Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Rolling Stones - San Siro Stadium, Milan, 21 June 2022

I don’t much like stadium shows, to be honest.  Spending an arm and a leg to see performers strutting their stuff maybe 100 metres away, or more likely watching them on a very large TV screen, isn’t really my kind of gig.
But once in a blue moon I make an exception.  Somehow, I’ve never seen the Stones before.  That’s partly down to the above issues, and also a case of never the right place and time.  So this is a bucket list thing, right?  If that’s not an insensitive comment in the wake of Charlie Watts passing away at the start of the year.
Just yer average little Stones club gig for Keef'n'Woody

When the lights go down, the show kicks off with a montage of Charlie on the big screens, accompanied by a thumping backbeat.  Then the handbrake is yanked off and they fairly rip into ‘Street Fighting Man’.  It’s a day-glo opening, all turquoise and pink and topped off by Keef’s bright yellow tea-cosy hat. Ronnie Wood is spiv-like with slicked-back hair, while Jagger is out of the blocks and immediately rallying the troops. And you know what?  They actually sound good.  That may sound like a weird thing to say about “the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world”, but I’ve heard about them being, er, sonically challenged on occasion.
“Ciaoo Milanoooo!” Mick howls as they conclude the opener.  It’s the first of his numerous excursions into Italian, and as mechanical and Deptford-nasal as they sometimes sound, the natives lap them up.  Meanwhile Keith and Woody are thick as thieves, facing off and perhaps getting themselves in synch.  But after a while they cut the cord and Ronnie wanders and capers further afield, while Keith hugs the drum riser.  Here he is, one of the most famous plank-spankers in the business, but for long spells his profile is low (yellow hat notwithstanding); ego-free, if you like, just getting on with the job, fidgeting away at extra textures to the sound.
Still, his voice may be a raggedy old thing, but he delights in adding some decent harmonies on the phones-aloft moment of ‘Wild Horses’.  And if his later lead vocal on ‘Connection’ is a bit ropey he’s rather more at home inbetween, in a Dylan-esque fashion, when he and Ronnie take to the acoustic blues of ‘You Got The Silver’.
A few songs in they drag ‘Out Of Time’ from the vaults, and turn it into a swaying, Latin-ated singalong, with a ker-thunking beat from Steve Jordan and lots of bum-wiggling from Jagger.  In the best possible way, it’s a complete hoot.  And you gotta think, a band that can pull out an old chestnut like this, and turn it into a highlight, have maybe got a little somethin’ going for them.
When you get down to brass tacks, and when they’re on form like this, the Stones are the ultimate singles band.  Yeah, folk can burble on about Exile On Main Street being a masterpiece if they like.  And maybe not every song has been a chart hit.  But still, this is a party led by a band with their own personal jukebox the size of a lorry, many a song being greeted with squeals of delight from its iconic opening bars.
‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ is a case in point, right from its French horn intro.  There are lovely organ fills, a cracking Ronnie Wood solo, and then it reaches anthemic
"Ciaooo Milanooooo!"
Pic courtesy of Corriere Milano
altitude before surging into a gospel wig-out.  And when Chuck Leavell starts whacking a cowbell everyone knows instantly it heralds ‘Honky Tonk Women’, on which Keef takes a front seat, aided by rattling piano from Leavell and some honking sax to boot.  Meanwhile ‘Miss You’ is all about Mick throwing some shapes to the bass groove, and for all it’s branded as a disco excursion the rhythm plotted by Steve Jordan is more tricksy than straight four-on-the-floor.
The signature sound of interweaving guitars gets revved up going down the stretch though.  There’s a tense guitar’n’harp opening to ‘Midnight Rambler’ – I’ve got no idea how good Jagger is as a harmonica player, but he convinces me.  Woody chips in with a splintering solo as the tempo rises, then he gets together with Keith for a spell of typical cross-riffing, before the latter stalks Mick down the catwalk to add to the song’s sense of menace, then they slip in a brief chorus of Robert Johnson’s ‘Come On In My Kitchen’.
Keef leans forward to deliver the opening chords of ‘Start Me Up’, igniting the crowd big time, and ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ is alive with different elements, from the samba-style percussion (I dunno my samba from my salsa, but you get the idea), to Keef’s angular licks, and the criss-crossing guitars as it progresses.  Then Keith chops out the riff to ‘Jack Flash’, possibly the crowning glory of that churning, counterpointing two-guitar sound.
There are encores, course there are.  It’s striking just how structurally simple ‘Gimme Shelter’ actually is, but boy oh boy is its drama heightened by the classic, ball-busting female vocal part, here delivered by the tiny, sparkling Channelle Hayes, going toe-to-toe with Jagger and then some. Then they bring down the curtain with ‘Satisfaction’, with Jagger scarcely needing to conduct any singalong – the “Hey hey hey, that’s what I say” line being an especially convulsive trigger for crowd participation.
I’m no diehard fan, with a completist album collection and campaign medals from tours aplenty.  But hey hey hey, I say this was a rockin’ good show, and it’s worth considering that they could probably have replaced three-quarters of the set list without any drop in entertainment value.  Okay, they may not be, and may never have been, all that profound.  But the Stones are indeed, and will always be, a rock’n’roll band of the very first order.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great review, Mr C. Saw them 3 or 4 times. Around Exile & Goats HS, they were my favourite band. Always a great show.