The Rolling Stones, truly legendary rock musicians, played a gig on 5 June 2018 and I was there in a humungous crowd. This is my review of a tumultuous event.
Getting into the stadium
… we had two and half hours to people-watch, until support act Richard Ashcroft came onstage with his band at 6:45pm. It can’t be easy supporting the biggest group in the world -- well, in my rock universe at least -- and Ashcroft gave it a try, singing songs from his recent album “These People” and of course the hits from his Verve songbook. The Verve songs got the biggest applause of his set of course. Towards the end of Ashcroft’s final song, he petulantly threw his mic to the floor and walked off stage, stripping off his glitter-ball sparkling jacket and tossed it to the stage floor. Perhaps he’d only hired it for the show. Maybe it’s all part of his “bad boy” act. Who knows? Who cares? Not the Rolling Stones.
Entry of the gladiators
After another hour, several figures bounced down the steps behind the stage, and one of them waved to us all sitting in the Alex Ferguson Stand. A voice roared out that we should welcome THE ROLLING STONES!!! and the crowd went bananas. Well we’d been waiting for 4 1/2 hours, many in baking hot sun. We were ready for it.
The opener was Jumping Jack Flash with Mick Jagger running along the enormous t-shaped catwalk and out to the very end, exhorting the crowd with outstretched beckoning hands. He didn’t go for the glitter-ball jacket just a tasteful maroon satin number instead. After 50 years the Stones is a smooth, classy behemoth and Jagger has amazing vitality for a 74 year old.
It’s Only Rock’n’Roll, Tumbling Dice and Shattered followed at breakneck speed. I have always loved the laid back, laconic Keith Richards -- it would be great to have a grandad like him -- not to mention his masterful guitar playing. He just appears so good natured. I’m sure the £ millions help seal in the happiness though!
Four massive HD (who knows maybe 4K) screens behind the band, allowed us to see every nuance of the performance. At times it was a surprise that these were projections of 4 individuals, far below them. No doubt Richard Ashcroft was in his dressing room simmering over the fact he’d only been able to use the outer 2 screens …
Just your fool from the latest album Blue and Lonesomewas greeted by huge blow-ups of black and white photos and videos to evoke the ’60’s.
Jagger was a charmer all the way through the show. At this point he spoke about playing the Manchester Odeon and the Free Trade Hall back in the day. However as the band were staying in the hotel that used to be the Free Trade Hall he’d assumed they wouldn’t be playing there again. Probably right, Mick.
Apparently there’d been a audience vote from Let’s Spend The Night Together, Bitch, Sweet Virginia and another song that passed me by. Of course Let’s Spend The Night Together won and was played next.
Throughout the show Charlie Watts alternated serious concentration with detached smiles. At times he was like a floppy joyous skeleton behind his drum kit. Keith was singing like Lady Grinning Soul -- Bowie fans will get that I hope. These days Keef looks like Johnny Depp’s grandfather -- or is it the other way round? Ronnie Wood was looking like he really cares, determinedly carving out the riffs on his Strat.
Before the Rolling Stones played Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, Mick asked if there was anyone in the audience from Liverpool, Stoke, Bolton and several other North West towns to various cheers from the crowd. Over the decades he hasn’t forgotten how to get an audience onside. Very useful in a football ground too. It pays to have an AA Road Atlas on the tour bus. In Edinburgh it’ll be … “Anyone here from Glasgow, Stirling, Leith, Dunfermline?” etc etc.
Suddenly I noticed Keith was playing a beautiful turquoise Strat and I was too busy watching the giant screens to notice Jagger had run out again to the end of the catwalk.
No choir as on the recorded song, but a French horn was played onstage for You Can’t Always Get What You Want. The screen showed Mick’s gaunt and elderly face although from the neck down he looks more like 35. Chuck Leavell’s keyboards (formerly of the Allman Brothers Band no less) were showcased in the number, then Ronnie was soloing on a Les Paul guitar down the catwalk. The crowd joyously sang the chorus as Jagger conducted.
My wife thought Charlie may have left his teeth at the hotel, but then he started grinning and to be fair, his pearly whites were well in evidence. Sorry Chas.
The sitar of Paint It Black chimed out but from Leavell’s keyboards, I assumed as no one had a sitar in their hands on stage. The screens projected the Stones playing in stark black and white during this song. It all went down very well with the crowd.
Next the unmistakeable snare and cowbell start of Honky Tonk Women was recognisable. Chuck threw in a bar room piano solo in the middle eight while Ronnie had pulled a Telecaster out of the bag.
After that Jagger was back on the charm offensive announcing to the throng he’d had a couple of days to look around Manchester and how fashionable it is nowadays. None taken, Mick. He threw in a reference to the Northern Quarter there. Turns out the band had even been down the Curry Mile in nearby Rusholme (perhaps the Moonlight Mile was closed). No way of knowing if any of this was true! I mean were they walking the streets in Donald Trump masks? As a Rolling Stone how exactly do you sightsee?
