It's official: Keith Richards is indestructible. When it was time for his traditional two-song spotlight at the Rolling Stones' September 27th concert at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Richards acknowledged the crowd's chanting -- "Keith! Keith!" -- with a deep bow and his even deeper growl: "Well, I made it," he said, pausing. "I said I would."
Richards then bypassed the recent ballads that are his usual feature for a bare, beautiful rendering of "You Got the Silver" from Let It Bleed, the first half of it nothing more than Ron Wood's roadhouse skid on acoustic bottleneck guitar and the strong, clear gratitude in Richards' voice: "You fill my cup, babe, that's for sure/I must come back for a little more." He was in more familiar form in the next song, Tattoo You's "Little T & A" -- firing irregular bursts of Chuck Berry licks on his guitar, rumbling through the lyrics' cheerful nonsense with the grin of a man who thinks falling out of palm trees and brain surgery are just bumps on a road that never ends.
The show was the Stones' third pass through this neighborhood in the last year, and the first half of the set list was a welcome change-up. Wood delivered clean-shriek slide breaks back-to-back on "Monkey Man" and the Sticky Fingers gem "Sway." He also showed off his sweet-country pedal-steel touch in the Some Girls ballad "Far Away Eyes" while Jagger turned up the impassioned-hayseed factor with his sing-song vocal.
Lift-off was not immediate. Richards' and Wood's criss-cross riffing in the opening songs, "It's Only Rock and Roll" and "Live With Me," was muddy and hesitant. Richards did little of his dancing-pirate posing, instead bending over his guitar in concentration. But he played a simple, piercing Telecaster break in the Temptations' cover, "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)," and the Stones felt confident enough in their combined strength to go long in "Midnight Rambler." Jagger blew agitated blues harp (something he never does enough of on stage or record), Charlie Watts showed off the jazz in his calm precision -- dancing at high speed on his cymbals and hi-hat -- and Wood and Richards stood together in front of Watts' kit, watching each other's hands as they traded phrases in heated treble.
Kanye West opened the show looking collegiate in a gray sweater, white shirt and black tie. As he took the stage -- with a six-piece string section, a concert harpist, a DJ and backing singers -- he exuded both confidence and respect, remarking how honored he was to be a rap artist on a Stones gig, then telling the crowd to pay attention to the blues and R&B in his music as well. West managed to work in a dig at this magazine, too (over a perceived dis in our recent cover story on him). But he worked hard for his applause, racing from side to side as he duetted with the Ray Charles sample in "Gold Digger."
And West got away with a neat trick when he had the strings play the opening hook of the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony." That, of course, is the lick from the 1965 Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra version of "The Last Time" -- which surely made this the first time the Stones ever opened for themselves.