Local classic rock fans have been treated to a dizzying array of legendary musical performers over the past year. Starting last fall and winter with farewell concerts by Paul Simon and Elton John, followed by Sir Paul McCartney earlier this summer, all at the New Orleans Arena. That doesn't even include the bands that graced the stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which was originally supposed to feature a special engagement by the Rolling Stones.
Thousands of Stones fans camped out overnight in front of the Superdome for a chance to pay $185 for the special Jazz Fest performance which was subsequently postponed due to a heart procedure for front-man Mick Jagger. Honoring their commitment to play in New Orleans for the first time in twenty-five years, the band rescheduled for the Superdome on July 14th. With torrential rain forecast from Hurricane Barry, the concert was postponed one more day, and finally Stones fans got to see Mick, Keith, Ronnie, Charlie and a professional backing band led by Daryl Jones on bass, Karl Denson on sax, and keyboardist Chuck Leavell.
The show opened with a terrific performance by Ivan Neville's Dumpstafunk backed by the brass band Soul Rebels. With Ivan on keyboards and cousin Ian on lead guitar, the band showed that they were capable of filling the cavernous arena with aplomb. The opening act was probably payback for Ivan Neville, who played keyboards on two Stone's albums in the late eighties and early nineteens, as well as toured with Keith Richards' side project X-Pensive Winos.
After a forty-five-minute break, the Rolling Stones took the stage and belted out the opening refrain for Jumping Jack Flash. It didn't take long for the band to hook the crowd in, especially those who were in the pit enclosures at the front of the stage and to the side of the long catwalk. Those that showed up early enough in the General Admission area were gifted upgrades in the pit, and I was lucky enough to grab one of those wristbands. Lucky for me because my actual seat was behind the sound system at the end of the catwalk, leaving me with an obstructed view. I managed to bounce back to the seat for a front row view of an acoustic version of "Angie" and "Dead Flowers," performed by the original four members of the band. The synergy of the band took off from there as they segued into "Sympathy for the Devil," "Honky Tonk Woman," and "Slippin' Away." While these songs featured competent licks by Keith Richards, it was Ronnie Wood who handled most of the heavy lifting during the show. Keith managed the vocals on "Slippin' Away," but it wouldn't have made anyone's highlights from the show.
The biggest highlights came from Jagger who can still move around the stage and catwalk with his tongue sticking out and his lithe frame jiggling to the music. He'll be seventy-six years old next week, but you would never know it by the energy he brought to the show last night, especially as the show wore on. He was quick with quips about his hurrication, Woods and Watts's trip to Preservation Hall, and his missing out on jambalaya, crawfish and beignets because he was stuck in his hotel room eating room service for four days. The one hour and forty-five minute set ended in fine form with "Start Me Up," and "Brown Sugar." The encore didn't disappoint, as the band came back out and smoked through "Gimme Shelter," and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."
Of course, with a band like the Stones who have a fifty-year catalog of classic songs, every show is going to miss out on a few favorites. But it's certainly welcoming that the band plays a different setlist in every city, unlike the cookie cutter shows of Simon, John, and McCartney. While there will be people that missed out on the opportunity to see the band at the 50th anniversary of Jazz Fest, I'll venture to say that this show lived up to the hype and expectations. I'm not sure if the No Filter tour would have translated to the outdoor setting of the festival, especially if the temperatures had soared past ninety degrees.
The way the Stones sounded last night, I'm sure most of the crowd would love the opportunity to see these guys play again in New Orleans. It's unlikely to be another twenty-five years if they do.