Rolling art of innovation
The Stones. They are not only the biggest rock’n’roll Band on earth.
They are also the most innovative one.
There are Rockbands. And there are the Rolling Stones. On a recent chilly September night in Munich’s iconic Olympic Stadium, I witnessed the band teaching the world (again) why this is. Spoiler alert: It has a lot to do with them knowing who they are and what they are best at; and then being able to innovate that concept as much as possible.
So far, I have seen over a thousand live shows from musicians of all genres, ages and popularity levels. All over the world. In the smallest clubs as well as in the biggest arenas. And until the night of September 12, 2017 (date of the Stones show mentioned), I would always have told you: The more intimate the event, the better it is. But then, I did see Mick, Keith, Ron, Charlie and their excellent supporting musicians on stage.
That was two and a half hours of Rolling Stones in the presence of a band performing a first-class act. Of a band that has managed to master the art of stadium shows like no other band before.
Based on their experience. Based on their ability to break the very rules they once helped to set up themselves.
The solid foundation for their convincing mix is quite simple: Musically, they draw on upon one of the most impressive catalogues in the history of rock music. Hardly any other band still active out there can rely on such a deep and wide selection of their own material with such an amazing bandwidth covering everything from all time greatest smash hits to insider tips as well as some of that very rare material, still worshiped religiously (and only know by) die-hard fans.
As for that, the Stones delivered 100%. They still do an amazing job in performing their own songs. Yes, in some moments it was a bit too much sound per second in general. Also, they could have cut out one or the other minute at the end of some pieces. But, lets face it, concepts of “Jazzpolizei” style performances with every single note being played by whatever book, have never been what makes a Stones gig a Stones gig. Who went for a Stones concert to see for the most elaborate, sophisticated interpretation of a certain song? Well, at least I never did. After all, they are a blues band at heart. With all the beautiful dirtiness and negligence this implies.
Today, I personally like their sound as much as I did the last four times I had the pleasure to attend a Stones live show. Let’s leave it to all the Stoneologists out there to go deeper into the musical fine print of the Munich 2017 performance.*
Not least, because the one fact that fascinates me the most about this band ever since I was able to join the Stones party is their ability to constantly re-invent themselves.
And this time, they ramped-up their love for innovation in exactly the right place to a new level. I even would say they mastered it once and for all. They perfected it.
And what a lesson they give with that to everyone in the entertainment business, in the performing arts, in running a business that is creativity based, that is all about IPs. What a teaching they give in growing wise in style.
Their European Tour 2017 setup is a master class in the art of stadium entertainment, with Mick Jagger being the one and only real high priest of the gospel of unique, perfect Rock’n’Roll performances.
And, leaving preferences in taste in music aside for a second, it currently is impossible to find a band being able to do this any better then the Stones.
For me, this isn’t that much about a band of 70somethings performing a 2,5-hour show (from Springsteen to Metallica to Neil Young etc., long sets are not that unusual these days, as some Rockers on stage might even be a bit of a younger age :-) ). As well as I do not care that much about pyrotechnics in beginning or end. Or data about who might have the widest, highest, longest etc. stage. (Many of such metrics mentioned are presented aplenty by the Stones btw.)
For me, this is all about the way the Stones managed to create a totally new audience experience for their music, their image cultivation, their vibe, their entire self-understanding.
I do not see any other band out there, that has been able to do so. Especially any other band that can look back on a career already that pretty much offered anything imaginable on this planet (Need a reminder of that? Watch the video embedded here).
Visually, this manifested in the most impressive use of screens for an arena stage that I know of so far. Because they reduced it to the max. As the gigantic Hi-Res screens where not part of the stage. They essentially were the stage.
And the Stones really understand how to use such screens in their favour. They make whats shown on them to focus on themselves most of the times (and the other musicians sometimes). With the live footage shown being embedded in a perfect mix of great live editing, that is artfully garnished with some carefully selected visual effects or (rarely) some stock footage.
Sounds egocentric? Yes, sure. But thats exactly what a live show is all about. Especially a Stones live show. More then anything else, we show up to look them in the eye as much as possible. For the music we have Vinyl, Spotify, Blue-Ray discs, YouTube, TV etc. etc. The whole point of making the effort to go to a concert in 2017 is to meet a band as close as possible. Nothing else.
The Stones seem to have understood this. And they managed to deliver such experience.
The screens are the main interface where the “No Filter” slogan of the 2017 European comes alive. Never before, a live audience got a more direct look straight into the faces of the Stones. The four enormous projection surfaces served as giant windows into the minds and souls of the Über-Rockstars — even way more insightful then all the documentary film work ever done about the band (sorry I have to write that, Martin).
The Stones faced the challenge of such on stage nakedness full on. I even think the played with it on purpose. No more hiding. Gone are the times of distracting stage props from elevators to blow up Go-Go dolls. No more climbing on top of scaffolding. Just pure images of musicians playing, tastefully arranged on the screens for everyone in the 60+thousand souls strong crowd to follow effortless.
A concert spectacle by size, as well as a pure and simple music performance in its visual focus.
What a radical shift in concept. What a shift in self-awareness to admit their biggest asset is the live band they form together as the characters they are. What a brave step to take by establishing the entire visual design of the bands tour appearance on that insight. What a show of mastership to balance all this in exactly a way that does not scare off the old guard while being appealing to younger folk as well.
Starting with the tickets right up to the stage architecture, to T-Shirts and other merchandise designs or the stage dresses of Mr. Jagger himself. No more fur coats or Hippy style items. Hello sleek, cool T-Shirts, the simple word Stones written on it in pure white simplicity on the chest of Mr. Jagger. (Sure, Keith stayes the pirate he has ever been. No worries!).
This isn’t the show of a traveling circus anymore. The Stones 2017 are a far cry from most of the image they cultivated over the last 50 years. Altamont? Waldbühne? All that was there in spirit. In the songs. But now its 2017 and the bands seems to be aware about that fact very well. They love it.
Which gives them the freedom to use the here and now to finally present themselves as the quartet of highly talented musicians and performers they more or less have been ever since. A wild bunch of creative geniuses, finally easy enough to give each other some room, to even allow fellow on stage tour guests their own five minutes of fame.
What a stunt! While still sticking with their main talent of being a great live act, they innovated their own appearance and the cognition of their Stones-brand to a degree I — and I say that again on purpose — can not see anyone else doing in the music business these days.
This is why, as of today, I can only say: The Stones are the greatest rock band on the planet.
Addendum: They seem to have a social conscience towards their fans on top of things. Again, the band travels the old world bringing with them their own reusable plastic cups, featuring two different exclusive Stones Live Tour designs. Beside the usual two Euro deposit per cup, these cups are free of charge and make a great souvenir opportunity for all those not able (or willing) to spend a minimum of 35 Euros on a T-Shirt or Sweater. “But why are ticket prices what they are then?” you might ask? Well, they are still Rockstars, singing, playing for money, aren’t they?
Remember: “I’m a man of wealth and taste”. And so far no need to innovate that message — the Munich show was sold out. “It’s only Rock’n’Roll but …”
* This page here might be a good point to start for reading more: http://www.stonesnews.com/
There is a nice little video published by the band about the Euro Tour 2017 opening gig in Hamburg/Germany. Giving a good impression about Munich as well. Check it out here please.