The Rolling Stones came to Macau on February 9th, playing at the Cotai Arena at the Venetian Hotel. Why Macau instead of Hong Kong, when HK’s Asiaworld Arena is a bit larger? One can only assume that the Venetian is being more aggressive in going after major acts and probably offering them a larger financial incentive.
I tried to get a photo pass for the show, something that I knew was futile since all I can claim is a couple of web sites. But my mom knows Keith’s manager and met Keith a couple of times My mom doesn’t like any rock & roll at all, including the Beatles. She’s probably met more superstar rockers than I ever will though, and Keith is probably the only one she ever liked. Go figure that! So I tried to work the connections but the wires got crossed and somehow the Stones’ crew thought I was asking for a pass for Abu Dhabi. Once that finally got cleared up, they told me they were already OD’ing on bona fide media requests for Macau and with limited space, the answer was sadly no. Fortunately I had already bought tickets for me and my wife.
Top tickets were going for HK$15,000 – a “VVIP” package with all sorts of perks (meeting the Stones was not one of them though). I got something at the lower end of the scale, around $1,100 or so including ferry tickets, and that got us seats midway up the first of two risers in the back. But since it’s a relatively small hall, it didn’t feel like I was sitting in “heaven,” as it did when I saw the Stones for the first time at Madison Square Garden in 1969 (yes, it was before my wife was even born) – our seats were in the 2nd to last row in the top level opposite the stage – and there were no video screens in those days.
So how was the show? Let’s keep in mind that Mick and Keith are each 70 years old. Charlie is 72 and Ronnie is a relative spring chicken at 66. They’re aided and abetted by pretty much the same musicians for the past couple of decades – Darryl Jones on bass, Chuck Leavell (from the Allman Bros) on keyboards, Tim Ries and the great Bobby Keys on horns, Bernard Fowler and the amazing Lisa Fischer (watch 20 Years of Stardom to learn more about her) on back-up vocals. And carrying on from the 2013 tour, Mick Taylor is brought out at some intervals as a “special guest.” The show lasts almost exactly two hours and is mostly high energy. I remain astonished at how Jagger at 70 can be singing, running and dancing for two hours like that.
I didn’t write down a set list or anything so working from memory here. In past tours the Stones have included some special mini-sets halfway through – acoustic stuff or blues covers – and there was none of that last night. The set was pretty similar to the ones you’ll find in 2013 videos from Glastonbury and Hyde Park.
On the down side, I was disappointed that the only song they played from Exile was Tumbling Dice. Keith’s 2 song mini-set did not include Happy and I wasn’t happy about that. Also, given their huge back catalog and the limited amount of time on stage, I wasn’t thrilled that they feel they needed to include relative clunkers like Doom and Gloom.
But there’s no doubt in my mind that Midnight Rambler was a strong highlight. See that photo of Micks Jagger and Taylor going toe to toe with each other and trading licks? I don’t care how rehearsed it was or wasn’t, the show could have benefitted a whole lot more from this sort of interplay.
And Lisa Fischer on Gimmer Shelter? Oh my golly gosh. She’s one of the few singers around who could top Merry Clayton’s performance on the original track.
Otherwise it was pretty much the usual suspects played – opening with Jumping Jack Flash, closing with Satisfaction, and Start Me Up, Paint It Black, Sympathy for the Devil, Honky Tonk Women, Brown Sugar. A Hong Kong chorus joined them onstage for You Can’t Always Get What You Want, a nice touch.
So, all in all, despite my unhappiness with the lack of Happy, in 2014 the Stones are far better in concert than they have a right to be. I enjoyed pretty much every moment of the show and never felt an urge to say, “hey, let’s head for the exit now and beat the crowds.”
Now, some disasters, as such.
How is it that you have a concert with somewhere around 8,000 people attending and there are just two tables selling merchandise? Of course this is the kind of crowd that doesn’t mind spending HK$300 and up for a t-shirt and people were buying merch by the armload. Except that the lines were so ridiculously long and moved so slowly that I just gave up. I figure if I really want a shirt, probably there’s a way to get it online.
The other problem is that you come out of the Cotai Arena and you’re thirsty and want a drink and the first place you hit is the McSorley’s bar and there’s already 1,000 people standing outside waiting for a beer. Then there’s the Cafe Deco and a few fancy schmancy restaurants surrounding the casino floor. The food court in the mall is of course closing down by now, nothing else is within easy walking distance, and the queues for busses and taxis are thousands of people long. There’s not even a coke machine anywhere in sight, let alone something like a 7-11. All you can reasonably do is head out to the casino floor where there are carts with small plastic bottles of water to grab. We gave up, got on the shuttle bus to the Cotai ferry terminal, which is completely unlike the Macau terminal. There’s no shops or restaurants or services there at all. After you’ve lined up for an hour to get in to immigration and get your seat assignment, finally there’s a tiny drinks machine in the waiting room.
Last but not least, some photography notes. I knew there was no way I could get my Nikon D800 and 70-200mm lens past the bag check. So I went with my Sony RX10 and its wonderful 24-200mm F2.8 lens. All of the photos above came from that. Given our distance from the stage, the figures were not much more than mere points – so the spot metering wasn’t effective here. I was trying not to use the rear LCD screen, just in case (this has been a problem at previous concerts) so I wasn’t checking results very often. It did eventually dawn on me that underexposing by 2 stops would give me the exposure I wanted.
I was working at manual, with shutter at 1/200th of a second and aperture at F2.8. The rear projection screen was so bright that the last shot is at ISO 400, and other shots were at similar relatively low ISO’s. Had I been checking that rear screen more frequently, I might have moved the aperture to F5.6 or F8 and gone with a slightly faster shutter speed.
Also note that when I was trying to focus on small stuff – the performers running around the outer ring rather than that rear screen, a lot of times the camera took a long time hunting for focus (and frequently didn’t find it till the 2nd or 3rd attempt).
On the other hand, I also tried shooting a video of one complete song – the last one, Satisfaction. Handheld and shakey, I’m still impressed with both the video and audio quality of the result, which I’ve uploaded to Youtube for people to check out. Go to around the 2:50 mark when I’m zooming in on Keith on the runway – I’m presuming there’s digital zoom involved there and the quality is still quite reasonable. If I’d snuck in a monopod, I could have really had something nice.