I baulked at Jagger’s next pronouncement though that the day after this gig the band were taking a Northern Rail train to Edinburgh, followed by the phrase ‘..if we get there’. Laughs all round.
Then Mick introduced the band, starting with what www.rollingstones.com calls their Collaborators -- Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler (vocals), Daryl Jones (bass), Chuck Leavell (keys), and Karl Denson (sax), moving onto the core of Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood (the Ryan Giggs of rock, according to Jagger) and Keith Richards who of course got the biggest applause. After his introduction from Mick, Keith said a few words, but I really couldn’t tell you what they were, delivered as they were in his usual drawl. I think I heard him finish with “Let’s get on with the show!”
Keef’s solo spot
The country blues tinged, and Richards-penned. You Got the Silver, featured Ronnie on an acoustic with bottle slide, sounding like a National Steel, while Keith sang, supporting on an acoustic. Then he swapped to a Telecaster for a great version of Before They Make Me Run from the Some Girls album.
This song had a rolling and rocking upbeat pace, with brass and the backing singers, Fischer and Fowler, jumping onboard. The legendary Richards inevitably got a great hand at the end of his ‘solo’ spot.
I wish I’d had the opportunity to count how many guitars were used through the whole show but both Ronnie and Keef seemed to have armfuls with them.
Next flames on the mammoth stadium screens signalled Sympathy For the Devil from the band, with customary athletic dance moves from Mick. On the tune Ronnie jammed with the technically gifted bassist Jones.
With smoke pouring from machines on stage and flashing red lights flaring up, in unpopulated sections of the ground, by the end of the number the whole ground was wreathed in smoke. So convincing were the pyrotechnics that I was really unsure if a fire had broken out in those unpeopled stands! Thankfully the lights blew out after some time.
Miss You was next on the setlist, with neon signs flashing in technicolour on the screens behind the Stones. Mick had strapped on a Strat for this one and was vamping along to a slap bass solo from Daryl Jones, a la Jaco Pastorius in his Weather Report heyday. Jagger was joined down the catwalk this time by Jones, Ronnie and Keef, but by accident or design it’s Jagger’s loyal compadre who was last to return to the main stage.
Midnight Rambler segued at some point into You gotta move and Ronnie took the lead on another Les Paul. The tune like so many others goes down well with the seething audience below us.
It’s unbelievable how many of these songs we all know. Perhaps Mr Ashcroft may be as blessed with a catalogue like this in 40 years, but I doubt it.
The band show what they are with this number rooted in earthy bluesy Louisiana style rock. Mick pulls the old mouth-organ out for this one and then dances like whirling dervish in Mata Hari stylee. “Oh yeah” is plucked out of the song and rings for minutes around the crowd
The 4 tiny strutting peacocks look pinsized to me from the Alex Ferguson Stand so thank God for the huge screens.
Then Keith runs part way down the catwalk and churns out (in a good way!) the unmistakeable riff of Start Me Up. After the song, gracious Mick thanked Manchester for keeping on coming out to see them, which was naturally appreciated by the assembly.
About this time I thought I regretted I hadn’t counted how many times Ronnie had changed his on stage outfits, but it must have been 7 or 8. You can take the boy out of the mod but you can’t take the mod out of the boy â€¦ or something like that.
At first I didn’t get the next song which Keith started riffing in the spotlight but when Mick started singing, it was obviously Brown Sugar. I last saw the band in 1976 at Knebworth Fair and it seems they’ve had the cheek to rearrange some of their song arrangements during the intervening 42 years! Baritone sax from Karl Denson was a rich addition to the band’s efforts on the song.
And that was the end of the show! But an encore was expected, demanded and achieved, although not before some classy neon blue snakes had wiggled over the screens.
Gimme Shelter was played first with more black and white photography reflecting its 1969 genesis. Joining in with the 60’s summer of love scenario at this juncture I smelt wacky baccy for the first time on the night air! Better late than never to trip out I guessed. Well the bars were closed!
Lights playing constantly over the perpetually moving crowd evoked a convincing Gimme Shelter type storm. The repeated “It’s just a shot away” melded evocatively with strings from Leavell’s keyboards and the discordant chords of Keith’s guitar.
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction was the final tour de force from the band with technicolour pop art flashing on the massive screens. A star shell of white fireworks burst in the corner of the unpopulated stadium signalling the end of the show and the Rolling Stones ran down the catwalk to bow arm in arm with their collaborators in celebration and appreciation of their audience.
I was glad I was there. Who knows if any of us will see them all on the same stage again, given their ages?There is no one else like this unique band and we shall not see their like again in rock music.
© adewils 2018
If you enjoyed this, why not read Blue my tale of lost friendship?