The Rolling Stones are old. Mick and Keith are 71, Charlie Watts is 74, and Ronnie Wood (with the band since 1975) is the band’s spring chicken at just 68.
There’s no getting around it: The Rolling Stones are old men playing at a young man’s game. They’re rock stars, members of the self-proclaimed greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll band in the world, and they’ve been at it pretty consistently since 1962. Their current “Zipcode” Tour, which includes stadium stops in Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Nashville, will no doubt bring in revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars. They put this kind of thing together every couple of years.
And the going wisdom is that the Stones are little more than a novelty act at this point, cashing in on a legacy that they don’t really have the power to live up to anymore.
It’s an easy assumption to make. I mean, some of the lines in Keith Richards’ face look like not-so-distant cousins of the Marianas Trench, and when Adam Levine sang about having “moves like Jagger,” I doubt too many of us conjured up images of Mick’s septuagenarian self. But though the jokes are easy to make, that doesn’t make them right.
We have in our minds the images of rock stars as young people, defiant and brash, and there’s something that seems strange about these rebels easing into the role of the establishment. Our brains reject it, and we’re left to convince ourselves that the real versions of groups like the Stones (the ones left mostly intact after squabbles and death have taken their toll) ceased to exist about the time they released their last great album (for the Stones, that would be 1981’s Tattoo You). Whoever it is that walks out onto stages after that is more or less a historical artifact: cool to have seen, but ultimately only a relic of a more vital, more exciting time.
Of course, it’s true that the Stones aren’t making genre-defining records any more (though their last studio album, 2007’s A Bigger Bang is a better than solid effort). And it’s also true that their shows never stray too far from the well-established hits and crowd favorites mostly written and recorded in the ’60s and ’70s. But as far as reasons to denigrate or avoid The Rolling Stones go, those are pretty terrible.
Would you be less likely to buy a dining room table from a master woodworker who was in his 70s? Would you giggle at him because he spent most of his time honing skills and tweaking designs he’d learned 40 or 50 years ago? I mean, you could, but you’d miss out on a pretty freaking great table for no good reason. Why is it that we treat rock musicians differently than people of almost any other profession? Is it because The Who’s Roger Daltrey once sang that he hope he’d die before he got old and we got it in our heads that age costs our rock idols something essential? Is youth really the primary ingredient in musical excellence?
On that point, I’d like to enter into evidence a show played May 30, 2015 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. Nineteen songs, more than two hours, 70,000 screaming fans, and seemingly boundless energy. It was my second time seeing the Stones (first since 2008), and I can testify before the ladies and gentlemen assembled here that they would like to not-so-politely offer a middle finger to your notions that they’re spent. Mick worked every inch of the stage, which spanned the width of Ohio Stadium and extended more than a hundred feet into the center of the audience. Keith made “Gimme Shelter” and “Sympathy for the Devil” as fearsome and towering as they’ve ever been. Ronnie splashed his own fair share of guitar prowess around the stage, still doing it with a cigarette tucked between the pinky and ring fingers of his pick hand. Charlie, forever unflappable, held everything together like he’s been doing it his whole life (which, of course, he has).
It was a sight to behold. More importantly, it was a sound to behold as well. Mick never had the most dynamic range to begin with, so he’s never really had to adjust how he sings (or the songs’ keys) to mask the natural effects of aging on his vocal cords. When he sings “Wild Horses,” it sounds like he’s singing it in 1971. And I can promise you than none of the instruments know that the men playing them qualify for discounted movie tickets.
I say all that (all 750 words of it) to say this: if you’ve ever wished you’d been born earlier so you could have seen the Rolling Stones in their prime, stop wishing and buy a ticket. I’ve seen recordings of some of those old shows. The band rolled onstage at 11:00, one bottle of Jack down, another awaiting them onstage, and stumbled hoarsely through shambolic, heroin-numbed tunes for an hour and a half before calling it a night.
Sometimes, the good ol’ days aren’t as good as we’ve been led to believe. If you’re worried that you’d be losing something by not seeing these guys at the peak of their rebellious run as the greatest live band in the world, consider this: every time they step onstage nowadays, they’re still rebelling. Against the notion that they should’ve gone out in a blaze of glory sometime 30 years ago. Against the jokes people make about their cash-grab, glorified-cover-band aspirations. Against the creeping reality that one day, they will actually have to stop. Because that day is coming. But it is not this day.
The Rolling Stones are old. There’s no getting around it. But they’ve spent these twilight years honing their craft, fine-tuning their approach until every song feels like it’s been freshly carved out of marble.
It may not be 1975 anymore, but you’ve got at least one more shot to see a band that’s as good at what they do as any band has ever been. Check out the dates below, buy yourself a ticket, and enjoy the show.
If you’re still in doubt, check out this recap of their first show from the “Zipcode” tour in
Whale’s Vagina San Diego, which features a clip of “I Know It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It).”
The good news for those of you in Kentucky? You’ve got two pretty close chances to catch one of the remaining dates: Nashville on June 17 and Indianapolis on July 4. The rest of the dates can be found here.