Rolling Stones review – a funky, heavy first show without Charlie Watts

The Dome at America’s Center, St Louis, Missouri
The veteran rockers return to the road with an emotional tribute to their longtime drummer and a reinvigorated sense of purpose

For many musicians, it has been an emotional return to live music after the coronavirus pandemic put a protracted end to touring. For the Rolling Stones, picking up their No Filter tour in Chuck Berry’s hometown of St Louis, Missouri, the stakes are even higher. Not only have the stalwart performers not played in more than two years; it’s also a commemoration for drummer Charlie Watts, who died last month.

It opens with an empty stage and only a drumbeat, with photos of Watts projected on the stage backdrop. The band appear, kicking their way through Street Fighting Man and It’s Only Rock’N’Roll (But I Like It), before Mick Jagger pauses the show to devote the tour to Watts’s memory. He along with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, walk centre stage to thank fans for the outpouring of love and support for Watts.

Stones super fan Chris Bowers.
Stones super fan Chris Bowers. Photograph: Edward Helmore

“It’s good to be back on a big stage. It’s really quite emotional seeing these pictures of Charlie up on the screen,” he said, before dedicating Tumbling Dice to Watts. “This is the first tour we’ve ever done without him. So all this stuff – the reaction from you guys, all the things you’ve said … that we have heard from you – it’s been really touching.”

The Rolling Stones have lost band members before but none perhaps as significant as the laconic Watts. Super fans will argue about the impact of his loss; some have said there’s no Stones without him. “Charlie wasn’t going to do the tour and gave Jordan his approval,” counters Chris Bowers, a veteran fan who has seen more than 70 Stones shows. “If he gave his approval, that’s fine with me. Who am I to say otherwise?”

With a tight new rhythm section centred on newcomer Steve Jordan, it feels like the group has invigorated and amplified its dirty blues and funk as a response to pervasive uncertainty. The emotional cast to the show is evident, as if the band are playing to and for Watts. But so too is it the opening of a new chapter. After the fifth song, 19th Nervous Breakdown, Richards walks back to clasp Jordan’s wrist and say, “yeah, it works”, and laughs.

Jordan, of course, is a veteran of Richards’ solo albums, Talk Is Cheap and Main Offender. His drumming is propulsive (he owns Sly and the Family Stone Greg Errico’s 12-inch high-hats, to give some idea of his learnings) and his addition brings the band closer to the tougher rock of Richards’ solo work. The overall approach appears to be: kick it down a gear and accelerate. And especially on funkier songs such as Miss You, with Darryl Jones’s phenomenal bass solo; on their concert epics, Midnight Rambler and Gimme Shelter; and on their stalwart hits Jumpin’ Jack Flash and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, the Stones take the corner with exhilaration.

The Stones’ tribute to Charlie Watts.
The Stones’ tribute to Charlie Watts. Photograph: Lawrence Bryant/Reuters

With 45 tours under their belt, the Stones have been playing out more frequently in recent years than they have since the mid-1960s. That alone is tribute to the stamina of the band’s songwriters, Jagger and Richards, as much as the mutual inspiration and energy transfer between band and audience.

“It’s been a bit of ride to get here, you know,” Richards acknowledges later in the set. He’s referring to getting back on the road after Covid – days earlier the band put out a public service message encouraging concertgoers to get vaxxed up – but he could have been describing a number of different things. “We can all make this happen,” he said.

Those bonds of resilience, especially here in the midwest, heartland of the band’s most passionate US support for decades, are celebrated as a kind of post-corona coming out: beaten up, yes; beaten down, not so much.

Contributor

Edward Helmore

The GuardianTramp

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