Saturday, the biggest yet — the Rolling Stones — lumbered into AT&T Stadium for its first area gig in almost a decade.
The room — Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar sports palace cracked open the roof for the first concert since George Strait christened the place back in 2009 — perfectly fit not only the thousands filling its seats and aisles, but the Stones’ mammoth reputation as one of the last living foundational rock bands upon which so much history stands. (The concert was billed as a sold-out affair, but exact numbers weren’t immediately available Saturday; an eyeball estimate put the throng somewhere north of 40,000.)
Simply put, at an age when the Stones should be a fond relic of wilder times, the impossibly lithe Mick Jagger and his astonishingly ageless bandmates — guitarist Keith Richards, defying death with a gleam in his eye; guitarist Ronnie Wood, appearing to be little more than a walking bundle of tendons and the implacable drummer Charlie Watts, his arms and legs in constant motion, keeping the beat like a metronome made flesh — acted like eager upstarts, ripping through more than two hours of hits with gusto.
The magic resided in the moments, the flashes of each individual’s contribution to the whole: Jagger’s oft-imitated, never-duplicated stutter step, bouncing him across the enormous stage set up in the stadium’s east end zone; the practiced detachment of Richards’ guitar playing, his fingers following the neck as much out of habit as musical necessity; the piston-like precision of Watts, stone-faced and steady on.
Jagger slipped easily into the role of host, taking care to welcome guests from all corners of Texas — Arlington, which got short shrift in the run-up to Saturday’s show (the preferred hashtag was #StonesDallas, after all), was among the cities namechecked — and even cracking a few jokes: “I wish I could figure out the name of this stadium — it’s escaping me,” he remarked at one point. “Is it Verizon Stadium? T-Mobile Stadium?”
But his embrace of levity merely filled the spaces between the songs, where his real passions lay.
Watching Jagger, throwing little harmonica stabs at the beginning of Midnight Rambler, physically react to Richards’ downstroke of the song’s indelible riff, as Wood began playing guitar behind Jagger, was to see molecules shift and a chemical reaction transpire before your eyes — the song, from 1969’s Let It Bleed, literally popped to life, a great, churning, greasy blues that built up to a gloriously messy climax.
That sort of interplay was the only real special effect the band needed, although a few fireworks were deployed here and there, along with interstitial videos. Keith Richards, who got two numbers to himself — Before They Make Me Run and Happy — still croaks like a frog on life support, but Jagger was in fine voice throughout, oozing sex appeal and changing his clothes more often than Cher.
The focus, however, stayed mainly where it should have: the Stones’ masterful catalog.
Although the band’s current “ZIP Code” tour is meant to promote the re-release of 1971’s Sticky Fingers (the remastered record arrives in stores Tuesday), the set list didn’t really favor Fingers, with just three cuts — B—, Moonlight Mile and Brown Sugar — being performed.
Joined by a murderer’s row of collaborators, including vocalist Lisa Fischer, pianist Chuck Leavell, bassist Darryl Jones and the University of Texas at Arlington choir, the Stones reeled off one scorcher after another: the show opening Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Tumbling Dice, Let’s Spend the Night Together and Honky Tonk Women had the fans screaming, singing along and straining to snap selfies with the band behind them. (Those seated higher up in the stadium may have been screaming for altogether different reasons: the stadium’s humungous video boards were not turned on Saturday, leaving those in the nosebleeds likely straining to see all the action.)
But it was the final five songs elevating the night into the realm of unforgettable: Miss You spilled into a genuinely hair-raising Gimme Shelter spun into the firecracker Start Me Up which gave way to the sinister, harrowing Sympathy for the Devil (which, unless my ears were playing tricks on me, seemed to be missing its infamous line about the Kennedys) and culminated with Brown Sugar.
A sustained stretch of almost 30 minutes, a brilliant, blistering salvo of rock songs, emanating from this collective of visibly weathered, wizened men — none of whom is younger than 68 — defied all logic and yet, somehow, made total sense.
The only real surprise was just how enthusiastic the Stones seemed.
This year is shaping up to be a sort of long goodbye for local fans of rock music of a certain vintage — a poignant, powerful parade of seminal acts taking one final bow.
That’s not to suggest the Rolling Stones (or any of the other veteran bands that’ve played in DFW thus far in 2015) are bound for imminent retirement, but rather, there’s an overwhelming sense of time’s passage.
Indeed, if you closed your eyes as the Stones roared into yet another hit Saturday, it was possible to feel time stop, if only briefly.
But it wasn’t long before time rushed onward, the past, present and future meshed into a moment you wished would last forever.
Such a visceral sensation gives already emotionally charged events like Saturday’s concert an extra weight. It’s moving to think the Stones and those of similar stature may not pass this way again.
We are richer for having had the Rolling Stones’ music in our lives.
What impossibly large footprints they leave behind.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713