"I'm glad to be here," Keith Richards told the audience midway through The Rolling Stone's massive show at MetLife Stadium on Thursday night, before letting out a sharp "HAH" directly into the mic and adding, "or anywhere!" Thanks to surviving after a lifetime of ingesting any substance put before him, Richards has taken on an air of immortality, along with his other aging rockstar bandmates. But after Mick Jagger's brush with mortality earlier this year, fans can't take for granted that these 70-somethings will be able to tour the globe forever delivering increasingly shambolic renditions of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" for Baby Boomers looking to connect with their grandchildren.

Or can they?!

What does it mean to be a Rolling Stones fan in 2019? Is it worth shelling out hundreds of dollars and putting up with long lines at Port Authority to be able to see the band 40+ years after their prime? Can they still deliver thrilling rock 'n' roll, or do they churn out hollow renditions of yesterday's rebellions? How many outfits can Mick fit into a two hour show? Does Charlie Watts even want to be there? Is Keith... awake? Will anyone ever appreciate the bass shredding abilities of Darryl Jones? Wait, is that a Michael McDonald lookalike playing keys for them in the back? I went to MetLife Stadium this week to try to answer most of those questions.

The Love Ballad Of Mick & Keith: There are a lot of factors which have contributed to the je ne Stones quoi of the band and elevated them so far above their '60s peers—I will take this opportunity to praise Watts' impeccable, understated brush work—but the most important ingredient is the balance between Mick and Keith, two incredibly different human beings whose adults lives have been deeply, irrevocably intertwined.

In concert, that dynamic is key to the whole enterprise. Mick remains the showman of the band, the entertainer, the guy working overtime to engage the audience with singalong moments. I swear to God, Mick didn't stop moving for the entire concert, whether he was shimmying his shoulders to "Miss You" or rooster-strutting down the runway for "Gimme Shelter." There was so much hip-shaking during opener "Street Fighting Man," I looked online to make sure Mick hadn't recently undergone hip-removal surgery.

Mick is the kinda fellow who still loves wearing sparkly jackets that make him look like he's still trying out for a spot on the Sgt. Pepper's cover (you kinda already made it, Mick!) and giving shoutouts to sloppy joes and french fries (he also had nice things to say about the American Dream mall opening across the street, to which a Jersey resident near me screamed back, "It sucks! It's a nightmare!"). Mick is also a guy who knows exactly where his vocal range lies now: he sounds completely like his younger self on "You Can’t Always Get What You Want" and "Tumbling Dice," but he wisely avoids some of the high notes on "Honky Tonk Woman." And he seems incapable of singing the "gas gas gas" part of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" without rushing it, but it's still a gas.

If Mick is the ego of the band—all seductive dance moves and audience participation—then Keith is most definitely the uncoordinated, instinctual id. The tension between Mick's carefully curated-showmanship and Keith's loose, internal process is what makes the Stones still a thrilling band to see live. Because as much as Mick wants to control the proceedings, as finely-coordinated and well-timed all the songs are, there is no way to guess at what Keith might do, or play, next.

If you know anything about Keith's musicianship, it is that he is a legendary rhythm guitar player who worships at the altar of Chuck Berry. His guitar playing style is all flourish and rhythm, and completely idiosyncratic. It has only grown moreso over the years: during "Street Fighting Man," Keith looks like he's playing in slow motion. On "She's A Rainbow," Keith skims against the guitar like it's a toothbrush. At some point I realize that Keith has so much internal rhythm, he's almost become anti-rhythmic—he is the Dadaist of rhythm guitar, splashing chord strokes onto these towering songs at random intervals.

Ron Wood is a far better soloist than Keith, as he demonstrates with some fast fret work throughout the night, but he has none of his style (and certainly can't touch Keith's beautiful guitar tones). It's utterly riveting to watch, because I never know whether Keith is actually going to be able to keep up with the songs. He seems one upstroke away from completely derailing everyone, and yet the band never quite does.

Watching them on stage with their contrasting styles, Mick and Keith could be in entirely different groups. Except then they come together to harmonize on the chorus of "Street Fighting Man" and "Sweet Virginia" and "Let's Spend The Night Together" and "Dead Flowers" and "Brown Sugar" and it is still one of the greatest pairings of voices in rock history. They sound just as good now as they did way back when.

No We Are Not A Jam Band...We Just Like Playing Solos: The Stones have never been a jam band, despite the occasional foray in that direction (see: "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," "Goin' Home"). Their early training as blues formalists always held them back from fully embracing that side of themselves—I can only imagine Watts rolling his eyes waaaaay back in his head at any such suggestions. And yet, a majority of the songs they perform live are extended into shapes that almost, if you squint, resemble jams.

