The Rolling Stones’ 50 & Counting Tour recently spent few weeks as the current highest-grossing U.S. tour, earning just under $8.5 million. Though the average ticket will set you back $340 (roughly $16 per song), the legendary rockers have attempted to reward their investors with a bevy of famous little helpers night after night. Some guests took the stage like honorary Stones (Taj Mahal, Aaron Neville) while others appeared with the graciousness and fear of a rookie at bat (“best moment ever!” said Taylor Swift).
As Jagger, Richards, Wood and Watts (and Mick Taylor, who has apparently voted himself back in the group) head back across the pond to headline Glastonbury, we’re looking back at the most memorable U.S. guest spots throughout the 2013 50 & Counting Tour, which ended its two-month run Monday (June 24) in Washington, D.C. We separated the “so cold” performances from the “bleeding volcanoes” to ask the question: Whose $16-song slot made music history? We’ve categorized, divided and deemed which acts will not fade away.
Alt-Rock Heroes: Dave Grohl vs. Win Butler vs. Gwen Stefani
Though they’re practically all veterans at this point, seeing ’90s-’00s alt-rock icons hustle next to Mick Jagger still feels like watching generals from opposing armies shake hands. The Stones used to represent the opposite the social demands of No Doubt. Foo Fighters flew in the faces of serious artistes like the Stones. And the one Stone that might have appreciated the multi-instrumentalism of Arcade Fire drowned in a pool. Be that as it may, it was cool to hear Grohl scream “b****!” and surprising to hear Stefani so soft on “Wild Horses.” But the piece de resistance was Arcade Fire’s Win Butler for his animated rendition of “The Last Time,” in which Jagger physically cleaned up the stage to give Butler more space.
Verdict: Win Butler
Pop Queens: Taylor Swift vs. Katy Perry
Both had the shock factor, both made headlines. Were the cards stacked in Perry’s favor with the salacious, duet-ready tune “Beast of Burden”? Totally. Swift, on the other hand, was typecast as a nouveau Marianne Faithfull with the first Stones ballad ever, 1965’s “As Tears Go By” (back in the day, former manager Andrew “Loog” Oldham commissioned them for a song with “no sex”). Swift’s twirling felt as forced as her vocals, but at least she tried. Jagger tossed the song to 17-year-old Faithfull just like he tossed it to Swift 50 years later, proving that some things never change.
Verdict: Katy Perry
Duet Vets: Sheryl Crow vs. Bonnie Raitt
Both of these singer-songwriters are regulars with the Stones. Sheryl Crow supported the Stones on both the Bridges to Babylon and Forty Licks tours and wrote that upon her personal invitation to sing “Wild Horses” with Jagger in 1995, she was “throwing up and shaking” right before. Crow joined for the rousing Exile tune “All Down The Line,” but Raitt gave the better show. The slide guitarist, who met the Stones in her college years, hit the fraternal joy of “Let It Bleed” in San Jose.
Verdict: Bonnie Raitt
Good Cop/Bad Cop: John Fogerty vs. Tom Waits
Only when you watch footage of both performances back to back, do you appreciate how terrified Jagger looked every time Tom Waits opened his mouth during his Howlin’ Wolf tribute. By contrast, Fogerty bounced with the beat, completely in his element for every second of Bobby and Shirley Womack’s “It’s All Over Now.” The song and the riffs were among the American obscurities that the Stones cherry-picked for their early catalog, which Creedence Clearwater Revival then cherry-picked for their own just a few years later. But Waits took “Little Red Rooster” by the neck and de-feathered it while it was still alive, like only a true Satanic majesty would.
Verdict: Tom Waits
Country Crooners: Brad Paisley vs. Keith Urban vs. Carrie Underwood
Interesting that best country duet was on a song that’s not considered “country,” sung by someone who isn’t even from this country. Hats off to Keith Urban, the Australian singer who went toe-to-toe with Jagger/Richards on “Respectable” and did the best impression of Jagger’s Southern drawl on a song that doesn’t even call for it.
Verdict: Keith Urban
Blues Brothers: Gary Clark Jr. vs. John Mayer
Mayer was predictably out-blues’ed on “Champagne and Reefer” by Keith Richards, but his return on the Freddie King standard “Going Down” with Gary Clark Jr. was spectacular for all parties involved. Mayer kept the groove well-oiled next to Ron Wood; each guitarist got a miniature solo, but it was Clark’s that set the song ablaze. The 28-year old Austin native learned blues the same way the Stones did (via Albert King, Elmore James and T-Bone Walker) and sounded natural in their company, indulging in slide after slide.
Verdict: Gary Clarke Jr.
– Sarah Grant