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As the Rolling Stones prepare to hit Gillette, here’s a tour through their recent live releases

Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones perform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans earlier this month.Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

In 1995, Fox broadcast an episode of “The Simpsons” called “Lisa’s Wedding,” a fantasy of Lisa Simpson’s life 15 years in the future. Among the thicket of cultural references was a poster in her college dorm room commemorating the Rolling Stones’ 2010 “Steel Wheelchair Tour.”

It seemed like a good joke at the time. Could you imagine those rock ‘n’ roll dinosaurs still on the road in 2010? Trotting out “Satisfaction” to a senior-citizen crowd whose idea of satisfaction was probably an uninterrupted night’s sleep? Great gag, writers!

The joke, of course, was on us. Since that imaginary 2010 tour, the Stones have mounted no fewer than six actual tours, playing for massive throngs of the young, old, and in between. Their latest jaunt — to promote “Hackney Diamonds,” their first album of new material since 2005 — kicked off on April 28 in Houston and arrives at Gillette Stadium on May 30. There is not a wheelchair in sight: The 80-year-old Mick Jagger is in bafflingly fine physical condition and voice. Keith Richards, by some strange vampire logic, is still among us. If even the death of drummer Charlie Watts in 2021 couldn’t stop the juggernaut, it is hard to see what will.

The Stones have also been taking care of their beyond-illustrious past, having unlocked their vaults over the last decade and a half to release a steady stream of live recordings. There were no fewer than three just in 2022, the band’s 60th anniversary.


I took a tour of these recently unearthed live efforts as a warm-up for Thursday’s show in Foxborough. Limiting myself just to the last five years of releases still provided hours of listening. There is no hidden “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!” here, or even a hidden “Love You Live.” What I did find, though, was a far-reaching view of the band’s deep and recent past, and plenty of reminders of why they are among the best to ever do it.


The Rolling Stones perform at London's Marquee Club in 1971.J. MAUM

Peak Stones: “Brussels Affair

This heavily bootlegged Belgium show from 1973 saw its official release more than a decade ago, but it also appears on the remastered edition of “Goats Head Soup” from 2020. Here is the band at the height of its “juiced up and sloppy” era, thrashing through its late-’60s/early-’70s catalog. Listening to the show years later, even Richards wondered “what the rest of the band were on, because things were really starting to rock at a ferocious pace.”

Choice track: Take a Chuck Berry riff, add some extremely NSFW lyrics, and you get “Star Star,” which has probably never been played faster.

Best comeback: “Steel Wheels Live

Maybe everyone was glad to be playing again after a mid-’80s cold war between Jagger and Richards. Maybe the band was fired up from having to stop Donald Trump from promoting the concert. Whatever the reason, this pile-driving Atlantic City show from 1989 served notice that the Stones still mattered. “Mixed Emotions” and “Sad Sad Sad” sit surprisingly well with the classics, and even a guest appearance by Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin can’t ruin “Salt of the Earth.”

Choice track: The stage is filled with massive egos, but when John Lee Hooker starts playing “Boogie Chillen,” everyone has the sense to step back and let the master work.


Smallest bang for the biggest audience: “A Bigger Bang (Live)

An estimated 1.5 million people turned out for this show on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro in February 2006. They were rewarded with a capable, smoothly functioning show with virtually nothing remarkable about it.

Choice track: “You Got Me Rocking,” a “Voodoo Lounge” cut that actually isn’t bad.

Most impressive celebrity lineup: “Live at the Wiltern

Neil Young, Tom Petty, and Stephen Stills were reportedly among the 2,500 or so in Los Angeles’s Wiltern Theatre for this unique 2002 show that featured the deepest of deep cuts, “Neighbors,” “No Expectations,” and “Dance, Part 1″ among them. Plus a clutch of soul covers, including the Miracles’ “Going to a Go-Go.”

Choice track: In the early days, the Stones would open shows with Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” Here Burke himself — who had opened(!) the Wiltern gig — shows Mick how it’s done.

Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones perform with the band at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., in 2012.Evan Agostini

Least impressive celebrity lineup: “GRRR! Live

The last show of the 2012 50th-anniversary tour, in Newark, N.J., is a dud, with a tiresome series of special guests (Lady Gaga, the Black Keys, John Mayer) producing nothing remotely special. Even Springsteen sounds painfully out of place on “Tumbling Dice.” More like grrritted teeth, amirite?

Choice track: Former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor barely gets an introduction yet steals the show on “Midnight Rambler,” always a reliable show-stopper.

From left: Ron Wood, Billy Preston, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards at Boston Garden in June 1975. Don Preston/Globe Staff

Highest archival value: “Live at the El Mocambo

The two secret shows the Stones played at Toronto’s legendary El Mocambo Tavern in 1977 came at a pivotal moment. Just days before, Richards had been busted by Canadian police for heroin possession and was facing significant jail time. But you wouldn’t know it from this high-spirited show mixing “Black and Blue” tunes with blues covers from their early days. Jagger playfully tells his bandmates to “watch out for their bottoms” and asks those in “the critics’ section” if they’ve had enough to drink. Plus: Billy Preston. A legendary event, thankfully captured for posterity.


Choice track: “Fool to Cry” (Did I mention Billy Preston?)

Most apt to make you nostalgic for Charlie Watts: “Licked Live in NYC

This Madison Square Garden date from 2003′s Forty Licks tour is a perfectly good effort, offering the expected hits and just enough rarities — “Monkey Man,” “Let It Bleed,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” — to keep things interesting. But the secret weapon is Charlie, who powers the show with an intensity not always evident, even on a good night. A poignant reminder of how special a musician he was.

Choice track: “When the Whip Comes Down” — because Charlie. Also Ronnie Wood’s guitar freak-out near the end. But mostly Charlie.


At Gillette Stadium, Foxborough. May 30 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets from $69.50. gillettestadium.com

David Weininger can be reached at globeclassicalnotes@gmail.com.