The Rolling Stones. Arrowhead Stadium. 06.27.15
Disclaimer: This is as much about my journey to and from the show as it is about the show itself, maybe even more so.
As I pulled off the highway into a 24/7 Travel Plaza in WaKeeney, Kansas, I began to question my own sanity. Having only achieved 300 miles of a 1200 mile round-trip journey to see The Rolling Stones, my body already ached and my eyes were dry with boredom. It’s a straight shot from Denver to Kansas City on I-70, but if you ever get the chance to travel that part of the country, I recommend doing so in an airplane. It ain’t called flyover country for nothin’! The signs along the endless stretch of asphalt assured me that every single Kansas farmer feeds 155 people per year, and as much as I appreciate the hell out of those farmers, their existence added nothing to my drive through their backyard. It was just me, the lonely road, and a cartoon Jesus who judged me from giant billboards along the way. Hundreds of wind turbines stood tall against the horizon like alien outposts, doing their best to break the monotony of a planet gone flat, but they were only a reminder of how many times I would be told that my ‘mother chose life’ before I crossed into Missouri. I skipped the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, because it didn’t sound all that interesting, but I have to admit I was tempted to check out the Lion’s Den Adult Superstore in the same town. I was intrigued by all the cars that were parked out front in the middle of the day. But then the cartoon Jesus told me that ‘pornography ruins families’, so I figured it wasn’t worth the chance. A few more stops for gas, food and facilities and I finally I arrived at the Hilton President in Downtown Kansas City. I was just in time to shower, drink a few beers, and make sure my sanity was still in check (yup, still pro-choice after driving across the entire state of Kansas) before heading down to the stadium.
There are very few bands who can book stadium tours these days. Those that do usually team up with other big acts to justify the costs associated with playing the larger venues. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts in my life and I can count the number of those that have been in stadiums on one hand. Pink Floyd, U2, Dave Matthews Band, and now The Rolling Stones. Stadium shows aren’t really my thing, so I was severely disappointed when the Red Rocks rumors proved false for the “Zip Code Tour”, but if there is one band that can pull off the stadium spectacle, it’s The Rolling Stones. Having never seen them before, I figured Arrowhead Stadium was as good a venue as any. So after a 9 hour drive and 20 minute Uber ride, I found myself on the field, about 60 rows back, center stage, situated between a divorce attorney from Chicago and a ‘retired pharmacist turned lunch lady’ from upstate Missouri. The temperature registered in the low-80s. I was in shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops, with a cold beer in my hand and a clear sky overhead. I had already forgotten all about the great state of Kansas by the time Ed Sheeran made his way onto the massive stage to attempt the impossible.
The 24-year-old singer-songwriter from England is doing quite well for himself right now. You can’t turn on a radio without hearing his voice or turn on a TV without seeing his face. In fact, he’s playing his second of back-to-back sold-out shows at Red Rocks right now and the reviews from the first night were extremely positive. Tickets for tonight’s show were starting at $300 each on StubHub. That being said, he didn’t exactly get the crowd going at Arrowhead. First off, the place was only half-full when he was performing. Second, the catwalk had eliminated some of the seats that were sold, so many people were in line to get new tickets issued. Third, the stage dwarfed him. It had been built for The Rolling Stones, not for a kid with a guitar and no band. And most importantly, he wasn’t rock ‘n roll enough. Not to take anything away from the music he makes, but it was never going to appeal to a Stones crowd. The guy was extremely confident. I’ll give him that. He didn’t show any apprehension. He was at ease on the stage and I actually thought he sounded pretty good, especially when he sang that one song that I know, but I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t have preferred the Gary Clark, Jr. performance that San Diego was blessed with.
Sixteen hours after I left my house, and 50+ years after forming as a band, The Rolling Stones took the gigantic stage at 9:30pm. The empty seats filled in quickly once Sheeran had taken his leave. At 50,000 strong, it was quite a site to see the crowd on their feet as the Stones kicked off their 3rd performance at Arrowhead Stadium (their first was ’75, their latest was in ’89) with “Start Me Up” from Tattoo You. The song is over 30 years old, but was nothing more than a baby when compared to most of the set list. “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” and “Tumbling Dice” set the precedent for a show that would include mostly material from before I was born. “Doom And Gloom” was the exception to the rule, but served to prove that even a mediocre song can be more than magnificent in the right hands. If I’m being honest, the main reason I was seeing The Rolling Stones was to check them off my list of legends. I had heard stories, but I couldn’t wrap my head around that fact that a bunch of 70-year-olds could still put on an epic show. Sure, the giant screens and incredible soundsystem and fireworks were to be expected, I even figured they would sound pretty good, but nothing prepared me for how animated they would be. Mick Jagger was a diva less than half his age as he strutted his shit up and down the catwalk. Wardrobe changes, grabbing phones from the crowd to take selfies, reminiscing about things that happened back in ’74…he was on point the entire night.
