The Rolling Stones revisit their favorite local memories in brawny, assertive return to Tampa Bay

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Local rock and roll fans are getting to revel in the slew of make-up concerts finally happening in Tampa Bay. Following a year of COVID-related cancellations and postponements, the sounds of guitars and drums are once again filling our once-empty venues and concert halls. And our football stadiums, too. One of the most welcomed and eagerly awaited make-up shows happened at the enormous Raymond James Stadium on Friday night when The Rolling Stones brought their long-delayed “No Filter tour to town and more than proved that it was definitely worth waiting for. 

Kicking things off a little after 9 p.m. following sporadic rainfall, the sellout crowd, which filled every available spot in the stands and on the field, was treated to a brief video tribute to recently deceased Stones co-founding member Charlie Watts. Flashes of photos and video vignettes focusing on the quiet but dependable drummer graced screens at the rear and sides of the stage in a tasteful and respectful homage to Watts as raindrops subsided. Soon after, the entire massive band, bolstered by two horn players and two backup singers, emerged. The mere sight of the always charismatic and iconic frontman Mick Jagger, clad in emerald green jacket with shiny silver accents and skin tight black trousers, sent concertgoers into a frenzy almost immediately. Flanked by his longtime comrades, guitarists Ron Wood and Keith Richards, Jagger, rightfully so, wasted no time in becoming the focal point. 

“Street Fighting Man” was a wise choice for the evening’s opening number. The brawny rocker dates back to 1969; it packed plenty of muscle and attitude and instantly lit the fuse for the night. Immediately followed by 1965’s snarky “Get Off of My Cloud,” the Stones dove headfirst into the ban’s massive treasure trove of classic songs and reminded everyone why they were referred to as the greatest rock and roll band in the world for a long time. 

Sure, age has crept in. It would be silly to not acknowledge the fact that core members Wood, Richards and Jagger have all surpassed the 70-year mark with Jagger just two years away from his 80th birthday. Keith’s moves aren’t as fluid as they used to be, Wood isn’t as physically active as he once was onstage and Jagger’s sprints from one end of a stage to the other have now been reduced to brisk walks. However, none of those perceived setbacks seemed to matter much to those who bought a ticket and filled the stadium. 

Four skyscraper video screens lined the huge stage and boasted crystal clear, high-def pictures that gave even those in the furthest corners of the venue a chance to see the band up close. The sound coming from the stage was impeccable thanks to a front of house crew that engineered an absolutely flawless mix that made it easy to discern guitar tones, longtime keyboardist Chuck Leavell’s dazzling accompaniment and Bernard Fowler’s rich backing vocals. 

Jagger’s occasional between-song banter was almost as engaging as his snaky moves and still-strong vocal delivery. In a brief acknowledgement of Charlie Watts’ contributions to the band, Jagger added “I’m sure a lot of you have great memories of him; we’d like to dedicate this show to him” before plunging into a soulful, solid version of 1972’s “Tumbling Dice.” But it was his words that honed in on local interests that got the strongest reactions. 

The mention of this current tour starting out at “Patriots Stadium” as he referred to it (the tour indeed opened at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts in September) was met with a barrage of boos. “But now we’re in Champa Bay with Tom Brady!” he continued and, in an instant, turned jeers into massive cheers. Jagger would later mention that this performance was the band’s 22nd Florida show and added “Thanks for coming to see us so many times.” In one more nod to the area, he mentioned the fact that one of the group’s most well-known songs, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was written in Clearwater. Recalling a live show that occurred in 1965 in the neighboring city, Jagger spoke of only getting to play four songs at that gig before getting kicked off the stage. The hotel where the band stayed at the time (and the location where Richards, as legend states, woke up from a sound sleep and recorded the guitar riff for what would become one of the most recognizable rock songs of all time) “…is now the headquarters for Scientology” Jagger announced. “They had to cleanse the hotel after we left” he joked. 

