Concert review: The Rolling Stones at Ohio Stadium

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Amidst a loose-limbed version of "Tumbling Dice," Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger dropped a line that could have doubled as the band's mantra for the evening, singing, "Always in a hurry/ I never stop to worry."

For the bulk of the Stones' 130-minute set at a packed Ohio Stadium on Saturday, Jagger & Co. held to these words, blasting through a steady parade of uptempo hits built on swaggering guitars and the swinging-yet-steady hand of drummer Charlie Watts, whose silver hair and erect posture suggested he'd look just as at home manning a desk at Sterling Cooper as backing the veteran English rockers.

Jagger, 71, still oozed an effortless charisma, and he repeatedly sashayed across the stage and down a long catwalk like James Brown auditioning for a role on "America's Next Top Model" - a fashion-forward sensibility that carried over into his frequent wardrobe changes, which found the singer flitting through looks as though he were some kind of living paper doll, only skinnier. On a fiery "Sympathy for the Devil" he even donned a full-length feathered cape that gave him the appearance of a Jim Henson creation.

Throughout, the singer played to the home crowd. He led his mates through a few bars of "Hang on Sloopy," directed the audience in an "O-H ... I-O" chant and told tales of a day spent enjoying beers in German Village and strolling the Moonlight Market. A chance encounter with Zombiewalk Columbus (or a "zombie parade," as Jagger termed it) might have even inspired the Stones' decision to play "Doom and Gloom," with its lyrical reference to "a horde of zombies."

All the evening lacked was an element of surprise - save for the ever-present threat of rainstorms, which somehow held off for the duration of the performance. Prior to launching the "Zip Code" tour, the Stones flirted with the idea of playing Sticky Fingers in its entirety in concert (a deluxe reissue of the 1971 album surfaced May 26th), though Jagger expressed concern about the record's heavy reliance on ballads, telling Rolling Stone "Sticky Fingers has about five slow songs. I'm just worried that it might be problematic in stadiums. Maybe we'd play it and everyone would say, 'Great,' but maybe they'll get restless and start going to get drinks."

Instead, the musicians delivered an early, two-song mini-suite culled from the album - the swaggering "Bitch," colored in cranky riffs via guitarist/rock 'n' roll gypsy Keith Richards, and a measured, gorgeous "Wild Horses" - fleshing out the remainder of the set with a lengthy list of timeless tunes pulled from its decades-long career, including "Start Me Up," "Paint It Black" and Fingers' suitably sticky "Brown Sugar."

Though the set list followed a largely predictable path, the Stones approached the broken-in material with curiosity intact rather than glassy eyed, punch-the-clock numbness. Richards and fellow guitarist Ron Wood, in particular, functioned as a de facto tag team, shaping and directing songs with learned intuition. Oftentimes, Wood would establish the rhythm and Richards would hang back a beat before gliding in with some fanged riff or sonic flourish.

Rounding out the linuep were bassist Darryl Jones, keyboardists Matt Clifford and Chuck Leavell, and backup singers Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fischer, the latter of whom took center stage on a stirring version of "Gimme Shelter," digging in and belting out the words with greater force than any of the storms that battered the area prior to the concert's start. Additionally, dual saxophonists Tim Ries and Karl Denson stepped in for longtime running mate Bobby Keys, who died last year, while 32 members of the Ohio University Singers made the trek from Athens to serve as stirring vocal accompaniment on "You Can't Always Get What You Want," which kicked off the two-song encore.

Choirs aside, the Stones relied on remarkably little stadium gimmickry, doing away with the inflatable gals that used to grace the stage during "Honky Tonk Woman" (performed here as a lean, roadhouse bruiser) and refraining from flashy pyrotechnics - save for the fireworks that capped a concert-closing "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."

While the Stones approached the stadium setting with a degree of nuance, opener Kid Rock opted to paint in broad strokes, turning out a warmup set that essentially functioned as a condensed version of his arena show.

The singer, decked out in a T-shirt emblazoned with a bald eagle, dug into tunes that riffed on Lynyrd Skynyrd ("All Summer Long"), covered fellow Detroit native Ted Nugent ("Cat Scratch Fever") and boasted about his blue-collar bona fides (virtually every song). At one point, Rock even invited former Navy SEAL Robert O'Neill onstage, referring to him as the man who killed Osama bin Laden (O'Neill claims to have fired the headshots that killed the terrorist leader) before playing him off by howling "I am American badass" atop stampeding guitars, because of course.

Rock, 44, also acknowledged the evening's headliners in an expletive-laden "Forty," a tongue-in-cheek song about struggling with the aging process, singing, "But Bruce Springsteen is … 63/ And the Stones are almost dead!"

On this night, at least, the savvy veterans proved they've still got plenty of fight left in 'em.