T-Mobile Arena Las Vegas, NV
October 22 2016
By Gary Blicksilver
Photos by Sharon Budman
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I had never seen The Rolling Stones. Not that I didn’t love their music, having bought Hot Rocks 1964-1971 early in my album collecting years, I just never placed them high on my “bands to see” list. For whatever reason…actually “the whatever” is an untruth…it was always simple economics. Whenever The Stones announced a tour, their ticket prices were always higher (in some cases, WAY higher) than any other act on the road at that given time. For the price of admission to a Stones show, I could see almost anyone else, two or three times. Now I had heard they were great, maybe even the greatest, like Ali was specifically to boxing and quite probably to sports in general, but I would live for years with this self-imposed exile from seeing them live and in-person.
Enter May 2016 and the news that The Stones, along with some other local talent, namely Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters, and The Who, were signing up for Desert Trip, which was to take place in October. Not being one for multi-day festivals, and having seen the other five acts – at least once, I didn’t even try for these “budget-busting” tickets. On the other hand, I kind of got the vibe that if I were ever going to see Mick & Company, time might not be on my side (pun completely intended).
Then the announcement of some post-Trip shows, culminating with a final one at the newT-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. So having never been to Vegas and having never seen The Stones, my photographer friend and I decided to bite the bullet and take an aeroplane out west.
Fast forward to the week of departure. I’m in the office talking with a co-worker about how Sir Michael Philip “Mick” Jagger, at age 73, is expecting his eighth child. When I went to check the age of his girlfriend (she’s 29, but that’s neither here nor there), I came across some rather disturbing news. The Stones were to play an earlier show on Wednesday, October 19 but had canceled the performance due to Jagger having been diagnosed with laryngitis and his doctors advising him to get some vocal rest. Damn! (What I actually said was worse.)
Taking a chance, we kept our travel plans intact and hoped for the best. The best came Saturday morning when we received confirmation that the evening’s show would go on as scheduled. My friend and I, along with Jagger and his bandmates Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood, were finally going to spend the night together!
Two last bits of intrigue before delving into the details:
- I recall sitting in the arena just prior to show time, thinking that I was not overly enthused…almost like I knew it was going to be good, but no better than any of the best shows I had ever seen.
- Being a Deadhead, I was slightly perturbed by the woman sitting several seats from us who felt the need to say aloud “I hope there are no Deadheads here tonight.”
And now we begin…
From what I would describe as a stone-age themed backdrop, something that might have been the portal on Star Trek’s “City on the Edge of Forever,” a booming voice uttered these famous words as had no doubt been uttered 1000’s of times before “LADIES AND GENTLEMAN…THE ROLLING STONES!!!”
And BOOM, my best neutral face was immediately sent packing as the band launched into “Jumping Jack Flash,” after which Jagger greeted the near sell-out crowd:
“Hi Las Vegas! It’s nice to be back here after all this time. It’s great to be playing
this brand new arena! It’s sort of like our Rat Pack tour…”
This segued into the familiar “ba da da da ba da da da da,” and the band dived into “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Okay, two for two, and they’re just getting started. With images of past performances on the big screen, “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” took us neatly to “Tumbling Dice” and images of “the tongue” morphing into what else – lucky dice! Added to this otherwise “best of” setlist was a cover of “Ride ‘Em On Down,” a song written by Eddie Taylor which will be appearing on The Stone’s upcoming album Blue & Lonesome. This was great blues, through and through.
Back to back classics came next in “Paint It Black” and “Honky Tonk Women,” with Jagger coming up with a Vegas-themed excuse for the band’s absence on Wednesday:
“I went to see David Copperfield, he made me disappear.”
Jagger was also joking at several times during the show about what Las Vegas might want to call their forthcoming NHL expansion team – “The Vegas Blackjacks” or maybe the “The Las Vegas Hookers” which earned him quite the applause. He also took some time to introduce the rest of the extended band:
Sasha Allen – backing vocals
Matt Clifford – keyboards, French horn
Karl Denson – saxophone
Bernard Fowler – backing vocals, percussion
Darryl Jones – bass guitar, backing vocals
Chuck Leavell – keyboards, backing vocals
Tim Ries – saxophone, keyboards
Under the guise of wanting to give Jagger a brief respite from vocal duties, Richards offered to sing “maybe three songs tonight, because of the situation.” These guys would play straight through the evening, so this was like an intermission – except when you consider that no one left their seats. The only time you saw people get up in any great numbers was to stand and cheer these rockers on!
With Richards taking the lead, the band, sans Jagger, worked through “Slipping Away,” “Little T & A” and “Happy.” Which brings me to the fun-facts part of our story:
Fun Fact #1 – Richards can sing! Not like Sinatra, but then again, Sinatra wasn’t really known for singing the blues.
Fun Fact #2 – Jagger plays guitar! And not like some country sorts who merely wear a guitar around their neck as if it were a hood ornament. He also plays the harmonica – a mean one!
Fun Fact #3 – Woods plays guitar – really, really well. The word I’m thinking of is SHRED!
And shred he did on a nearly twelve minute long version of “Midnight Rambler.” Jagger was back on and The Stones were settling into the sweet spot of the gig. The very danceable “Miss You” from Some Girls was next and served as a Top 40 break before the hard-core Vietnam era of “Gimme Shelter.” Backing vocalist Sasha Allen stepped into the limelight, and at the edge of the extended runway part of the stage, to go toe-to-toe with Jagger – It was truly incredible! Oh, and in as much as Jagger showed absolutely no trace of any recent illness, he also didn’t look like anything even remotely close to 60, let alone 73.
Another BOOM and “Start Me Up” kept the crowd singing and humming along. After a brief period of relative quiet, the stage, and the arena along with it, went red – blood red. With tattoo-like animation of satanic pentacles, goat heads, fire & brimstone and of course a horned Lucifer filling the screen, The Stones went into the classic “Sympathy for the Devil.” To close out the night’s core performance, they dipped into a little “Brown Sugar” from Sticky Fingers.
For the much-anticipated encore, the local Green Valley High School Choir joined them on stage to handle the “angelic” opening and closing of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Sounding the same as it ever was – originally from 1969’s Let It Bleed, this song was also featured in 1983’s period film The Big Chill. A second encore, completely worthy of its last-up status, and whose words are almost ingrained into the psyche of pretty much anyone who listens to any kind of music, was “Satisfaction.” This wrapped things up quite nicely.
A rolling stone gathers no moss, and after 50 years, the Rolling Stones, who in theory should be slowing down, are still at the top of their game and rocking with not the least bit of mossy friction. Which leads me back to my self-imposed prohibition and that line commonly credited to Sam Cutler: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World…The Rolling Stones!” After witnessing what I would now rank as THE best show I had ever seen, who am I to argue with that statement?
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