A week ago at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Mick Jagger addressed the crowd during a Rolling Stones show. "People always ask us, 'Why do you keep touring?'" he said. "You're the reason we really do this."
So it is our fault. Please, Mick, do nothing on our account.
It is doubtful anyone really asks the Stones why they keep touring. What the band is continually being asked is to go on tour. Either way, touring to please fans is an awful reason to do it. Fans are owed nothing.
Do it for yourself, Rolling Stones, or don't bother. Fans are selfish; the Stones need to be more so, or else the legacy suffers. There's nothing at stake with its recent spate of concerts – no fireworked career send-off involved, other than the vague, implicit idea that this could be The Last Time. The sound and vision they're giving off isn't limp, just meaningless.
In recent weeks, the New York area has seen a wave, if not a crossfire hurricane, of these legacy acts. Roughly two billion viewers on Wednesday evening witnessed the Hurricane Sandy relief concert held at Madison Square Garden, through telecasts and streaming mediums. That bill was full of elder rock statesmen, including the Stones, Roger Waters, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and remnants of the Who.
On Thursday, the Stones played the Prudential Center in Newark, and will do so again Saturday night for a concert available on a pay-for-view basis. It is part of the band's nebulous 50 and Counting tour, marking an arbitrary anniversary.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse, with two new albums under their big-buckled belts, played Barclays earlier in the month, with Patti Smith as the opening act. The Who recently performed their 1973 rock opera, Quadrophenia, at the Garden. The unnaturally creaseless Springsteen is touring, as is Rush, as is Heart, as is ZZ Top, as is McCartney.
The reason these acts continue to hit the road is as plain as the nipples on Roger Daltrey's polished, formidable chest: demand. "You got me rocking, now," Jagger sang at the 12/12/12 show. "There ain't no stopping me." (Again, it is "we" who have him rocking.)
Some of these roaming prehistorics continue to be creative; all of them (save for Bob Dylan) offer credible, vigorous entertainment with generous doses of nostalgia for the dollar. Young in particular is vital: A pair of solo Le Noise concerts in 2011 leave Toronto's Massey Hall in tremor still. "I feel the strength. I feel your faith in me," he sang, "I'll never let you down."
Young's oath was Walk With Me, a Marshall-amp pledge of faith. It is a compact we share with him – he has our support, because we trust his artistic intentions. Walk with him? To the end of the Earth and Winnipeg.
Led Zeppelin this year released Celebration Day, a concert recording from its one-off reunion at London's 02 Arena in 2007. That ballyhooed show was for closure. Singer Robert Plant resists the call for the band to tour – he's moved on, as should we and Jimmy Page.
Many New Yorkers still have bruised memories over the sight of a well-past-it Willie Mays struggling at Shea Stadium, where legs and reflexes inevitably failed in the last days of his Hall of Fame career. I never bought into the notion that his weak denouement tarnished a reputation. Mays played because he wished to, I assumed, and I saw drama in the Say Hey Kid's struggle.
So, there is no indignity to Daltrey rounding down the high notes he can no longer hit. He performs because he is a performer – reigning on, but on his own passionate terms.
Jagger this spring closed off the Saturday Night Live season by fronting Arcade Fire and Foo Fighters. Brilliant stuff; I'd hoped for more of that kind of thing in the future. His fans and label wanted Jagger with the Stones, though, and he is giving them what they want, instead of what they need. And that is a shame.