Concert review: the Rolling Stones rocked New Orleans' Superdome in defiance of age
BY KEITH SPERA | Staff writer Jul 15, 2019CHRIS GRAINGER
"We've been on a bit of a journey to get here tonight," Mick Jagger declared at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, three songs into the Rolling Stones' long-awaited return to New Orleans.
That journey consisted of three segments: a 25-year gap since the Stones' last New Orleans concert, a two-month delay after a canceled Jazz Fest gig and a 24-hour postponement necessitated by Hurricane Barry.
But finally, at 9 p.m. Monday, following an opening set by local favorites Dumpstaphunk and the Soul Rebels, the Rolling Stones lit into "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and, in defiance of fate and time, banged out two hours of still-vital rock 'n' roll.
They first played the Superdome 41 years ago; Monday was their fifth visit to a room vast enough to accommodate multiple climate zones. In such an expanse, sound quality and the experience of a show can vary greatly.
From where I was down front to the right of the stage runway, the audio was clear and well-balanced, loud but not oppressive. That made it easy to see and hear that the Rolling Stones are still very much an actual band.
On a stage flanked by multi-story LED walls, guitarists Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards frequently locked eyes, watched what the other was or was not doing, and responded accordingly. “Pick it up, Ron,” Richards said as he handed off to Wood for a solo in “Before They Make Me Run.”
From behind his modest drum kit, the 78-year-old Charlie Watts, his countenance that of an especially prim parliamentarian, held the whole thing together. Jagger introduced Watts as being “fresh from Preservation Hall” (both Watts and Wood visited the Hall this past week). Watts supplied the essential groove for “Honky Tonk Woman” and stamped exclamation points on most songs.
Jagger was Jagger. He largely defined the role of a rock frontman and is still very much up to the task, the ultimate endorsement for the restorative powers of a new heart valve. He shimmied, spun, pointed and pursed his lips, danced booty-to-booty with backing vocalist Sasha Allen, and holstered his microphone in the waistband of his skinny black jeans.
He sashayed and pantomimed as Wood and Richards played out the long country coda of “Tumbling Dice,” then wiped his brow in mock exhaustion. He strapped on a guitar during “Sad Sad Sad” and elsewhere and blew gales of blues harmonica on “Midnight Rambler.” He wholly inhabited “Sympathy for the Devil.”
His singing voice was fully present all night, as was his banter. “I’m very sorry we missed the Jazz Fest,” he said. “I’m sure it was great. I heard it was great.”
He joked that the Stones, after Barry shifted Sunday’s scheduled concert to Monday, were now the only band to have had an indoor show rained out. Having arrived in New Orleans, one of the great restaurant cities, last Wednesday, he was looking forward to jambalaya, po-boys and beignets, but “thanks to Barry, I had to eat room service for four days.”
As he led Watts, Richards and Wood down the long runway to a satellite stage, he referenced the Superdome’s other use, as the home of the Saints and the scene of last season's notorious officiating mishap: “We just walked past the 10th yard line. Let’s hope there’s not another no-call.”
New Orleans got 19 songs, one fewer than the first five stops on this leg of the Stones' No Filter Tour. But most songs stretched well beyond their radio versions. During “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Jagger pushed Wood onto the runway for a deep-hued, jagged solo. Watts then picked up the tempo for a clap-along gospel outro.
For every show, an online fan vote selects one song in the set list. New Orleans got “Under My Thumb,” with Jagger omitting “pet” from the “sweetest pet in the world” lyric.
The core four settled on the satellite stage with acoustic guitars for “Angie” and a nimble “Dead Flowers” that highlighted the latter’s country accents.
Fully amplified once again, Richards' cannon-shot riffs detonated the refrain of “Sympathy for the Devil”; he eased back for a Telecaster solo on “Honky Tonk Woman.” His craggy lead vocals topped “Slippin’ Away” and “Before They Make Me Run.”
The supporting musicians have been with the band for years, and it showed in the responsibility and respect they were granted. Longtime keyboardist Chuck Leavell tapped out the cowbell intro of “Honky Tonk Woman.” Bassist Darryl Jones fitted “Miss You” with its disco pulse, then dazzled Richards and Wood with an especially funky, finger-picked solo before Tim Ries teed off a saxophone solo.
Unlike many bands, the Rolling Stones are reportedly all organic – every sound is made live. Thus, Matt Clifford briefly traded his keyboard for a flugelhorn to open “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
The Stones are not about precision; swashbuckling is not science. So what if Richards fumbled the brooding intro to “Gimme Shelter”? He punched a hole in “Sympathy for the Devil.”
Maybe “Paint It Black” sounded a bit dated, but the subsequent “Midnight Rambler,” an epic of more than nine minutes, was brash and bold and of the moment.
“You want a little lagniappe?” Jagger asked before concluding the regular set with an invigorated “Brown Sugar” goosed by Karl Denson’s sax.
In the encore, Jagger squared off with a wailing Allen on “Gimme Shelter" and Richards carved the angular riff of the final “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
It is virtually impossible, in the present day, to consider the Rolling Stones in and of themselves. They carry with them with 50 years of legend and legacy, decades of darkness and light, all of it writ large across the pop culture landscape. They forged the rock ‘n’ roll archetype and stamped it with a logo now as recognizable as McDonald’s.
They operate in a paradox of high and low expectations. Are they in fact the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band? Conversely, how can they, at this point, possibly be anything but a shadow of their former selves?
Ultimately, the anticipation and hype boils down to flesh and blood musicians and singers, with all their inherent flaws and frailties.
Jagger’s heart blip once again reminded him and his bandmates that they are much closer to the end than the beginning; their game has gone into extra innings. With that in mind, they seem to have unburdened themselves of considerable baggage and achieved a clarity of purpose.
The appreciation for what they have, expressed in their interaction and warm smiles, seemed genuine.
The Stones are grizzled, yes. But still great.