MSN Music Blog - Reverb

Stones stateside: Rolling with time's changes

The iconic rockers' second U.S. anniversary gig focuses on essence

By MSN Music Partners Dec 14, 2012 2:09AM
By Alan Light
Special to MSN Music

Before Thursday night's concert by the Rolling Stones at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey — the band's second U.S. appearance on its "50 and Counting" mini-tour, following two shows in London — there was widespread speculation about possible guest stars: Would Eric Clapton or Paul McCartney or any of the other headliners at the previous night's "12-12-12" benefit show stop by? Would the bonus attractions already announced for Saturday night's pay-per-view special (Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, the Black Keys), broadcasting live from this same venue, want to try a dress rehearsal? In the end, though, this was the night that maintained the tightest focus on the Stones themselves, resulting in what seemed to be the band's loosest playing of this run.


Opening with 1965's "Get Off Of My Cloud," with Mick Jagger resplendent in a gray-and-white checked blazer and fedora, the set's 22 songs mostly stayed close to the structure of the three prior shows. The first section featured some of the Stones's earliest hits—"The Last Time," "Paint It, Black" — before settling into an array of the late '60s/early '70s classics that constitute the peak of their work.


One highlight was a blistering version of "Gimme Shelter"; where the last three stops featured Mary J. Blige (twice) and Florence Welch singing the female vocal originally recorded by Merry Clayton, this time longtime back-up vocalist Lisa Fischer took the part. The entire band benefited from not having the distraction of an unfamiliar voice on stage (and the advantage of someone who actually knows the song), and all locked into a glorious, soaring groove.


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That song was followed by the night's only outside visitor, John Mayer. "You think we're gonna do a blues, right?," Jagger teased the audience. "Well, we're not." Instead, they launched into "Respectable" from the “Some Girls” album, one of the band's most primitive garage-rockers. Mayer ripped a high-octane solo, which was dazzling but almost too good for the song's simplicity. Keith Richards responded with a chugging Chuck Berry-style lick, and he killed Mayer in two chords.


It was a high point for the Stone who is most showing his age. While Richards' guitar work is stronger than the shocking state it had reached by the end of the band's last tour, you can feel him having to struggle to keep up. He sometimes muffed even the most elemental intros, and where he once was always the engine driving the band — locking eyes with Charlie Watts to direct the tempo, pushing Jagger and the other musicians with fills that propelled the songs — now he mostly stays relatively still and keeps to himself, contributing but not directing.

As a result, Ronnie Wood is more important to the Stones than he ever has been. The guy is never going to be the world's greatest guitar player, but his versatility  his ability to shift from rhythm to lead, play slide or even lap steel — picks up the slack now left by Richards' limitations. Keith's vocal spotlight, back-to-back performances of "Before They Make Me Run" and "Happy" with impressively strong singing, both turned into showcases for Wood's fretwork.

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One song on which Richards shined was the night's most surprising addition, a cover of Chuck Berry's "Around and Around" that was selected in a "fan request" vote. Though Jagger chuckled when he read the choice — "That's an old one! Do you even remember that one?" — he sang and danced with a fever that was still recognizable from the group's first days as a blues and R&B cover band, and Richards responded with evidence that he's still Berry's greatest acolyte. "That was good fun," Jagger said at the song's end.


But the undeniable climax of the show was an epic version of "Midnight Rambler," featuring one-time Rolling Stone Mick Taylor in his first appearance with the band on U.S. soil since 1981. While Taylor's waistline was a bit shocking next to the rail-thin Jagger, Richards, and Wood, and though he tried to pack too many ideas into his one number, his presence elevated the performance of the entire band on their incomparable "blues opera."


Jagger's vocal delivered some of the genuine menace that once defined his style, and the band played with a force that illustrated the revolutionary way in which they actually reshaped the blues into an entirely new and distinctive music. For perhaps the only time all night, they weren't just reminding us of the Rolling Stones magic, they were truly creating it. "Rambler" also showed what the band was capable of when they had a true lead guitarist.


