Niagara Gazette

June 4, 2013

The Rolling Stones at 50: Still rocking, still terrific

Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The classic cultural question, a way of discerning someone’s musical philosophy, goes something like this: “Beatles or Stones?” For me, it’s always been the Rolling Stones.

Fifty years after the British band first earned attention for their raw and energetic rock and roll, and even after key personnel changes, the Stones are still drawing sold-out crowds wherever they play. Their latest tour is called “50 & Counting … The Rolling Stones Live.” For months, it’s been the hottest ticket in North America. I’ve seen them numerous times in concert, and I’m always willing to see them again.

When the band announced a limited number of dates for this spring, Saturday, May 25 in Toronto was on the list.

My friend Gautier Coiffard grew up in Grenoble, France listening to his father’s Rolling Stones albums. Pierre is a devoted Stones fan. Gautier had never seen them, and if we got tickets for the Toronto show, he would come to Buffalo. Because of complaints over the handling of tickets for the three 2012 winter shows in Brooklyn, New York and Newark, New Jersey — all tickets sold within seconds and most ended up on aftermarket sites for thousands of dollars — the Stones instituted a special lottery for the May and June concerts.

Five hundred pairs of tickets would be available for each concert at $85 per ticket. As soon as the pairs were gone, the lottery stopped. The rules were that you had to buy two tickets, no more, no less. Seating was random; you didn't know where you would be sitting until the night of the concert. No refunds or exchanges. And, once you picked up your tickets at 6 p.m. for the 8 p.m. start, you had to enter the arena immediately. While also trying for regular priced tickets ($147 to $597, plus fees), and thanks to my friend’s computer wizardry, we scored two very good $85 seats for the Toronto show.

In every respect, the Rolling Stones were outstanding. They are a phenomenal rock and roll band live. Their concert was an extraordinary sound, light, and visual experience. For two hours and 20 minutes they proved why no other band can touch them. They know how to put on a show, and it was a masterful journey featuring 22 of their hugely popular songs.

Lead singer Mick Jagger, who will be 70 on July 26, still has the energy of a teenager. Rooster strut, indeed. That the core of the band: Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards, and drummer Charlie Watts is still together after 50 years is an astonishing feat. And guitarist Ronnie Wood has been with the Stones for 38 years.

Also appearing on stage were former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, who jammed on a number of songs, including a superb multi-tempo "Midnight Rambler; the Stones's regular female concert vocalist Lisa Fischer singing back-up throughout the night and also center stage with Mick on a roaring "Gimme Shelter;" legendary saxophonist Bobby Keys, Darryl Jones on electric bass, Bernard Fowler on percussion and back-up vocals, Chuck Leavell on keyboard, and special guest Carrie Underwood singing "It's Only Rock And Roll" with Jagger. A Toronto High School chorus sang the choral sections of "You Can't Always Get What You Want.”

The song selected by fans for inclusion on the setlist was "Street Fighting Man." An hour into the show, Richards performed “You Got The Silver" and "Happy" back-to-back. Other highlights were Jagger wearing a floor-length coat made out of black “feathers” for a strong "Sympathy For The Devil," a powerful and soulful version of "Angie" an especially vibrant rendition of "Tumbling Dice" with colorful animation on the digital screen behind the band, and a truly great and very brassy "Paint It Black," my favorite Stones song.

The concert opened with a short film in which well-known fans, including director Martin Scorsese, actor Johnny Depp, and The Who’s Pete Townshend commented on the band's 50 years of musical history.

The Rolling Stones opened with “Get Off Of My Cloud” and finished with “Satisfaction.” The crowd would have stayed for more.

Tonight at 8 p.m., the Stones play Toronto’s Air Canada Centre one more time. Then they’re off to Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. before finishing back where it all began, in London, on July 13 in Hyde Park.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.