Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Rolling Stones Live

Rentschler Field
East Hartford, Connecticut
August 26, 2005
*****

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.

Setlist

  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

Blender, Jan. 2006