News arrived gradually of the Rolling Stones’ special celebration in New York of their new album, “Hackney Diamonds.”
First it was a “Rolling Stones event on the evening of Oct. 19,” then it was an album-release party, and then rumors spread that they were going to perform “a couple of songs, but with the boys, you never know” (yes, the person quoted actually called them “the boys”). Then word was they would play 25 minutes for 500 people at Racket, a Chelsea venue that used to be called the High Line (that sound you’re hearing is New York music fans over the age of 30 saying, “Oooooh, yeah, I remember that place”).
And an hour before the announced 8 p.m. start time, the multiple sound trucks and barriers and security lining West 16th and 17th streets indisputably confirmed that something major was happening at this “party.”
And major it was — after opening with their 1978 New York City anthem “Shattered,” the Stones played several songs from the new album interspersed with a chugging version of “Tumblin’ Dice” and concluding the main set with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” before returning for the encore with guest Lady Gaga.
Glad in towering platform heels and a sparking, half-maroon/ half-black bellbottomed jumpsuit, she joined the group for “Sweet Sound of Heaven,” the penultimate track on the new album, which finds her doing a soaring counterpart to Jagger’s lead vocal. On the album it verges on overblown, but it’s a different story seeing her and Jagger duetting, smiling and egging each other on.
Among those in attendance were Daniel Craig, Mary Kate Olsen, Chris Rock, Jimmy Fallon, Trevor Noah, Taylor Hill, Rachel Weisz, Christie Brinkley, Ed Burns, Keegan-Michael Key, Minka Kelly, Christy Turlington, “Hackney Diamonds” producer Andrew Watt and more, with Elvis Costello and Diana Krall holding down the closest viewing position in the balcony.
As Jagger noted during the set, this show was the latest in a long string of splashy New York announcements, including the group playing on a flatbed truck going down Fifth Avenue (announcing their 1975 tour) and driving across the Brooklyn Bridge (ditto 2004). This night was ostensibly to launch the album, which dropped about 90 minutes after the band left the stage — but also, judging by the fact that they were playing full stream right in front of us, quite possibly another tour.
If that’s the case, the prospects are promising. The group’s impressively lively new album would bring a jolt to their familiar setlist and they were well-rehearsed if not yet tour-tight. Even at 80, Jagger defies biology, incredibly lithe and elastic no matter how deep the wrinkles on his face and neck. His moves were stadium-sized but scaled down for the smaller venue, his signature undulating-X dance and hilariously overexaggerated elastic gestures even more remarkable up close. He took the stage in tight black pants and a brown leather jacket that looked fresh out of the bag, with a patterned black and white shirt that he doffed two songs after he doffed the jacket, revealing a long sleeved skin-tight T-shirt (the sleeves of which he rolled up, rather oddly, one per song).
Keith Richards looks significantly older than Jagger (although anyone would) and his hands have become gnarled due to age and arthritis. But he’s worked his way around it, playing a version of his signature rhythm guitar where the riffs are almost implied — you can feel them even if he’s not playing them, chugging on every other note or adding melodic fills. Ron Wood, the youngster at 76, does the heavy lifting on guitar, watching the others like a hawk, the manager holding it all together musically and also the primary lead guitarist. All three wore orthopedically friendly black sneakers.
Steve Jordan is a powerhouse drummer, playing in homage to the late Charlie Watts — even holding the sticks the way he did at times — but with an energy more R&B than jazz; bassist Daryl Jones, a Stones veteran of some 30 years, is similarly respectful but brings a funk twang and jazz flair. Meanwhile, backing singer Sasha Allen and keyboardist Matt Clifford beef up the vocals, often providing a low-key guide vocal that supports and strengthens Jagger’s lead.
“Hackney Diamonds” closes with a cover of the traditional “Rolling Stone Blues,” which is where the band began 61 years ago. While that might be a signal that it’s the group’s last album, Thursday night’s show suggests that something else might be beginning soon.