If this was the last time we see the Rolling Stones in Austin, it was a hell of a way to go.
The legendary British rockers played the final stadium-sized show of a 13-date U.S. fall tour at Circuit of the Americas on Saturday night, energizing a huge crowd with a two-hour set of 18 songs drawn largely from the band’s career-defining first decade.
Dressed in spectacularly colorful attire, core members Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood consistently dazzled the crowd with struts, solos, smiles and the sheer confidence that comes from rocking like twentysomethings when you’re seventy-something.
In the end, it all comes down to how good the songs are, and the Stones have few peers in that regard. Thirteen of the 18 tunes in the set were recorded in the 1960s, and all of them clearly have stood the test of time. From the immediately invigorating opener “Street Fighting Man” (1968) to the perfect encore-closer “Satisfaction” (1965), the Stones reminded us why they’re still widely regarded as the world’s greatest rock & roll band.
Four huge vertical jumbotrons dominated the large but mostly simple stage set, beaming crystal-clear high-definition video of the performance to the far reaches of the venue’s back lawn. Even if you were closer to the stage and could see the band reasonably well, it was hard not to get transfixed by the video presentation, in part because it was so well-executed.
The sound, too, was dialed in with remarkable clarity. Rarely if ever did the 11-piece ensemble sound muddled, not an easy feat for such a large band in a sprawling venue. Speaking to the American-Statesman last month, production director Dale Skjerseth said the show was designed to emphasize “the importance of the sound,” and what we heard verified that he was good for his word.
A few surprises and memorable moments
• Not only did fans select the title track to the Stones’ 1969 album “Let It Bleed” as the show’s audience request number in online voting, but Richards used one of his two lead-vocal spotlights to play another track from that album, the country-blues acoustic tune “You Got the Silver.” In all, the set included more than half of “Let It Bleed,” counting three staples that got played at every show this fall: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Midnight Rambler” and “Gimme Shelter.”
• Austin got just 18 songs, whereas other stops on this fall’s tour got 19, with the exception of Dallas earlier this month. (Was there a one-song Texas tax?) What got cut was a slot early in the set that in other cities had frequently gone to “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (occasionally “Rocks Off” or “Get Off of My Cloud”).
• A minute before the Stones took the stage at 9 p.m., the jumbotrons lit up with a one-minute photo and video collage memorializing drummer Charlie Watts, who died in August at age 80 just a few weeks before the tour began. Jagger gave a brief but eloquent speech about Watts a few songs in, dedicating the show to him and sparking chants from the crowd of “Charlie! Charlie!”
• The new “Living in a Ghost Town,” released during the pandemic and introduced by Jagger as “our lockdown song,” was one of just two selections taken from the 1980s onward (the 1981 smash “Start Me Up” was the other). Only “Tumbling Dice,” “Miss You” and “It’s Only Rock & Roll (But I Like It)” came from the 1970s. The rest was one giant Stones Sixties fest, and gloriously so.
• “We like Austin so much that we’re thinking about moving here after the tour,” Jagger announced midway through the set. Take that with the intended grain of salt; after name-dropping Elon Musk and referencing vodka brands Deep Eddy and Tito’s, plus a story about getting drunk at Scholz Garten, he concluded with the disclaimer: “Of course, none of this is true, as you well know.”