A few songs into The Rolling Stones’ Saturday night show at Nissan Stadium, Mick Jagger addressed the crowd with a bit of obligatory local-landmark acknowledgement — the kind of move that has become de rigueur for arena-rock outfits since icons like Jagger and his peers popularized it many decades back. The frontman checked out Printers Alley for some karaoke, he told us midset. He also claimed to have crashed a pedal-tavern bachelorette party that enjoyed his “Goo Goo Clusters.”
Indeed, images of the impossibly svelte 78-year-old rocker checking out Music City’s sights made the rounds on social media ahead of the Oct. 9 stop on the No Filter Tour — including a shot of Jagger posing in front of a junk pile at what appears to be Nashville’s PSC Metals, not far from the stadium. That’s all well and good, of course, but on to the real question: Do the Stones still have it? Can the septuagenarian rockers still rock, and are they really still the Stones without the late, great Charlie Watts?
Openers Ghost Hounds kicked off the show at 7:30 on the dot with their country- and blues-inflected easy-listening rock. (Hounds frontman Ty Taylor, for those looking for the Stones connection, provided the singing voice for a character on Jagger and Martin Scorsese’s short-lived HBO series Vinyl.) The tune “Good Old Days” was a particularly Seger-esque bit of heartland nostalgia rock that landed right in the middle of the road.
The Rolling Stones led their set with a video montage featuring clips of Watts, the band’s drummer of 59 years, who died in August at age 80. A few songs later — after the undeniable opening salvo of “Street Fighting Man” into “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Tumbling Dice” — Jagger dedicated the evening’s performance to Watts, with whom he and his bandmates shared “so many memories.” Longtime Stones affiliate and legend in his own right Steve Jordan — known for playing with the Saturday Night Live house band, with James Brown and on the Stones’ 1986 effort Dirty Work, among countless other credits — had been preordained to take the drum throne for the No Filter Tour even before Watts’ death. To be sure, the indefatigable 64-year-old timekeeper was the only appropriate choice to take Charlie’s spot, and he kept the band locked in for the duration of its 130-minute set.
Truth is, tours of this magnitude seldom stray from the game plan, and thus the Stones’ set list was nearly identical to the ones St. Louis, Charlotte and Pittsburgh saw on the first three stops on the U.S. leg of the tour — a couple of Beggars Banquet tunes here, a handful of Let It Bleed selections there. But Jagger & Co. do like to mix it up by playing one fan-selected tune a few songs in, and in Nashville, fittingly enough, the fan-voted number was the undeniable country classic “Dead Flowers.” Keith Richards — in a pink beanie and a jacket covered in complicated patterns — offered that high half-wail of his throughout the chorus of “Flowers,” reminding the crowd that he and Jagger still maintain the insouciant looseness that has been their calling card for six decades. Mick and Keef are always on the same page, but they’re never exactly in lockstep with their vocals, and it’s that elastic groove that keeps the Stones sounding like, you know, the Stones.
To answer the question of whether Keith’s fellow Glimmer Twin still knows how to work a crowd — well, to call Jagger spry at this point is beyond cliché. He’s downright impish, bolting around the stage in his sequined blazer and busting into a full-bore sprint during “Honky Tonk Women” at a speed plenty of 28-year-olds truly could not muster. Jagger barked out his trademark “Yas, yas,” helicoptered his jacket over his head during “Midnight Rambler” and acknowledged every segment of the tens-of-thousands-strong crowd as the night wore on. Not to be outdone, fellow core member Ronnie Wood skipped around the stage like a rock ’n’ roll goblin while soloing on “Start Me Up,” and he joined Mick on the catwalk during a stretched-out rendition of the all-time disco-rocking banger “Miss You.” That one provided an opportunity for some slick soloing from Darryl Jones, who replaced Bill Wyman on bass nearly three decades back.
The Stones also pulled out their lockdown-written “Living in a Ghost Town,” an on-the-nose offering that doesn’t stack up to the iconic tunes in the rest of the set. But it did give us an opportunity to hear some of Mick’s capable harmonica soloing, an arrow the blues-student frontman doesn’t pull from his quiver quite as much these days. Other set highlights included a two-song run with Richards on lead vocals — “Connection” and “Slipping Away,” ahead of which he told the crowd it’s just “great to be anywhere” — and Mick recalling the very first time the band played Nashville back in 1965. (To be specific, Nov. 16, 1965, at Municipal Auditorium, with The Vibrations and Patty LaBelle and the Blues Belles on the undercard.)
The band closed out its main set with the three-song run of “Paint It Black,” “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” before returning for a one-two knockout encore of “Gimme Shelter” and “Satisfaction,” the former featuring some powerhouse vocal acrobatics from backup singer Sasha Allen. The set closed with pyrotechnics showering down from above four massive, pillar-like video screens while fireworks streaked overhead. It was a surreal cap to a somewhat bewildering experience — after the year-and-a-half we’ve just had, being at the 50 yard line of a 70,000-capacity stadium bustling with beer-drunk boomers was nearly overwhelming.
But the show was also comforting. In a world clamoring with uncertainty, one unlikely constant remains: The Stones are indeed still the Stones, because they’re the only Stones we’ve got. Even without the legendary Wembley Whammer — as Jagger once called Watts — they’re still the biggest rock ’n’ roll band on the planet, and we’ll take all of that you got.
Set List: The Rolling Stones at Nissan Stadium, Oct. 9, 2021
1. “Street Fighting Man”
2. “Let’s Spend the Night Together”
3. “Tumbling Dice”
4. “19th Nervous Breakdown”
5. “Troubles a’ Comin’ ” (The Chi-Lites cover)
6. “Dead Flowers”
7. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
8. “Living in a Ghost Town”
9. “Start Me Up”
10. “Honky Tonk Women”
12. “Slipping Away”
13. “Miss You”
14. “Midnight Rambler”
15. “Paint It Black”
16. “Sympathy for the Devil”
17. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
18. “Gimme Shelter”
19. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”