Concert Review: The Rolling Stones — As Precious as Ever

By Scott McLennan

Returning to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on Thursday night, the Rolling Stones, miraculously, sounded dangerous again.

The Rolling Stones, May 30 at Gillette Stadium

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones at Gillette Stadium. Photo: Paul Robicheau

Defiance has long been the fuel for the Rolling Stones. From the brash bluesy rock that separated them early on from the Beatles, through the narcotic outlaw machinations of the late ’60s and early ’70s, into the later eras of decadent sleaze, the Rolling Stones became notorious for shattering the rules and the mores of civilized society.

They also fell prey to the trappings of wealth and fame, going through long spells of playing greatest-hits sets that were inevitably enjoyable but rarely daring.

Returning to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on Thursday night, the Rolling Stones, miraculously, sounded dangerous again. Before the band had completed its third song, one guy next to me passed out after smoking a joint. He needed to be removed from the premises; two others behind me started a fist fight. In other words, Foxborough felt dangerous, like rock ’n’ roll shows used to feel before the perversions of “platinum” tickets and “VIP access” separated the commoners from the elites.

Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones at Gillette Stadium. Photo:Paul Robicheau

The Stones reclaimed their rebellious spirit, thanks in large part to releasing the excellent Hackney Diamonds album last year. The band is using it as a springboard into a tour in which Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, both 80, and Ronnie Wood, 76, are not just playing well, but performing as if they realize that the style of music they serve up is no longer the coin of the cultural realm. But they aren’t about to let their legacy be washed away by the waves being made by new pop titans.

The very predictable show opener “Start Me Up” hinted at the direction the Stones would go through a two-hour concert. The song’s energy was high and frenetic, with Wood and Richards playing off of each other in a very loose and natural way as Jagger rallied the stadium (which was far from full, but held a respectably large crowd) into partaking of what was promising to be a rock ’n’ roll bacchanal.

The Stones then veered into the insouciance of 1965’s “Get Off of My Cloud” before uncorking the steamy tensions of “Bitch.”

Three songs in and the Stones had covered roughly 30 years of rock ’n’ roll milestones: an exhilarating lineup of indelible riffs, choruses, and lyrics; unparalleled attitude; and sharp, provocative performances.

While Jagger (in remarkably excellent voice), Richards (in remarkably upright position), and Wood comprise the heart and soul of the Rolling Stones, a lot of credit for the show’s success must go to the cast members surrounding the triumphant trio.

Drummer Steve Jordan had the unenviable task of following — since nobody will ever “replace” — the beloved Charlie Watts, who died in 2021. But, because he was the percussionist in Richards’s solo band the X-Pensive Winos, Jordan has a great feel and understanding for the Stones’ sound. He is well aware of how everyone else in the band keys in on the drummer’s work.

The sax tandem of Karl Denson and Tim Ries, keyboard players Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford, bassist Darryl Jones, and singers Bernard Fowler and Chanel Haynes all contributed mightily to the effort — each had his or her moments in the spotlight.

But the essential dynamic for the evening went something like this: Jagger and everyone else except the guitarists performed with impeccable precision while Wood and Richards played with a sense of wild abandon. The guitarists were not sloppy, but neither were they particularly clean and crisp as they traded lead and rhythm parts. That jaggedness is what injected the pricklier, rougher tones into the songs.

“Angry” was the first of four songs plucked from the Hackney Diamonds album, and it was a solid inclusion in the set. That wasn’t the case for “Mess it Up,” a newbie that was sandwiched between classics “Tumbling Dice” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” “Mess It Up” became the diamond that got snuffed, because the Stones pumped real life and blood into “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” a song that for many years seemed lost in a fog of nostalgia but has recently reconnected with its original dread.

Chanel Haynes with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones at Gillette Stadium. Photo: Paul Robicheau

In the early goings of the 19-song concert, the Stones played the slinky “Emotional Rescue” for the first time since 2014 (it was the night’s song chosen by fans by way of online voting). Jagger nailed the tune’s signature falsetto as the rest of the band captured the spectral creep of the number.

The loping ballad “Wild Horses” was another top-half stand out, especially with Richards contributing world-weary backing vocals.

As has become custom for the Stones, the concert’s midpoint is marked when Richards steps up to sing a couple of songs. In Foxborough, he started with the plaintive “Tell Me Straight” from Hackney Diamonds, working up nice instrumental conversations with Wood. Richards then just opened up the engines for a blast through the still-raunchy “Little T&A.”

