“Just because we’re in the home of country music…we’re not going to play it up or anything, with big hats or pedal steel guitars,” Mick Jagger deadpanned last night, speaking to an audience that filled the bulk of Nashville’s 69,000-capacity LP Field. “We’re just going to do our normal show!”
Then, with a smile that wrinkled his face into deep creases, he donned a rather large cowboy hat while guitarist Ron Wood took a seat behind a pedal steel rig. With that, the Rolling Stones launched into one of their most country-influenced songs, “Far Away Eyes,” playing the 1978 deep cut for the first time in two years.
That banter was meant to be a joke —”It’s ironic, see?” Jagger said from beneath the brim of his cowboy hat, in case anyone didn’t get the joke —but apart from “Far Away Eyes,” the Rolling Stones did give Nashville a normal show. It was still a good show, of course, full of loud, greasy, blues-based rock & roll and plenty of footwork from the 71-year old Jagger, who remains limber and lively in his golden years. At the same time, there were no mentions of (or tributes to) Bobby Keys, the Stones’ longtime saxophonist, who moved to the Nashville area during the mid-Nineties and, after logging two decades as one of the most active members of the city’s music community, passed away late last year. Even when Jagger gave shoutouts to some of Tennessee’s other metro areas —”How about that Chatt-an-oo-ga?” he yelled at one point, pronouncing the city’s name with four hard, distinct syllables —it felt a bit scripted, as though the band does something similar at all of their Zip Code Tour stops.
Still, who the hell cares? Like the Who, the Rolling Stones are the one of the world’s oldest rock & roll bands, their core membership more or less intact after more than a half-century’s worth of boozy boogie-woogie. Other musicians have been added to the touring lineup —including backup singers, horn players, bassist Darryl Jones and keyboardist Chuck Leavell —but Jagger, Wood, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts still dish out the majority of the music’s soul, sweat and swagger. In their first Nashville performance in nearly 20 years, the guys didn’t have to give any shoutouts to win over the crowd. They just had to show up, turn on and rock out.
And rock out, they did. Kicking off with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and topping out at 20 songs, the band’s setlist included hits and rarities alike, with Richards handling lead vocals on two tunes and Brad Paisley —the evening’s opening act —returning to the stage for a guitar-heavy performance of “Dead Flowers.” Fireworks shot into the East Nashville night during the first and final numbers, Jagger’s shirt became unbuttoned by the second song and Watts, calm as ever, drove everything forward at a steady clip, keeping the music anchored whenever Wood or Richards’ hit an out-of-time guitar chord. Performing beneath three towering Jumbotrons, the band looked happy and healthy, playing their songs with enough sloppy grit to shake off the cold, calculated precision can come with performing the same material for decades. Who knows if that slop was intentional, or simply a byproduct of their advancing age. Whatever the reason, the result was only rock & roll … but we liked it.