In spring 1993, Mick Jagger appeared on the cover of Esquire next to the line “Have You Seen Your Grandfather, Baby?” – a reference to both a 1966 Rolling Stones single and the fact that Jagger had reached the ripe old age of… wait for it…. 49. What a drag it is getting old. Could the Stones keep rolling?
The question seems quaint today, considering it came about halfway through the Stones’ career, which is now being celebrated with a 60th anniversary tour of Europe that began June 1 in Madrid and runs through July 31 in Stockholm. Jagger and Keith Richards are now both 78, Ron Wood is 75, and over the last three decades the band has survived the retirement of bassist Bill Wyman (at a mere 56!), the replacement of one of Jagger’s heart valves, and the death of drummer Charlie Watts. That Esquire cover is nearly 30 — and still, they keep rolling.
To answer the obvious question: The Stones are still a fantastic live act, to judge by their June 5 show at Olympiastadion in Munich, the second of this tour. Jagger may have lost a step, but he still dominated a stage set up with long wings on both sides, plus a catwalk that extended above the stadium floor. (He could move around less but apparently chooses not to.) Richards and Wood moved less – no great change there – but played as well as ever. Darryl Jones, who has been filling in for Wyman since 1993 – longer than most bands last – shone on a bass-heavy “Miss You,” as close as the Stones ever got to disco. And though Watts was in some way the soul of the Stones – unflappable, immaculately dressed and always a bit behind the beat by exactly the right amount – Steve Jordan, who began filling in for him last year, anchored the band with style.
The show started strong with “Street Fighting Man” and “19th Nervous Breakdown,” then slipped with a version of “Rocks Off” that didn’t quite hold together when Jagger had trouble hitting some notes. But the band regained its footing with “Tumbling Dice,” then played the second-ever live version of “Out of Time,” which Jagger introduced by saying it “should be better” than the song’s live debut in Madrid. (The backup musicians certainly gave it a rich musical texture.) After exhorting the crowd to sing along to “Ruby Tuesday” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Jagger changed into a hoodie to clown around a bit on “Living in a Ghost Town” and a sharp “Honky Tonk Women.”
Jagger had received some attention from German media for filling his Instagram account with tourist pictures of Munich from the previous day, and before he introduced the band, he spoke about enjoying a drink at a biergarten during what he described as “bikini weather,” in decent German. “Not many bikinis tonight,” he pointed out, on account of a rainstorm that threatened to delay the show, then cleared up. Then Richards took the mic to play a song he introduced as “a new one; well, an old new one” – “Connection,” which came out in 1967. (Then again, who among us can pretend to know how Keith Richards experiences time: He was around before most of the fans in the audience, and he may very well be around after them, too.) He got as much applause for speaking in English as Jagger did speaking German.
Then Jagger came back to sing “Miss You,” a typically extended version of “Midnight Rambler” and four of the band’s iconic songs: “Start Me Up,” “Paint It, Black,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” The hands-down highlight was the first encore: A furious version of “Gimme Shelter” that Jagger sang as a duet with backup vocalist Sasha Allen. As the music built, Allen and then Jagger sashayed down the catwalk, two divas determined to make their drama bring down the house, then faced one another to howl out all the emotion in the lyrics. The entire stadium seemed to hang on every line – “It’s just a shot away / shot away” – and one of the grander productions in rock seemed to fade into the background.
At this point, the Stones, who ended the show with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” have become known partly for their professional consistency and their ability to deliver a great show, rain or shine – even with a new drummer or new heart valve. And they did. At their best, though – on “Out of Time,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Miss You” and especially “Gimme Shelter” – they also still deliver real magic.