The Rolling Stones review — reviving the classics, but not as you know them
Comerica Park, Detroit
With a stripped-down Stones who let the music do the talking, the Zip Code tour see sthe band willing to breathe new life into a time-honoured back catalogue
Mark Guarino in Detroit
Thursday 9 July 2015 12.46 EDT
Would the Mick Jagger who sang (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction in 1965 recognise the Mick Jagger who, 50 years later, sings (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction on Wednesday night in downtown Detroit?
Yes, the person is recognisable, but not so much the song. In this version at Comerica Park, the song’s swagger softens and then turns into something else entirely. This incarnation of Satisfaction ends up in a marathon vamp that sees the riff stretching out endlessly. Happen to enjoy (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction? The Stones are eager to carve you off a monster slice.
The Rolling Stones are once again lapping the US and Canada in a summer tour that nods at a seminal album in their golden period (Sticky Fingers from 1971) while allowing fans to once again hear a time-honoured back catalogue of songs. This Zip Code tour is once again selling familiarity, like most latter-day Stones tours, and while there are few surprises in the setlist, this time something is different.
The two-and-a-quarter-hour show is not a sprint, but feels more like a bluesy stroll through many songs the band do not feel as obligated to present as beloved antiques. Unlike past tours, this one discards spectacular gimmicks like inflatables, pyrotechnics or stage props. Many of the 19 songs played are expanded for solos or brief, cutting sessions between guitarists Ron Wood and Keith Richards.
All night Jagger prowls the wings of the stage, as well as a catwalk that stretches into the infield of the downtown ballpark. For Moonlight Mile however, he stays put in front of a microphone where, instead of feeling obliged to shout familiar choruses to rev up his audience, shows his strength as a nuanced vocalist as the song swirls psychedelically. For Midnight Rambler, Jagger naturally races around the stage, but he also pays homage to the band’s deep roots in Chicago blues, taking long harmonica solos, one a counterpoint to licks firing from Wood’s slide guitar. The song stretches forward as Jagger hums Sittin’ On Top of the World, the traditional blues standard, before emulating the groans of his hero, Muddy Waters.
All Down the Line is another highlight with Wood’s guitar in a call-and-response with the two-person horn section. Later, as the song grows, Richards joins him and the two guitarists talk with each another through their instruments, then overlapping one another in an ecstatic bit of musicianship that has even Charlie Watts cracking a wide smile.
These aren’t total reinventions, but they do breathe new life into the Stones’ jukebox of classics. This is a band with good reasons to have the blues; it’s the first tour without longtime saxophonist Bobby Keys who was key to their classic sound and who died from liver cirrhosis last year. The band is also on its first extended run since the death of L’Wren Scott, Jagger’s partner.
Guitarist Mick Taylor, who performed on Sticky Fingers, was the linchpin to the Stones’ last tour as his guest turns refreshed the most familiar material and were a living touchtone for Exile on Main Street, the 1972 album they reissued around that time. But unlike that revisiting of Exile, the Stones only graze Sticky Fingers, playing just three songs and none of the swampier material.
Richards, who fell briefly during the group’s stop in Indianapolis last weekend, has a two-song solo spot, but his voice is shaky and on Before They Make Me Run, leans on support from longtime backup singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler.
As with Chicago, the music of Detroit was instrumental to the Stones’ early sound. “A lot of people have influenced us from here,” jokes Jagger. “Bob Seger, Eminem, Kid Rock …” But the inevitable nod to Motown comes when the band play Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), the Temptations’ signature song.
Jagger proves a restless showman who knows no rest in his hip-shaking, stage-strutting and finger-wagging. For Sympathy For the Devil, he dons a long red-feathered cape, looking more like Big Bird than Lucifer incarnate. While the costume may have not conjured up any bad juju, it does once again show the great lengths Jagger goes to in order to make the sale.