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The Stones roll into town on July 11

Jeff Miers

The worst-kept secret in music is out: The Rolling Stones are going on tour and will perform at Ralph Wilson Stadium July 11.

The official word came Tuesday morning after weeks of leaks and rumors that for the most part turned out to be true.

This would be a big deal no matter the circumstances, because the Stones aren’t just the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world, they’re pretty much the only rock ’n’ roll band in the world capable of filling a massive football stadium all by themselves.

But when you factor in the brevity of this tour – 15 dates – grabbing a show for our city is as much coup as it is cool.

The Stones also will perform in San Diego, where the tour kicks off in May; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; Indianapolis; Red Rocks, Colo.; Pittsburgh; New York City; Detroit; and Quebec City, during a brief tour that will find the fabled band performing the “Sticky Fingers” album in its entirety. A new reissue of that seminal album is scheduled for release prior to the start of the tour.

The July 11 show will mark the fifth time the Stones have played the Bills’ stadium, and the seventh time they’ve performed in Buffalo in total. The band’s appearances at the venue on Aug. 8, 1975; July 4, 1978; Sept. 27, 1981; and Oct. 8, 1997, are the stuff of legend.

With such history at the venerable Orchard Park venue behind them, the Stones have a lot to live up to. As one of the few acts still capable of filling a stadium without the help of a mini-festival’s worth of support acts – the others being Paul McCartney, U2, and apparently, One Direction – the Stones are representatives of a dying breed. No rock band has existed for as long, and no other can claim to have created the very model by which the concert industry now operates – that being the major arena and stadium spectacle tour, something the Stones did first in 1969, spent the next decade perfecting, and the following three milking for all it was worth.

The weight of history is behind them, but that same weight also presses down on the band members, with three of the four principals among them – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts, – all now in their 70s, and perpetual “new guy” Ronnie Wood close behind.

Can the Stones still cut it? Can Jagger still strut/jog/aerobicize around the perimeter of a massive stage for two hours? Will Ronnie fall off the wagon? Will Keith fall off the stage? Who knows?

It’s the not knowing that keeps things interesting. Whether this will prove to be the Stones’ final go-round is anyone’s guess, but it’s reasonable to suggest that we – and they – are certainly nearing the end.

In the plus column: A fall tour of Australia and New Zealand was well-received, suggesting that the Stones will have less work to do prior to revving up the machine and taking to the road this summer. The Stones have never been the tightest band, and that’s not likely to have changed, but that loose-but-together soulfulness has always been an abundant part of the band’s charm. An already relatively warmed-up Stones is more likely to hit the high water mark at the Ralph than one that has been lying dormant for a year or two.

The whole “Sticky Fingers” tie-in is further encouraging news. Fans can quibble about what constitutes the “best” Stones album, but at the very least, this 1971 release sits firmly in the top three.

The track list for this album – the first the band would record without any contributions from founder and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones, who was no longer deemed reliable by a group that had by this point evolved into a Jagger-Richards-led affair – reads like a bit of a “best of” set, anyway. “Brown Sugar,” “Sway,” “Wild Horses,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” “You Gotta Move,” “Bitch,” “I Got the Blues,” “Sister Morphine,” “Dead Flowers,” “Moonlight Mile” – if the Stones had released only this one album, they still would be worthy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Snarling white boy blues; boozy cosmic country; epic balladry; freaked-out and dead-eyed folk music – the band packed it all into this one, and making the album the centerpiece of a tour during the Stones’ 53rd year is a deft stroke.

The many Stones questions aside, there is another that needs to be asked: Does this booking indicate a new lease on life for Ralph Wilson Stadium as a concert venue in the Terry Pegula age?

The answer can’t be known. Until we have more than two shows – the Stones and September’s One Direction booking – any response to that question is something between educated conjecture and a wild guess. Consider that the last concert at the venue took place in 2001, and featured the Dave Matthews Band. The Bills have been in the playoffs as many times as the Ralph has hosted a show in that span.

Could the Matthews Band fill the venue today? Probably not. Recall that Bruce Springsteen couldn’t sell enough tickets to make a show at the stadium a feasible endeavor back in 2003 – the show Springsteen had originally scheduled there was moved to the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center due to slow ticket sales. Garth Brooks? Maybe. He just sold close to 100,000 tickets to six shows at First Niagara Center. But there simply aren’t that many acts currently touring that can get a 75,000-seat stadium full of people.

The one that has four times before and certainly can for a fifth time will be here July 11.

Yes, what the Rolling Stones bring on that day might be only rock ’n’ roll, but in Western New York, thousands of people are going to lay down money to prove they still like it, like it, yes they do.


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