The Rolling Stones | 1.27.06

The Stones are in a tough position: They want to produce new music; we just want to hear the old stuff.


Savvis Center, St. Louis

They had torn out of the gate with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” The Savvis Center lights burst on with the first gut-punching chord strike, and, as Lester Bangs wrote in 1970, “there they were in the flesh, the Rolling Stones, ultimate personification of all our notions and fantasies and hopes for rock and roll, and we were enthralled.”

It took me a second to take in the spectacle: Mick, a whirl of ceaseless motion in a pink sequined jacket; Keith, clad in black and hunched over his Gibson; Ronnie, dressed like an East Village hipster and practically vacuum-packed into his jeans; and Charlie, attacking his Gretsch four-piece in the same jazz style he has since 1964. The Stones were sounding good and the crowd was freaking out, but it didn’t last. Lukewarm versions of “You Got Me Rocking,” “She’s So Cold,” and “Rough Justice” tempered the momentum, the still-powerful “Tumbling Dice” revived it, and the oft-shrill “Worried About You” and the insufferable “Rain Fall Down” put it promptly back down (the latter two being taken by many as bathroom break opportunities). At this point I was sitting down and despairing: frankly, I was bored. I knew the band would get to “Satisfaction” and all of their other hits, but I wanted more; I wanted a glimpse of the Stones of 1969, the Stones that Bangs had been writing about. The Stones that left a wake of gatecrasher riots and dazed kids and horrified Ed Sullivan–types in their wake. But it’s 2006, I reminded myself, and this tour is sponsored by Ameriquest and the boys are all in their sixties now.

But something happened as the lights went down following “Rain Fall Down.” A harmonica blast pierced the darkness, and Keith’s chugging guitar intro rolled over the crowd. It was “Midnight Rambler,” a song from Let It Bleed that is loose and dangerous; in short, a song that is the Rolling Stones. During the creeping middle section Mick strutted out onto the runway portion of the stage, and, bathed in a blue light, coaxed the crowd into repeating his moans of “Oh mah-mah-mah.” That’s the Mick we idolize, teasing the crowd and mumbling inchoate blues phrases; a proper rock star.

An admirable, if not particularly compelling cover of Ray Charles’ “Night Time Is the Right Time” followed “Rambler”, and then Mick took a breather while Keith performed the embarrassing new track “This Place Is Empty” (you try not to squirm when Keith sings “Come on/bare your breasts”) and the crowd-pleasing “Happy.” The show then moved into the Forty Licks segment, with stellar renditions of “Miss You,” “Start Me Up,” and a more fluid, less R&B “Get Off My Cloud” putting the crowd into a dancing frenzy. “Sympathy for the Devil” is more playful than menacing nowadays, and “Paint It Black” isn’t as terrifying without the context of the ’60s, but these songs were well-received nevertheless.

The Stones are in a tough position: They want to produce new music; we just want to hear the old stuff. This was evident throughout the night; the indifference was tangible during the three new tracks the band played. Yet when the Stones played the 37-year-old “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” a song from another time when America was locked in an unpopular war and our president was of questionable repute, the crowd cheered loudly and then proceeded to sing along.

Old? You bet. (“Mick don’t break your hip” one cheeky fan’s sign read.) Irrelevant? Hardly.

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