What clinched it was Keith singing “Happy.” When Exile on Main Street was released, it seemed to me that the Stones had become Keith’s band, that the unvarying conservatism, the absence of risk, the concentration on music rather than themes or concepts, and the anonymity of the vocals, all spelled Jagger’s remove. Jagger in several interviews has expressed his increasing estrangement; in a Life magazine cover story, he admitted that the music they were now playing was calculated to please their fans, and they were afraid to depart from it. Jagger’s increasing sense of his own sublime irrelevance was not difficult to perceive at the Garden. For the first third of the concert he played almost exclusively to the audience, barely to or with or off the band. Flitting from one end of the stage to the other, he performed a series of poses in motion for our benefit. Keith on the other hand was totally committed to what he was doing. He stalked up to the mike, screamed the words in that high, Jaggeresque voice of his, and rode his guitar like a bronco.
An eclectic saxophone-embossed “Love in Vain” followed which included an absolutely breathtaking slide solo by Mick Taylor. Keith continued dauntless on rhythm, while Mick took more leads than he had been permitted in ’69. “Tumbling Dice,” sorely missing a chorus, nevertheless had a magnificent coda. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” suddenly proclaimed itself a Dylan song; “Midnight Rambler” raised goose-pimples, then almost imperceptively collapsed under the weight of its own violence. There was no question that Keith would take the lead on “Johnny B. Goode;” Jagger, having graduated from syncopated stepping to actual dancing, now in a fit of delight was doing headstands. On the downbeat of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Mick would make a perfectly timed leap into the air. As in ’69, “Street Fighting Man” was the finale. Mick’s movements became progressively more spontaneous, more artless, more endearing. The band did what could be called jamming as Mick twirled around the stage. As if he were a Carpenter, he sprinkled stardust in Keith’s hair, then into the audience. Mick held his hands over his head, and waved. The audience held their hands over their heads and waved back. Mick blew kisses and then was gone. The crowd called them back and an anti-climactic “Honky Tonk Women” became the farewell. The effect was elegiac as it was cathartic.
Despite the glory there is no question that the hoopla surrounding the Stones and their tour is incommensurate with the specific quality of their performance.
Obviously, no performance could be, and the vast mystique which swirls around them hurts as much as helps. Still, they are not completely innocent. The Stones, famous for their recklessness, have contrived not just a business but a performance so calculated, so ruthlessly competent (and so well-publicized) that the elements of surprise and risk necessary to real greatness are absent. And the sense of a Stones concert as a ritual of defiance becomes especially empty.