gross a mere $200 mill, $100 mill less than 2002-03. Hartford tickets ranged from $62 to $162, with a $402 VIP section up front and pricey perches above the stage. The corporate sponsor was Ameriquest, a mortgage company that recently set aside $325 million to settle lawsuits in 30 states--and also reserved 36 seats for a Schwarzenegger fundraiser. Few in a middle-aged audience where most under-25s came with their parents seemed likely mortgage customers. Maybe Ameriquest figured there'd be judges in the crowd.

Though they didn't do "Gimme Shelter," much less the Bush-bashing new "Sweet Neo Con," Jagger did endeavor, through many deep-skanking "Yo yo yo"'s, to incite serious sing-along action on the "Stand up for your rights" chorus of the Wailers' "Get Up Stand Up." Response was polite, but baffled: what rights? On the other hand, "Sympathy for the Devil," a silly song in its reflexively transgressive heyday, gains weight with the resurgent forces of fundamentalist righteousness theatening to expunge all such loose talk from culture worldwide. The Stones may be greedheads, but they're our greedheads.

Encore complete, all 13 in the troupe--hornmen, backup singers, slidemaster Ron Wood, better-than-Bill bassist Darryl Jones--gathered to wave goodbye, with Watts, appropriately, dead center. Would there be a second encore--"The Last Time," perhaps? No way. With this much energy still on the table, it definitely wasn't the last time.


  1. Start Me Up
  2. You Got Me Rocking
  3. She's So Cold
  4. Tumbling Dice
  5. Rough Justice
  6. Ruby Tuesday
  7. Beast of Burden
  8. All Down the Line
  9. Get Up Stand Up
  10. Infamy
  11. The Worst
  12. Miss You
  13. Oh No, Not You Again
  14. Satisfaction
  15. Honky Tonk Women
  16. Out of Control
  17. Sympathy for the Devil
  18. Jumping Jack Flash
  19. Brown Sugar
  20. You Can't Always Get What You Want
  21. It's Only Rock 'n Roll

And It Don't Stop, October 27, 2021