The Rolling Stones World’s — heralded as the Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band ever since the Beatles split in 1970 — played in Raleigh July 1. They thrilled about 40,000 fans, in N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.
Singer Mick Jagger quipped about the Research Triangle: “You must have the brainiest threesomes in America.”
A week earlier, I saw another elder but still-lean, witty, legendary rock singer and songwriter — Sir Paul McCartney. He turned 73 on June 18. Jagger’s 72nd birthday is July 26.
McCartney performed indoors, June 25 in the University of South Carolina’s basketball arena in Columbia, S.C. I paid steeply for close seats to both shows.
These two seasoned rock immortals have played live since at least 1962. The Stones’ 24 studio albums generated eight number one hits in the U.S. McCartney topped rock charts an incredible 20 times with The Beatles, then nine more times with Wings, in duets and solo.
The Beatles morphed into various musical styles and themes. The early silly love song Liverpool Lads were tolerated by the establishment they later poked fun at. The prehistoric punk rocking Rolling Stones were rock’s “Bad Boys” from the start, with more publicized wild lives.
The new shows were even more entertaining than tours I saw two decades ago, such as by playing even more early big hits. McCartney did Beatles tunes for 17 of his last 20, and 26 of 41 overall. He played for an amazing three hours, the Stones heartily for over two hours. Master prancer-gesturer Mick still “Moves Like Jagger” — as Maroon 5 and Christine Aguilera sang four years ago.
Now, for the alleged telepathy: The Stones current Zip Code Tour’s basic setlist varies most on the third song. A huge hit stood out. In June it was played twice in the third spot, not at all in other shows the prior two. Please play it, I pleaded silently but emphatically to Jagger. Sing it. Dance to it. He did.
Suddenly the crowd and the most celebrated veteran rock showman were musically spending this night together — “oh-my-my-my.”
Paul McCartney on piano.
Mick sang very well. Cohort Keith Richards sang much clearer than ever on his back-to-back tunes, compared to recordings and when I heard them in 1994. Keith flashed his pirate grin, looking ever more “Happy.” His clarity is shocking, considering his opiate-ravaged lifestyle which severely blemishes this band’s legacy. He looked a step from meeting the real Lucifer, not Jagger. With pin-thin, haggard frailty of Richards, Ron Wood and drummer Charlie Watt, we might rename them Mick Jagger and the Walking Dead.
Yet these zombies played very lively. When guitar play was jagged, it still clicked as a fresh take. And it reflected ups and downs of Sixties rebellious counterculture. Extended solos enabled their songs to average nearly seven minutes — twice the usual length.
In a shrewd ploy, the Stones on each stop played the song most requested by the audience’s mobile devices. This time, it was country-laced “Shine a Light.” They did “Honky Tonk Woman,” which famously starts with a cow bell ringing. I rapped to it live, back in my disc jockey days.
The Stones opened with a playful signature of their still-agile singer — “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” They finished grandly, by reeling off seven mega-hits in a row. They did disco-flavored 1978 R&B hit “Miss You,” then dark eerie “Gimme Shelter” escapism Richards wrote about civil strife in the late Sixties. Next up was “Start Me Up” of 1981, long a show opener as their latest monster hit of feel-good vintage.
Theatrics then sizzled, with bursts of red flames roared behind a red-caped devilish Jagger for his mesmerizing “Sympathy for the Devil” profile of historic villains.
Next was bouncy “Brown Sugar.” The first of two usual encores on this tour was — “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The choir was local the Duke Vespers Ensemble. Ironic, since this spring they got exactly what they craved — another NCAA men’s basketball title.
Finale “Satisfaction” is ideal as a time capsule tune on early rock’s raw power and angst catharsis, with Richards’ famed driving opening guitar riff. The smiling crowd left with satisfaction, from tailgating then the show.
The band is still bigger than life. Thus, the skyscraper video screen of Jagger’s image dwarfed him as he scampered in front. He strutted down a catwalk to an island sub-stage, even to my seat near the field. Guitarists Wood (cigarette drooping) and Richards briefly joined him.
McCartney’s omnipresence started with a tall banner of him outside Colonial Life Arena, and less-huge screens. Most imposing was his literally getting on a pedestal — playing on a section rising in front of the main stage, for a few songs starting with “Blackbird.” Versatile Paul mainly played base, also acoustic guitar and even ukelele once.
The faithful below included my young friend Katie, an astute fellow Beatlemaniac and rock historian I treated to her dream concert. Any photo of Sir Paul with this story is by her. Sentimentally for me, the most famous surviving Beatle outdoes even the more intact and flamboyant Stones.
McCartney’s 41-song show was a treat. Floor seating yielded more room, for dancing. Totally sober and immersed into the music, I hopped a dozen times to riveting “Helter Skelter.” My voice seemed loudest on the floor for sing-along “Hey Jude”; also such Wings classics as colorful character-driven “Band on the Run,” hypnotic early (recorded in ’73) disco-pop hit “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five,” haunting slow-grinder “Let Me Roll It,” and my favorite in soulful gut-wrenching “Maybe I’m Amazed.” He wrote that early solo hit praising wife Linda in 1969, as the Beatles disintegrated.
Also extra-inspiring were bouncy Beatles hits “Got to Get You into My Life,” “Paperback Writer” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” surreal “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!,” somber “Eleanor Rigby,” and reflective ballads “Let it Be” and “The Long and Winding Road.” McCartney dedicated “Long…Road” to racial “peace and harmony,” following shooting deaths of nine blacks in Charleston, S.C. June 17.
“Save Us” from aptly-tilted CD New proves Paul still meshes in modern touches, such as electronica. Tossed in was Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.”
Paul’s final encore was the somber “Yesterday” (covered by a record 2,200 artists), frenetic “Skelter,” then the Abbey Road B-side medley of “Golden Slumbers”/“Carry That Weight”/“The End.” Paul closed by crooning his “Do Unto Others”-like lesson: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Most dramatic was laser histrionics and flames shooting toward the crowd on “Live and Let Die” — just as Jagger had a fiery explosive scene for “Sympathy.”
Jovial Sir Paul prefaced songs with stories, entertaining more subtly and eloquently than did bombastic Sir Mick. A very tender moment was hearing “My Love,” the classic 1973 ballad Paul dedicated to Linda. She died from cancer, in 1998. She played keyboards in his band, in the 1993 show I saw.
Paul dedicated George Harrison’s tender “Something” to the late shy Beatle, before singing it and playing the first part slowly on ukelele.
Most touching for me was McCartney’s simple, minor hit “Here Today.” It honored eccentric John Lennon, the summer after he was murdered Dec. 8, 1980. Paul told the crowd it is so regretful to suddenly lose a friend and colleague, and wish more had been said and shared. He termed his tribute a final post-mortem “dialogue with John” — with a farewell “I love you.”
Indeed, many fans felt such sentiment for Sir Paul and Jumpin’ Jack Flash Mick — the ever-youthful, joyous rock pioneers.