Some Stones seem to have eternal life, but Keith is done with it

Was this it then? Was This Finally The Very Last Show Ever? Over the past fifteen years, that pressing question has become a regular rock ‘n’ roll ritual, whenever the Rolling Stones turn out to be on tour again. This was also the case on Thursday, when the mastodons visited the Netherlands for the 43rd time and everyone could quote that one monster hit from 1965 for the umpteenth time: „This could be the last time. Maybe the last time, I don’t know, oh no.” In a sold-out Arena in Amsterdam, the Stones gave the answer themselves. It just depended on who you were looking at.

No, of course this won’t be the last time, all the cells in the apparently adolescent bodies of Mick Jagger (78) and guitarist Ronnie Wood (75) who look ridiculously young and together sprint along the immensely long catwalk past frenzied fans are screaming, skipping, running backwards and doing pirouettes. Wood, constantly giggling and romping as if he were on stage for the first time, seems to tear open the roof of the Arena with his solo in ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’.

Jagger: Phenomenal frontman

“Do you hate it?” As a perfect pleaser, Jagger – who dedicated the show to drummer Charlie Watts, who passed away last year (“We miss him”) – has learned a few Dutch words, as always. He has followed the news (“Saijn here farmers in the saal?”) and offers extensive apologies for his last-minute corona that caused the originally planned show to be canceled only three weeks ago when part of the audience was already inside. Even the disappointed fan who stated on TV that her favorite folk singer, unlike Jagger, was never ill (and went viral), did not miss him: “Faijn that Joellie is boring here and not at Frans Bauer”.

Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, in Amsterdam Thursday evening. Photo Andreas Terlaak

Jagger remains a phenomenal frontman with inexhaustible vocal chords and an invincible elegance. Yes, with his perky steps, bright pink, fluorescent glitter robes and sweeping gestures, he looks like a walking bobblehead: an oversized head on matchsticks. But from the first notes of ‘Street Fighting Man’ those elastic legs and hips still seem to rock irresistibly. And yes, that wrinkled face looks like the Grand Canyon, but look into his eyes and you see a 17-year-old boy who wants to conquer the world.

Also read: The Stones after Charlie: business as usual

How at the end of ‘Midnight Rambler’ he moaned “Oh yeah!” Bringing Muddy Waters to life is unparalleled. When he duels in ‘Gimme Shelter’ with a backing singer who could easily have been his granddaughter, it’s awe-inspiring. It is unimaginable that he now covers the entire evening four days in two hours.

You see, do you think, these guys just pull it off. Geriatrics or not: those damn Stones do have eternal life after all.

But then you look at Keith. And your heart cries.

Richards: tired

Keith Richards (78) is considered the roughest rocker of all time, the supreme icon of the rebellion, living proof that not every rock hero actually has to die after decades of substance abuse. But that living legend has now turned into a battle-weary man who is virtually invisible.

The bravado is gone, as are the dangerous karate kicks in ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and the famous quartz split in ‘Start Me Up’. Even his characteristic pull-away arm – a sort of shortened windmill blade – in ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ can hardly be lifted above his well-worn Telecaster. Richards mostly stands still, taking only a few shuffling steps at most.

And then his sound: hear him wrestle in ‘Honky Tonk Women’, in which his crooked fingers sound like they are caught between the strings. The solo of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, the only moment when he goes for a walk, is not even a faint echo of the past.

At best you can argue that his game has become more elemental, but maybe you just have to admit that fire and finesse have gone. What doesn’t help at all is the sound engineer who has Richards’ crucial matches on position twelve blast through the stadium, as if he wants to point out his mistakes in a last desperate attempt.

Mick Jagger in the Johan Cruijf Arena Thursday evening.

Photo Andreas Terlaak

Also read: Rolling Stones are coming to Amsterdam, that may cost something

Creative kerosene

The eternal contrast between ‘The Glimmer Twins’ – slick money maker Jagger versus artistic genius Richards – was always the creative kerosene that kept the band burning. But while the hyperactive singer waves his impeccable mane and scorches every pedometer, you prefer to give his wandering and previously indestructible colleague who has hidden his gray fluffy hair under a light blue cap a chair, or better yet: a bed.

Keith is done with it, and that is disastrous. This skewed distribution causes the Stones to get out of balance. The chosen attendees are no less euphoric about it. After ‘Satisfaction’ the Arena is turned upside down. This was it, everyone knows, but at least we were there.