The thin electric man in a garish purple jacket rap-sang about buzz kills and people who wanted him to go on off to bed. He would have none of it – no downers for him tonight, or ever. "Hey, you," he yelled in sharp voice and to no one in particular, "get off of my cloud."
He yelled in high voice, well above the loud noise from the codgers around him. That was the first song, from 1965. Next was one from 1994, about comebacks and slump-rebounding. "Hey, hey," he sang, with the crowd right with him on the chorus, "you got me rocking now."
This was Mick Jagger, 69, in a fuss. Let's do this thing.
The tour is called "50 and Counting," in recognition of the Rolling Stones's half-century or so of sympathizing with devils and painting red doors black. Is it counting, as in adding more numbers? Or is it counting, as in counting down the days? It felt like the latter at the first of the band's two shows at Toronto's Air Canada Centre, the venue to which the durables return on June 6. Not that Mick Jagger and his fellows are looking at calendars. The race is over, the victory lap is happening, and for the first time in many, many years, it felt like time was back on the Stones's side.
Stanley Booth, the writer whose book The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones vividly chronicled the band's 1969 American tour, said afterward that he'd caught the band on subsequent tours. They played fine enough, he said, but there was something missing: There was nothing at stake. Anyone who has seen the Stones on their last two tours might have thought the same. The energy and entertainment was high – a juiced-up extravaganza – but the dangerous aura around things such as Street Fighting Man and Gimme Shelter was missing, thus rendering them impotent and near Vegas.
But at the ACC, this time around, with no new meaningless album to promote and no points to make, the concert was a pressure's-off celebration, with the rhythm section of drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Darryl Jones nimbly supplying the groove. Greying guitarist Keith Richards, sloppy but passable, was not the tough-guy pirate with the skull ring on his knobby fingers anymore. There was no pretence of storms threatening anyone on Gimme Shelter. (Not that backup singer Lisa Fischer wailed her breakout part at anything less than full bore.) And Paint it Black? Could have been a sitar-sounding ode to interior decorating.
The vibe is looser now, with the former bad boys no longer needing to play to an image (or even a stature, really).
A high point: The repatriation of former guitarist Mick Taylor, whose string bending was as elegant as ever during his guest spot on the sprawling assassin blues of Midnight Rambler. Fellow guitarists Richards and Ronnie Wood (with hair as black as black hair dye) rightfully deferred to Taylor's fluid virtuosity (with a metal slide on his pinkie and without). The three of them formed quite the posse as they all crouched together during the quieting "don't do that" part. Jagger outrageously was in vintage shimmer and audaciously tiny-waist form. When he sang "the one you've never seen before," he could have been referring to Taylor, who left the group in 1974.
A low point: The cameo from the Canadian-hockey-player-marrying American country singer Carrie Underwood on It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It) was unrequired and a random curatorial decision.
Another high point: The Cawthra Park Secondary School Chamber Choir of Mississauga, Ont., beautifully lent voices to You Can't Always Get What You Want, the first of three encore numbers. Jagger strummed a sunburst Gibson Hummingbird, a French horn gusted gracefully and a Wood solo was finely woven.
Another low point: Sympathy for the Devil, which just didn't come together. The song's mystery has long past – we are no longer puzzled, and there's no reason to guess anyone's name. Mind you, Jagger's ambitious ostrich feather cape – don't ask why; it's just the nature of his game – was good shock.
Early on, the clear-star Jagger said there would be no jokes about Rob Ford, the local mayor currently under siege and high scrutiny. Later, he made a crack about him anyhow. So, all good fun and festival spirit. At some point we'll all have to step off Jagger and company's cloud, but nobody's checking their watches today.
The Rolling Stones play the ACC on June 6 and Montreal's Bell Centre on June 9.
Get Off of My Cloud
You Got Me Rocking
Paint it Black
Street Fighting Man (Fan-voted choice at rollingstones.com, beating out Just My Imagination, Shine a Light, When the Whip Comes Down and Loving Cup for inclusion on the set list.)
It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It) (featuring Carrie Underwood)
Doom and Gloom
One More Shot
Honky Tonk Women
You Got the Silver
Midnight Rambler (featuring Mick Taylor)
Start Me Up
Sympathy for the Devil
You Can't Always Get What You Want
Jumpin' Jack Flash
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (featuring Mick Taylor)