It’s easy to throw scorn at the juggernaut that is The Rolling Stones for being more ‘brand’ than band these days. No doubt the ageing rockers best years are behind them, but if you went to Croke Park on Thursday night in search of relevancy then you deserve to be hit on the head with greater force than when Keith Richards fell out of a coconut tree in 2006.
The Rolling Stones no longer need to concern themselves with popular trends or co-opting the hottest thing in rap to drop a few rhymes on their latest album. In 2018, The Stones, can just be The Stones.
And that’s exactly what the Rolling Stones present on the opening night of the No Filter Tour in Dublin. The don’t pretend to still be the young men who played Dublin for the first time in 1965. And while you wouldn’t find any chart relevancy onstage what you will find is testament to the endurance of the human spirit.
They emerge on stage with Sympathy For The Devil, It’s rather sedate until Keith Richards strikes the first primary chord and the volume swells to the appropriate level while Mick Jagger twirls centre-stage in a fabulous (naturally) long silver jacket.
His famous darlin’ voice is surprisingly on-point and remains so for the duration of the performance. The living caricature delivers a relentless performance; running, dancing and hip-shaking his way across every inch of both stage areas. Whether you like it or not, Jagger is still captivating and is a better frontman than many of the current crop of rock stars. In fact, his performance hammered home what’s missing from rock today – showmanship.
Sadly, not all members of the Rolling Stones live up to Jagger’s considerable standards. Keith Richard’s liberal interpretations of the material often constitutes half to three quarters of riffs being played faithfully followed by a jammed out ‘you didn’t see that coming’ curveball and the results can often be jarring.
In guitar terms, Ronnie Wood is left doing the heavy lifting, taking all of the faster and more complicated solos, while Richards chips in every now and then with an unaltered performance. By the end of the night you can’t help but feel that this version of The Rolling Stones is in reality the Jagger/Woods version.
Following a solid introduction (Tumbling Dice, Paint It Black) The Stones lose momentum somewhat with a blues section featuring songs from 2016’s ‘Blue & Lonesome’. These tracks showcase Jagger’s harmonica skills and pay homage to the music of the stones’ youth. The blues numbers are performed well, but they receive a courteous yet uninterested response from the crowd who accept that they will have to indulge the band whilst they attempt to shill them their latest fare.
The crowd voted Wild Horses, re-engages the crowd with Jagger joking that they’d tried to learn Whiskey In The Jar but it didn’t really work. Before Jagger takes to acoustic guitar for You Can’t Always Get What You Want. The blues well and truly out of their system the crowd lap up It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll and Honky Tonk Woman.
Jagger’s union mandated tea break sees Richards take lead vocals on a couple of numbers. Again this section of the show is less engaging and sees the group lose momentum once again with his rendition of The Worst from 1994’s ‘Voodoo Lounge’ falling particularly flat in this setting.
Jagger re-emerges to deliver a shot of adrenalin to Croke Park with Miss You, which benefits from the onset of darkness, allowing the stage visuals to really hit home for the first time. Instantly, Croker turns into a 1980’s style neon disco scene.
The performance of Midnight Rambler will have divided fans – this extended version felt almost eternal at times as Jagger stalked the stage leading the crowd through an extended call and response section. You could have nipped to the loo and bought a pint and returned safely to your seat during this section and Jagger would still be asking the crowd to say “oh yeah”.
Perhaps it was this shamanistic midsection of Midnight Rambler or the fact that Dublin was now under the cover of night, but The Stones seemed to click into another gear from there on out. A flawless Start Me Up, was followed by triumphant performances of Jumping Jack Flash and Brown Sugar. The opening strains of Gimme Shelter will have given goosebumps to many in attendance, (even if the female vocal performance that followed didn’t quite live up to the recorded version). Satisfaction closed out the style, with Jagger taking one last opportunity to prance remorsefully around the stage as only he can.
Marriages, presidents, wars and technology come and go, but The Rolling Stones remain, testing the limits of the rock ‘n’ roll dream. No longer the greatest, but still the greatest; a night for the bucket list, indeed.