Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Rolling Stones continue to amaze in their first performance since Charlie Watts’ death

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Watts’ death last August threatened to turn the Stones’ decades-long career upside down – but last night proved nothing can stop them

The quiet man of the group, he would not have been the bookies’ darling to die first of the gang; Without bandmates Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood’s superhuman appetite for hedonism, and without the time that seemed to briefly catch up with Mick Jagger in 2019, when a routine health insurance company indicated the need for urgent heart surgery.

At some point it had to happen. Last night’s Rolling Stones show at Anfield was their first in the UK in four years, their first in Liverpool since 1971 but, importantly, their first since the death of Charlie Watts, who was their drummer for an uninterrupted 58 years.

Still, Watts’ death last August threatened to upend the Stones’ decades-long collaboration, and particularly their Dylanesque commitment to annual touring since they returned to the streets to celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2012.

His bandmates had often spoken of him, not just as the human metronome, but as the band’s cornerstone, whose unwavering demeanor helped anchor things on and off stage. Yet Watts, a lifelong plain language speaker, knew the reality; “I think they could get another drummer,” he said NME in February 2018.

And so it is proven. Watt’s longtime understudy, Steve Jordan, has already been confirmed when he fell ill last year; Now he’s settled in as a full-time replacement. His first gig in the UK opened with a moving two-minute montage by Watts last night, and it’s a testament to how many years he’s served in the band that they’ve been able to find so much footage of the normally stoic stick figure smiles and laughs .

And then the opening songs of “Street Fighting Man” played out, Jagger exploded down the runway in the old fashioned way, and it was all business as usual. The frontman took a moment after three songs to pay a brief tribute to Watts, but after that, things went full steam ahead, in a way that will be familiar to anyone who follows them on the UK leg of the No Filter tour met in 2018; first half carefully curated little things, second half the biggest hits.

Watts’ absence is conspicuous in a more subtle way. Jordan is a great player and one who harmonizes with the bombast of the rest of the group; Thunderous drum fills and an innate physicality define his style, which reminds us how endearingly out of place the understated Watts always was as a member of the Stones.

The leftist decision to include the 1966 deep cut ‘Out of Time’ in the setlist – last night’s broadcast was the very first in the UK – perhaps also suggests that the group is looking back wistfully on their formative years. For his part, Jagger turned it into a surprisingly breezy singalong before tipping his hat to one-time rivals The Beatles by covering “I Wanna Be Your Man” for the first time in 100 years. “We had been practicing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,'” he joked, “but we thought we’d do one by some local guys instead.”

He remains the consummate showman. Given last night’s evidence, you begin to wonder what it would take to stop the Stones. Wood, the baby of the remaining core three-piece at just 75, has recovered from a battle with lung cancer and looked as sprightly as ever when he engaged in his signature “guitar weaving” with the evergreen Richards, about who We Should Us still worrying about the kind of world we’re going to leave him.

And then there’s Jagger, who continues to defy the understood laws of time and physiology. Last night he was a symphony in constant motion, hurtling up and down a runway that reached about the center circle on Anfield Field, his pelvis as supple as ever, coaxing spectators half his age to match his movements. His devoted adherence to a grueling fitness regimen is well-documented and it clearly continues to work its magic, but it’s worth noting that his voice too has remained untouched by the ravages of 60 years on the road.

The second half of the set was blockbuster stuff no matter how many times you’ve heard it. The highlight was “Midnight Rambler”, which might have been more aptly titled “Bohemian Rhapsody in Blues”; between Richards’ mastery of six strings and Jagger’s virtuoso harmonica playing, it embodies everything the couple loves about the genre, which first brought them together as teenagers in 1961 on platform two of Dartford station.

Elsewhere, “Paint It Black” still thunders, a jittery reflection on Vietnam-era tensions that sadly feels as relevant today as ever, as does “Gimme Shelter,” with its chorus of “War, Children, It is fair”. one shot away.” They closed with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” which Jagger famously said he didn’t want to sing anymore by the time he was 40. He’s 78 now and looks like he could keep going until he’s 100.

Without Watts, they’re not quite the same; not diminished, exactly, but different. he is missing Nonetheless, the Stones continue to roll into an amazing seventh decade together as a band.

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