After all the preparations and the hype – the jaw-dropping ticket prices, the long lines at the gates, the cumbersome and costly logistics for observant Jews to get to Hayarkon Park on time – it will all come down to those first slashing Keith Richards chords ringing out in the Tel Aviv next Wednesday night.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band – circa 1971 at least – will take the stage a few minutes after the Shavuot holiday ends. Who would have thought that the Rolling Stones would finally make their Israel debut 51 years into an unprecedented career as rock ’n’ roll’s longest-running road show? It could have easily fallen apart. The Stones’ European tour, which began on Monday in Norway, was full of question marks since March’s cancellation of shows in Australia and New Zealand after the suicide of Mick Jagger’s longtime companion, 49-year-old fashion designer L’Wren Scott.
However, Jagger, guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, drummer Charlie Watts, and their longtime support team, headed by keyboardist Chuck Leavell and bassist Daryl Jones, arrived in Oslo last week and began rehearsing for the 14-date tour, which arrives in Tel Aviv on its fourth stop and winds up on July 3 at the Roskilde Festival near Copenhagen.
Yes, the Stones still rehearse, even though they’ve played most of the songs they’ll be performing on the tour hundreds of times. Those songs, many of which are part of the fabric of our shared cultural memory, are more than just the greatest hits of veteran rockers who have seen better days.
Otherwise, the Pixies, Soundgarden, Kansas and America – all of whom are coming to Israel this summer – would also be filling up Hayarkon Park.
The Stones are something else.
Their songs, from “Satisfaction,” through “Honky Tonk Women,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Brown Sugar” – fueled by the ringing guitar chords patented by Richards and the strutting, pouting and mugging of Jagger, and held together by the stately presence and unshakable rhythms of Watts – defined a moment in history. A heady mix of youth, drugs, liberation, hippies and Hell’s Angels, infused with the blues and even country music, the Stones – more so in many ways than their contemporaries the Beatles – represented both the freedom and the consequences of that freedom that the 1960s cultural revolution begat.
That they’ve survived and in some ways led the subsequent implosion and co-opting of the counterculture and evolved into a respected institution (Sir Mick Jagger?) is a testament to how much the world has changed, how much they changed the world and an admission that survival itself equals triumph.
It’s fashionable to slag off the Stones for their longevity and simply still being together and not hanging up their rock ’n’ roll shoes. Aside from the sainted Brian Jones, they didn’t take to heart Pete Townshend’s wish to die before they got old (neither did Townshend). Instead, they aged, developed wrinkles, white hair and, aside from the nature-defying Jagger, the gaits of 70-year-old men.
Rock ’n’ rollers are supposed to be young and beautiful. But the Stones have followed the lead forged by their childhood heroes – Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon – who performed with verve and electricity well into their senior years. If it’s good enough for the blues, then why not for rock ’n’ roll? Like vintage wine, a band playing together for decades makes the live experience richer, deeper and ultimately more satisfying.
Of course, because the Stones are performing in stadiums to tens of thousands of fans, most of the nuances go out the window. The emphasis is naturally on the obligatory rocking anthems – from “Sympathy for the Devil” to “Start Me Up.” Which is a shame, because so much of the band’s most lasting and seasoned work is below the Hit Parade layer – the “Moonlight Mile” of Sticky Fingers, the “Salt of the Earth” of Beggar’s Banquet, the “Lovin’ Cup” of Exile on Main Street, the “Worried About You” from Tattoo You, and any number of nuggets that define the Stones way more authentically than “Miss You” and “Emotional Rescue.”
Ultimately, as much as some diehard fans would clamor for the more obscure material in the band’s oeuvre, the song selection at a Stones show is secondary. It’s the spectacle of seeing cultural icons in the flesh – the hyperactive, uber-toned greatgrandfather Jagger, the on-hisseventh- life, crouching black cat Richards, the camaraderie-throughlongevity provided by Wood, the smiling and unflappable Watts and the finally welcomed-back prodigal son Mick Taylor. Even “Miss You” sounds good with those guys on the stage – playing not because they need another few million dollars for the night’s work, or because they’re out there flogging a new album, but because, as Van Morrison once succinctly sang, “It’s too late to stop now.”
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