When I sent this text to my friend Alex after hearing that the Rolling Stones would be playing the stadium that was home to the Buffalo Bills, it was more observational than anything else. I didn’t recall any concerts being played at the Ralph since I became a fan and the idea of the Rolling Stones treading the same ground as a routinely disappointing football team seemed like a surprising juxtaposition. I kind of assumed the response would be “Yeah that’s weird and/or surprising” and that would have been the end of the story. Instead, last Saturday I found myself in one of the luxury suites at the stadium, having a blast while the Stone rocked on before me. I lead an interesting life.
I wasn’t hinting in my text about going to see the Stones primarily because I didn’t think that anyone else would be interested. While in the great rock and roll divide I am #teamBeatles rather than #teamStones, partially because my indoctrination of the former came much earlier in my life and was far more prolonged, I’d always harbored something of a secret desire to see Mick Jagger and company live and in person. Just because if push came to shove I preferred the Beatles didn’t mean that I also didn’t really like the Rolling Stones as well; they always seemed edgier and more pure rock and roll than the Beatles and my affinity for bad boys, at least in theory, is well established. So since the idea of a Stones farewell tour began cropping up in the 80s, it had been an item that was bucket list adjacent.
However, going to see the Rolling Stones has always been an issue of cost/benefit analysis. They tend to only play big stadiums and their ticket prices are not cheap. Add in the fact that the members of the band aren’t exactly spring chickens and there was also the question of the quality of the show. While I’ve seen Springsteen – a guy in his sixties – play a three hour concert barely breaking a sweat, he hasn’t lived the lives that the Stones have. The members of the Stones look old; it’s frankly a medical miracle that Keith Richards is even still alive, let alone on stage playing his guitar. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a show where it was a bunch of old guys that were shadows of their former selves. Not only is that a waste of my hard earned cold hard cash, that’s just a sad concert experience.
However, apparently some sort of higher power decided that seeing the Stones was something that I should do, since the star aligned so not only would I see the Stones in Buffalo, but I would see them from a luxury box for free. Now the stakes were very low – even if they didn’t put on a show that was all that great, I wouldn’t have invested much beyond my time and I’d be chilling in one of the suites, feeling like a VIP. Honestly, the fact that I wouldn’t have to share a bathroom with the masses was reason enough to be excited about the situation in which I found myself; anything else would be gravy.
We arrived at the Ralph early, so we got to spend some time hanging out in the parking lot before the gates opened. This brought back many fond memories of the years when I had season tickets to the Bills and would spend my mornings tailgating before the game. For a variety of reasons, I haven’t been back to the stadium since 2012 so going to a concert here was a nice little homecoming for me. It was weird to not see people fully decked out in Bills gear, though there was more than I expected to see. The #12 Kelly jerseys had been replaced with Rolling Stones concert t-shirts. Apparently Stones fans haven’t gotten the memo about not wearing the shirt of the band that you are going to see.
We made our way inside and we were the first people to arrive at the suite, which is probably for the best because we were totally geeking out about it. If other people had been there we would have acted blasé like we hang out in suites all the time, but since it was just us for the time being we could be impressed at all the amenities that we had at our disposal. We weren’t sure what the food situation was going to be – we didn’t want to assume that someone sprung for that as well – but there were snacks everywhere and the attendant invited us to help ourselves to anything in the fully stocked mini-fridge. They told us that the main food would be brought in later and that we should just let them know if we wanted anything (I wanted to put them to the test to see if they could find me a phone charger, but didn’t want to push my luck). The staff couldn’t have been nicer. I adapted to the high life pretty quickly.
The only “downside” of the suite was its location relevant to the stage; the suite was located at the far end of the stadium so we didn’t have a particularly close view:
This wasn’t really an issue, as we still had a pretty great sightline to the stage and there were giant video screens that flanked both sides of the stage. I had brought binoculars just in case, but we never really used them. It turns out that distance only does the Stones some favors; I really don’t need to see Mick, Keith or the other guys all that up close and personal. There was also a long catwalk section of the stage and when anyone was on that we could see their facial expressions fairly clearly without having to rely on the video screens.