But it was truly the music that drew the heartiest reactions. With a catalog as deep and wide as the Stones’, it’s hard to narrow down which songs to fit into a setlist. Nonetheless, the two-hour show was jam-packed with plenty of gems. The slow burning “Beast of Burden” was enriched by Ron Wood’s fuzzy guitar solo; similarly, a booming, funky bass solo courtesy of Darryl Jones lifted the band’s foray into disco, “Miss You,” to new heights. In traditional style, Jagger’s counterpart and partner in crime, Keith Richards, got his chance to take centerstage and handle lead vocal duties for a couple of numbers. Richards, donning a hot pink tam and silky, colorful long sleeve shirt, smiled, and seemed genuinely eager to get his shot at the mic. Dusting off the jaunty, R&B-inspired tune “Connection” from 1967’s spectacular Between the Buttons  album was a welcome surprise. Richards handled all the vocals despite the original version featuring both he and Jagger sharing them and did so in his unique, craggy, style. He then launched into “Happy,” one of his signature tunes from Exile on Main St., the band’s 1972 magnum opus. 

The always dynamic and fierce blues-rock injection the Stones are capable of supplementing their sound with arrived via another dynamite version of “Midnight Rambler.” The extended jam has long been a staple in the band’s setlists and greatly welcome on this night. Trading off guitar leads with Richards, Ron Wood sported a hot, fiery Gibson Les Paul and squeezed plenty of firepower out of it for the slow-burning rocker. Jagger infused some ad libbed lines from blues great Robert Johnson’s “Come On in My Kitchen” to the epic tune which helped make it, arguably, the best performance of the night. 

In their attempt to give fans a stab at having their say in the evening’s setlist, the band launched a “fan vote” option that’s specific to each city on its tours many tours ago. Continuing the tradition for this trek, local fans were able to submit a vote online for one of four pre-determined song options for inclusion in the night’s setlist on the group’s official website. Jagger announced that Tampa’s highest number of votes came in for “Far Away Eyes,” the comical, country-inspired tune from its 1978 Some Girls album. As a tune that’s not performed often, Jagger joked before the band launched into it “None of us know it so we’re going to have a quick rehearsal.” In actuality, the band turned in a superb version of the cut which saw Ron Wood take a seat behind a slide guitar and Jagger don an acoustic guitar. His half-sung, half-spoken vocals the song calls for were inspired and true to the original recording.

To wrap up the night, the group offered a two-song encore that began with “Gimme Shelter,” a song that revolves around the accompaniment of a strong female backup singer. The original 1969 recording is forever immortalized by the soaring, spine-tingling contributions of the great Merry Clayton who added her own soulful force to it. The group’s current backup vocalist, Sasha Allen, added her own spice to the song while trading off lines with Jagger at the end of the long catwalk that extended to the midfield section of the stadium. The slow-burning rocker continually built up steam and drama and easily ranked as one of the night’s showstoppers. 

To close, the band delivered a sizzling, extended version of the previously referenced “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” which was conceived more than 50 years ago here in the area. The angry, angst-ridden anthem hasn’t lost any of its poignancy, and the entire band added plenty of color and texture to it to make it a perfect, fitting closer for the performance. As a finale, an overwhelmingly colorful and extremely loud fireworks display filled the night sky and literally closed the show with a bang. 

As all band members and accompanists left the stage, the remaining nucleus of the band, Wood, Richards, and Jagger, hung back to wave goodbye to the crowd as a trio. It was fitting, yet a bit emotional, to see the three offering their final farewells. They’re still out there doing what they do best albeit doing it a little slower and a little more cautiously than in decades past. 

Still, it’s unfathomable that a group made up of core members who have been at it for the better part of 60 years can still pack in fans at a football stadium. The Rolling Stones can still attract an audience that ranges from 20-somethings to great grandparents who know it’s only rock and roll…but they all seem to still like it. 

The Ghost Hounds, who were also tapped to open for the Stones in 2019, did it again on Friday, this time with a new album, A Little Calamity, in tow. Frontman Tré Nation shares the same flair for the stage that Jagger does, and his band’s sound is now just about as rich, too, thank to three backup singers who helped the Hounds bring bluesy-swagger and doo-wop flair to folks willing to get into the stadium early and see a band about 50 years younger than the headliners.—Gabe Echazabal

Rolling Stones Set List

Street Fighting Man
Get Off of My Cloud
Sad Sad Sad
Tumbling Dice
Beast of Burden
Far Away Eyes
You Can't Always Get What You Want
Living in a Ghost Town
Start Me Up
Honky Tonk Women
Connection
Happy
Miss You
Midnight Rambler
Paint It Black
Sympathy for the Devil
Jumpin' Jack Flash

Gimme Shelter
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction 

10/29/2021 | Photos by Sandra Dohnert