For a group of long-time professionals like the Rolling Stones, their performance Wednesday evening in Tel Aviv was just another night among thousands - but for the 50,000 people attending the concert in Park Hayarkon, it was a singular event.
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The Stones alluded to the event's gravity relatively early in their concert, when a video projected on giant screens behind the performers combined archival clips from their concerts in the 1960s with live shots of the Tel Aviv concert audience in 2014.
The faces of the Tel Aviv audience - at least those in the front rows - were rather young-looking, even now. It’s only the Stones who have changed. But they are still performing, today in front of people some of whom could be the grandchildren of the hysterical girls from the original '60s clips.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this week’s concert was how little time had taken its toll on the Stones’ talents. And that’s even if here and there it seemed that they were not quite as polished as in their performances in the 1970s or '80s. The Tel Aviv concert started absolutely on time and wrapped up two hours later, going from “Start Me Up” to “Satisfaction,” the absolute final encore. In between they did more of their most familiar pieces. “You make a grown man cry,” Mick Jagger sang in their first number, but contrary to the concerns, there was nothing geriatric about the show. The Stones radiated almost indescribable energy. They even seem to have become a bit nicer with the years, displaying considerable self-effacing humor.
Jagger’s vocal chords are almost unscathed and his leg muscles are even less the worse for wear. He and his partner-adversary Keith Richards kept an assured clear distance from one another. Jagger threw out expressions in Hebrew with a shocking accent, while Richards performed in green top that looked like something borrowed for the night from Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava. Ronnie Wood lit up cigarette after cigarette and Charlie Watts, the eldest of the foursome, stuck to his post behind his drums.
One of the more formulaic Stones hits, which they also performed Wednesday night, says it’s only rock ‘n roll, but I like it. And what rock ‘n roll it was. When Richards takes somewhat worn-out poses with his guitar, he’s entitled. He’s not only one of the greatest living guitarists - he apparently also invented most of the poses.
And when Mick Jagger introduces a song request from 1960-something, you can believe that he doesn’t remember exactly when he wrote “Get Off My Cloud.”
Contrary to some earlier predictions, the audience looked like it totally filled Park Hayarkon Park. And even the packed crowds, the heat, the mosquitoes and the thick clouds of marijuana smoke that seemed to envelope the entire park barely bothered anyone. In the middle of the concert, Jagger took a break. Richards sang “You Got the Silver.” Wood played the slide guitar and the two sounded like a pair of old blues singers.
Then Jagger returned and embarked on a wonderful performance of one song after another from the Stones’ glory days in the late 60s and early 70s. From my standpoint, the high point was “Midnight Rambler,” a killer blues-rock performance that lasted for ten minutes or longer. Jagger played around with a harmonica, while in the background three guitarists and a bassist who were up in years looked like they were having the time of their lives. The encore performance included a rendition of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” backed by an Israeli womens' choir, followed by “Satisfaction.” They’re two of the best known Rolling Stones songs and they sounded as if one was written in response to the other.
This was without a doubt one of the best rock performances in Tel Aviv in recent years. On the long trip out of the park, one couldn’t help thinking about the coincidence that of all the mythological rock groups, the Stones have lasted all these years and still manage to put forth a show like this in their seventies.
My younger brother and I had an audio cassette that we totally wore out around 1984 called “Hot Rocks.” It was a rather predictable compilation album of the Stones hits up to 1971. It also for some reason included a live performance--of “Midnight Rambler.” Both of us thought the Tel Aviv performance sounded even better than that original version. The Stones have indeed remained nothing less than a natural phenomenon.