I will not be seeing the Rolling Stones next weekend when they play at the brand-new Barclays Center, two miles from my house in Brooklyn. I absolutely wanted to: I went to a game there a couple of weeks ago and was struck by what a great venue it would be for rock shows, big enough for a major act but still small enough to feel intimate, with good sightlines everywhere in the house. The Stones are, depending on when you ask me, either my favorite band ever or somewhere in the top five, and this show was one of only five scheduled to commemorate the band’s 50th anniversary. This could be the last time. May be the last time, I don’t know!
Let me save you some time: Who wants to see a bunch of septuagenarians try to rock? While that is a very valid argument, I would counter that although they haven’t made a memorable album in about 30 years (I’d say 35 — I never cottoned to Tattoo You) they sound better live now than at almost any time since Brian Jones was in the band. Although they made great records in their peak period — the Beggars Banquet – Let It Bleed – Sticky Fingers – Exile On Main Street run is one of, if not the very best achievements in the whole rock canon — they sounded pretty lousy in concert most of the time, from the available evidence: their 1969 live album Get Yer Ya-Yas Out; Gimme Shelter, the concert movie that turned into a horrifying document of the doomed free concert at Altamont Speedway; and Cocksucker Blues, the banned document of their 1972 U.S. tour. Even when they played well, as in certain moments on the Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones concert film (also from 1972), they always seemed to be plagued by sound problems, or tempo problems, or Mick’s not being able to hit the notes he hit on the records, or the band seeming not to quite remember the rhythm of the tunes, or whatever.
Whereas, modern advances in monitoring, so the band can actually hear itself, plus the (relative) sobriety of the band means that even though they’re not all that much to look at anymore, they generally get a lot closer to the sound of their best albums than they ever used to. Plus, in recent years they’ve eased up on their dogged insistence on playing half the songs from whatever forgettable new album they’re using as an excuse to tour, and broken out more interesting album cuts. So it’s arguable that they are a better bet now than they have been for quite some time.
But I’ve seen the Stones a couple of times already. The opening show, at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., of the 1989 Steel Wheels tour was my first big rock concert (I was 16), and I saw them again at the same venue on the 1994 Voodoo Lounge tour. (They were way, way better in ’94.) And as much as I love them — I cannot possibly overstate the importance of the aforementioned four-album run to my musical identity — I don’t know how I can justify paying $1,700 dollars for any two-hour experience, much less one where I have all my clothes on.