“Beast of Burden” was a welcome surprise to the set list. They brought out Ed Sheeran for that one and he received more attention for it than he did for his entire opening set. “How many of you are from Kansas? Missouri? The City of Fountains, or Cowtown? Which do you prefer?” Jagger asked, before taking the KC crowd back to ’63 with a cover of Little Willie Littlefield’s “Kansas City”. Ronnie Wood, with the first of many cigarettes hanging out of his mouth, really came to life during that one, showing that he had joined Jagger at the fountain of youth more than just a few times. Sticky Fingers would not be performed in its entirety like it was in L.A., but we were witness to the one-two punch of “Bitch” and (my personal favorite) “Wild Horses”. Each stop on the “Zip Code Tour” allowed one song to be chosen by popular vote. Kansas City chose “Street Fighting Man”. It wouldn’t have been my choice, but once again, they killed it and there was nothing to complain about. Charlies Watts was up there banging away on his kit and all I could think was “how the hell are they still so good after all these years?” And then there was Keith Richards. How that guy is alive is beyond me, but he’s not only alive, the man is a still at the top of his game. “It’s good to be here, it’s good to be anywhere!” he joked, before taking the reins for “Before They Make Me Run” and “Happy”. It was while Richards’ was in the spotlight that I decided I needed another beer and some room to breathe.
One problem with these huge shows is being stuck in one location. Everyone was on their feet the entire time, and I was in good company, but I’m used to having room to move during a show. The tight rows of seats had me feeling a little claustrophobic, so after grabbing another beer, I stood in the big open section at the back of the field. This is where I found the dancing crowd during the slow burning “Midnight Rambler”. I was going to make my way back to my seat, but before I knew it they had ripped through “Miss You”, “Gimmie Shelter” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (with fireworks). Lisa Fisher was one of the many talents the boys brought on stage to augment their sound and she absolutely melted hearts and faces during “Gimmie Shelter”. I was way too amped up to find my way back after all that, so I was still among the free souls when Jagger introduced everyone on stage by name. Then the screens were set ablaze with the flames of hell as he changed into a red cape for “Sympathy for the Devil”. I didn’t think it could get any better, but then it did when “Brown Sugar” closed out the main set. It happened to be ‘just around midnight’.
The iconic tongue, mixed with colors of the Kansas City Chiefs, held the crowd in limbo as the cheers reverberated through the stadium. The UMKC Chamber Choir were the first back on stage to crack the night open with the intro to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and then the boys were back, proving that Kansas City was going to get exactly what it needed. “I heard you were the loudest crowd in the world! I read it in the Guinness Book. You sound fucking amazing!” The sentiment was reciprocated when “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” acted the ultimate closer. The fireworks assisted in providing the city outside the stadium walls a taste of what it was missing. It was just another gig in the books for a band who has been performing for half a century, but to those of us who had never seen them before, it was the stadium show to end all stadium shows. It was the show of a lifetime! As I made my way outside, and across the street to find a ride back to the hotel, I wondered if any band of my generation would ever achieve the status of The Rolling Stones. The answer is no. Bands just don’t have the longevity anymore. We write obituaries for bands that don’t last a decade. They break up just to go on reunion tours for more money. Most of those that existed in the 80’s and 90’s are completely irrelevant today. The Rolling Stones aren’t on a 401K tour. They aren’t on a reunion tour. People don’t leave a Stones show and check it off their bucket list and go about their lives. They leave a Stones show knowing they just witnessed a band that is STILL one of the best in the world. They are still relevant. They are timeless in every sense of the word.
When I arrived at the hotel after the show, I realized there were plenty who beat me back. Tongue t-shirts mingled with wedding attire, as the aftermath of two events merged into drunken disarray. The lobby was a cacophony that carried up to the 13th floor via the elevator shafts. A man in a tuxedo tried to get me to take a pull off a handle of Jack, while he smoked the wrong end of a lit cigarette. A guy in a tie dye Stones shirt was hitting on a girl in a bride’s maids dress. There were people passed out on the couches. It literally looked like something from “Almost Famous”. It was the perfect way to end the night, but I was too tired to participate in the madness. I needed to keep my sanity for the drive home the next day. So I ordered a pizza, ate a few slices and called it a night. I like to pretend the cartoon Jesus approved of that decision. It was fun to believe he was watching over me the entire time – back and forth through Kansas and Eastern Colorado, as well as through an insane flash flood/hail storm that threatened destruction from Byers to Bennett. He was there when “Moonlight Mile” closed out Sticky Fingers as I drove into my driveway on Sunday night. He carried me into the house, up the stairs and dropped my weary ass in bed. And only then did the cartoon Jesus and I finally get some rest.
Start Me Up
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)
Doom and Gloom
Beast of Burden
Street Fighting Man
Honky Tonk Women
Before They Make Me Run
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Sympathy for the Devil
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction