Singer-songwriter Lukas Nelson and his excellent band Promise of the Real opened The Rolling Stones’ Aug. 5 concert at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. I mention this so prominently in this review only because it occurred to me that a promise of the real is what the Stones have been offering their fans for about 55 years now.
Even as the world’s leading classic-rock dinosaurs, able to command astronomical ticket prices, they present an evening of raw and, at its best, riveting rock ‘n’ roll. They’re loose and casual; even on the most familiar songs in their repertoire, band members may occasionally miss a note, or screw up the start of a solo.
But when everything works, there is no greater band — even now, after all the ups and downs of those 55 years.
I’ve seen them better and I’ve seen them worse than they were at MetLife. Still, on a humid August night, with band members ranging from 72 (guitarist Ron Wood) to 78 (drummer Charlie Watts), and with frontman Mick Jagger having undergone a heart valve procedure about four months ago, the show was a miracle of sorts. Jagger dances manically and moves around the stadium with as much energy as ever, guitarist Keith Richards seemed to be enjoying himself immensely (I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him smile so frequently), and the setlist had some genuine surprises.
I had two favorite moments: One came early and one came late.
The first was the opening song, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” The band has often performed this standard later in its sets, over the years, but when it comes first, as it did here, it just takes your breath away with its driving central riff — one of the most perfect concoctions in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
The other high point, for me, was an epic “Midnight Rambler,” featuring Wood’s best solo of the night, and an intensely dramatic performance by Jagger.
The best segment of the show, I felt, was the four-song stretch that started with a forceful version of the Richards-sung “Before They Make Me Run” followed by the slinky, steamy “Miss You,” “Midnight Rambler,” and then a pulse-pounding version of the psychedelic-goth hit, “Paint It Black.” And I really enjoyed the unplugged “Let It Bleed,” the first of two numbers on which Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood stood or sat close to each other on a small mini-stage in the middle of the stadium — “halfway to Hoboken” from the main stage, Jagger joked — as if they were performing at a small nightclub.
Bassist Darryl Jones contributed a nice extended solo to “Miss You,” and backing vocalist Sasha Allen made the most of her moment in the center spotlight on “Gimme Shelter.”
“We haven’t done this one for ages,” Jagger said before performing “Harlem Shuffle.” Indeed, they haven’t performed the Bob & Earl cover — a hit for the Stones in 1986 — since 1990.
Along with “Harlem Shuffle,” other songs performed on Aug. 5 but not at the band’s Aug. 1 concert at MetLife Stadium were “You Got Me Rocking,” “Monkey Man” (the evening’s fan choice via an online poll), “Let It Bleed” and Richards’ “You Got the Silver.” These five songs replaced the following five from the Aug. 1 setlist: “Street Fighting Man,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “She’s a Rainbow,” “Sweet Virginia” and Richards’ “Slipping Away.”
After “Honky Tonk Women” and before the band introduction, Jagger has been making some local references — usually having to do with food, and often somewhat humorous — at every show on the current leg of the band’s No Filter tour. On Aug. 1, he joked about eating at the Tick Tock Diner in nearby Clifton, though I don’t think he really did (as I explained here).
On Aug. 5, he mentioned the Giants and the Jets and elicited some boos with a mention of the Patriots. Then he talked about getting “pork roll at my usual booth at the Tick Tock Diner” — thereby teasing those who considered it a big deal that he said Taylor ham and not pork roll when describing the meat product on Aug. 1.
“I didn’t realize that would become a thing,” he added, referring, presumably, to the mini-controversy.
Here is the show’s setlist. Songs in bold were not performed on Aug. 1.
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
“You Got Me Rocking”
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
“Let It Bleed” (acoustic, on mini-stage)
“Dead Flowers” (acoustic, on mini-stage)
“Sympathy for the Devil”
“Honky Tonk Women”
“You Got the Silver” (Keith Richards on lead vocals)
“Before They Make Me Run” (Keith Richards on lead vocals)
“Paint It Black”
“Start Me Up”
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
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