Mick Jagger, Keith Richards photos by Steve Wosahla
The Rolling Stones No Filter tour that began in Europe in 2017 was interrupted due to Covid but restarted in St. Louis in late September and has been crisscrossing the country. This is the first time that the band has toured without drummer Charlie Watts who passed away in August. There was something special about the opportunity to play again and its band members seemed to feel it when they stopped in Tampa and played at the Raymond James Stadium that is home to the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
During the mid-show introductions when Mick Jagger turned the stage over to guitarist Keith Richards for his customary two-songs, Richards seemed genuinely at loss for words. The guitarist who usually delivers his deadpan line like a modern day Dean Martin (“It’s good to be here…it’s good to be anywhere”) this time put away his one-liner and had heartfelt emotions how great it was to be back and playing again, giving his 1966 song “Connection” a symbolic lock with the audience. And when Jagger introduced the song “Living In a Ghost Town” which was released during the early days of the pandemic, he said he hoped it’s the last one.
Onstage in the end zone of the cavernous stadium that is much bigger than it looks on television, Jagger connected the past to the present and recalled the first time the band played in the area in adjacent Clearwater in 1965. It was a four-song set that night. (This show had nineteen songs.) But after the set, the band went back to the hotel and wrote “Satisfaction.” In a perverse twist of history Jagger noted the hotel is no more and the site is now the corporate headquarters of the Church of Scientology.
As skies darkened and rain drizzled prior to showtime, the sounds of the Stones could be heard filtering through the corners of the stadium. Outside through the speakers at a merch table near a stadium entrance, the voice of Jagger circa 1965 in “Little Red Rooster” poured through the speakers of a merch trailer. But inside the Jagger of 2021 was leading a sound check with the full band through “Tumbling Dice,” “Let’s Spend The Night Together” (which didn’t make the set) and “Sad Sad Sad” (resurrected from Steel Wheels and included in the setlist) and a few others.
The production of a stadium show is an enormous undertaking and for this Stones tour (and 22nd time in Florida per Jagger) a gigantic wall of video columns provided a great visual experience and the sound was the best I’d ever heard in a stadium. Shortly after nine, the stadium lights dimmed and the images of Watts interspersed throughout his lifetime appeared on a scrolling video feed that showed him interchangeable by era through his lifetime
When Keith Richards walked out center stage and began slashing the opening chords to “Street Fighting Man,” he appeared in dark sunglasses and a pink ski cap. Jagger began flailing his arms and legs out center. Richards took off his glasses during “Get Off My Cloud” which still has spunk and showcased the great background singing of Bernard Fowler and Sasha Allen and the kinetic force of drummer Steve Jordan, a holdover from Richards X-pensive Winos band.
Jagger, the effusive frontman who bandies about like an aerobics instructor, got a roar when he he “Hello Tampa!” Swigging water and just beginning to work up a sweat, Jagger started losing layers of his green satin jacket and shirt and would be soon down to his black t-shirt..
As “Sad Sad Sad” began the two guitars of Richards and Ronnie Wood fused together in the interlocking signature trademark style. “Cmon Keith!” Jagger implored his lifelong friend since kindergarten. Richards delivered a solo like he was starting the engine of a cranky old car. The cameras panned to the horn section (Karl Denson and Tim Ries). A moment of sadness came over not seeing the late Bobby Keyes in his usual spot.
Jagger came out of the sweltering song to dedicate the show to Watts, the drummer the band first met in 1962. Richards savored the opening chords of “Tumbling Dice” like fine wine and leaned into Wood center stage as Woody did his customary solo.
“Are you doing alright?” master emcee and resident cheerleader Jagger asked rhetorically to uproarious applause. Richards began the chords to one of his greatest songs, “Beast of Burden ” and when Jagger got to the bridge he invoked the great soul singing he learned over the years. Jagger and Fowler did an extended duet going back and forth center stage with the song’s outro.
What song would they play next? With titles of songs scrolling by on the huge video screens, Jagger was like a game show host teasing it was all in the audience’s hands which was voting for each show. When “Far Away Eyes” came up, Jagger said it was a song none of the band knew, motioning for a quick rehearsal and a call to keyboardist and resident musical director Chuck Leavell. “Chuck what key is it in?” Jagger later announced the keyboardist was celebrating his fortieth anniversary to the week with the band.
Jagger was still on acoustic guitar when the band segued into “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with Matt Clifford on French horn. The song drew a sea of phones to video a song that was once was a prototypical anthem for its time, reappropriated in the Eighties in “The Big Chill” film and most recently hijacked as an an inexplicable campaign theme song in the recent presidential election despite the band’s orders to cease and desist. Jagger made it all the way down the runway to lead a stadium song along with Steve Jordan providing the drum starts and stops in the back rear of the main stage. Jagger built on the stadium frenzy to get the audience singing in the newer “Living In a Ghost Town,” set against the grayish-black dystopian video of an empty city. After which Richards walked down the stadium runway to crank the opening chords of “Start Me Up,” electrifying the entire stadium and putting the pandemic behind.
Richards magically strummed the singular E string to galvanize the stadium for “Honky Tonk Women.” By then Jagger was in a new red jacket returning center stage at what felt like the forty yard line before he made a forty yard dash back, one of many trips back and forth. Donning an electric guitar on “Miss You,” Jagger soon was cut loose to venture out to the small stage to lead a stadium chorus of “whoo hoo hoo hoos” while bassist Daryl Jones riffed away on the main stage. Ron Wood came out to keep him company while Jagger called out for a sax solo to the band that was forty yards away.
Jagger was wailing away on harmonica on the next song “Midnight Rambler” with Wood laying down blistering guitar lines that drove the band like a locomotive. At one point Jagger was on his knees seemingly thirty yards from the end zone in a dramatic theatrical performance about the famed killer. Jagger eventually brought the frenzy down and headed back to the main stage singing a few verses of Robert Johnson’s “Come In My Kitchen.” Jagger had previously sung a snippet of “Hellhound On My Trail” on a few stops. For all the pomp and circumstance, at heart, Jagger is still a student of the blues. The riffs of the two guitarists’, Richards and Wood, ricocheted across the field like electrical thunderbolts. Jagger, who covers considerable ground, made it all the way stage left before heading stage right twirling his jacket before throwing it Leavell’s way and blowing out the steps on his Fitbit.
Then it was time for “Paint It Black” followed by “Sympathy For The Devil” with sparklers on screen and behind the stage and smoke billowing all around. Jagger worked the crowd into a frenzy of the song’s chorus and Richards’ classic guitar lines. The stadium lights flashed white bursts when Richards hacked away at the opening chords of “Jumping Jack Flash” and fired them like salvos.
The show was over but it was time for encores. Against the guitar strains of “Gimme Shelter,” video images flashed of a world with its population and environment out of control. Singer Sasha Allen belted out the lines originally sung by Merry Clayton, meeting Jagger out at the end of the extended stage for a duet that still tears down the house every night.
Jagger was once again out in space (in football parlance) at the edges of the extended stage as Richards slashed away at the chords of the second encore “Satisfaction.” They were the same ones ones he mysteriously heard in the middle of night in a Clearwater hotel, put them down on a tape recorder and went back to sleep. The world hasn’t been the same since.