Every time the Rolling Stones have toured in the last 15 to 20 years, many people have wondered aloud, “Could this be the last time they tour?” And one never knows, unfortunately the previous tour was the last tour for the brilliant Stones drummer, Charlie Watts.
Many people also say that playing rock and roll music is a construct best suited for the young. Well, thankfully, the Rolling Stones don’t buy into that notion. Afterall, the Stones’ vocalist Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards’ biggest musical heroes were African American blues musicians, many of whom played well past the Social Security eligibility age. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Stones on tour in 2035 sponsored by a robot oil company. Jagger, at 78 years-old, is still an amazing vocalist and front man. And no substance has yet been found to kill the younger Richards, 77 years-of-age, who is still rock-steady on lead and rhythm guitar. With that said, Jagger isn’t skip-dancing out on the runways as much as he used to. And wisely so.
The Rolling Stones brought their postponed 2020 No Filter tour stop back to Pittsburgh last evening. The weather gods cooperated and the threat of pop-up showers never materialized. A lively, near sell-out crowd gathered at Heinz Field to celebrate their love for the Stones and their music.
Start of the Show
The stadium lights were brought down for the start of the Stones’ set. Video of Charlie Watts playing the drums at various stages of his career played on the four large screens flanking the stage as the sound of him performing a drum solo was heard. Loud cheers went up from the audience for the beloved drummer who died this August. After the short tribute the Stones took the stage and launched into “Street Fighting Man.”
After the song, Jagger, Richards, and Wood, gathered close together as Jagger expressed their love for Watts, how much they all missed him, and that they were dedicating the tour to Watts.
Next song was the classic, “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Jagger said to the crowd, “It’s great to be back at Heinz Field! We’re going to party!” It was followed by the oft-played, and great tune, “Tumbling Dice,” with the fun lyrics: “Honey, got no money / I’m all sixes and sevens and nines / Say now baby, I’m the rank outsider / You can be my partner in crime.” That was followed by “19th Nervous Breakdown.” and the voters’ choice song, “Angie.” The ballad was beautifully sung by Jagger and had some very pleasing acoustic guitar playing by Richards.
During the concert, Jagger joked that he’s been so busy with getting the tour going again that he didn’t have a chance to get to The Warhol Museum to see himself on the walls. Also, at one point he said that one of the Stones’ tour stops on their first American tour in 1964 was at West View Park here. He wondered who in the crowd was there for that. Some hands went up. Then he asked how many people jumped the fence to get in that night.
Lovely French horn notes signaled the start of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” When the lyrics reached “Cherry red” the video screens all flashed a brilliant red. Jagger initiated a sing-along with the audience, at the end of which he said, “Thank you Pittsburgh, you sing a lot better than Cleveland.” The crowd laughed and applauded.
When the intro to “Start Me Up” began the crowd anticipated the song and were clapping and yelling. Longtime lead guitarist Ronnie Wood had some killer riffs on his Fender Stratocaster. He also played Gibson Les Pauls, and a very unique-looking Versoul Raya 6 Custom throughout the night. Richards’ weapons of choice were Fender Telecasters, Gibson electric and acoustic guitars. Richards even sported a black Gibson electric guitar with gold trim for a few songs. Jagger played electric and acoustic guitars on a few songs. All three were fantastic, Darryl Jones was splendid on the bass guitar as well.
A different instrument announced the start of “Honky Tonk Women”—the often maligned, but nonetheless, sweet-sounding, cow bell. The guitar playing was superb as Jagger sang about the temptresses of the saloons. Chuck Leavell was sounding fine on the keyboards. Steve Jordan brought it all together with the crashing drum parts and fills. While the band was playing, some fantastic animated videos of honky tonk women played on the video screens. One had a woman with snakes running down her head and chest. Another had a woman with extra eyes on her face. She opened her mouth and there was a heart inside. Then she was petting a larger heart while cradling it in her arm. Skulls were also seen in the videos and it seemed to be done in the Mexican Day of the Dead art style. Watts, a talented artist, contributed to designs and graphics for the tours including this one. These animated graphics could have been created by him.
