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The Rolling Stones At T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Saturday, October 22nd, 2016, Reviewed

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Welcome to the Rat Pack Tour, Mick Jagger quipped last night at the T-Mobile Arena, a splashy, big Arena as you’d expect in Vegas. A maybe 18,000  seater, state of the art one, where Mick and the boys destroyed us all last night. “Palm Springs and Las Vegas, and that’s it,” he noted before apologizing for missing Wednesday ‘s gig at the same venue. “But there was other entertainment in town,” referring to the 3rd Presidential debate. “Was it comic or tragedy?”

The last time I saw the Rolling Stones was 2012 at the Prudential Arena in Newark and they were a little rusty, last night the band were at the top of their game. Two hours of nostalgia on steroids, a Big Papi performance, with all the hits in one place and a single new song, “Ride ‘Em Down” off their upcoming blues covers album.The most recent vintage after that was “Start Me Up” -so when thirty to forty years of age is average over the 18 song set, yeah, nostalgia is the word. The set was a hard fit from right on the sweet spot, the first twenty minutes so astounding it was where any other band, including the E Streeters, would be proud to finish. “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” “It’s Only Rock N Roll,” and “Tumbling Dice”. Sitting in the best seats I’ve ever had for the bad boys, the adrenaline rush was so intense, like my endorphins were exploding, like sitting down at a craps table for the first time in years, or maybe blackjack: every moment an ace and a face card. The thing is, and I know this first hand, the rush of Blackjack ends (for me at least). The repetition lessens the thrill, whether the thrill is essentially the same or not. The Stones maintained a level of supreme skill and concentration for the entire 120 minutes, but I didn’t.

Most of the problem has nothing to do with the band at all: how many times can you turn water into wine before someone says, “Hey, neat trick, what else have you got”  At the beginning of the night, I was slack jawed in amazement, it was all shock and awe and I was standing there dazzled. Imagine the first time you had sex, holding on for dear life and thinking “I’m actually doing this”. I was thinking, as fanboy as I could possibly be, “My God, that’s really Charlie Watts -the best rock n roll drummer ever”. They kept it up and, like the 20th time you’ve had sex, we all leaned forward and enjoyed it.

Bassist Daryl Jones was splendid on “Miss You”, Ron Wood killed on “Midnight Rambler”, Charlie did all percussion work and while Jones is not an alternative but a starter, he doesn’t have the rapport Wyman once did. Either way, Watts is the best musician in the Stones and he is as unshowoff-y as Ringo. He stays behind his drums, keeps his head down and with giant ear muffs on, he keeps the band in a groove all night. That’s why they remain so great, you know: groove never grows old, never dies. The sax was fine but you and i know who will always be missed: Bobby Keys.

I’m not a Keith guy, I’m a Jagger guy. I love Keith but he hasn’t been a great guitarist since he fell of that tree, and while many people whose opinion I respect loved Crosseyed Heart, it left me a little cold. Last night Keith Richards solo extended to three songs, giving Jagger’s voice (still in recovery from laryngitis) a brief rest. While all we wanted to hear is “Happy”, we had to sit through “Slipping Away” and “Little T&A”. His guitar playing was all short and sweet guitar slashes, rhythmic and like a knife across a face, it oozes out. But, in the end, it isn’t doing the job the way it needs doing. We want to see Keef, cig hanging out, knees buckled, bucking and bucking, his 53 Fender Telecaster is a sweet thing, and as a visual element, he is, of course, half the story. But Ron is playing lead.

It is, of course, about Mick Jagger, a consummate rock and roller,  the band leader of band leaders, I know you don’t need me to explain Jagger on stage, it is an iconic, James Brown inspired, blast of energy. He dances through every inch of the stage. I believe it was Nick Tosches who wrote about how a serial child killer had fucked and then slit and eaten every morsel of a little girl, Jagger does the same with the stage, He moves with his hips and his fast feet the way Rickey Henderson used his speed to steal bases, fast and certain, both delicate and orchestrated, just like a ballerina: Mick flings his hands in the air, points, gestures, all fingers and fuck moves, he shoves himself in your face. At 73 years of age, he has a full head of hair and a rail thin body. Incredibly, while his face has lines within lines, he is still very handsome, very sexy: he sells it with ease. While we realize Jagger needs the Stones as much as the Stones need Jagger, you can’t stop looking at him (for women and gay, there is one reason, me, I was thinking “WOW, HE KNEW JOHN LENNON”. I do the same  thing with Sir Paul). Rock bands would die for such a frontman, he is light years ahead of Bono, and on a Bruce level, though in a different way. Bruce is the boss, but a blue collar boss, Jagger is rock and roll royalty, you look at him and he isn’t quite human. In leggings and a series of tops, finally with a hoodie, he is a glittering superstar, and he carries the Stones with him. The Stones are about sex and class wars because Jagger is about sex and class wars, and in both subjects he looks the part. On stage, Mick has an untouchable aura about him, if rock and roll, if punk rock, if this long gone form of sound is about anything, it is about cheap instruments easy to play, and anyone, even you can do it. But watching Jagger last night, who thinks for an instant they can do it? They can’t, it takes a lifetime of work to appear so casual and controlled, so into it and on automatic pilot. Jagger showed no signs of the laryngitis lingering that had him cancel Wednesday’s  concert (conspiracy theorists form a line here), very clear voiced (he has apparently given up on his Southern slur) but it was his harp playing, only two songs, but they shone both times, which left the lasting impression. When he did improvised vocally on any number of songs, it felt rote. Much like the Who, I prefer the Stones when they are tight as fuck playing their pop songs.

The hits just kept on coming, though, not unlike the way I can’t hear “Let It Be” anymore, I can’t hear “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, the first song of the encore. As they’ve taken to doing, they had a choir, from a local High School, perform the first verse. I bet they find the end of innocence amusing, having your teens sing about hard drugs and infidelity, instead of Christ and gumbaya, but it is schtick by any other means. Also, one of the back-up singers takes the chick role in  “Gimme Shelter” -also great, also I can’t hear it the way I used to. The extended “Miss You” singalong felt a little pro forma, and that’s it for the complaints. If none of these performances were NECESSARY if you weren’t there, at the very least “Midnight Rambler” -which opened like “You Gotta Move” before swerving, and was the best band performance, with both Mick and Ronnie taking it over, was one of the better times you’ve heard it.

The night concluded with “Satisfaction”, and the Stones had done what they do: they delivered to us baby boomers completely, they played what we wanted to hear. Not all of it, of course, but it would take a month to play em all. The Beatles ended in 1970, the Stones in 1973, ever since that they haven’t been the greatest recording artists in the world. Yet as a live force, a sign post and a telling tale, a vision of the Stones as the ultimate Stones: a complete vision of the band as Stonesy talisman, as certainly as “Love” is the ultimate Beatles talisman, they are without equal. And, yes, they remain the greatest rock and roll band in the world (though not the compliment it once was). Even in 2016, if you don’t love the Stones, you don’t love rock.

Grade: A

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