Mick Jagger. Keith Richards. Charlie Watts. Ronnie Wood.
These faces belong on currency. Their names belong in stone. Their sweat belongs on our hands.
On Saturday night, some of those pipe dreams came true, as the legendary Rolling Stones touched down in Ralph Wilson Stadium for the penultimate stop on their Zip Code Tour with 15 shows in 15 North American stadiums, coinciding with the recent reissue of the 1971 album “Sticky Fingers.” The entire track list would be played throughout the tour, if not in the same set list. Exclusions wouldn’t matter, though. They could just stand there and we would sing along.
There was something juvenile about the energy here at The Ralph. Everyone is happily dripping with sweat from the sublime Orchard Park evening heat. For many, it was the gig they never got to see in their own youth. The pedestrian concourse was a crush of humanity. Hey, rock ’n’ roll is messy.
Opening the show was St. Paul & The Broken Bones, a blues/rock sextet from Birmingham, Ala., that did a dutiful job at an impossible task.
They have a youthful energy to their old school format. Serious brass supports a soulful, Southern snarl, a smart pairing for their bosses’ taste.
“Thank you, Buffalo,” growled lead singer Paul Janeway. “We’ve got two more songs,” he continued, to ironically dismissive applause. The sextet’s “Try a Little Tenderness” did Mr. Redding proud. Onto the boys, though.
This is no small production, by any means, but by Stones standards, it is a smaller extravaganza than their previous stadium shows. No complaints here. It keeps us focused.
Jagger’s signature strut teased this runway the way lingerie models grace a fashion runway. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was pure lust. Woods works it, too.
To say that they have vitality is a gross understatement. They are the standard. There is no other. Aerobically speaking, this is a marathon. Jagger traverses the stage better than some of this venue’s home field tenants.
At the foot of the runway, Jagger plays to the select few lucky to see through his sheer black top. He catches thrown panties with a pleased smirk, stuffing them into his skinny jeans pocket. “Tumbling Dice” is a playful favorite ripe for these moments.
“Out of Control” turns down to a mid-tempo blues break with a soulful, gospel chorus and a harmonica break that broke 50,000 hearts with one blow.
“Wild Horses,” a highlight of “Sticky Fingers,” was appropriately small, and still deliciously loud in Jagger’s horse shirt. Here we see the showman, ever the character actor, interpret with feeling. How icons perform hits thousands of times with such honesty, I’ll never know.
“Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ ” sat contently in a number of solos that dug layers deep without tiring. Fan-voted request “Let’s Spend the Night Together” was well greeted by all.
The expected collaboration with Williamsville’s Calvary Episcopal Church Choir on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” takes the local connection to a thrilling place. What gracious, grateful guests. Gentlemen all around.
Richards, who announced this week a new solo album for this fall, eventually holds center stage with expected humor. He more than any of them defies the logic of his history. He also wears it as badge of honor.
“It’s great to be here,” says Richards. “It’s good to be anywhere.”
Wood proves himself, to anyone not already paying attention, to be a venerable member of this outfit. The crowd loved him, wanted more. Same goes for Watts and his demure-looking but ferocious drumming. Jagger’s moves, the fifth member of this band, are just as spastic and elastic as ever. And his legs, thin as pencils. He doesn’t hold onto anything. He gives it all away.
“Miss You,” with Jagger on guitar, with its delicious bass line, brought in some great funk. So did a brief verse of Buffalo boy Rick James’ “Super-freak,” which Jagger cut off prematurely. More, please.
“Gimme Shelter” was divine in its tribal affectations, a song an audience interprets and devours. Backup singer Lisa Fischer’s solo crushed the stars to dust. What a goddess. That was something else.
I saw the Stones the last time the band played Buffalo, on Oct. 8, 1997, in this same stadium (then called Rich Stadium). A less-informed fan then (at 15 years old), I was struck more by the stage than the band’s performance, which was still impossible to ignore. The “Bridges to Babylon Tour” boasted an impressive production properly scaled to the venue. It had a bridging catwalk that hung out over the audience and connected the band to a smaller, intimate satellite stage. It had video screens as big as the sky that zeroed in on Mick’s pursed lips, Keith’s witty winks, Watts’ creepy smile and Wood’s perplexing haircut. It had pyrotechnics. It had flair. The Rolling Stones had it all, including us, in the palm of their hands.
Eighteen years later, 18 years older, they still have it. See you in 2033, fellas.