The Rolling Stones, ‘St. Louis 2021’ (No Label)
Disk 1: Intro / Street Fighting Man / It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll / ‘Here’s To You, Charlie’ / Tumbling Dice / Under My Thumb / 19th Nervous Breakdown / Wild Horses / You Can’t Always Get What You Want / Living In A Ghost Town / Start Me Up / Honky Tonk Women / ‘Band Introductions’ / Happy / Slipping Away (74:55)
Disk Two: Miss You / Midnight Rambler / Paint It Black / Sympathy For The Devil / Jumping Jack Flash / Gimme Shelter / Satisfaction (61:10)
The Dome At America’s Center, St. Louis, Missouri, USA 26th September 2021
(This review charts the same show as the review for Goldplate’s, ‘Here’s To You, Charlie’ – Rather than scratch around for more words for the introduction, I mirrored the same – You’re are seeing double but the changes will be apparent.)
And, lo, the Stones joined us again – The No Filter tour having been cancelled once due to the spiralling global pandemic, the contracts written, the employment of their studied road crew needing the boost after more than a year off the road, the venues opening up again and we all know that, as cautiously as they could, the stadia would start to become full again. Nothing could stop the Stones on their return.
That was until the news broke that Charlie, the one man machine who sat at the back, keeping the pace, his stoic, eagley stare broken every every once in a while with a broad grin, was to be stepping down for a while. His promo suggested that he was due to undergo an unforeseen medical procedure, due to the fact that, “For once my timing has been a little off.” He genially joked, Steve Jordan, had been drafted in to cover for him.
Unfortunately, 19 days later, we found out that Charlie had passed away steering the conversation from ‘Is Steve right for the Stones?’ to ‘Should the Stones go on?’ Needless to say with less than a month to go and with many tickets sold or on pause, it fell to the Stones to decide.
Invariably, it was a cert that the Stones should still roll. Charlie had given his blessing to Steve to take up the reins, it seemed only right that, with deference to their comrade, that the show would go on.
The first reconvening show (unofficially) was played in Foxboro at the Gillette Stadium, a private birthday celebration hosted by billionaire philanthropist, Robert Craft, where the band would, after their regular rehearsals were fine tuned, open the US leg and test the waters for their return. The real return was 6 days later at the Dome at America’s centre, St. Louis, MO, where the Stones were finally, really able to kick in and also celebrate the life and skills of their friend.
This release by the No Label company features an audience recording from the first night of the tour, proper – Beginning with Amy Whitehouse’s cover of ‘Valerie’ as played over the PA to the final bows, this recording places us right in the middle of the action – It also means that we don’t miss the first tribute to Charlie, the isolations of his drums (I’m sure someone will correct me, but I’m almost positive this is the track for ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’), a very, very good stereo mix with plenty of life and a broad separation for all the instruments while letting a bit of the audience in too (I tweaked up the bass a little as that suited me better but I’m aware that a lot of you won’t find it lacking) – the first track is ‘Street Fighting Man’, a song that seems to have sneaked it’s way in to pole position. After listening to the 1973 versions solidly, I prefer those, it seems to loose a bit of it’s lustre these days and maybe it was a little too on the nose to open with ‘It’s Only Rock n’ Roll’, maybe – I think I would have preferred it that way.
The first thing that you will notice is Steve’s drumming more rock strong than jazz styled, it’s about as obvious as Ronnie’s sneakers yet not quite as showy, it’s maybe not as reserved as Charlie’s own – That said, some of the songs are nearing 50 – 60 years old, this is akin to setting in to a new armchair – you know it’s different, the last one was so, so warm and knew how to support you but now it’s newly upholstered, it’s always going to feel different, fresh even.
The next thing you’ll notice is Mick’s nerves – He’s still in control, he’s still fantastic – but like the rest of us, he has to stand and eulogise at least one – to impart his feelings on behalf of the rest of us. This he does brilliantly and with a great deal of warmth as he describes missing Charlie.
The third is that Keith is playing well again. Whether the rest has given him time to work out some new kinks, that he’s given himself to working alongside Steve and the new vibe has given him pause, who knows. The vibe is just better.
Highlights of the night are a speedy little ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ with a new riff, Mick stands stuffing the lyrics in to the bag at points but quickly catches up to push them back in a neater order. The song vote of ‘Wild Horses’, near-acoustic, Ronnie plucks out some wonderful shapes from here and there.
‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ ends on a brilliantly whimsical jamming coda – This had become the norm on the previous tour of course but now appears in a new form. The second famous “Lockdown” song appears next – ‘Living In A Ghost Town’ is part vamp, part piano excursion – add a funky horn bed and Mick’s harp soloing it becomes new phase Stones – Not a million miles removed from the old Stones but not within “Oh crap, it’s the new material – Straight to the bar!” territory. As it’s new, it also gives Steve a bit of space to shine.
‘Start Me Up’, on the back of the “Tattoo You’ reissue had to be played obviously – It’s one of the tracks that benefit from the excitement of it’s re-release. It goes without saying that there could be only one Keef song that he’d bring out as his opener tonight and it leaves the traps with out hesitation, ‘Happy’ sounds like it was made for the celebration of return and nails it perfectly. ‘Slipping Away’ on the other hand, while it’s slower, still has a grandiose pomp about it. A more glorious tribute you could hardly imagine.
There’s a new spin on ‘Midnight Rambler’, a change from menacing crawl to military surge – Ronnie’s electric-shock-heavy-metal riffing also collides with Mick’s harp to heighten the tension – What we miss in Charlie’s approach means that Steve’s is more prevalent and he makes the backbone his own. And at over 12 minutes long, you can take your time to luxuriate in it’s power.
Both ‘Paint It Black’ and ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ have a new drive, a quicker pace, heavier even. ‘Paint’ has a couple of mechanical ‘whoops’ that float intermittently through the first third of the track but it’s more an issue with the equipment as opposed to the recording.
After a short encore break (wonderful to think that while the crowd discuss the encore set the band are stood in the baffles high-fiving) they return with a slightly disjointed, ‘Gimme Shelter’, Keith’s spidery chords at the intro wobbling about a little, it helps that Ronnie in on hand to rein things back in and give it the body it needs again, Sasha Allen’s part appears a little off and what she usually brings is slightly off tonight – Again, this could be a sound malfunction but she’s less than sharp tonight.
Finally, what else could come last tonight? Mick teases that he doesn’t know the words but it’s self evident that at this point, he’s just pulling on the fact that he knows that ‘Satisfaction’ is what the crowd wants and so that’s what they get. There are some ghastly solos here and some that are good enough, it is, however, the show stopper and with the riff that’s the size of a pod of whales, it hardly matters.
One more shout for the fireworks at the end and, though you can’t see it, the waves of appreciation for the band the photos of Charlie that very obviously show on the screens around. We lead out as we lead in but with Aretha Franklin’s, ‘Say A Little Prayer’ on the PA.
The packaging is brilliant – Full colour photos from the show that compliment the look of the tours logo. Charlie’s portrait is taken from the screens at the top and is very well used on the rear. Rather tactfully, Steve’s name is at the bottom of the cast list. Something I’m very sure he’d respect in the memory of his friend.
Almost essential – Of course, regards the return of the Stones but as the first show PC (Post-Charlie), it’s dependant on whether you’re a believer that the band should have continued with Charlie or should have given it a rest after 1989. They’re still the greatest, the hottest, blues covers band around. As always, it COULD get better from here but it’s a great way back in and a great sound to hear.