The second half of a Stones show has for years been a predictable affair, and set list–wise that was the case on Thursday. Performance-wise, it was a different story.

Ron Wood and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones at Gillette Stadium. Photo: Paul Robicheau

Richards gave a clinic with his solos on “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Honky Tonk Women,” methodically sculpting riffs and exploring tones that sounded fresh as they reiterated his lasting influence on generations of guitar players.

“Midnight Rambler” ran the gamut of wiry small-combo blues to woozy full-on psychedelic splurge. Haynes and Jagger struck libidinous sparks on “Gimme Shelter” before the Stones revisited the garage-rock glory of “Paint It Black.” Few other bands could hold all of this variety together with as much natural flair.

The Stones closed the regular set with what seemed a very intentional revue-style read of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” as Jagger took on the role of rubber-limbed dancer as the band behind him deployed big, sweeping feel-good waves of music.

The encore offered one last mighty display of defiance with the soaring soul of “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” a Hackney Diamonds track that has earned its spot in the canon of Stones classics. Jagger, aided by Haynes, sang it with a passionate verve, knowing that once again he and his mates — old as they may be — stole fire from the gods.

Seeing Richards projected onto the huge screens flanking the stadium stage as he fired off the opening riffs to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was the rock ’n’ roll equivalent of viewing the Mona Lisa. We’ve all seen and heard this before, but the Stones still make it precious.

Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Portland Press Herald, and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.


  1. Troy Tyree on May 31, 2024 at 3:22 pm

    Excellent review!

  2. Ed Hunt on May 31, 2024 at 9:54 pm

    I have been a Rollings Stone fan since my high school days of the early ’70s. I was blown away by the quality, of voice, instrumental proficiency, stamina, and showmanship of the band and its’ accompaniment. The lighting and crystal clear graphics were outstanding. Call it nostalgic, but I have to say, it was the best concert of my 68 years on this planet.

  3. Denis on June 1, 2024 at 2:37 pm

    I’ve seen the Stones 4 times, this was by far the best of the 4. And I took my teenage kids and young adults and they couldn’t believe how good this concert was.

  4. Sher on June 1, 2024 at 3:51 pm

    Great review for guys that will never really grow old.

  5. Greg Levy on June 1, 2024 at 6:11 pm

    Did no one notice that they skipped an entire verse of “Sympathy”?

    Yes, the show was great! Yes, Mick’s voice is still stellar, especially on “Wild Horses” IMHO, but we gotta acknowledge that, while great, Keith came in early with his riff and they skipped the “…who killed the Kennedys verse”. ?

    • Scott McLennan on June 1, 2024 at 10:56 pm

      They haven’t included that verse in decades. Go back to “Love You Live” from 1977, and that’s where you start finding the version with fewer lyrics

      • Greg Levy on June 2, 2024 at 12:52 pm

        Wow — great fact. Guess you know it’s my first show. I’ll research myself. But was it the backlash from the ‘Kennnedy’ line/reference?

        • Scott McLennan on June 2, 2024 at 12:59 pm

          To my knowledge no. They also cut out verse about the troubadours. My hunch is that it was a rearrangement to add the bigger guitar solo

  6. Redlands on June 1, 2024 at 8:53 pm

    I was there…my 7th time seeing them since 1989 and my wife’s first time ever. LOVED IT!

    • James on June 2, 2024 at 5:16 am

      I always liked “Start Me Up” at the original slower beat. The music video of same has to be the best any group ever made. Charlie smirking at Wyman that these three guys, Jagger, Richards and Woods, are out of their minds is totally hilarious.

  7. Maura Early on June 3, 2024 at 3:00 am

    Approaching the ages of Mick and Keith myself, I thought maybe their voices might be a little diminished but I was so wrong. It was a dream come true seeing them again.
    The band members were awesome and Channel Haynes, appearing like a youthful Tina Turner come to life again was surreal and wonderful. Can’t wait to see her career skyrocket. SUPER EVENING.

  8. James McFarland on June 3, 2024 at 9:53 am

    I was a 37 yo father with my wife and 10 yo son at the Stones concert at Boston Garden in 1975. I am currently an 86 yo who attended the concert at Foxboro on Thursday, with my now 59 yo son and his wife, his daughter and son, and his grand-daughter. The concert was terrific both times and the theatrics infinitely increased now. I would not have missed either of them.

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