The Rolling Stones Burl's Creek, Oro-Medonte ON, June 29
Published Jun 30, 2019"It's buck-a-beer time," Mick Jagger said at one point. "Thanks to Doug Ford." And the boos rained down at this local reference. Jagger, perhaps unaware of whom or even what he was invoking, half-shrugged at the response, added nothing further by way of local political commentary, and carried on.
The Rolling Stones had just this one Canadian date on their No Filter tour and it was a massive affair, out in a country field in Ontario, with enough space for 70,000. It wasn't for the long-timers, but for the band's broad, general audience. And so rather than deep cuts, they broke out hits and singles that were familiar and attacked them with friendly fire.
They bounded out with 1968's "Street Fighting Man," sounding mighty, Keith Richards digging into one of his most famous riffs and Charlie Watts pushing the rhythm along like no other drummer ever could. Jagger's voice is remarkably strong, and on this or "Let's Spend the Night Together" or "Sad Sad Sad," he hit his parts with everything they needed. When the band launched into "Tumbling Dice," he seemed to transport his physical self back to 1972, singing the swaggering, swinging song like he was pushing 30, not 80.
The band's long-ridiculed age and death defiance has a lot to do with their wealth and the requisite comfort it offers them to rest and heal. From afar, it's easy enough to question the band's motivations for steaming ahead; do they really need more of our money? Is this normal physical behaviour for men of their age?
At the show though, all of that background noise is silenced. Watching Ron Wood solo with a wide grin on his face, or any of the band members, laughing and just embracing and touching each other reassuringly with genuine affection brings their relationships into view, and perhaps due to recent health scares, it seems more personal than business these days.
At one point, the remaining original Stones and Wood headed up a catwalk to a small stage to play acoustic versions of "Angie" and "Dead Flowers," two of their most enduring folk and country explorations, and the results were endearingly fine. Later on, after Jagger politely introduced each band member and every auxiliary musician on stage, Richards accepted the customary spotlight for his songs, in this case, a teetering "Slipping Away" and a crowd-pleasing "Before They Make Me Run."
As a whole, the set is mostly evenly paced, and may not go down as the best they've ever played; they're good and landing tricky things ("Midnight Rambler" requires all of their reflexes to work and it does) but something's also a little off, or maybe some rust is binding things that should be loose. But the performance also feels true to their ragged authenticity, as an almost 60-year-old, live guitar-rock band in 2019.
Jagger has always been the one most conscious of being part of contemporary music trends and keeping the Stones topical. The impulse has led to some formidable, adaptive highs and desperate, youth-chasing lows (and whatever the relatively benign Ford bit was) over the past few decades, not to mention some bemused belligerence from Richards, his comparably genre-puritanical creative soulmate.
But a two-hour 'best-of' show like this really exhibits the band's true core, as architects of a gritty musical form that takes from and gives to the culture in equal measure. The heartening experience of seeing them play and play and play (perhaps in Canada for the last time) may not be revelatory, but it remains rewarding.