Gallery: The Rolling Stones through the years 

The set closed with a "Sympathy for the Devil" that teetered on the edge of chaos. While most singers lose their upper register as they get older, Jagger seems to have lost some of his low notes, and felt like he was struggling to find the right key. Richards' spiky guitar solos never quite took shape, and the song cut off abruptly. But a triumphant three-song encore included a slashing, stunning "Jumpin' Jack Flash"—one of those great Stones performances when the band grabs hold of a groove and just doesn't want to let go, growing more ferocious until you hope they'll keep playing it for hours. At 69, Jagger is nothing short of freakish, gathering strength as the show stretched on past the two-hour mark (and donning and stripping off an endless parade of sequined jackets of various color and length).


How long can the Rolling Stones go on? What is still left to conquer, as their unprecedented career as a band enters its sixth decade? Like the song says, could this be the last time? There's no way to know, since there's no one who has ever done what these guys have done. For now, all we can do is tune in tomorrow.

Rolling Stones setlist  (via

Get Off of My Cloud
The Last Time
It's Only Rock n Roll (But I Like It)
Paint it Black
Gimme Shelter
Respectable (with John Mayer)
Wild Horses
Around and Around (Chuck Berry Cover)
Doom and Gloom
One More Shot
Miss You
Honky Tonk Women
Before They Make Me Run
Midnight Rambler
Start Me Up
Tumbling Dice
Brown Sugar
Sympathy for the Devil

You Can't Always Get What You Want
Jumpin' Jack Flash
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Alan Light is the co-author of Gregg Allman's best-selling memoir "My Cross to Bear." A regular contributor to MSN Music, he is the former editor-in-chief of Vibe and SPIN magazines. He is the director of programming for the public television concert series "Live From the Artists Den," and contributes frequently to The New York Times and Rolling Stone. Alan is a two-time winner of ASCAP's Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music writing.

* AP photos
Dec 15, 2012 6:02AM
I don't know why people feel a need to disrespect the Stones for being older.

I saw and spoke with blues legend Honeyboy Edwards when he performed live some years back at a small local music club. Even though he was over 90 at the time he put on a great show, playing his music from decades ago while taking some time out to speak about his friend Robert Johnson who he played and traveled with in the south back in the 1930's.

There's no expiration date on people as when they should stop doing whatever thing they are into.

Dec 14, 2012 4:19PM
Greatest R&R band in the world. Say what you want about them, but you have to have "something" to be still performing after 50 years. I don't see any performer today that has the staying power these guys have. Ga Ga? Give me a break!
Dec 14, 2012 2:46PM

I saw the band in 78, richards was hung over, saw them in 81 they were magic, the best ever, saw them in 91 they were great as ever. The Stones are the worlds greatest Rock n

Roll band. No one will ever come close! Richards is proof that drugs are not bad for you!

Dec 14, 2012 2:39PM

HEY standupamericans & Pee Party Member,


The Stones Rocked!!! There is not another band ON THE PLANET as good as the Stones on a bad night OR day! Attitude, Rude, Smug, Entitled...yep that's you! Reading your comments here I see you are the Dumbed-Down & Left Behind 20-30 Moron Generation, the XY Whiners who don't have a CLUE about Life, Love OR Rock & Roll. 

Your "parents" taught you nothing, your schools taught you how to cheat on test and how to google and **** your way thru life. Your jealous! Over people who are more talented, smarter and older than you and you are sickening! Next time the Stones or any other TRUE Rock & Roll Band are playing please stay home and turn-off your TV and your PC. All your thoughts suck and so do you! Check YOUR've got more Thumbs Down than ANYONE!   


