I guess what surprised me the most about last weekend is how many people were doing what I was doing, i.e., flying from New York City to Austin, Texas to see a Rolling Stones concert in the last leg of their Bigger Bang Tour in Zilker Park. On the plane down, I kid you not, I spotted 14 Rolling Stones T-shirts (I do not own a Rolling Stones T-shirt) and overheard at least four other people talking about going to the show. On the plane back I sat next to a guy who was "with the band" as they say in the business. He was a friend of a record producer who worked with Keith on a side project with a bluesman of a certain age named Hubert Sumlin. There were at least another 10 people on that plane with some sort of obvious indication they had been to the show (I had none myself, so that suggests there were others so disguised).
So, we got on a plane, Jet Blue, in this case, and flew 1800 miles for a rock concert? What are we? Stupid?
No, prescient is more like it.
It was an absolutely unique experience. My crew sat a good distance (as in several hundred yards) from the stage because, well, we wanted to be near the beer and bathrooms. We're old, we're thirsty, and we pee a lot.
From that distance, and from behind a low ridge, we watched a 9-story tall video jukebox playing a real-time concert movie. It was awesome and felt a little silly at the same time. We could just barely see the band. I mean just barely. With binoculars, you could tell who was who. We were so far from the stage the the sound was badly out of sync with the video monitor. Badly, several hundred milliseconds worth.
But, it was still cool.
I did make it up close enough to the stage that it seemed like a live event, and there was another kind of awesome experience. This stage is at least as much of the show as the band. It is an absolutely stunning audiovisual experience to behold. They should consider leaving the stage for another night after shows and just replay the video on the big screen synchronized with the visual effects around the window. They could charge about 1/4 of the regular ticket prive for that, or make it free and continue to charge $7 for beer, and I would have gone back to see it a second time. The stage is a performance in and of itself.
Does that mean Mick and the boys phoned it in? Not at all. They did not rest of their laurels at all, they brought it. They worked hard, they stretched themselves, they did some creative work. They played "Bob Wills is Still the King," a song which grows out of the earth around a club called "The Broken Spoke" a few miles south of that site, Mecca for the Outlaw-country music movement. For an Austinite as myself (of my age), hearing Mick Jagger sing "It don't matter who's in Austin, Bob Wills is still the King" is an indescribably intimate and moving experience.
They were a virtual Greatest Hits Jukebox, they did all their big tunes along with a few new ones and a couple of covers. They don't call them the world's greatest rock and roll band for nothing.
We got tickets for the after-show at Antone's, THE legendary blues club in Austin and a hangout of mine for two decades. Hubert Sumlin was the top line act and Keith Richards just did an album with Hubert, and several of the members of this tour's back-up band also played on Hubert's album. So, this was the show to see. Everyone thought the band might show up and sit in.
To make a long story short, Blondie Chaplin (back up singer) came on and sang a set, another guitarist who works with the band sometimes sat is for a while. Ron Wood was in the club, walking around, but he didn't get on stage and frankly, that wasn't anywhere near the first time I'd seen Ron Wood walking around Antone's in the last 20 years.
The real treat was when special guest Joe Ely did a set to close it down. Awesome night of music, from a huge arena/park event to a 400 seat blues club. Just awesome."