The myth of the rock star goes like this: Young men sick of their small towns strap on electric guitars, pick up the mic and unleash the devils within. That frees them, and then it kills them. It’s the story of Icarus flying too close to the sun and of Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson.
But when rock stars don’t die – as they are supposed to according to the script — there’s another narrative for that: They become washed-up sad drunks who survived into the mediocrity of middle age, whose very existence is a sign of failure. They’re branded as wannabes and has-beens. They could have been legends, but instead they’re forgotten.
Then there’s the story of the young man who burns bright and keeps on burning into his forties and fifties and sixties and seventies and beyond. That’s a rare story. It’s the story of vampires and kids who went to the crossroads and made deals with the Devil. But it’s also the story of old men lifting weights in the gym, biking up mountains, running mile after mile and wracking their bodies with planks and pushups.
That latter story is Mick Jagger’s. Shortly after he and The Rolling Stones announced the third leg of the No Filter Tour — a tour which first launched in fall of 2017 – the band canceled a string of shows, because the frontman had to have heart-valve-replacement surgery.
Two months after the doctors cut him open, he was back on tour, strutting around the stage as flamboyant as ever. A couple of months after that, when the band played Broncos Stadium in Denver on Saturday, August 10, he kept on strutting, waving his hands and mugging for the crowd.
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“How does Mick Jagger do it?” is one of those stock lines journalists keep writing. “Especially after heart surgery?”
As romantic as deals with the Devil are, his energy comes from his widely reported workout schedule: running eight miles, doing pilates, yoga, swimming, ballet and lifting weights. All that training takes him three hours a day, and he does it five or six days a week, under the supervision of Norwegian physical trainer Torje Eike. Jagger eats organic whole foods, refrains from drugs, and drinks in moderation. In other words, that vitality takes hard work. He has a plan, and he sticks to it.
The Rolling Stones got their start back in 1962, but their music is as relevant as ever. So is their approach to a stadium concert. When they play, they could pick any number of legacy rock bands that their fans might know to set the stage. Instead, they gave Denver a gift, picking our city's own Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, a group that in a few years has risen from opening at bars to Broncos Stadium, and that is headlining two nights at Red Rocks this week.
As expected, the Night Sweats dished out energetic soul. Like the Stones, they’re a band comprising mostly white men putting a personal spin on African-American musical traditions. Many of the Night Sweats, including Rateliff, are hitting middle age, but on that big stage with the Stones about to come out, they looked like a group of gifted schoolboys. Many in the crowd sang along with Rateliff every bit as much as they did with Jagger, belting out “Hey Mama” and “S.O.B.”
As Rateliff wrapped, the rest of the crowd strolled in — a mix of old-time hard-living rockers, their gussied-up grandkids, and wrinkle-free snoots in their seventies boasting form-fitting T-shirts and botox. Fans regaled each other with tales of seeing the Stones over the years, swapping stories and stats like baseball cards.
The band opened the Denver show with “Street Fighting Man,” a song from 51 years ago that’s every bit as vital as Jagger, who came on stage in a snug red and navy-blue leather jacket. The song chronicles a small-town kid who wants to kill the king, riot in the streets and bring on a revolution, but who can’t figure out how and instead sings in a rock-and-roll band. It’s a classic story of an ambivalent rebel settling for art over action.
Swishing around the stage like a pouty nineteen-year-old, at 76, Jagger is slender and small. He was punk before punk and is punk after punk. He was glam before glam and is glam after glam. He’s more than fifty years of rock genres squeezed into a tiny frame, embracing youth culture forever — no matter how many wrinkles he has.
At the show, he claimed he dove off the cliff at Denver's funnest, worst landmark restaurant, Casa Bonita, and he grumbled about how the sopapillas wrecked his stomach (not that you’d know, it’s so flat). He told us this was the Stones' first time playing Broncos Stadium. Last time, they played at the old Mile High Stadium, which is now a parking lot.
He apologized for having to cancel on Denver a few months back and thanked the crowd for showing up. Later in the night, he introduced each of his bandmembers, which included staples Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts, and also gifted backing vocalist Sasha Allen, saxophonist Karl Denson and several more.
When I set out to see the Rolling Stones, I expected greatness — songs going back to the ’60s that are part of our collective psyche, flamboyant outfits, massive production and enthusiastic fans. Yet when the four legacy members of the Rolling Stones walked down the ramp to the fifty-yard line and played from the edge of a runway in close quarters, these titans of rock evoked teens in a garage band playing three-chord blues.
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As the Stones made their way through a flurry of hits — “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Paint It, Black” and “Honky Tonk Women” to the closers “Gimme Shelter” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” — they served every song an audience could demand. Most of the glitz came from Jagger himself — not wild animations and pyrotechnics (though there were some dazzling fireworks at the end of the night). Unlike Taylor Swift, who played Broncos Stadium last year with massive inflatable snakes and backing dancers, the Stones were spectacle enough.
Over more than two hours, Jagger proved himself indefatigable. He borrowed cues from evangelical preachers, throwing his arms in the air and moving fans to do the same. He mirrored drag queen macho rock. His ability to shapeshift between genres, ages, cultures and gender identities brought a madness to the show that would be alienating on the street but was captivating on stage.
With his band behind him, Jagger rose and fell like he was in perpetual orgasm. He and the Stones did what great rock and roll does: They brought us along for the waves.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated Johnny Rotten was dead. It was Sid Vicious. And Mick Jagger is 76, not 75.