The Rolling Stones know they’re old, and they know you’re old too. During the first few songs on Wednesday, the video screen behind the band showed the faces of fans in the audience at the TD Garden, juxtaposed with montages of screaming teenagers from when the band was at the height of cultural relevance. The live feed didn’t capture such youthful frenzy, but the Fifty and Counting tour is not about pretending that the audience or the band members — most of whom are in their late 60s — are still young. It’s not about denying the passing of time, but celebrating what the band did in that time. Accordingly, the set was mostly comprised of songs that defined those times.
The band had difficulty getting warmed up, after entering the tongue-shaped stage through the giant set of lips that has been the band’s logo for at least 40 of those 50 years.
"It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)" was downright bad, sounding like neither rock 'n' roll, nor something anybody would really like. The band didn't come in at the right time, Mick Jagger appeared thrown, and they never found their groove throughout that song.
But when even "the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band" can mess up a song they've been playing for 30 years, that actually is kind of rock 'n' roll.
And by the time they launched into their fourth song, “Gimme Shelter,” it was intense enough to make anybody in the audience almost feel like this was the poignant music of the present. Special accolades also go to backing singer Lisa Fischer, whose contribution to that song helped make it fresh. It's ironic that she is starting to achieve some fame for her role with the Stones and in the new film "20 Feet from Stardom," in which she explains that she actually prefers being a background player than a star. She is clearly worthy.
From that song on, the band members achieved balance, with the intricate parts of the songs fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle, and occasionally reached transcendence. The end of "Tumbling Dice," for instance, was sublime. And Keith Richards’ greatest skill is still finding the unexpected pockets of rhythm and knowing when not to play.
"You Can't Always Get What You Want," which featured the Boston University Marsh Chapel Choir, was a faithful rendering of the original; but it actually felt like Mick Jagger was sincere in his delivery of words he must have sung millions of times before. It's also worth noting that Jagger’s voice sounded as vibrant on Wednesday night as it ever has on live recordings, and his dancing could have worn out many a rocker one quarter of his age.
Watching Charlie Watts play drums will never not be a thrill, and Darryl Jones' extended bass treatment of "Emotional Rescue" was a testimony that of all the rock bands who dabbled in disco in the 1970s, the Stones did it the best.
The Stones were joined by a handful of special guests, most notably guitarist Mick Taylor, who played on what were arguably the Stones’ best albums and quit in the early 1970s. Taylor came out for a few of the numbers he is best known for contributing to, but his longtime replacement, Ronnie Wood, never left the stage.
Where the band were discovering new truths within "You Can't Always Get What You Want," the final two songs of the evening, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Satisfaction" felt a little rushed. But it almost didn't matter, because with the way that the Fifty and Counting setlist was paced by the time they're playing these songs, you're just marveling that while you have heard these songs so much in your life that there's little room to unearth previously hidden meaning, it is still exciting to realize that on that stage are many of the people who first played these songs that set the standard for what rock 'n' roll was and still is.