That mostly amounts to outros being extended, which seems entirely planned and also really appealing to the audience, who gets to sing those "woo woos" in "Sympathy For The Devil" for nearly 10 minutes. I expected to find this aspect taxing, but was shocked at how often I loved it, and how often it led to the highlights of the night. "Miss You" was the tightest song of the night (all credit to bassist Darryl Jones, who even got a bass solo in here), with a thrilling melange of sax, hi-hats, and Mick's best singing and shimmying of the evening. "Tumbling Dice," one of the greatest rock songs in history, was the perfect example of the Stone's sloppy tight style: the whole thing kept threatening to derail, especial in that extended outro, but the chaos only added to the fun.

The two absolute best moments of the night: "Sympathy For The Devil" was a beast, building up from tambourine and bongos into a lightning light guitar and vocal slashes. Mick got to wear a top hat and really lean into his acting instincts, but again, it was Keith who just made the whole thing explode. His guitar would suddenly crash in on the chorus waaaaay louder than everyone else, each minimalist strum drowning out the group, which made both Keith and myself laugh with glee. He was like the Kool Aid Man bursting through a wall after a lifetime of hard narcotics use.

The absolute best performance of the night was "Midnight Rambler," which was a full band effort, and the one song where everyone looked ecstatic at the same time. Mick wailed on harmonica with swagger, Wood showed off his soloing skills, Keith was in the pocket (he didn't lag once!!). Mick took his outer shirt off and swung it around, Watts led them into multiple tempo changes, there was a guitar/harmonica-off that wasn't lame, and then the whole thing culminated in guitar stabs that turned the video cameras completely red, before cresting into a stomp ala the White Stripes' "Black Math." This song right here is why you see The Rolling Stones live in 2019. A lot of people might sound like the Stones, but the Stones still sound like absolutely no one else.

Best Cameos, Surprises, And All The Rest:


  • As Mick noted at one point, this was the Stones' 90th show in the NYC-area.

  • Mick & Keith were wearing matching purple outfits to start the night, which was adorable

  • "She's A Rainbow" has only been played 18x by the Stones ever live. Mick sounded great on it though, and I wish they did more songs from that period, especially all the wonderful, underrated Between The Buttons gems.

  • Charlie Watts had this wonderful, distinguished DGAF look on his face for approximately 70% of the evening, like he was daydreaming about his next jazz brunch gig. But every once in awhile, he broke out into a giant grin that really made me happy.

  • Mick really is a beast on harmonica still. That last Stones album, Blue & Lonesome, is worth listening to if you are into that kind of sound.

  • Ron Wood's two best moments: playing slide guitar on "She's A Rainbow" and, uh, flossing (the dance) for the audience.

  • Keith had a two-song pseudo solo set, sans Mick, in the middle of the show, in which he played "Slipping Away" and "Before They Make Me Run." My controversial opinion: Keith has actually aged into the better singer. "Slipping Away," especially, was gorgeous.

  • Keith doesn't solo much, but his big one came on "Sympathy For The Devil"—and the guy played maybe half the notes! But it was so fucking good!

  • Mick Jagger called New Jersey the "health food capital" of the world, but maybe I misheard that.

  • "Paint It Black" was fascinating: the chorus was played faster than the verses, and it seemed Keith could not keep up for the first 2/3 of it. Then on the last chorus, he synced up, and that turned into a thumping extended outro that was a highlight of the evening, a blend of psychedelic music and garage rock that got more hypnotic as it went on longer.

  • The last five songs of the set were like listening to a classic rock radio station that only played the biggest rock songs in history. I will always have a soft spot for "Start Me Up," the absolute most Stones-by-the-books song in history; "Brown Sugar" was fun as hell; "Gimme Shelter" always works; and I don't know if it matters how they perform "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," because everyone loses their minds to that song.

  • For the record: the keyboardist was NOT Michael McDonald, but he looked a hell of a lot like him. And he sang great backup vocals too.

SETLIST
1. Street Fighting Man
2. Let’s Spend the Night Together
3. Tumbling Dice
4. She’s a Rainbow (by request)
5. You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Acoustic Set/B Stage:
6. Sweet Virginia
7. Dead Flowers

Main Stage:
8. Sympathy for the Devil
9. Honky Tonk Women

Keith's Set:
10. Slipping Away
11. Before They Make Me Run

12. Miss You
13. Paint It Black
14. Midnight Rambler
15. Start Me Up
16. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
17. Brown Sugar

Encore:
18. Gimme Shelter
19. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction