Croke Park, Dublin
Based on past experiences, you should go to a Stones gig with, er, No Expectations and then if you’re pleasantly surprised it’s a bonus; not because they’ll be crap but because just the playing can be a trifle more shambolic than you’d hope for with the ticket price. Sure, Charlie’ll be rock solid, and Jagger will always deliver your money’s worth but Ronnie’n’Keith? Lovely lads, but there was a time they were the Drunken Bakers of Rawk and it could really get messy. That’s not to say they weren’t fun to watch, or whatever, but you’d look around and see other fans with the wee glimmer of a flinch passing across their eyes. Not that they’d say it out loud but they knew. We all knew.
So when you fast forward to 2018 it’s with a hint of trepidation that you tip up to Croker; the sound’s awful in the stands, innit, so we’ve plumped for bog standard pitch standing. We’re there at quarter past six and pretty much at the crash barrier keeping us back from the Golden circle. The two girls from Belfast ask us old lags if there’s any way that they can, y’know, scooch into there, only for us to *hilariously* point out that it’s a hard border.
Nurse, the screens.
The Academic are grand; the venue’s too big for them and the audience (those that have bothered to turn up at this point) are too interested in having a chat and a larf.
Half eight isn’t long coming around, and the giant screen yokes with the yellow background and the scribbled tongues on them suddenly go dark, and with minimum of fanfare, the supercharged samba of Sympathy kicks off, with just Charlie, Mick and a few sidemen on stage until the first *krungg* of guitar and our guitar heroes arrive. I look at Eoin and he looks back at me, and we’re both mentally crossing our fingers ‘don’t fuck it up you fuckers…’ and they don’t.
The sound (on the pitch) is great and the setlist (https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/the-rolling-stones/2018/croke-park-dublin-ireland-bede996.html) is grand.
Heresy ahoy. I can live without Midnight Rambler. I thought it was dragged out and overcooked when i first heard it on the Hot Rocks cassette I bought oh-so-long ago and I still do now. I still largely skip it on Let it Bleed and it truly doesn’t need to be fifteen minutes or so. Same goes for Miss You, of which I need only say two words: Bass solo. Actually I tell a fib. I need to say more about the big screens in general and during Miss you in particular. I’ve never seen electronics deliver such vivid images; the HD display was just immense. I know, maybe, you don’t *want* to see all of Ronnie’s wrinkles but you can. No soft edges, it’s like you’re looking at actual giant people rather than video screens, and the aesthetic during Miss You, where it harked back to the Some Girls cover, and NY disco was rather spectacular.
How was the playing though? Were they phoning it in? No, no they weren’t. Normally at this point, the Samuel Johnson quote about the dog walking on its hind legs comes to mind; that it’s not how good they’re doing this at the age of whatever, it’s that they’re doing it at all. But here’s the thing. they *are* doing it good, and at that age. They belt out two tracks off 2016’s Blue and Lonesome covers album and they’re just a very tight blues band, and Mick’s harp playing is a joy to hear.
It’s quite clear that Keith’s cleaned up his act; there was definitely 70% less posing and shape throwing from him, and significantly better guitar playing, so much so that at times, I think even *he* was pleasantly surprised. Some misinterpret Charlie’s, hur hur, stone face for disinterest; they’re wrong. It’s part of the act. He’s meant to look like a faintly disappointed headmaster, slightly confused by what the hell has landed him where he is; but listen to the noise he gets out of that kit and wonder no more.
Jagger? Where to start. Look, he knows it’s faintly ridiculous at this stage but he runs, and pouts, and struts and shimmies and then, when he wants to get the audience to clap he does this fast-clappy thing that reminds me of The Wife last Saturday when she realised I’d be out of the house for the Eurovision. He has the audience in the palm of his hand. If he’s got an iffy throat, it doesn’t sound like that, though he’s glugging away on some potion or other a fair bit. He takes his usual 2 song break for Keith to sing; we’re too deep into the crowd to nip out for a toilet break, but once that’s over, we’re back on the home strait and the closing double whammy of Gimme Shelter and Satisfaction are just immense, the former still sounding just as sinister and just as nasty as it did fifty years ago.
What you’d expect – all ages. My mam’s pal from the bridge club wanted to go but couldn’t, because she was babysitting for her daughter and son-in-law, who were at the gig. Loads of youngsters who weren’t around when Voodoo Lounge was released, and everybody in the finest of humour. Good weather will do that, of course.
It made me think..
It really would be something special to see them do the blues thing, in a smaller club, with less need to continually bark out The Warhorses but still, if this is the last we’ll see of ’em here, they did themselves proud.