Forgetting about politics with the Rolling Stones

This past Sunday night, The Rolling Stones kicked off their 2021 U.S. Tour — titled the "No Filter Tour" — with the first of thirteen dates, starting in St. Louis and ending in Austin in late November.  I had the privilege to be there thanks to a generous colleague who unexpectedly offered me a ticket.  The Stones have been on my bucket list of concerts for some time now, and I had considered buying tickets until I saw the price tag, so I eagerly accepted the colleague's offer! 

Even with my enthusiasm for seeing them perform live, I was partly expecting them to be a slowed-down, mellow show that would simply confirm for me that Mick and Keith are nearly eighty years old.  I could not have been more mistaken.  I saw The Who perform in 2019...back when the world was "normal"...and was treated to the same pleasant surprise when Roger Daltry was still every bit as good as he was decades ago.  The fact that these guys can still do what they do at such a high level is frankly humbling.

The show was scheduled to start at 8:30, after an opening set by The Revivalists, and it was indeed started at nearly that exact time.  There were no diva-esque delays to build the anticipation or tease the crowd.  They were professionals who had come to town to do a job and do it well. 

There was no social justice posturing.  There was no banner pleading to end racism.  There was no lecture on politics, no appeal to end gun violence, and no tearful plea to save the world from climate change.  They said hello and paid brief but respectful tribute to recently deceased longtime bandmate drummer Charlie Watts.  I believe I saw true loss on their faces, as well as genuine humility and understanding of how fortunate they are still to be able to do what they love.  Then they got down to business.  

The two-and-a-half-hour performance included classic favorites like "Satisfaction," "Sympathy for the Devil," "Wild Horses," and "Gimme Shelter," just to name a few.  They moved seamlessly from song to song, without the droning pontification we are so often subjected to by so-called musicians these days, as they hold the audience hostage to their nitwitted opinions with the promise of the next song.

The band, despite the three remaining original members being "boring old white guys," consisted of several Black performers, including the drummer, bass player, back-up singers, and a pair of saxophone players.  One of the backup singers, wearing a Tina Turner–style "Proud Mary" dress, awed the crowd with her vocals on "Gimme Shelter" as she walked with Mick down the 100-foot-long extended stage that jutted out into the crowd.  I'd say the crowd gave her a standing ovation, but that would imply that the crowd was at some point actually sitting down, which they almost never were from the very start.  

In these times, when it seems that nearly everything is about race, politics, or some other thing that divides us all, it was refreshing to see that there is still something in the world that simply is what it is.  And I couldn't help but notice how filled with joy Mick and Keith were, in particular, as they crushed hit after hit.  The smile on Keith Richards's face was a beautiful thing to see: obviously, he still loves what he does, and he was clearly thrilled to finally be allowed to do it again after so long.  

I mention the race of the performers only because it is fact, not because it mattered in the us as the audience or to them as the band.  All that mattered to anyone was the music.  They all sounded amazing, and the amount and quality of sound that came out them was incredible.  On stage, you could see true camaraderie and chemistry, not just among Mick, Keith, and Ronnie Wood, but among all of them as they played.  Only the music and the joy of performing it were important.

No one was canceled because of an alleged offense from three decades ago.  No lyrics were parsed for micro-aggressions or nefarious meaning.  There were no religious zealots protesting "Sympathy for the Devil," and BLM did not show up to tell us that "Paint It Black" is racist.  The "COVID Protocols," as they are now called, involved wearing a mask and exercising good judgment.  There were no vaccine or negative test mandates.  It was, perhaps, a last chance to see unquestionably the most iconic and legendary band still in the business of making music, and it was glorious.  

At the Stones show, it was only rock 'n' roll...and we all liked it.

Image via Pxfuel.

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