NOW SIT DOWN and SHUT-UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dec 14, 2012 2:09PM
I saw the Stones way back in the early eighties in Buffalo, NY in Rich Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills. Just an unbelievable concert. Having grown up a Beatles fan. the Stones were always "that other British group". After this show, I was sold on them, too.  Warm up acts included Journey (Steve Perry} and George Thorogood. Satisfaction guaranteed. 
Dec 14, 2012 2:08PM
The Who (all two of them) knocked the socks off every other band on the 121212 stage. Loved the tribute to Keith Moon, wish they'd done the same for John Entwhistle, but hey. Next time. I saw The Doors, The Who and Frank Zappa and the Mothers back in the day, probably the best live acts (along with Ike and Tina and Buddy Guy &Junior Wells) I ever personally saw.  And I don't use no vulgar 3-letter words (starting with "O").
Dec 14, 2012 1:35PM
I've been buying enjoying Stones music for the whole scene.  Even listened to them in Viet Nam in 1966.  I've been to more than one of their concerts and I will treasure the memories.  Having said that, It's time to retire and enjoy what remains.  That's what I'm doing anyway.  "This could be the last time".
Dec 14, 2012 1:29PM
Quit giving "The Chucker" Chuck Berry (no offense Mr. Berry) credit for licks he ripped from Pee Wee Crayton.
Dec 14, 2012 1:15PM
Fifty years from now, will anyone be singing Lady Gaga songs in the shower?? How about 50 Cent, or Perry or Cyrus or Bieber? Just wondering.
Dec 14, 2012 1:07PM
What do Steven Spielberg and The Stones have in common?? They both made millions using dinosaurs.
Dec 14, 2012 12:45PM
I'm glad that Mick Taylor had a spot with the far as Keef's ability to play now vs the 6 years the Stones had Taylor, is probibly a wash. Taylor was doing the heavy lifting while Keef had his little health problems. I could stand in and play Keef's stuff if I cut the botom e string off my tele and tuned down to open whatever
Dec 14, 2012 12:40PM
Looks like Keith Richards forgot to take off his Hobbit costume....

" Im disappointed in micks attitude at sandy 12 12 12 concert."


I didn't stay long enough to see The Stones. I tuned in to see the last 30 seconds of Springsteen  perform before he spent over 5 minutes bragging about his Jersey Wh0res.....................and had to turn on something else.


Yes, I realize that it was a "benefit concert" but surely everybody who tuned in (or was there) knew this. It doesn't have to be talked about after EVERY song.


Just play & sing. You are SUPPOSE to be entertainers.

Dec 14, 2012 12:28PM
I think it's great that they are still performing.  Rock and roll isn't just for the young and beautiful. I saw them on their "Bigger Bang Tour" and thought they were worth every penny they've ever earned.   A true musician doesn't ever stop making music.
Dec 14, 2012 12:18PM

Rock and Roll doesn't die. it goes on tour.  I say keep it up Mick and Keef, I would much rather listen to the Rolling Stones put on a decent live show than this crap they call Rock and Roll these days, with its auto-tuned vocals and computer generated guitar "tones", give me a break...


Thank God I have great parents or I would be another confused youth thinking Nickelback is cool....

Dec 14, 2012 12:15PM
Always liked the Stones.  Love Richards, great guy. Saw Ronnie Wood with the Small Faces as well, great player.  Saw them twice, once early '70's then Voodoo Lounge tour, but, the cost of tickets is way to high these days.  But, they were never the "World's Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band." That title goes to the Moody Blues, but, then like Rodney Dangerfield, they don't get no respect, after all the Hall of Fame has ignored them in favor of Gun's'n'Roses.  Shows where things are at these days.
Dec 14, 2012 11:58AM
The Stones are now a bunch of old gray headed men pretending they're 25 years old again. Keith is already dead.....he just don't know it yet. Jagger has got more crevices in his face than the Rocky Mountains. My goodness, they had their 50 years of fame, fortune, women and God knows what else. Its time to retire and take it easy and enjoy what time they have left. I'm 63 and I still play and sing but I don't gig anymore. You know, there comes a time in everybody's life when enough is enough and they're bodies have about had all they can take. C'mon Grandpa Mick, give it up and enjoy your family and your multi old fart!
Dec 14, 2012 11:56AM
Nothing much has changed.  I saw the Stones in 1978 during their "Some Girls" tour and Jumping Jack Flash is still probably the best song I've ever heard live and I've seen a heck of a lot of shows.
Dec 14, 2012 11:42AM
Saw them in a London Suburb in the Fall of 1963 playing at a Football Club. They were insane. Jagger was up on a beam, The Smoke was so thick you could cut it, everyone was stoned. Jagger was even uglier then, then he is now. Knew they would be great. It was a time of the Beatles, Teddy Boys, Razors in Shoes, a Mad MAd World which we now look at as Sane..... Nuf Said..
Dec 14, 2012 11:38AM
The first concert I ever went to was to see the Stones at MSG in '69. At one time they were what they always billed themself as, the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world. I watched them on the Sandy benefit concert. It was sad to see. The music they write now is just a rehash of everything they've done for the last 20 years. They're well past their prime, just a bunch of old men trying too hard to hang on to their past.  They really should hang it up.
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