Stones between rock and a hard place

This column is in confessional mode today. After a trend, I wish to confess in public to having endured a traumatic experience in my past, writes Michael Clifford.

Stones between rock and a hard place

This decision to open up and bare my soul will probably render me a victim, but with any bit of luck it should also bump up the number of readers to the column, as the masses flock to feel my pain.

While the past for many may be a different country, it was for me only last Thursday.

On the stated day, I, of my own free will and being of soundish mind, did attend the Rolling Stones concert in Croke Park.

I was not under the influence of any mood-altering substance. I paid for the ticket. I can’t even claim that I was forced to attend on a work assignment.

I realise how this experience has exposed me as possessing a deep character flaw.

Not even nostalgia can be cited as a defence.

When Mick Jagger was wailing up the charts that he couldn’t get no satisfaction, my entry to the world was being eagerly awaited.

In fact, there is no logical reason — not on the face of it anyway — why I would subject myself to an evening in Croker watching four men with a combined age of 294 do their thing as if they still had time on their side.

Curiosity got the better of me though.

I had to check out whether the past really can be recreated.

Other performing artists mature and adapt. You can still go and see Van Morrison, Neil Young, or Christy Moore without hankering for their past.

The Stones are different. They are the past. Their brand of rock ’n’ roll was at its peak in 1972, and had a brief encore around a decade later.

In their day, they produced some of the best rock ’n’ roll ever seen, but they have largely been living off those days since.

Would the mythic rock gods of yesteryear take the stage, or would it be a cartoonish incarnation, like an exhibition wheeled out of a museum for the day?

The omens for the gig were poor from way out. For the last few months, the opening riffs of ‘Gimme Shelter’ were a constant in the ad-breaks on the radio.

More recently, we were breathlessly told that more tickets were now being “released”.

Then a few weeks back, the ultimate indignity. Mick Jagger was interviewed on a Sunday morning on RTÉ Radio’s Miriam Meets.

Could this be happening?

Jumping Jack Flash himself had to descend from the gilded pantheon of rock and roll immortality to rustle up a bit of interest in the gig.

Is he that stuck for a few bob? There’s desperate and there’s desperate, but this was capitulation.

Anyway, curiosity got the better of me and I toddled off to Croker to see whether the glory had faded or turned to black.

The result was just on the right side of decent.

From the opening howls of ‘Sympathy for The Devil’, the band showed that the old flame still burns.

They raced through their back pages, into ‘Wild Horses’, ‘Paint It Black’, ‘It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll’, ‘Brown Sugar’, and ‘Tumblin’ Dice’.

The songs have aged well, but remain rooted in their time.

It could have been the Rolling Stones taking off a tribute band for the Rolling Stones up there.

But that wasn’t the only disconcerting aspect to the whole thing.

From the speakers came the sounds of the guitar riffs and the Jagger snarl that has long been embedded in popular culture. But the problem was the big screens that showed the close-ups of the men as they are today.

Throughout the gig, Charlie Watts maintained his stoic countenance behind the drums, but while once this gave the impression of immersion in his music, this time he had the look of somebody trying hard to make it through til the end in one piece.

At 77, who could blame him, but despite the fears, he didn’t keel over and bring the gig crashing down.

Keith Richards at times had the look of a man who was slightly dazed, as if he was trying to remember how he got to this point in his life.

Now and again, he’d look down at his guitar to check if it was still there.

But he can draw quality from the instrument in a way that all his legions of imitators will never master. And age has not withered the mischief that is loaded into his crooked grin. He still enjoying himself.

Ronnie Wood is only gagging for more as the baby of the band, at a youthful 70.

Then there is Jagger. Say what you like about the man, but he is still living the dream, strutting in front of 70,000 people, wriggling that little ass of his, slithering across the stage like the 70s are just around the corner.

The audience loved it, greatest hits served up on a plate, the reassuring comfort of the familiar providing value for money — and why not?

Yet, there was also a shot of authenticity to the performance. After the first two songs, Jagger announced they were going to play a few blues numbers.

‘Just Your Fool’ and ‘Ride ’em on Down’ are taken from the band’s last album, Blue and Lonesome, a reworking of the kind of blues classics that set them on their way in London back in 1962.

Here, playing this timeless music that informed their whole modus operandi, the Rolling Stones were once again in their prime.

In that regard, the band can claim to be the last torch-carriers for a form of the blues which they popularised and which provided them with a foundation for their long career.

The night ended in a display of fireworks, and that was it.

Probably the last time we’ll see the band on these shores.

With different priorities, they would be well served to keep on keepin’ on by retreating to small blues clubs and belting out the music that they borrowed from black America half a century ago.

In such a milieu they will never sound out of time.

The lights coming up at evening’s end in Croker brought a shock for me too — I was stiff as a board.

Standing in the same position for three hours had kicked up the oul lower back pain.

I could barely walk towards the exit.

Things have come to a sorry pass when the realisation dawns that it’s not the Stones who are too old for a Rolling Stones gig, it’s me.

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