FFor many musicians, it has been an emotional return to live music after the coronavirus pandemic ended touring. For the Rolling Stones, who resume their No Filter tour in Chuck Berry’s hometown of St Louis, Missouri, the stakes are even higher. Not only have hardcore artists not played in over two years; it is also a commemoration of drummer Charlie Watts, who died last month.
It opens with an empty stage and just a drum, with photos of Watts projected onto the backdrop of the stage. The band shows up, kicking their way through Street Fighting Man and It’s Only Rock’N’Roll (But I Like It), before Mick Jagger pauses the show to dedicate the tour to Watts’ memory. He, along with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, walk center stage to thank fans for the outpouring of love and support for Watts.
“It’s good to get back on a big stage. It’s really very exciting to see these pictures of Charlie on screen, ”he said, before dedicating Tumbling Dice to Watts. “This is our first tour that we have done without him. So all of this, your reaction, all of the things that you’ve said … that we’ve heard from you, has been really moving. “
The Rolling Stones have lost band members before, but none as significant as the laconic Watts. Super fans will argue about the impact of his loss; some have said that there are no Stones without him. “Charlie wasn’t going to do the tour and he gave Jordan his approval,” responds Chris Bowers, a veteran fan who has seen more than 70 Stones shows. “If he gave his approval, that’s fine with me. Who am I to say otherwise?
With a tight new rhythm section focusing on newcomer Steve Jordan, it seems the group has invigorated and amplified their dirty blues and funk in response to the widespread uncertainty. The emotional cast of the show is evident, as if the band is playing for and for Watts. But so is the opening of a new chapter. After the fifth song, 19th Nervous Breakdown, Richards returns to grab Jordan’s wrist and say, “yeah, it works,” and laughs.
Jordan, of course, is a veteran of Richards’ solo albums Talk Is Cheap and Main Offender. His drumming is propelling (he owns Greg Errico’s 12-inch tall Sly and the Family Stone hats, to give a glimpse of his learnings) and his addition brings the band closer to the harder rock of Richards’ solo work. The general approach seems to be: downshift and accelerate. And especially on funkier songs like Miss You, with Darryl Jones’s phenomenal bass solo; in his epic concerts, Midnight Rambler and Gimme Shelter; and on their stalwart hits Jumpin ‘Jack Flash and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, the Stones take the corner with joy.
With 45 tours under their belt, the Stones have performed more frequently in recent years than since the mid-1960s. That alone is a tribute to the endurance of the band’s songwriters, Jagger and Richards, as well as to mutual inspiration and energy transfer between band and audience.
“It’s been a bit difficult getting here, you know,” acknowledges Richards later on set. He refers to getting back on the road after Covid (days before, the band released a public service message encouraging concert goers to get excited), but he could have been describing a number of different things. “We can all make this happen,” he said.
Those bonds of resilience, especially here in the Midwest, the heart of the band’s most passionate American support for decades, are celebrated as a kind of post-corona exit: beaten, yes; beaten, not so much.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism