October 7, 2005
Mick Jagger and his band of merry men showed what superlative entertainers they are last night in Charlottesville. To hell with old age, they're focused on having a rockin' good time, as was the audience, most of whom were as old or older than us! (Charlottesville political analyst Bob Gibson recounts the impressions of some aging baby boomers at dailyprogress.com.) As feared, it did rain some, but not until the middle of the show, and even then it was just a drizzle for the most part. Our seats at Scott Stadium were adequate, near the front of the upper deck in the south corner. With binoculars we could see the performers, but there was a sound tower that obstructed the view of the big video screen behind the stage. "Stage" is not an adequate word to describe the gigantic five-story fire-spewing multi-media display structure, which must have take a week or more to set up. (The Virginia Cavaliers do not play another home game until October 15, by which time the turf will have had time to recover, hopefully.)
The seats filled very slowly during the opening act by Trey Anastasio (good, but too loud), but Scott Stadium was jam-packed (except for the northwestern extremities behind the stage) by the time the Main Event began. Attendance was about 55,000, but many folks arrived late because of massive traffic tie-ups. Channel 29 interviewed some very irate Stones fans who were still stuck in traffic after the show began, but TicketMaster and U.Va. provided plenty of information for out-of-towners on how to park, so I think they have only themselves to blame.
Music? Oh, yeah. It was a perfect mix of the Rolling Stones' standard hits, including nearly all of the best ones, plus a few new songs and a few lesser-known older blues tunes. The sound quality was alright, though a little muddied by amplification and echoing. I suppose that is the best you can expect in such a big arena as Scott Stadium. I made notes of the set list for the show:
* : New songs, from A Bigger Bang.
The unplayed song I missed most was "Gimme Shelter," and I was surprised by the omission of "Angie." On either side of the drum set there was a clear plastic shield on which were written the names of the songs in the set, so I knew what to expect. Mick Jagger never showed a bit of fatigue as he sang and screamed through the 20-song set. He played guitar (electric and acoustic) on a few songs, including the crowd-pleasing "Sweet Virginia," and harmonica on "Miss You" and one or two others. He showed he had done his geographic homework by welcoming fans from nearby Richmond, Virginia Beach, and the small town of Midlothian -- which has obvious English roots. Keith Richards was nearly as energetic as Mick on lead guitar, while second guitarist Ron Wood and drummer Charlie Watts were more subdued. Wood generally stayed put, usually out of my line of sight, thanks to the light tower. For "Paint It Black" he used a special electric guitar with a long neck and round base theat resembled a sitar and reproduced the exotic sound. Watts kept up a steady beat with his trademark bemused expression.
Just as Mick was introducing the band members, he announced that "the authorities" had declared that there would be a ten-minute break. Soon all of the stage personnel and the audience from the first 30 or so rows on the field in front of the stage were evacuated, while police officers led trained dogs sniffing around the equipment and seats. They didn't explicitly say so at the time, of course, but it was later confirmed that there was indeed a bomb threat. It only takes one idiot to spoil everyone's fun. Fortunately, however, the concert resumed after a delay of nearly an hour. The incident gave a grimly ironic twist to the name of the new album, A Bigger Bang. Given the weather, it would have been appropriate to play another of the new songs, "Rain Fall Down."
After the (unscheduled) intermission, the crowd on our side of the stadium was thrilled when the band was moved on a large rolling platform to the middle of the field. Seeing the ecstatic faces on the fans right next to the stage was fun for us upper-deck remote observers. The Stones have that special, magical quality that comes through even on songs that would be just average when performed by other musicians. This was the first time Jacqueline and I have been to a rock concert in at least ten years, and there is no doubt if you are only going to see one such show, this one is it. Pure, unadulterated "Satisfaction"!