Rolling Stones tour has 'morbid' undertone

Last updated 05:01 21/01/2014
The Rolling Stones


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 The Rolling Stones are finally playing a show in Auckland, their first show here since 2007.

Being a naive teen back then, I shrugged them off. I knew Satisfaction. It was just some big rawk circus act in the same vein as AC/DC or Kiss.

I then grew up. Sitting through 40 Licks, a greatest hits retrospective, I became intrigued, and eventually obsessed with this band and their 50-year legacy, trawling through the huge back catalogue, collecting the 25 studio records, and kicking myself for not going seeing them when I had the chance.

The Stones are now my favourite band ever. So the opportunity to finally witness their show creates pure excitement - a tick on the bucket list.

So I buy four tickets to the show. A total of $1200. That's fine. Christmas comes every year, the Stones once in a lifetime. I'd pay out the razzle to see these guys.

Then I think about the significance of the tour and realise they are really bloody old. Seventy-year-olds singing songs from their 20s and 30s.

They wear hip skinny jeans and weird sneakers instead of, I don't know, sweat pants and moccasins like old men should.

There are probably GPs, lawyers and oxygen tanks back stage instead of hordes of groupies. No longer the most dangerous band in the world. I shouldn't be thinking this hard. It's only rock and roll, right?

Too late. I look at Keith Richards on the cover of his biography, Life. A leathery, drug-addled drifter, one of my idols, so thankful that he's alive, even if it's only just.

I watch a recent video of their 2013 tour and it's average. With the songs falling apart at the seams, only Charlie shows any spark, but still no sign of setting 2014 on fire as the tour suggests.

Woody can either rock or roll, not simultaneously. And though it's good to see him playing with the old crew, a pivotal member of a stellar five album run from Let it Bleed to It's Only Rock and Roll, Mick Taylor is nothing more than a puffy, brief souvenir of their glory days.

Then there's Jagger. It's obvious that he can still shake his bony ass. Constantly wanting to prove that he's far from dead, Jagger's a fit old man, yet he's also all business, a caricature.

Here's the routine: sing, talk-sing, point, clap, run down the cat walk, repeat. In his prime, Jagger was an emotive, effective singer and writer, eccentric and gritty with the spirit of old blues greats. Now, he sounds like a mumbling geriatric in a 1963 Vauxhall, driving over potholes.

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Example: Wild Horses, a gem from Sticky Fingers, was once cathartic release, a dusty, mysterious classic. In 2013, it's played as a soppy ballad tainted by Jagger's spirit fingers, a sort of November Rain moment for cellphone-waving bogans.

Tumbling Dice, maybe my favourite song ever by the band, is now spoken-sung and sacrificed for the shtick, further ruined by glam-vamping back-up singers. Dice in the studio benefitted from ragged edges and sloppiness, now it's as slick as a premium $998 lithograph package.

To sum this up, I'll paraphrase Jack Black speaking about the eccentric frontman - "I don't want to know how far Jagger can run on a treadmill, I just wanna see him rock." Too true.

Forking out for a premium ticket doesn't seem too flash now - what was once a dream has now become an expensive, saggy Peter Pan story.

No matter how immortal the groove is on Beast of Burden, or how many accolades albums Exile on Main St or Some Girls deserve, you're paying to watch a few rich granddads shuffle on stage. In Jagger's case, great granddad.

But as I write, I think of my great passion for the band, a love for the music that overpowers any ticket costs or threats of titanium (formerly shakin') hips breaking.

The Stones are legendary for so many reasons: a stunning body of work built up over five decades, their multiple comebacks, their youthful rebellion and defiance in the face of law and lavish rock lifestyle. For them, death is an afterthought.

Talking of the inevitable end, this tour has a very morbid undertone, beneath the bragging rights and merchandisey stink. A common remark is not, "I can't wait to see them play", but "I have to see The Stones before they die".

So maybe it's nothing but a tick on the list, to say to your kids that you've seen the band that lasted half a lifetime.

It will be a sad day once another Stone drops, grooving on through the gates of heaven or hell. Remember, Brian Jones and Ian Stewart were important parts of their history, nearly written off amidst their endless legacy.

I still jumped at the tickets. I wouldn't miss this concert for the world. They've obviously rolled way past their prime - just think how different, how difficult it would be performing Brown Sugar in front of thousands of people at 70 compared to 25.

Will you be paying out the ear to witness the Stones in 2014? Have they got it in their old bones to play a glorious send-off show in New Zealand? This could be the last time.

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