Mick Jagger has sung the words "This could be the last time" hundreds of times – yet the line had a special resonance tonight. The Rolling Stones’ December 15th show in Newark, New Jersey was the final gig of their 50th anniversary tour, their first live performances in five years. And with no shows scheduled for 2013, many fans had to be wondering if tonight meant it’s all over now.
But whatever the future holds for the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band, they blew it out tonight, rampaging from classic to classic in true Stones fashion – through the past, darkly. The Stones treated this show as a lavish celebration loaded with special guests, from Lady Gaga torching up "Gimme Shelter" to Bruce Springsteen strapping on a guitar for "Tumbling Dice."
Yet all eyes were on Jagger, a cosmic blur of hips and ribs and lips, attacking each song with an unbelievably ruthless rocks-off energy, whether he was shimmying through "Honky Tonk Women" or strumming his guitar for "Dead Flowers," in its first appearance of the tour. (It was a fan selection, as voted via the band’s new smartphone app.) For most of the show, he wiggled in the same skintight outfit he wore on the Stones’ 1969 tour: black drainpipe trousers, clingy long-sleeve T-shirt, Cuban-heel boots. In his case, actually, it might have been the *exact* same outfit – no doubt the old one still fits. (How does this man do it? Zumba? Tantric Pilates? Or just generally getting his ya-ya’s out?)
Keith Richards played heroic amounts of guitar all night, especially in "Gimme Shelter" and "It’s Only Rock & Roll," and though he mostly glowered over his guitar at the back of the stage, he took the mike to rasp through a Mick-free interlude of "Before They Make Me Run" and "Happy." Ron Wood looked gratifyingly hale, dancing around and resuming his mischievous-schoolboy role, while Charlie Watts drummed with his unflappable gravitas.
The brisk pace of the show didn’t leave much room for ballads or idle chit-chat. Mick whisked the guests on and off the stage so fast that at one point he joked that he felt like Seventies talk-show host Dick Cavett. Lady Gaga did a spectacularly soulful duet on "Gimme Shelter," teetering in a striped jumpsuit and platform heels that could have come straight from the inner sleeve of Tattoo You. The Black Keys sat in for Bo Diddley’s "Who Do You Love," while the Freddie King tribute "Going Down" became a metallic blues jam featuring Gary Clark Jr. and John Mayer, who played extended solos with Wood and Richards. (The Stones resisted the urge to follow up the Mayer cameo by bringing on Taylor Swift to sing "Wild Horses." Now that would have been a moment.)
Jagger told the crowd that some of the Stones’ guests had flown thousands of miles to be there in New Jersey, from exotic locales like Russia, Norway and Saskatoon. Then he added, "Our next guest just had to walk here." And with that, Bruce Springsteen came on for "Tumbling Dice," the undisputed highlight of the night. Springsteen traded verses with Jagger while playing guitar, grinning broadly, busting out his Otis Redding moves as he grunted "You got-ta roll me!" over and over.
For guitar freaks, another highlight had to be the showcase for Mick Taylor, who played with the Stones in the Sticky Fingers/Exile on Main Street years between Brian Jones and Ron Wood. All three guitarists jammed on "Midnight Rambler," as Jagger honked along on harmonica. Even as the Stones stretched the song way past the ten-minute mark, luxuriating in all the sex-and-doom longeurs, there was still a restless twitch in the music. Like the rest of the show, it was a moment that seemed to encapsulate the band’s whole history.
But even on a momentous occasion like this, it wouldn’t be the Rolling Stones’ style to get sentimental. And true to form, they stuck to their hardass sense of menace. Five of the first six songs they played touched explicitly on the theme of death, and the one that didn’t – the show-opening "Get Off Of My Cloud" – was the ultimate Stones ode to flipping off the human race and zoning out into your own private dream-world. As always, the Stones didn’t offer any easy comfort tonight – just mean guitars, high energy, and plenty of satanic majesty.
"Get Off Of My Cloud"
"The Last Time"
"It's Only Rock & Roll (But I Like It)"
"Paint It Black"
"Gimme Shelter" (with Lady Gaga)
"Going Down" (with John Mayer & Gary Clark Jr.)
"Who Do You Love" (with the Black Keys)
"Doom and Gloom"
"One More Shot"
"Honky Tonk Women"
"Before They Make Me Run"
"Midnight Rambler" (with Mick Taylor)
"Tumbling Dice" (with Bruce Springsteen)
"Start Me Up"
"Sympathy for the Devil"
"You Can't Always Get What You Want" (with the Trinity Wall Street Choir)
"Jumpin’ Jack Flash"