The Rolling Stones Let it Bleed Over Austin – in Second Ever Local Concert

…with sympathy for the parking lot

Midnight Ramblers: Rolling Stones at Circuit of the America on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

May 24, 2020: a mild morning forecast sold short what would transpire: hail, lightning, and severe rain over Austin. Had the original local date of the Rolling Stones No Filter tour not been cancelled due to the pandemic, it might have been called for safety – or we’d have all been cold and muddy.

546 days later, it’s an ideal fall night – light jacket weather – and I wish I had a Keith Richard’s jacket, which looks like the kind of Chalk-Line coat that usually has a sports team on it, except his is adorned with oozy, abstract electric green and pink designs. Pure “Keef.” A nearly-full moon had hung stunningly over the Circuit of the Americas Super Stage preceding the arrival of the 59-year-running British rock outfit, though black clouds had rolled over it as they took the stage.

Almost as if a planetary body was ceding attention to one of the few entities of equal stature: the word’s most famous rock ’n’ roll band.

Enormous, iconic brush-stroked red lips and tongues on glowing yellow screens had flipped over to show a reel of clips featuring stone’s drummer Charlie Watts – the final frame freezing on him, in latter life, smiling beautifully. Watts died on August 24 and veteran beatsman Steve Jordan now fills his throne. Mick Jagger later fêted Watts:

In 1962, we met this great drummer called Charlie Watts! And ever since then, all the tours that we’d done, we done with Charlie so this is the first tour we’d ever without him and I’m sure a lot of you out there have memories of Charlie, seeing Charlie play, hearing him, and so we’d like to share that with you. So we’d like to dedicate this show to CHARLIE WATTS!

A 37-year-old music obsessive with deep love for the Stones, but who’d never actually witnessed them live, I didn’t just desire to see great-grandfatherly rock heroes Jagger, Richards, and Ronnie Wood in the flesh, but have their live-in-action sound waves enter my ears. Immediately, I was taken back by how nakedly, loudly, in-your-face, Richards and Wood’s unique guitar alchemy – brilliant and imperfect – sat in the mix.

A nearly-full moon had hung stunningly over the Circuit of the Americas Super Stage preceding the arrival of the 59-year-running British rock outfit, though black clouds had rolled over it as they took the stage – almost as if a planetary body was ceding attention to one of the few entities of equal stature: the word’s most famous rock ’n’ roll band.

A momentary, but very mortal stumble into “It’s Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)” front-loaded the steam-building early sequence of “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Tumbling Dice,” where Jagger’s growing energy – evidenced then by a graceful 180 degree jump – was only overshadowed by the six-string duo’s interplay and Wood’s corkscrewing solo on the latter. If we’ve come to see real rock ’n’ roll coaction, on this spectacular scale, we’re getting it full blast. Even later in the show, when Richards skronked out some clumsy notes on an otherwise majestic version of “Honky Tonk Woman” – the unvarnished realness of the Stone’s guitar force was admirable.

When slot in the set-list reserved for an online fan-voted “request” resulted in guitar techs bringing out an acoustic for “Let it Bleed,” Jagger funnily feigned that he didn’t remember how to play it. When Richards approached the singer’s ear, ostensibly to explain the chords, Jagger brushed him off “I”m just tawkeen my way into it!” Follow up, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with Mick applying an especially staccato vocal phrasing on the verses, stoked the night’s first mass sing-along. Afterwards he complimented the audiences singing: “Fantastic Austin – you sound amaZINNN!”

Ronnie Wood, Steve Jordan, and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones onstage in South Austin. (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Astonishingly, six songs into the set, the racetrack’s concert grounds were still filling up. A traffic jam and parking situation that fell in between the categories of “nightmare” and “humanitarian crisis,” resulted in it taking hours for ticket holders to enter the show and COTA issuing a social media bulletin to not use the app Waze, which their website actually advises you to use. Those who tried to use ride-shares home after the show, which ended at 11pm, faced equally long delays. I woke up to texts from 1am from friends still hopelessly stuck there.

With some guilt, I must admit that I left central Austin at 5pm, was parked by 6:15pm and it only took me five minutes to leave by exiting towards the north. We just got lucky (and used a lot of passing lanes, boldly).

COTA’s entry/parking debacle left townies reminiscing fondly about the good times of the Stone’s only other Austin appearance: 2006 at Zilker Park – a show that also employed local openers Los Lonely Boys and the late Ian McLagan & his Bump Band, while Saturday’s concert featured Pittsburgh bluesy rock upstarts the Ghost Hounds.

In other Stones-in-Austin news, Mick Jagger’s InstaGram-chronicled local tourism showed him tipping back at beer outside venerable dancehall the Broken Spoke on Friday and also playing pool at Bud’s Recording Services on Cesar Chavez and eating at South Austin taco truck Taqueria el Trompo Mayor. On Saturday, whoever feeds funny local banter in Jagger’s teleprompter went for the gold medal with a joke about the Stones moving here and references to Scholz Garden, “Deep Eddy’s Turkey and Cranberry Flavored vodka,” Tito’s, and Elon Musk. At other times, he referred to Austin as “the ATX” and, more cringingly, “Bat City.”

Richards, meanwhile, spoke soulfully sans-prompter when he told the tens of thousands present (a request for specific attendance figures has not yet been fulfilled by venue representatives) how good it was to be back touring: “This is just what we do,” he shrugged before leading the Sixties-spawned deep-cut/live-staple “Connection,” followed by his eternal “You Got the Silver.”

Jagger returned to the mic, with harmonica in hand, for “Midnight Rambler. The long album track and even longer live favorite – one of ultimately five songs performed off Let it Bleed – found the Stone’s reaching God-level musical performance for the first time in the night. With Jagger, Richards, and Wood assembled in a triangle of eye contact and electricity, their chemistry boiled over into an undeniable, jolting force that both justified the often tired art-form blues rock and displayed a platinum standard for it.

Jagger had been typically sprightly, springing with energy throughout the concerts first three-quarters, but “Midnight Rambler” awoke his cat-like impulses to an elite level of showmanship – prowling the catwalk and emanating grandiose charisma as they delved into dark arts with “Paint It Black” – helmed by Richards’ sinister guitar line – and “Sympathy for the Devil,” during which sparks rained over the four story stage, and ultimately the pure musical exuberance of “Jumpin' Jack Flash.”

A short wait for the encore hardly left time to score a fresh drink as the band flashed back and lit into “Gimme Shelter,” with the weight-throwing bass line of Darryl Jones and Chuck Leavell’s whirling keyboard part coming together for the almighty groove. Backing singer Sasha Allen – who’d been making the Stones sound good all night – turned up the gain on her vocal chords in her centerstage moment, alongside Jagger, to put the tweeters on the sky-high speaker stacks through their paces.

The guitar intro for the two-hour concert’s obvious closer then rang out. Three notes – three regular ol’ notes – put into the perfect sequence and rhythm of nine guitar pick plucks, led into one of the most recognizable songs of human history – the kind of song that invariably makes everyone jump, dance, sing, clap, throw their hands in the air, and – most importantly – smile.

Much has changed in Austin in the 15 years since the Rolling Stones last played here, but the Stone’s experience – no longer immortal or, arguably, fully intact – still fulfills a first timer. A concert delayed by a year-and-a-half, marred for many by a true pain-in-the-ass even get in and out, and one where the principals on stage are, by most logic, too old to be entertainers, and yet it felt worth it — a sense of, you know, “Satisfaction.”

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Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Ronnie Wood, Circuit of the Americas

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