Last Night, a Rock Star Saved My Life?
I went to see the Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden last night. It was an astonishing show, and I have to especially thank my brother-in-law for the great seat. How great was it? We sat behind Donald Trump and his latest bit of stuff. He seemed to sleep through much of the show, and strikes me as the most inert human being I've ever seen. It doesn't seem like it even matters to him whether he's alive or not. But as good as the seat was, the sound was horrendous--no mid-range, all high-end distortion and buzz--so that it sounded like The Jesus and Mary Chain circa 1985. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
All of the hand-wringing about the band's age is beside the point. They're a band, they play music, and they play it with an incredible looseness and energy. That doesn't translate very well into other media--records and videos are never going to properly convey the experience. Given this, they would probably be better served by going the route of Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead: They should go out on the road semi-permanently, playing a different set every night without frills or pyro-technics, throwing in new songs as they come up with them, and recording them in sound checks and rehearsals once they're worked out on stage. They are moving in that direction with their expanded and more flexible repertoire and with a short set on a small stage like the pit in Elvis's 1968 television special.
The age of the band (as opposed to the band's members) is tangentially relevant in one respect. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the number of times the band has played a song and the energy that they convey through it. Less played songs like "Loving Cup" and "Can't You Hear Me Knockin' were a lot more fun than yet another rendition of "Satisfaction." And their newest song, "Don't Stop," was sunny and crisp. I don't remember ever hearing a song in an arena for the first time and actually liking it before. It reminded me that the simplest of music can lift you out of whatever you're stuck in, if it's played well enough.
In the end, the Rolling Stones will keep performing and people will keep enjoying it immensely as long as Charlie Watts remains as the foundation for all of the swirling sloppiness. The context has changed of course, but the Rolling Stones last night were no better or worse as performers than they were thirty years ago.