The Rolling Stones Conquer SoFi Stadium—This Could Be the Last Time (I Don’t Know, Oh No…): Review

The Rolling Stones

SoFi Stadium

Inglewood, CA

Oct. 14, 2021

The Rolling Stones
( Rich Fury/Getty Images)

It’s Only Rock N’ Roll, But How Can You Not Like it? The Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger, Steve Jordan and Keith Richards performing at SoFi Stadium on Oct. 14, 2021 in Inglewood, California.

The Rolling Stones’ pandemic-postponed No Filter Tour added Thursday night to its originally scheduled, sold-out Sunday evening show at the brand, spanking-new SoFi Stadium, and neither high ticket prices nor COVID protocols could stop the indefatigable, 78-year-old Mick Jagger from traversing the eight-to-10 miles a night he spends cajoling and teasing the crowd. If alien robot intelligence 100 years from now wanted to see the Platonic idea of a rock ‘n’ concert circa 2021, they merely had to be transported back to the very futuristic spaceship-looking SoFi, a 70,000-capacity football stadium that plays like, say, its next-door neighbor The Forum on steroids.

Yes, this latest version of the Rolling Stones is minus the late Charlie “He’s Good Tonight” Watts, but frequent collaborator Steve Jordan takes his place in the pocket and seems to be having the time of his life doing so. All told, this well-oiled machine – which takes the stage at 8:45 p.m. and leaves on the nose at 11 (no overtime charges on business major Mick Jagger’s watch) – may be the best version of the Stones ever, and the streamlined 19-song set matches the utilitarian stage, dwarfed by four floor-to-ceiling video panels which serve as welcome binoculars for all but the first floor sections.

Rolling Stones
Tim Norris / SoFi Stadium

Larger Than Life: The Rolling Stones play before a full SoFi Stadium, which has a capacity of 70,000. Seats with obstructed views behind the stage were not sold.

After a brief, drum-beat-accompanied video tribute to Watts, the band is off and running, on this night leading with the apropos “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” which they memorably had to change to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Jagger remarked this was the 48th time the Stones had played Los Angeles, going back to 1964 at Santa Monica Civic for the TAMI Show, and they made themselves right at home. Ever the savvy host, Mick asked for fans of the Rams and Chargers, then stated on this one night “we can all be friends.”
With the Stones taking some Critical Race Theory jousts from a Medium post penned by an African-American professor calling them cultural appropriators for everything from stealing James Brown’s dance moves to listing Merry Clayton by only “Mary” on the credits for the original “Gimme Shelter,” there was a moment of apprehension whether Jagger could still get away with singing “Under My Thumb” in this post-#MeToo era, even as the even more problematic “Brown Sugar” has been jettisoned from the set list.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
Tim Norris / SoFi Stadium

The Glimmer Twins: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who met in Oct. 1961, rocking SoFi Stadium 60 years later in Oct. 2021

Still, the apparently Stones-sanctioned, crowd-sourced YouTube videos that have flooded the Internet offered just enough inducement to check out the real thing, and it was no disappointment. A gloriously shambolic “19th Nervous Breakdown” led to a welcome “Rocks Off” (“I only get my rocks off when I’m dreaming”), a raucous “Get Off My Cloud” and a “Tumblin Dice” that put Ronnie Wood’s gnarled fretwork front and center – it was a joy to watch him and Keith in private musical conversation, trying to figure out where one riff begins and the other ends, such is their entanglement.

The set varies only slightly night to night, mainly in the “fan’s choice” segment, where voting takes place between four numbers, with my particular choice, the plaintive, courtly “Ruby Tuesday,” providing the ‘60s Elizabethan touch to the proceedings. A dynamic “Can’t Always Get What You Want” follows, Mick prancing with acoustic guitar, Ronnie Wood’s glittery, silver high-top sneakers setting off his impish glee at ripping off another guttural punkish solo.

