Photo by Roxanne R. Haynes
The ageless wonder that is the Rolling Stones brought their “50 and Counting” Tour to the TD Garden in Boston on Wednesday night and any doubts audience members may have had about their ability to rock on the verge of turning 70 (or beyond 70 in the case of drummer Charlie Watts) were put to rest as soon as rhythm guitarist Keith Richards started chugging out the brawny riff of set opener “Get Off Of My Cloud.”
The rest of the band followed his lead, with vocalist Mick Jagger shimmying his way around a large stage shaped like the Rolling Stones’ tongue logo and singing in a voice that sounded the best it has in years. The trademark nasal rasp is intact but Jagger seemed to be singing in a higher register than he has been able to reach on recent tours.
The high energy level remained constant throughout the band’s set, which lasted close to two-and-half hours including a three-song encore. Lead guitarist Ronnie Wood deftly wove solos and leads around and between Richards’ patented killer riffs, while guest guitarist (and Wood’s predecessor) Mick Taylor displayed amazingly nimble fretwork on an uptempo version of “Sway,” an extended blues stomp through “Midnight Rambler” and show closer “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Drummer Charlie Watts kept impeccable time as always, staying slightly but precisely behind the beat, while bassist Darryl Jones kept things funky and moving.
This stop on the tour lived up to the “50 and Counting” name, offering a musical journey throughout the long and varied five-decade career of the Stones. The band’s did its late 70s-early 80s disco era proud with hypnotic renderings of “Miss You” and “Beast of Burden” and perhaps the night’s biggest crowd-pleaser, a straight, non-ironic take on the 1980 dance classic “Emotional Rescue.” Jagger was clearly pleased to deliver the high-pitched opening vocals as well as the throaty spoken interlude but did not camp it up (at least by his admittedly high standards), and Jones displayed serious chops during a pulsating bass solo.
Other highlights, and there were many, included Wood and Richards pulling out acoustic guitars on Richards’ country-tinged 1969 ballad “You Got the Silver,” with Wood demonstrating his slide mastery while Richards showed the tender side of his rock n roll animal persona with a raggedly heartfelt turn at singing. Backup vocalist Lisa Fischer channeled her inner Merry Clayton and impressed the crowd with her strong dueting with Jagger during a spooky and intense “Gimme Shelter,” and the band changed up its performance of regular set closer “Sympathy for the Devil” by starting off with only keyboard, drums and bass and then having Richards triumphantly charge in with the song’s legendary guitar riff as Jagger began singing the first refrain of the “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name” chorus.
The Boston University Marsh Chapel Choir did an outstanding job kicking off the encore by singing the choral intro to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which was followed by the two must-play anthems “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Satisfaction.” Richards flubbed the beginning of “Satisfaction” and had to start over, leading Jagger to humorously yell out “What was that number again?”
Humor was also on display when legendarily silent Charlie Watts came up from his drumkit and stood in front of the mic during the band introductions, only to smile and walk away without saying anything. And Jagger taunted the crowd about the Blackhawks-Bruins Stanley Cup playoff series which was starting that night before pulling out a number 50 Bruins jersey with his name on the back.
There were a few low points – the two new songs “Doom and Gloom” and “One More Shot” were played well but didn’t really add to the evening – and guest performer Gary Clark Jr. seemed underutilized with his guest spot on a cover of the Don Nix classic “I’m Goin’ Down.” A turn on a more familiar Stones blues cover like “Little Red Rooster” might have better displayed Clark’s formidable guitar talents and gotten the crowd more engaged.
However, on the whole this was an excellent show and the Stones seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves on stage more than they have on recent tours. When even noted sourpuss Charlie Watts has some fun with the audience, you know the band is having a good time. The Stones are charging exorbitant prices on this tour but at least for this performance, they delivered. If “50 and Counting” does turn out to be the last time for the Stones, they’re not going down but going out on a high note.