The Rolling Stones have held the mythical title of World’s Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band for decades now. And the cool thing about that is it doesn’t stop them from also being the sloppiest band in the world, but in a good way.
The Stones’ Zip Code Tour stopped in at Carter-Finley Stadium Wednesday night, drawing 40,000 or so acolytes. The show they saw was as raw as any garage band, with the Stones wearing their rough edges proudly -- and all these decades later, still putting in supreme amounts of effort.
Whatever sins you can accuse the Stones of (most notably turning themselves into an oldies-centric tourist attraction, with highway-robbery ticket prices), lack of enthusiasm isn’t one of them. Keith Richards beamed throughout, the picture of rock-royalty contentment. Charlie Watts was his usual steady self, seemingly amused at some very private joke as he kept the beat. And Mick Jagger traversed several miles over the course of the evening, scampering side to side across the stage and out onto the catwalk while shimmying about like a crazy (and much younger) man.
Along with rough edges, Wednesday’s show also found the Stones getting in touch with their inner jam band by playing extended solos and outros on most songs. The set clocked in at more than two hours, with a per-song average of close to seven minutes a tune (a musical verbosity rivaling Carlos Santana himself).
Fifty years ago, when the Stones played NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum, North Carolina’s own Embers opened the show. Concord’s Avett Brothers did the honors this time, and they filled up the stadium space quite nicely with a greatest-hits set drawn largely from their 2009 signpost album “I and Love and You.” This wasn’t the Avetts’ usual crowd, but they’d earned some new fans by the end of their 45 minutes onstage.
Then the Stones came out and started in on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” which sounded…well, not great, due to a horrendous sound mix. Richards and Ron Wood’s guitar-playing grew sharper as the set wore on, but the sound did not improve. Few in the audience seemed to mind. By now, one doesn’t attend a Stones show for polished performances so much as to bask in their aura.
Consummate frontman that he is, Jagger peppered his between-song interludes with local-color references. But they were amusing enough to make it seem as if he’d been briefed by someone who might not actually live here.
“Does anyone here support the Wolfpacks?” he asked at one point, referring to NC State’s sports mascot. A few songs later, he noted that it was “great to be in the RTP Triangle.”
“That’s what you call it, right?” he asked. “You must have the brainiest threesomes in America. Right, this next one’s called ‘Moonlight Mile.’”
Songs from the Stones’ ’60s and ’70s glory days made up the bulk of the set, with only one from the past 20 years ago (1997’s “Out of Control,” and it was a low point). On the upside, “Gimme Shelter” was dazzling, still among the spookiest songs in the rock canon, and backup singer Lisa Fischer absolutely killed it on her solo. Props also to the Duke Vespers Ensemble for their backup on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” And the encore version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was as (yes) satisfying as the first time I heard it live 30-some years ago.
This wasn’t a show with much in the way of surprises. But more than 50 years after they became “England’s Newest Hitmakers,” it still feels like a cool rite of passage to gather among the faithful and yell “hoo hoo HOO hoo, hoo hoo” with Mick on “Miss You.” The Stones are like a comet that comes around here every 10 years or so. Will there be a 2025 visitation?
It seems impossible, but I wouldn’t bet against them.