Something happened when the Rolling Stones played "Miss You" at Dublin's Croke Park on Thursday night. At most Stones concerts, the song seems skippable – a must-play staple that winds up feeling like a slog. But last night, the disco hit seemed to inspire everyone. It happened shortly into the song; as Charlie Watts played his sturdy four-on-the-floor stomp, bassist Darryl Jones decided to go on a funk excursion, unleashing a fast series of staccato notes. This caused Keith Richards to light up and add some colorful chords; Mick Jagger danced like a madman, and Ronnie Wood grinned as he made his Strat cry.
The Rolling Stones are still a great live band in 2018 because of these kinds of moments, the ones no one sees coming. The opening night of the latest leg of the band's European No Filter tour was full of them – from Richards grinning as he let out a burst of Hubert Sumlin–inspired licks during "Ride 'Em on Down" to the band jamming out on the super-rarity "Neighbours," causing Jagger to remark, "Well, that was rocking."
Unlike most stadium-rock spectacles, Stones shows still feel like a risky place – where they can either hit a new peak, or a staple like "It's Only Rock & Roll" can fall apart for whatever reason. The tension is heightened by their age; they are now approaching their 56th year as a band. Pink Floyd and David Bowie, legendary artists that came after them, are the subjects of touring museum exhibits. The Stones have one of those too, which makes it increasingly shocking that the four principal players still remain on the road, playing at such a high level. They also continue to work their way into our culture in strange and unexpected ways – this week the New York Times reported that before the 2016 election, FBI agents had a code name for their Russian interference investigation: "Crossfire Hurricane," a line from "Jumpin' Jack Flash."
The evening felt like a homecoming. It had been a decade since the Stones had played Ireland, and an unusually chatty Jagger fondly recalled the time the Stones played Ireland's Adelphi Cinema in 1965. He gave warm shoutouts to Belfast, Cork and even some more obscure towns. He introduced Ronnie Wood as the "Kid from Kildare." Before "Wild Horses," Jagger joked: "We tried to learn 'Whiskey in the Jar' and it didn't really work out so we're going to do this." Jagger said the band had had a blast hanging out in Dublin for the last few days – the four of them even went out to the tourist-packed Temple Bar area the night before and shared a "spice bag." ("For those who are not aware a spice bag is crispy chicken ... chips, and a mystery blend of Chinese spices all shaken up in in a bag or box," according to Just Eat.)
The show began with Charlie Watts. The drummer sat alone onstage playing the menacing rhythm of "Sympathy for the Devil." In the past, Stones shows usually begin with a Richards riff. The switch felt like a nod of appreciation to Watts, the group's oldest member at 76. Most veteran rock drummers, from Phil Collins to Rush's Neil Peart, have had to quit for physical reasons. But in a crisp green button-up, Watts slyly directed rhythmic left turns. During "Tumbling Dice," he broke character, making bug-eyes at Jagger and grinning, as if to say, "can you believe we're still doing this?"
An early peak came during the band's wildly fun cover of Jimmy Reed's "Ride 'Em on Down," Jagger wailing away on the harmonica. After that, Jagger introduced a song "we haven't done in a couple hundred years." They broke into Tattoo You's blues rollercoaster "Neighbours." It went longer than on the album, Richards and Wood weaving Chuck Berry licks as Watts grinned. (The last time the band played the song was in 2003 on the Forty Licks tour.) Another highlight was "Midnight Rambler." Jagger, who seemed to be pacing himself until this point, stalked the catwalk, jumping and ducking as he howled the murderous tale. The rest of the band huddled in a close circle, in deep blues meditation. No other band can make a stadium feel like a blues club.
Richards played another rarity during his solo set. After a fiery "Before They Make Me Run," during the slot where he typically plays "Happy," he strapped on an acoustic guitar for "The Worst," the slow-burning Voodoo Lounge ballad. "Well I said from the first/I am the worst/Kind of guy for you to be around," Richards sang. His ragged croon blended with singer Bernard Fowler's harmonies and Wood's steel guitar was deeply moving. Wood, who last year announced he had a lung-cancer scare, was the night's most joyous spirit, mugging in sparkly sneakers all while playing his ass off.
The homestretch included "Brown Sugar" "Jumpin Jack Flash" and a fiery "Gimme Shelter," which included images such as a "Stronger Together" sign from the Hillary Clinton campaign and what looked like the Women's March. The band closed with "Satisfaction," Richards playing a small Gibson solid-body, giving the song an extra-garage-y feel. When the Stones came back after several years off for their 50th anniversary shows in 2012, it felt like a victory lap. But since then, the band has toured steadily, put out a blues covers album and are reportedly finishing up their first album of new songs since 2005. "I'd like to see just how far they can evolve," Richards told Rolling Stone three years ago. "I have no demands or particular visions for them, but I want to see how far it will go." Last night, they were still working on it.
"Sympathy for the Devil"
"Paint It Black"
"Just Your Fool"
"Ride 'Em on Down"
"You Can't Always Get What You Want"
"It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)"
"Honky Tonk Women"
"Before They Make Me Run"
"Start Me Up"
"Jumpin' Jack Flash"
"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"