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The Rolling Stones
It continues to defy the imagination how a quartet in their 60s can still play balls-to-the-wall rock ’n’ roll the way the Rolling Stones delivered it Thursday night at Alltel Arena.
A sellout crowd of 15,000 rarely had the opportunity to sit long, as Mick Jagger and the gang kept the show hopping with a blend of unforgettable hits and a trip through the rock-blues age that influenced this British band in its 1960s infancy. The Stones satisfied their fans with two hours of music, all the while playing it like they were fresh newcomers. The finishing encore of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Satisfaction” was apropos.
The band rolled a portion of their custom-made stage from the main arena area to what was termed Stage B, where thousands of fans who normally have to depend on a large TV screen to see much were treated to Mick, Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts up close for four songs midway through the show.
Meanwhile, the veteran rockers also eschewed the pyromania that seems to accompany most of the classic rockers these days, depending (like Eric Clapton also did here two years ago) on subtle lighting changes and a electrifying backdrop of a huge LED screen with a light screen behind it.
This was never more evident than during “Sympathy for the Devil”; a devilish red glow from all the spotlights bathed the stage while Jagger pranced around in top hat and black coat. Meanwhile the screens behind the band flashed haunting red-lit figures, adding a satanic twist to the production.
Early, on an extended bluesy “Midnight Rambler,” those same spotlights cast a soothing blue glow around the stage, while the tricky TV technicians made the screens show the action in a shadowy, magenta tone.
The Stones showed far more appreciation for blues roots than they did at War Memorial Stadium in their only other Central Arkansas concert. The first half of the show, after they got through “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” seemed mostly geared toward blues numbers, with a couple of country-laced songs thrown in for good measure. Jagger, in fact, thanked opening act Merle Haggard and his country brethren for their influence when he sang “Dead Flowers.”
Jagger wasn’t just a stage prancer, though he did plenty of preening to the delight of the fans on either side of the stage. He played acoustic guitar on “Dead Flowers,” played electric on several others, even electric slide on “Back of My Hand,” and offered up a down-and-dirty harmonica during “Midnight Rambler.”
Backup singers slowly worked their way into place at far stage right as the opening songs passed by, and the four horns made their way to a spot stage left seven songs in, on “Tumbling Dice.”
Backup singer Lisa Fisher, with a Tina Turner look and sound, was allowed to shine and then some with Jagger on Ray Charles’ “The Night Time Is the Right Time,” yet another blues number.
Richards always gets his moment in the spotlight and he wailed in Tom Waits-style on “Empty Without You,” then pepped the arena up with “Happy,” showing that’s he’s not all gravelly voiced.
While the Stones played some cuts off the new album, “Bigger Bang,” “Rough Justice” was the only new song to make it in the last half, which was a run of monster hits: “Miss You,” “Get Off of My Cloud,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Start Me Up” and “Brown Sugar,” plus the jamming encore.
Confetti came shooting out of the ceiling like a clumpy Spiderman netting over the floor patrons. But that was one of the few missteps of the night. Several spectators said the sound was not up to par, and worsened near the end of the show. A hum emanated from the sound system while the band was on the B Stage, and the sound seemed to be off on “Get Off of My Cloud.”
Concession lines were slow, and alcohol sales were cut off at 9 p.m., about 10 minutes before the Stones took the stage. The decision to halt sales at 9 was made by the arena, General Manager Michael Marion said, after complaints from fans at other events that alcohol sales had gone on too long. In our section, the complaint was that sales hadn’t gone on long enough.