The Rolling Stones play a surprise concert at a New York club with guest Lady Gaga

The crowd of celebrities, music industry insiders and media people who packed into New York City’s Racquet Club on Thursday night had every reason to believe they were there to see the Rolling Stones in concert, but it was impossible to be certain at first. The invitation described the event as merely an “album release party” with the timing of the album release Hackney Diamond. We were told that all phones and smart watches would be put in bags, and that “armed guards” and “personal security” would not be allowed inside. “Dress cool,” the invitation read. “It’s a party!”

The party kicked off with a DJ set by Questlove and Samantha Urbani while the VIP section slowly filled with the likes of Elvis Costello, Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Chris Rock. Rumors have been circulating all week that the Stones will play a small set. The stage was set up with their equipment, but it seemed like an impossible dream to have the biggest rock band in the world playing a 600-seat club featuring two nights for Ben Kweller and the Talking Heads tribute band On their calendar.

Then the lights dimmed after 10:00 p.m., and the Stones actually came out onto the small stage. The core band of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, guitarist Darryl Jones and drummer Steve Jordan were joined only by keyboardist Matt Clifford and background singer Chanel Hines. (Longtime keyboardist Chuck Leavell, backup singers Bernard Fowler and Sasha Allen, and trumpeters Carl Denson and Tim Reese were all AWOL for the evening.)

“How are you?” Jagger asked the crowd. “Are you having a good time? We’re going to play the old game! We’re going to play a new game!”

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The band started way back in 1978 with “Shattered,” a tribute to a New York far more bleak than the one they experience today. This was the Stones’ first performance of any kind in over a year, and there were concerns in some quarters when a planned summer tour was aborted without explanation. But tonight there were no signs of rust. Jagger was in prime form as he slid across the cramped stage and told the story of West Side rats and uptown bedbugs without even a glance at the teleprompter.

They followed that up with the live premieres of “Angry” and “Whole Wide World.” They are two of the best songs Hackney Diamond, which collected reviews calling it their best album in decades. (Best since Steel wheels? Incognito? Tattoo for you until? We need a few listens to be sure, but there’s no doubt they’re shockingly great.) Both songs were lively on stage.

“We always seem to release our new albums in New York,” Jagger said. “We did it in blimp [in 2002]. We did it A flatbed truck driving down Fifth Avenue [in 1975]. We did it in Convertible passes over the Brooklyn Bridge [in 1997] And Train heading to Grand Central [in 1989]. We missed the releases so much that we had to make another album to go back to and re-release.

“Tumblin’ Dice” was next, but the cut band meant they couldn’t do the usual extended ending. It was instead quick and dirty, similar to Exile on Main Street creative. Chanel Hines did a great job singing background vocals. Her only previous performance with the Stones was in 2022 when they flew her to Milan at the last minute to sing “Gimme Shelter” when Sasha Allen had to miss the show. She was playing Tina Turner on the West End stage at the time, and the producers fired her because she had lost an audition for the gig. It looks like she made the right decision because she’s back on stage with the Stones at least one more time.

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“This is the first club gig we’ve done in a long time in New York,” Jagger said as the song concluded. “I used to come to this club when it was called Highline. Then it was called Strike and then Powder. Anyway, it’s great to be here making a racket. We’re going to make a noise with his next racket. It’s called ‘Bite My Head.’

This is the Hackney Diamond Songs featuring Paul McCartney on bass. It was a truly historic moment to see him come as a guest with them, but the Beatles are in Australia on their own tour. They did well without him, playing the tune at breakneck speed while Richards and Wood happily exchanged licks. “Do you think I’m your bitch?” Jagger roared. “I’m messing with your mind!”

After introducing the band, Jagger told the audience that they would be familiar with the next song. He was “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and seeing him up close in a sweaty club instead of 80,000-seat football stadiums was simply surreal. And although they’ve played it 1,200 times over the past 55 years, more than any other song in their vast catalogue, there was nothing in the performance that felt even remotely routine.

They eventually exited the stage, returning only about a minute later for a live rendition of “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” from Hackney Diamond. Lady Gaga sings it along with them on the recording, and it was no surprise when she took to the Raquette stage because she had been watching the show from the wings all night. Dressed in a red sequined jumpsuit, Gaga smiled beamingly as she locked vocals with Jagger and brought the gospel-tinged song to one soaring climax after another. “New York City, Rolling Stones!” Gaga roared at the end. “take a bow.”

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It was an impossible summit moment. They didn’t even try. And even though they only played seven songs, and only three older songs, no one came away looking unhappy. This was the smallest venue the Stones had ever played in New York City, and likely the only gig they would play anywhere this year. Everyone knew they had just witnessed something historic.

The show is setting up a stadium tour that will likely head across America next summer. Let’s hope they break tradition and play more than just two or three Hackney Diamond Songs in the collection. This is not another Voodoo lounge or Bridges to Babylon. It’s not just a few decent songs and a lot of filler. This is a tremendous achievement that no one excluded from a group that began when John Kennedy was president. They’ve seemed on the verge of death many times in the past, and it won’t be the same without Charlie Watts, but the Rolling Stones proved tonight that there’s at least one more great chapter to come before this whole saga comes to an end.

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