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Photos by Julia LeConte
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THE ROLLING STONES at the Air Canada Centre, Saturday, May 25. Rating: NNNNN
When Mick Jagger emerged onstage Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre belting Get Off My Cloud, I was immediately struck by two things. First, his hair and stature have not changed in five decades. Second, his swagger has: his hips are more mesmerizing now, at age 69, than they were in 1969 - judging by video footage of the time, at least. Neither Shakira nor Beyonce could challenge this Englishman on the dance floor, and the man is one year shy of septuagenarian.
The Rolling Stones played the first of two Toronto dates on their 50 and Counting tour, and while their songs are very much smashes from the 60s and 70s, they're obviously still paying attention to the news of the day. After second song, You Got Me Rockin, Jagger addressed his beloved T.O. audience. "We're not going to do any jokes about the mayor," he said. "We're gonna crack right on with the show!"
The staging was incredible. A gigantic screen behind the band initially projected their signature red lips, and subsequently alternated between crowd shots from their decades of live shows, inventive animation and ultra-jumbotron-sized versions of themselves for the benefit of those who weren't within Instagram distance. An arc-shaped track jutted out from the stage, with the luckiest ticket-holders wedged within. Mick would often race around the bend, stopping at all points and striking awe: here was this noodle of a man, filling a hockey arena with his stage presence - shimmying, shaking, waving, pointing and emoting at every level of the crowd, all while shuffling his feet and worming his torso so that you could pick out each and every vertebra.
He wore many jackets: velvet purple military-style with gold embroidery, shiny lavender biker, full-length black feather with maroon lining, and a sparkly ruby long-tailer. Inevitably, each would be tossed off as Mick stripped down to a just-translucent long-sleeved tee, through which one could decipher the wiry muscles of his petite frame.
Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie were joined by a rotating cast of musicians - including longtime backup singer Lisa Fischer who shone brightest while duetting with Mick on Gimme Shelter. Country superstar Carrie Underwood even made a surprise appearance on It's Only Rock 'N' Roll. The best guest spot, however, was one-time Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, who accompanied the band for their epic blues opera, Midnight Rambler. Taylor worked away on guitar solos while Mick wailed on his harmonica. They would huddle in close and jam together, and then turn around and lean against one another, back to back. During the whole 12 or so minutes, throughout every tempo change, Mick was dancing so vivaciously that both the woman to my right, and the woman to my left leaned in to say, "he's 70 years old!" while I wondered: if he can still dance like this, what else can he still do?
Through Miss You, Start Me Up, Brown Sugar and Sympathy for the Devil, Mick cavorted in his jerky, jutty way, all elbows and knees and, of course, hips. Ronnie and Keith were having a ball, hamming it up with the other musicians and grinning wide, joining Mick at the front of the arc from time to time. Charlie looked content to be there, more reserved than the rest, perhaps the only one feeling his age. Their three-song encore started with help from kids 55 years Charlie's junior - the Cawthra Park Secondary School choir - backing them for You Can't Always Get What You Want.
The Stones have been performing the same songs for decades, but nobody minds. When they closed out with Satisfaction, two hours and twenty minutes after they started, some 18,000 concertgoers from Toronto, America and the Northwest Territories (if you count my row alone) left completely and utterly satisfied.