With the advent of “Before They Make Me Run” and “Slipping Away,” Jagger took a break and Richards had a turn in the spotlight as lead singer. The latter song was especially lovely. Jagger returned for “Miss You,” which was the first single released from 1978’s Some Girls album. The song was a no. 1 hit for the band. It was a very danceable song for the disco era. Jones had a very funky bass solo on it. The saxophonist had a key part too. Jagger danced out onto the runway into the audience and led the fans in a sing-along. The song was followed up by “Midnight Rambler” which saw Jagger on harmonica again, he also played it on “Living in a Ghost Town.” Fog from the fog machines gave the stage an eerie look. It was a good jam.
The horns section sounded fantastic throughout the night and included Karl Denson (saxophone) and Tim Ries (saxophone and keyboards). Also powering the band were Matt Clifford (keyboards, french horn), and Bernard Fowler (backing vocals).
For “Paint It Black” Ronnie Wood played a Danelectro electric sitar to give it those exotic guitar notes. Jordan did a great job covering the classic Watts drum fills on this tune. Jagger strode onstage in a long black coat as strong percussion and keys filled the stadium for “Sympathy for the Devil.” Then as Jagger was singing several fireworks displays were set off in the closed off seating areas to the right of the stage and then behind the stage. Video fireworks effects were also accenting the band playing on the video screens. And “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was of course “a gas.” This concluded the band’s first set.
A Rolling Stones’ Encore
After a few minutes of yelling and clapping from the audience the band once again took the stage. The female background vocalist, Sasha Allen, started singing the haunting vocal notes that open “Gimme Shelter” accompanied by music from a semi-acoustic guitar. Richards played an Australian Maton SE777 for the original recording of the song. Other band members joined him to a harmonious, hard rock effect. Allen and Jagger did an amazing duet on this song, even going out on the audience walkway. “Gimme Shelter” is one of the top ranked rock songs of all time and can be heard in many a Scorsese film.
How do the Stones top “Gimme Shelter”? With “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction of course! Also one of the top rock songs of all time. Richards created one of the best rock hooks ever for the song, The hook opens “Satisfaction” and repeats throughout. Watts, and now Jordan’s, drum parts and fast fills give it a big beat. And Jagger is the best frontman to deliver it. In addition to the great rock sound of Satisfaction it’s lyrics sing of commercialism and sexual frustration. They are some of the most insightful, including: “When I’m watchin’ my TV and a man comes on and tells me / How white my shirts can be / But, he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke / The same cigarettes as me.” During the song Jagger even twirled a terrible towel that looked like it also had the Stones logo on it.
After the song, the band said goodnight and thank you and took their bows. The audience rose and gave them a standing ovation. Then more pictures of Watts flashed on the video screens and a bigger display of colorful fireworks were set off. The Rolling Stones sure know how to put on a show! The band played for a little over two hours.
The Ghost Hounds Open
Opening for the Rolling Stones was the Ghost Hounds, Pittsburgh-based, blues-rock band. They performed a fiery set sounding like a mix of Stones, southern rock, and blues rock. They played many originals and a hot cover of Cliff Richard’s, “Devil Woman.” They’ve been breaking onto the national scene and most hail from our fine city. Thomas Tull, former owner of Legendary Entertainment and now part owner of the Steelers and The Milkshake Factory, plays guitar. Also from Pittsburgh is keyboardist Joe Munroe. Lead vocalist Tré Nation is a Texas native and guitarist Johnny Baab is from Brooklyn. Bennett Miller plays bass, and Blaise Lanzetta is on drums. A Little Calamity is the GhostHounds’ new album.
Video credit: DJ Gerry from Starlight Music on YouTube.
Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.