Rolling Stones joined by Carrie Underwood at Toronto concert
Nick Patch, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, May 26, 2013 7:38AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, May 26, 2013 9:25AM EDT
TORONTO -- Celebrating a half-century of music, the Rolling Stones defied their age with an energetic, lengthy performance at a roaring Air Canada Centre led by the frenetic antics of nearly 70-year-old frontman Mick Jagger.
Over the course of a roughly two-hour, 15-minute performance, Jagger swivelled his hips furiously as he paced the stage back and forth, strutting and punctuating most every word with his waving index finger extended to the crowd, rarely taking even a brief break from pinballing about the elaborate stage.
He eventually welcomed former "American Idol" Carrie Underwood for a duet on "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)." At times, the grinning country starlet seemed just as interested in watching Jagger hop and slither about the stage as the thousands of fans packing the stands, just smiling and staring and trying to keep up with his herky-jerky dance moves.
She bowed to each member of the band before departing, and as she left the stage looked to the sky in a gesture of apparent amazement.
"Toronto, we've been coming here for a very, very long time," Jagger said before launching into "Start Me Up." "And we want to thank you for coming back to see us. We really appreciate that. Thank you!"
In fact, the legendary British rockers' first tour since the "A Bigger Bang" jaunt back in 2005-07 has been marred by reports of less-than-robust ticket sales and accusations from some corners of price-gouging.
Just hours before the show, it was indeed still possible to buy a row of eight tickets in the "gold section" rimming the Air Canada Centre -- although the privilege would set you back about $5,000 total, not including taxes and fees. An eight-pack was also available within the venue's slightly more modest restaurant seating section for $2,132 total (again excluding fees).
There's something incongruous about a band that always exuded street-grit scrappiness charging country-club prices for access to its show. And judging by the reports of anemic sales in other cities, one might have expected the 50 and Counting tour to be renamed 50 and Who's Counting?
But the Air Canada Centre was merely dotted with empty seats, and the upper bowl -- where a ticket cost the comparatively reasonable $165 -- was packed and rocking.
And pricey though it is, the Stones' show remains something to behold.
A gigantic pair of the band's trademark red lips loomed over the stage in front of a golden backdrop. Protruding from the stage was a walkway made to look like a hollow tongue, with a select cluster of fans snuggled in its circumference, pressed in close.
It's natural to assume that a band celebrating its 50th anniversary would be slowed severely by time. And yet, guitarist Keith Richards -- who's 69 but looks older, with a face marked by grooves as deep and worn as a first vinyl pressing of "12 X 5" -- and 65-year-old Ron Wood conjured spiralling, sinewy guitar riffs with as much power as ever, while 71-year-old drummer Charlie Watts still seemed unflappable almost to the point of mild boredom.
While those Stones didn't roll so much as stay more or less stationary, Jagger -- set to turn 70 in a matter of months -- proved he's still an electric presence. Initially clad in a purple velvet jacket and matching silk shirt with black trousers so tight those in the front row could likely count the change in his pocket, Jagger made it clear that he's the engine powering this band as its odometer ticks up into the hundreds of thousands of kilometres.
During the lengthy instrumental passages of "Paint it Black," he danced and shook as if electrified by the wondrous racket being raised behind him. Grooving to the apocalyptic thunder of "Gimme Shelter," Jagger spun and danced furiously around the catwalk, marching and jumping in place. His falsetto remains similarly lithe, displayed to typically clear effect on "Emotional Rescue," he wielded a yellow Fender Telecaster during the newish track "Doom and Gloom" and he strapped on a silver leather jacket and hummed into a harmonica on 1969's "Midnight Rambler," which featured licks from Mick Taylor.
At the end of the song, Jagger actually sprinted around the catwalk -- well over an hour into the show, a feat he'd repeat much later during "Brown Sugar."
For the most part, the setlist did lean heavily on old favourites.
Only three songs recorded after 1981 -- or, in other words, in the 30-year-old Underwood's lifetime -- made the cut: "You Got Me Rocking" from 1994's "Voodoo Lounge"; and "One More Shot" and the aforementioned "Doom and Gloom," the pair of new singles included in last year's anniversary retrospective "GRRR!"
Otherwise, the set mostly eschewed the more obscure cuts that have been included in recent gigs in favour of crowd-pleasers from the band's prime (1969's classic "Let It Bleed" was best-represented, with four tunes played here).
And the adoring audience indeed seemed thrilled by the spectacle.
The Stones and Toronto have long enjoyed a mutual love affair. In 2003 when many considered the city a SARS-infected health hazard -- including the World Health Organization -- the Stones headlined a charity concert that drew a half million raucous fans to Downsview Park. They've frequently used the friendly confines of the city's small clubs to buff away rust, they've launched tours here and they even once found themselves controversially frolicking here with Margaret Trudeau, then the wife of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Of course, they've also run afoul of the law in the Ontario capital, the site of Richards' infamous 1977 arrest for heroin.
As if to prove their local acumen, Jagger early on brought up embattled Mayor Rob Ford, who has recently denied allegations of crack cocaine use.
"I just wanted you to know one thing: we're not going to do any jokes tonight about the mayor or anything, ok? It's too easy. It's much too easy a target. It's a bit cheap -- cheap shots. So we're not going to do any of that.
"We're going to crack on with the show now," he added slyly, rewarded for the pun with a wave of laughter.
Of course, it remains thrilling to hear the band's inimitable catalogue of hits thundering from stadium speakers, whether it was the duelling buzzsaw guitars of "Street Fighting Man," the disco stomp of 1978's "Miss You" or the bluesy marathon meander that is "Midnight Rambler." Blaring guitars flared like fire from "Sympathy For the Devil" (which Jagger performed cloaked in a black feather cape), while the students of Cawthra Park Secondary School in nearby Mississauga, Ont., helped kick off the encore with a hair-raising "You Can't Always Get What You Want."
The evening ended with Jagger flying around the catwalk with his glittering tux jacket dragging to the floor, while Mick Taylor joined the three-guitar attack behind.
The entire night, Jagger only really got a break when Richards took centre stage to sing lead on 1969's "You Got the Silver" and the 1972 live fixture "Happy."
"It's been too long," Richards murmured quietly before he started, smiling. "Better late than never."
Well, they'll be back again soon. The Rolling Stones return to the Air Canada Centre on June 6.