The Rolling Stones took the stage at 9:30 pm and immediately kicked things into high gear with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and really never took their foot off the gas pedal. Any fears that I had about their semi-advanced age (for rock stars) was immediately dispelled; Mick Jagger may be 71 years old, but that man moves like he’s in this 30s. He danced and strutted and ran around that stage like a man half his age and his voice sounded absolutely great. That youthful exuberance extended to the rest of the band as well; Keith Richards may look like death warmed over, but that man can still rock out on his guitar. He even took lead vocals on two songs that I didn’t know (“Before They Make Me Run” and “Happy”) and sounded pretty great as well. The rest of the band may not have had the same level of energy that Jagger did, but they easily worked the stage and didn’t miss a note. Ronnie Wood had a pretty great pair of red sneakers on that made me laugh every time they showed them and also had a cigarette dangling from his mouth for much of the show. If this is what they were like in concert as the elder statesmen of rock and roll, I can only imagine what it was like to see them in their prime. They were electric and exciting and could still melt your face off.
The band primarily stuck to their hits, which is easy to do when you have a catalog of songs like the Rolling Stones do. There were also several costume changes throughout the night and I can tell you that Jagger’s amazingly svelte physique was the talk of the ladies’ bathroom; he’s so lithe and lively and as thin as he ever was that he is kind of like a live wire jumping across the stage. It’s a little depressing to know that Jagger has a smaller waist than I do.
The show just flew by and in no time flat the band had been on stage for over two hours. While it was all great, there were some particular highlights: for “Sympathy for the Devil,” the stage was engulfed in (faux) flames and Jagger came out in a red feather boa jacket that was both ridiculous and amazing.
I have a particular fondness for “Start Me Up,” so that was pretty tremendous to see live. I was torn on the audience request song that they played; before the show fans were supposed to vote to select which song the band would play and while they played the option that I liked the best – “Let’s Spend the Night Together” – that meant that they didn’t play another song that I also really like, “She’s So Cold.” If this is my biggest disappointment of the night, that’s a pretty great show. By far my favorite moment of the evening was their performance of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” both because that is my favorite Stones song of all time but also because they brought a local choir out on stage with them. What a thrill for that choir and it sounded amazing. The whole show had much better sound quality than I expected for a stadium show; my only complaint was that occasionally the music was so loud that it drowned out Mick a little bit. It didn’t happen often and for all I know that was by design to mask some of the harder notes.
Some other thoughts:
- Because the NFL sucks and doesn’t like its female fans, purses are supposed to be banned from the stadium. Women are allowed to bring in a clutch that is the size of their hand or a clear bag of a certain size. Since I am a rule follower who also tends to drop things, this was my purse for the evening:
So believe me when I tell you I was super pissed to see so many women inside the stadium with their designer bags. Apparently the policy was applied haphazardly at best, which means my beautiful Coach bag was sitting at home while I looked like an idiot with this stupid plastic purse.
- One of the funnier moments of the evening was when Mick Jagger told a Tom Brady joke. I’m sure he was told to tell it (it involved deflategate), but it still showed an excellent reading of his audience and got a big laugh even if it wasn’t all that hilarious.
- The opening band, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, were fine; they were primarily a bluesy band, which isn’t necessarily my thing, but they ended the set with an excellent cover of “Try a Little Tenderness.”
- I became friendly with the Sheriffs that were providing security and even was put in charge of watching some of their gear during the show. Always smart to become pals with law enforcement.
- For dessert, they brought these cookies in to the suite:
All in all, it was a really spectacular night; the only real sour note was our experience getting out of the parking lot of the stadium. We sat for over an hour before making it out on to the street, partially because there was no one directing traffic so it was a bit of a free-for-all with people creating their own lanes only to then have everyone have to merge into one lane to actually exit. This is a nightmare on game day as well and is the one thing that the staff at the Ralph don’t execute well at all. There was also the issue of navigating ourselves back to Rochester, as Siri kept directing us in ways that would either re-route us right back into traffic jams or that were impassable as they closed down some roads by the stadium. Thankfully, I have some sort of muscle memory for getting out of the stadium and back on the Thruway (I always drove us home from games), so I remembered a back way that got us away from all the other cars and back on our way home. But even that headache and frustration couldn’t really dampen what was a really incredible night. We got to be spoiled by our luxurious location as well as see a great concert and meet some new people. The evening far exceeded my expectations and I really couldn’t have hoped for a better Rolling Stones experience. I’m so glad that I finally got the chance to see them live; the Stones more than lived up to their rock and roll legacy. I’m so very thankful to the people that made this happen for me.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)
You Got Me Rocking
Out of Control
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
Let’s Spend the Night Together (by request)
Honky Tonk Women
Before They Make Me Run
Start Me Up
Sympathy for the Devil
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction