Slipping Away in South Philly
The Rolling Stones, 23 July 2019
Lincoln Financial Field
by Stu O’Connor
The first time I saw the Rolling Stones was during their fabled Exile on Main Street tour in 1972. Chalk it up to urban legend or rock folklore, but a rumor circulated that a guy saw guitarist Mick Taylor in a restroom at the Spectrum and asked if this was the last tour for them, which was always a rumor swirling around the Stones. Mick Taylor reportedly reassured his inquisitor with a casual “No, we’ll be back.” These days, following cancers, surgeries, heart issues, and other health maladies, one might be forgiven for asking the same question in 2019, when the Stones are in their seventies and (possibly?) slowing down.
The short answer, of course, is “Who knows?” But as if in answer to that question, at the end of their excellent show on July 23, the video screens flashed “See You Soon” to the enthusiastic crowd of fans, as the band left the stage after an impressive two-and-a-quarter-hour set. The Stones covered a lot of musical ground with plenty of hit songs, from full-bore rockers (“You Got Me Rocking”) to sweet acoustic sentiments (“Angie”), the latter of which was played on a smaller, more intimate stage in the middle of the stadium with only the core band members. Incidentally, Charlie Watts’s closed, meditational eyes during “Angie” made the song almost a holy experience, in which I was elated to participate.
Do the Stones still have it? Yes, of course they do. They brought their mighty musical prowess to Philadelphia once again, with nothing to prove save for the fact that they are true survivors. This was exemplified in their joyful version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” which they played with more meaning than they have in a while. Forget the star power, forget the hype—when one witnesses the Stones, the primary pleasure of the experience is the outstanding musicianship and their ability to get the crowd off their asses and dancing.
This 2019 tour seems different. The mood was celebratory, vibrant, and joyful that here we were (“Fifty-four fucking years later,” as Jagger said), to see a band that was deeply ingrained in our cultural experience. We’re all older, and there are fewer days in front of the horse than riding in the back of the cart. And this is precisely what made the show seem bittersweet. One moment of special sentiment took place on the small stage, where the band played “Dead Flowers,” and Jagger and Richards shared the vocal harmonies, as in the old days before their period of feuding. Another was an oblique reference to Jagger’s heart surgery, when he said to the crowd, “Sorry to keep you waiting, thanks for being patient. But we’re glad we missed the heat wave and storms.”
Jagger also reached out to the city on a more personal and intimate level than he has in the past, cracking Wawa and pothole jokes (something of a thing here in Philly), and a comment about Nick Foles saying hello (the former Eagles quarterback now plays in Jacksonville, where the band played just days before heading to Philly). The overall feel, then, was one of staring at one another in disbelief that we’re all here to see the Stones in 2019, and none of us knows what the future will hold. This added a mythic, almost Greek-tragedy-like feel to the night, the mortality of the Stones and our reminding ourselves us that we too are mortal, which, according to the Greeks anyway, makes humans superior to the gods of Olympus.
Elements of note during the evening were the outstanding use of technology to enhance and punctuate the music, as well as the impressive side players. One instance of the side players’ great skills and worth was during “Miss You,” when the solos were ceded to keyboardist Chuck Leavell, bassist Darryl Jones, and sax man Karl Denson, all of which added punch and jubilance to the song. Another standout performance was Richards’s compelling version of “Slipping Away,” which he once said was an attempt to “grow up rock ’n’ roll.” The bittersweetness of the lyrics and melody reminded us all that, despite internet memes to the contrary, even the mighty Keef Richards is getting older and we are all slipping away.
Will they continue as a band? Will they be back? Witnessing the high-energy output of a group of very fine musicians in their musical prime fills one with a sense of certainty that even if this is “The Last Time”—a song noticeably omitted from the set—the music created by the Stones’ sensibility of making the best in a world that doesn’t always make sense will live on for quite some time. Rarely does the price of admission allow such deep reflection, and, for this reviewer, the trip into metaphysical speculation, accompanied by such a prodigious soundtrack, made me realize I would have paid much more for the experience. It was that fucking good.
Photo Credit: Mike Gauggel and Rollingstone.com
Stu O’Connor is an educator, musician, and poet who has spent his life dedicated to the power of the word, the necessity of precision in language, and the human need for story as a method of transmitting culture, ideas, and understanding. He has been published in The Mad Poets Review, New Voices in American Poetry, and the Poetry Ink 20 th Anniversary Anthology. He has an undergraduate degree from West Chester University, a Master’s degree from Gratz College, and teaches English in the West Chester Area School District. He has held an Advisory Board seat for West Chester University’s Writing Zones program and currently is an Advisory Board member for The Mad Poets Society, one of the Philadelphia Region’s largest poetry groups. He performs music on a regular basis with two bands and hosts a poetry series in West Chester called ”Living on Luck” for The Mad Poets Society.