The set’s most recent track, 2019’s “Living in a Ghost Town,” a dub-heavy reflection on the pandemic featuring a bluesy Jagger harp solo and one of the evening’s several call-and-responses, shows the Stones aren’t done yet as a recording outfit, but it’s “Start Me Up,” a seeming throwaway that has achieved live anthem status, has Mick wailing, “I never stop, never stop, never stop,” the Energizer Bunny belying every one of his septuagenarian years.

Ever-playful, Jagger teases the Hollywood crowd includes Megan Fox, Kirk Douglas, Leonardo DiCaprio and, to much booing, Governor Gavin Newsom, slyly referencing his “French Launderette” scandal. A mention Paul McCartney might be joining them sends a momentary thrill to the crowd, until we realize it’s just a poke at the ex-Beatle’s recent critique that the Stones “are just a blues cover band.”

Of course, they are so much more than that, as longtime musical director Chuck Leavell, who as a keyboardist been with the band since 1982, shows off his underrated status on a rousing “Honky Tonk Woman,” which leads into Jagger introducing the rest of the group – backup singers Bernard Fowler and the incredible Sasha Allen (who replaced Lisa Fischer in 2016), longtime bassist Daryl Jones, Jordan, Karl Denson and Tim Ries on saxophones and Matt Clifford on assorted keyboards, percussion, French Horn (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”).

Charlie Watts
Tim Norris / SoFi Stadium

The Wembley Whammer: The Rolling Stones set kicked off with a steady drum beat and a photo montage of the late great drummer Charlie Watts who passed away Aug. 24, 2021.

After his intro, Keith Richards takes the stage with his traditional, “It’s good to be here… it’s good to be anywhere” greeting, then launched into a caterwauling “Connection” (about the band’s penchant for drug busts in their early years) and “Slippin’ Away,” the last song on 1989’s Steel Wheels album. Keith’s off-key warbling is forgotten and one makes allowances for the heart and soul he brings to whatever he touches. With flappy, Prince Charles-like ears sticking out from his knit cap, Richards is the living, breathing pulse that makes the whole thing bigger than the sum of its parts. “All I want to do is get back to you,” croaks Keith, exulting in “being back on the road again… It’s what I do.” And long may he do it.

From there, it’s into the home stretch, a feverish rush to the finish line that starts with a funky “Miss You,” which includes Mick’s falsetto, a pair of sax solos and Daryl Jones walking the bass for five, bottom-heavy blissful minutes. The tour’s centerpiece, a Shakespearean “Midnight Rambler,” takes McCartney’s “blues” dig and raised the stakes considerably, Jagger and Richards emerging on the stage protruding into the audience to do their own version of “to be or not to be… it’s no question, it’s an affirmation of life itself

The momentum is slowed just for a second with a wobbly “Paint It Black,” which really should have been in the first part of the show, which looked back at the ‘60s, but it’s not enough to derail this locomotive, with “Sympathy for the Devil” – Keith and Ronnie interlocking like pieces of a puzzle – and a closing “Jumping Jack Flash” that begs for the show-stopping, fireworks-exploding encore of “Gimme Shelter” (Jagger and Alisa Scott tore the translucent roof off SoFi) and a cathartic “Satisfaction” which completely explodes the “I Can’t Get No” prefix of its title.

By the time Ronnie and Keith have donned their matching chartreuse/purple jackets to join Jagger onstage for an emotional farewell, it was easy to imagine it could be the final time we see this band perform. It was a bittersweet moment, but one that resonated with a combination of boomer nostalgia and fear for the future. The Stones managed to turn our dread into a celebration. They may just be a blues band, but they’re our blues band. In the end, everybody must get Stoned.
Let’s Spend the Night Together
19th Nervous Breakdown
Rocks Off
Get Off My Cloud
Tumblin’ Dice
Ruby Tuesday
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Living in a Ghost Town
Start Me Up
Honky-Tonk Woman
Connection (Keith Richard)
Slippin’ Away (Keith Richard)
Miss You
Midnight Rambler
Paint It Black
Sympathy for the Devil
Jumping Jack Flash

Gimme Shelter 
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction