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All about Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport

Tips and practical information for Mexico’s biggest and busiest airport

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If you fly to Mexico from abroad, there’s a good chance that you’ll arrive or transfer in Mexico City.

Benito Juarez International is by far the biggest and busiest airport in Mexico. Here you can take a connecting flight on one of Mexico’s discount airlines to practically any other part of the country. Or you can take a short subway or bus ride into Mexico City, where many great adventures begin. After exploring the city, continue onward in a bus or a rental car.

Like any major airport anywhere in the world, Benito Juarez International is big and confusing, but there’s nothing to be worried about. A little knowledge and preparation goes a long way. After a long flight, it’s no fun walking around in circles with your heavy baggage and nowhere to go, no pesos, and no Spanish skills.

At a minimum you should learn about public transportation routes and schedules, how to get money, and procedures for customs and immigration. Figuring these out for my recent trips to Russia and South Africa was enormously helpful, even though it required a lot of online research beforehand.

That research gave me some insight into what it’s like for first-time travelers to Mexico to arrive by plane in Mexico City. So, with that in mind, here’s what you need to know to successfully navigate the Benito Juarez International Airport.

Choose a good arrival time

The first step is to choose your flight carefully so you arrive while public transportation is still running. But if you don’t mind paying for a taxi to your hotel, then it really doesn’t matter what time you arrive. In this case, review the policies of your hotel for the earliest time you can check-in or if you must let them know before arriving late at night.

(I’ll write about getting hotels in Mexico in another post, but for now, if you’re still looking for a place to stay, check out all the options on websites like Booking.com)

If you want to use public transportation, don’t arrive before 6 AM or after 8 PM. Although the metro (subway) and the metrobus (local buses that run on a fixed route) do run later, usually until around 11 PM, it’s not a good idea to walk around Mexico City in the dark while dragging your baggage from the bus or metro stop to your hotel. Sure, downtown is reasonably safe (at least in the daytime), but there’s no need to tempt fate.

Also keep in mind that buses from the airport to other nearby cities stop running around 10 PM, and you may need up to an hour to get through immigration and customs, depending on how busy they are.

If you don’t mind sleeping on the plane, the best time to arrive is between 6 and 7 AM. You can take public transportation and beat Mexico City’s insane rush hour traffic, which really gets heavy after 7. Another good time to arrive is between 10 AM and 1 PM. You’ll miss rush hour when traveling into the city, and you’ll get to your hotel just in time for check-in.

If you arrive in the morning, make sure your hotel doesn’t charge for an early check-in. Check-in for most hotels is around 2 PM, but if the room is ready they’ll probably let you in early. If not, then leave your bags behind the front desk and go out for a long breakfast.

A second consideration when planning your flights is whether you’ll transfer in Mexico City for another destination in Mexico. You’ll clear immigration and also customs there before you fly to your next destination. This could take 10 minutes or an hour—or even longer on a busy Mexican holiday. Make sure you have enough time between flights.

There are two terminals at the Mexico City Airport, and depending on how busy it is, getting from one to the other could take around 30 minutes. They are too far apart to walk—you take a little train between them.

Which terminal your flight arrives at depends on which airline it is. So if both flights are on the same airline, you probably won’t have to change terminals. But if they are different airlines, include extra time when considering your layover.

Save your tourist card

Like for most countries, you’ll get the tourist/immigration and customs cards on the plane. They are in Spanish and English, so filling them out is easy. If you have any questions, ask the flight attendant.

You might find a few typos—for example, at the moment both the top and bottom parts say that it is the arrival card. The bottom part is actually the departure card, so fill in all the information except for the flight number.

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Immigration

Once the plane lands, all the passengers will be herded toward the immigration area, called migración in Mexico. Get in the line for foreigners, not for Mexican citizens.

You’ll give the tourist form to the immigration officer, who will stamp the bottom part, write the amount of time you are granted to be in the country (usually 180 days), and give it back to you. Save this card—you’ll need it to leave Mexico, and if you don’t have it you’ll be fined about $30 USD.

You’ll probably be asked about the purpose of your trip (tourism), how long you plan on staying, and where you’ll be staying (your hotel or other destination), but probably little else. It’s rare that they ask to see your return ticket (which can be common in other countries, like the U.S.), but regardless it’s good to have a printout of your return itinerary just in case.

Customs

The customs area is next to the baggage claim in both terminals. After getting your bags and waiting in line, you’ll hand the customs form to the officer and then push a button. Above the button you’ll see either a green or red light. The green light means that you can enter, and the red light means you’ll be searched.

The one time I pushed red I had the maximum allowable amount of liquor (three liters at the time, but this may change) in a duty-free shop bag and three more bottles in my luggage. As eager as I was to get out of the airport, I stood back patiently and answered all of the officer’s questions while she lined up the bottles on the metal counter. She got about halfway through my bag and let me go, no problem.

So take my advice—be as respectful and patient as possible. (This goes for all Mexican authorities.) DO NOT complain or tell them you’re in hurry, which will only annoy them and cause them to give you a hard time.

Terminal 1 or Terminal 2?

As I mentioned above, there are two terminals at the airport, which are far apart on opposite sides of the runways. It won’t be obvious which terminal you are in upon arrival, so if you need to make a connection, ask a flight attendant on the plane or an officer in the baggage claim.

The terminals are not divided by international and domestic; different airlines use different terminals. You can find the list here:

http://www.worldairportguides.com/mexico-city-mex/airlines.php

A train called the Autotrain travels between the terminals. Save your boarding pass to use it because they won’t let you on without one.

Changing money

Exchange rates in airports are typically terrible all over the world, but not so much in Mexico City. Don’t use the ones when you are still inside the baggage claim area, but wait until you clear customs.

At each currency exchange booth you’ll see two different numbers for U.S. dollars and other major currencies: buy and sell. The smaller the difference between them, the better the rate. For example, if “buy” is at 20.54 and “sell” is at 20.40, it’s a good deal. But if “buy” is at 22.00 and “sell” is at 18.00, the rate is worse.

It’s crucial to have an idea of the exchange rate before you arrive so you can compare rates at the different booths with the official rate. Before your trip, check exchange rates online, such as at this website: http://coinmill.com

Make some notes about how much your home currency is worth in pesos, so you aren’t trying to make rushed calculations after a long flight. Make a sheet with notes like this:

  • $10 USD = 200 pesos
  • $20 USD = 400 pesos
  • 100 pesos = $5 USD
  • 200 pesos = $10 USD

(These rates are only examples.)

By the way, exchanging money in downtown Mexico City is easy, so if the rates are bad at the airport, only get what you need for transportation and a meal.

Or, for a generally better exchange rate, withdraw from a bank ATM. Many are scattered throughout both terminals, including near the exit for the metrobus in Terminal 2. Look for ATMs with international credit exchange symbols on them, like Cirrus or Interac, and match those symbols to the ones on your card:

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Common banks in Mexico, all of which have ATMs in the airport, are Bancomer, Banamex, Banorte, Santander, HSBC, and Scotiabank.

For more about managing your money in Mexico and Latin America, please read this article.

Renting a car

Unless you’ll immediately drive to a nearby town or visit an unusual part of the city, I don’t recommend renting a car in Mexico City.

Driving around is a bad idea for three reasons: traffic, parking, and confusing road signs that make getting lost easy. Driving through the wrong neighborhood could get you carjacked or worse. Plus, you can get to all the major tourist spots by bus, metro or metrobus.

But if you want to rent a car, you can do it at the many booths near the taxi stands, although you can often get a better deal online. All the usual international companies are there, like Enterprise, Budget, etc.

If you reserve online, be aware that the insurance offered by third-party websites like expedia.com is not valid in Mexico. When you go to pick up the car, the price will double or even triple when they add insurance. To avoid this, arrange car rentals directly on company websites, and read all that boing fine print.

Picking up a car at a major airport can take a long time. First you get in line at the booth inside the airport and then take a shuttle to the car lot, where you fill out all the paperwork and wait for the car to be ready. Then, once it’s ready, you go around the car inspecting for previous damage, and finally sign the contract.

This means that you shouldn’t expect a fast process when picking up a car at the airport. Plan for the extra time. Fortunately, dropping the car off before departing usually only takes a few minutes.

Ground transportation

Besides renting a car, there are three better options to get into downtown Mexico City: a taxi, the metrobus, and the metro (subway).

Taxis take you anywhere; the metrobus is a good option in the daylight hours to get to the zócalo (central square) or elsewhere in the centro historico or nearby neighborhoods like Condesa or Zona Rosa; and the metro goes practically everywhere and is by far the cheapest and most confusing.

Also, if you’ll travel by land to another city in Mexico, many direct buses leave from both terminals.

Taxis

Using a taxi is the fastest, easiest, and most expensive option. For safety’s sake, do not flag down a taxi outside the terminals, but use a taxi stand inside the airport.

Ignore anyone who approaches you offering a taxi—go right to the stands. Many obvious ones are in both terminals and prices should be similar, if not the same. Confirm that you’ll be in a regular car (a sedan, the word in Spanish and English) and not a big passenger van, which costs more.

At the time of writing, getting downtown (the centro historico) costs about 230 pesos (about $12 USD). If you want to pay with a credit card, look for Mastercard, Visa or American Express stickers on the booth window. Or get some pesos first—don’t pay in U.S. dollars, as the exchange rate will be ridiculous.

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The price is determined by neighborhood, so have the full address of your hotel ready. You’ll pay at the stand and then receive a slip of paper to give to a person by the line of taxis waiting outside. Once in the taxi, tell the driver the specific address of where you’re going—again, having it written down is essential, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

The price of a taxi is the same no matter how many people use it, so try to share with any friends you make on your flight who are traveling to the same part of the city as you.

Metrobus

This is a good option if you’re going downtown and don’t mind dragging your luggage around. There’s plenty of space for it on the bus, although the buses tend to get quite crowded soon after leaving the airport.

The metrobus line for the airport is Line 4. Check out the map to find the stop closest to your hotel and if it’s within walking distance.

http://www.metrobus.cdmx.gob.mx/mapa_L4.html

The metrobus leaves from the ground floor in each terminal, close to where you exit customs. It leaves from Door 7 (Puerta 7) in Terminal 1 and Door 3 (Puerta 3) in Terminal 2. Look for the MB symbol on signs hanging from the ceiling. Once outside, look for MB symbol on a sign—that’s the bus stop—and wait in line for the big red bus. (Or are they green now?)

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To pay, buy a card from a machine inside each terminal near the door to the bus stop. The minimum is 40 pesos plus 10 for the card, so that’s 50. The machine accepts 20, 50 and 100 bills, but it doesn’t give change, so buy something from the convenience store OXXO if you only have big bills.

From either terminal it takes about 30 minutes to get downtown. If you don’t have hotel reservations, but plan on walking around looking for a hotel (there are many around the zócalo), get off at Bellas Artes—you can’t miss it.

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Metro (the subway)

The Mexico City metro is super cheap at 5 pesos per ride, and although it’s safe enough, it definitely isn’t a good idea for anyone who has never taken a subway before or has a lot of luggage. You need to be able to read the map, be comfortable with transfers, and keep an eye on your bags at all times.

The metro leaves from Terminal 1. Walk outside, turn left, and keep walking until you see the entrance. The name of the stop is Terminal Aérea, and it’s on an out-of-the-way line, so you’ll probably have to transfer at least once. Get a copy of the metro map beforehand and plan your route. Not all stations have maps posted and they aren’t always available when you buy tickets, although you can try asking for one.

Here is a link to a map for the metro: http://mexicometro.org/wp-content/uploads/Mexico-City-Metro-Map-October-2015.pdf

As you can see, the Terminal Aérea stop is on the yellow line (on the far right on the map), which doesn’t go downtown. Only a stop or two away, however, are transfers to the major lines that cross the city, including the pink line through downtown. To look for hotels in the historic center, get off on the Pino Suarez or Isabela la Catolica stops on the pink line, and ask someone to point you in the direction of the zócalo. You’ll pass many discount hotels on the walk there.

Tip: If you plan on frequently traveling by metro during your stay in Mexico City, buy many tickets at once so you don’t have to wait in line each time.

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Buses to nearby cities

Buses go from the airport to the nearby cities of Puebla, Cuernavaca, Querétaro, Toluca, and more. Most run between 6-7 AM until 10 PM.

To find the buses in either terminal, once you leave customs follow the signs for transporte foráneo (ground transportation) with a little bus icon next to it.

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In Terminal 1, take a left after you leave the customs area and follow the signs. You’ll take another left, go up a motorized ramp to the second floor, pass a food court, go down a hallway, and you’ll see desks for the different destinations.

In Terminal 2, finding the bus station is easier—take a right out of customs and just follow the signs straight on. It’s on the same floor and looks more like a typical bus station than the one in Terminal 1.

Yes, you can buy tickets online beforehand, but I don’t recommend this in case your flight is late. I have never seen a bus sell out, but if this happens the worst thing would be to wait for the next one.

For a summary page of the buses that leave from the Mexico City airport, you can consult this page on the airport website, which may not be up to date. You can check schedules on the bus company websites for four major destinations:

To Puebla: Estrella Roja

To Cuernavaca: Pullman Morelos

To Toluca: Caminante

To Querétaro: Primera Plus

Departing

Once you’ve been in Mexico City for a while, you’ll know whether there’s a metrobus or metro stop near your hotel that you can take back to the airport once it’s time to leave. If you want to take a taxi, have the hotel call one for you. Waving down taxis on the street in Mexico City isn’t safe.

Make sure you know which terminal your flight departs from (see above), and follow the standard advice for international flights—arrive at least three hours early.

The good news is that you can buy a beer from a convenience store near the departure gates and drink it in the waiting area for your flight—you don’t have to get overcharged at a restaurant.

Once again, be sure that you have the departure portion of the tourist card that was stamped when you arrived, or be prepared to pay the fine.

A final tip: Don’t buy tequila or other booze (mezcal, Kahlúa, or good Central American rum like Flor de Caña) at the duty free shop. It’s cheaper at an average grocery, liquor or convenience store in the city, but definitely not at a specialty shop in a tourist area. Put the bottles in your checked luggage, and check the requirements of your home country about how much you can bring back.

The same goes for souvenirs. Don’t wait for the airport. The best place for souvenirs in Mexico City, by the way, is the Ciudadela Market.

Finally, take a moment of appreciation for an airport in a major city that’s only 30 minutes from downtown. In fact, a new airport outside the city is already being built.

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen to the prime real estate currently occupied by Benito Juarez International, but one can only hope that at least part of it will become a public park.

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Roger Waters in Mexico City: Strong Words and the Best of Pink Floyd

It’s been a good year for big rock shows in Mexico. The Rolling Stones came in the spring, Phish played their first concerts in the country with three nights at a resort near Playa del Carmen, and last night (Sept. 29, 2016) Roger Waters, the creative genius behind Pink Floyd, played his second show to nearly 60,000 people at the enormous Foro Sol in Mexico City.

It’s a struggle getting to these events on a weeknight — add concert traffic to rush hour traffic, throw in some crazy adventures finding parking, and what’s normally an hour-and-a-half trip into the city starts pushing four hours. So while my wife and I see a lot of smaller concerts, we only go to the really big shows when it’s bound to be something spectacular.

And Roger Waters delivers, no question. Though only 1/4 of Pink Floyd, he has the strongest claim to their legacy. Not only did he write all the lyrics and most of the music, his voice is crucial to so many songs. While you could argue that David Gilmour’s soaring, soothing voice could be passably imitated (his guitar, much less so), Waters’ distinctive tones are drenched in urgency, confidence, and at times, desperate madness. Can you imagine “Pigs on the Wing,” “Mother” or “Vera” without him?

And with a tour called “The Best of Pink Floyd,” you can be sure that there won’t be songs newer than 1979. But you might not except early, unpolished gems like “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” or “One of These Days.” Sure, you’ll hear a lot from “Dark Side of the Moon,” but what about nearly every track from (possibly) superior albums “Wish You Were Here” and “Animals,” performed in large blocks according to album and in roughly chronological order? The final album of Pink Floyd’s great four from the ’70s, “The Wall,” didn’t get quite so much play, but probably because Rogers played the whole double album on his previous tour.

The show was three hours long, and other than Rogers’ heavy letter in Spanish (more on that below), there were no breaks — the band didn’t even leave the stage before the encore.

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And, along with a stellar song selection and great performances punctuated by swirling sound effects, the night included a simply incredible stage show. Towering behind the band was an extra-wide screen that displayed soapy old-time psychedelia during the oldest songs; thematic images like crazy faces, intricate machines, or blankets of stars over a black moonscape; scenes of Black Lives Matter mixed with the American Civil Rights Movement (shown during “Fearless,” from “Meddle,” only the second time played live, with the first time the night before); and Waters, band members or their instruments superimposed over shifting, melting and merging shapes and colors.

Guess which song this was:

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Moody scenes, smoke and acoustic guitars for “Wish You Were Here”:

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Before the unmistakable acoustic strumming of “Pigs on the Wing,” four smokestacks raised up from behind the screen:

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The factory smoked during four “Animals” tracks and stood until the end — never replaced by a wall, to my surprise. The visuals of the imposing factory, colorful graphics and larger-than-life band members were among the most impressive of the night.

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Of course, during “Animals,” you look up and around for the flying pig. You can’t wait for the flying pig. And after both parts of “Pigs on the Wing” played consecutively and then “Dogs,” it finally levitated up between smokestacks — you can see it on the left below — but that’s not all we got.

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For all of a funky, angry “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” the screen flashed images of Trump yelling, Trump with ridiculous expressions, Trump giving Nazi salutes, Trump wearing a KKK hood, Trump with the body of a pig, and even Trump’s fat naked body with a quick zoom-in on his micropenis, eliciting the loudest gasp-then-cheer from the crowd. More hearty cheers came in response to the huge block letters on the screen, “TRUMP ERES UN PENDEJO,” — Trump, you’re an asshole.

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A powerful statement and clear message: Roger Waters doesn’t like Donald Trump. My wife asked, which public figures have gotten the pig treatment in years gone by? Bush, Netanyahu, ex-brothers from Pink Floyd? I wonder. And what kind of reaction will this get at Desert Trip, the huge festival which Roger Waters will close out on the third night? (A deserving position, I am now certain.)

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Near the end of “Pigs,” the screen displayed Trump quotations translated to Spanish. They were a little hard for us to read, being partly obscured by speaker stacks (which fortunately did not block our view of the stage). This one said something about Ivanka:

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A little later, the Trump-bashing continued in a much more literal way during “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2.” A Trump piñata was lowered down, and the members of the local choir, who had sung during the verses, took enthusiastic swings at it during the extended guitar solo. It finally broke open near the end of the song — what came spilling out?

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But Trump wouldn’t be the only one on the receiving end of Roger Waters’ strong opinions. Waters read a long letter in Spanish addressed to President Peña Nieto, asking him what has happened to the tens of thousands of people who have disappeared during his presidency. At times, the word “RENUNCIA” (resign) was displayed with huge letters on the screen behind.

This riled up the crowd big time, who chanted from 1 to 43 (the number of students who disappeared in Ayotzinapa) or called out “¡asesino!” (murderer), while Roger Waters dealt with guitar problems before “Vera,” which of course led to a fitting “Bring the Boys Back Home.”

There’s a law in Mexico against foreigners making political statements on domestic issues. Manu Chao, for instance, has been banned from playing here since his last concert more than 10 years ago. We’ll have to see what kind of reaction this letter will get. Maybe Roger Waters is too prominent, too important, or maybe his going after Trump even harder will buy him some leeway. (Trump is thoroughly hated here in Mexico.)

Politics aside, the music was the highlight of the night, even more so than the awe-inspiring visuals. To finish the show, the band played “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse,” bringing “Dark Side of the Moon” full circle.

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The end: Smoke and stars after the fireworks following the “Comfortably Numb” encore:

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Tomorrow on Saturday Roger Waters plays a free show in Mexico City’s zócalo (center square), right downtown facing all the government buildings. Will he read his letter there? I can’t imagine why not.

So then the question remains, will he ever be invited back?

Final note: As you can see from the pictures, we were at the opposite end of massive Foro Sol from the stage. With such a grandiose production, these seats were fine — and when the spotlight was right we could clearly see Waters stalking back and forth when he put down the bass or acoustic guitar and focused on singing.

These, the cheapest seats, cost 370 pesos each, less than $20 USD (with the current exchange rate). So, while of course spots up front cost $100 USD or more, there were plenty of good seats available for much more modest prices. Thank you, Mr. Waters.

The Rolling Stones Rock Mexico City: March 14, 2016

“That’s my Spanish jokes,” said Mick Jagger, speaking in English for the first time about halfway through the two-hour-plus concert in Mexico City. The Rolling Stones had just finished “Honky Tonk Women,” and Mick was chatting up the crowd once again.

Speaking comfortable Spanish with a strong British accent, he told us the band had visited the pyramids, liked lucha libre (Mexican wrestling), and preferred mezcal to tequila: “Antes tomamos tequila, ahora tomamos mezcal.” (Before we drank tequila, now we drink mezcal.) Keith Richards’ loose swagger and rebel grin high on the big screens seemed to confirm it for the cheering, beer-swilling crowd.

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But the big laughs came when Mick joked that he’d escaped from his hotel when Sean Penn came for an interview — referring to Penn’s recent interview for Rolling Stone magazine with Mexican drug lord El Chapo.

Mick also said it had been ten years since the Rolling Stones last came to Mexico. The fans were primed and ready: patient elderly couples with binoculars and expectant faces, men with Voodoo Lounge baseball caps and button-covered jackets, and extended families wearing matching tour t-shirts.

Ten years is a long time for an enormous, rock-loving market like Mexico. Months earlier, tickets had sold out in less than an hour, causing a second show to be added for later in the week. Mexico loves the Stones, and clearly the Stones — especially Mick — love Mexico, as he told 55,000 of us many times on the clear, cool Monday night.

In one of the world’s largest cities, struggling through a traffic nightmare, finding sketchy parking, and pushing past bootleg souvenir sellers clogging the sidewalk are only small inconveniences on the way to see the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.

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Yes, it’s still true: the Rolling Stones are the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band. A few sloppy transitions and missed cues didn’t matter. A few sour notes from mezcal-fortified Keith didn’t matter. This is the Rolling Stones.

Which band in popular music is more legendary? Which band still tours — and sells out stadiums — after 54 years, isn’t a nostalgia act, and still has surprises and peak musical moments for the fans?

This tour of Latin America featured a setlist of classics along with special requests by Twitter for each city. In Mexico City we got a heavy, foot-stomping “Street Fighting Man.” Other stops on the tour saw special guests, like Juanes in Colombia, but other than a local choir for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the night was all Stones.

Keith Richards stalks the stage like he owns the place — which, as we all know, he does. Most of the night his guitar was at least twice as loud as Ronnie Wood’s, or, for that matter, anyone else’s instrument, and he got huge cheers each time he hit a big, nasty chord in songs like “Jumping Jack Flash” or “Sympathy for the Devil.”

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Anyone not a fool would expect the Stones to have slowed down a little — they’re grandfathers who’ve been playing live for half a century, after all. It wasn’t a flawless night, but the Rolling Stones were never the band to see for perfect playing, even in their early-seventies glory.

No, it’s only rock ’n’ roll, and we like it: relentless, hard-driving beats from Charlie Watts, unmatched showmanship from Mick, jagged riffs from Keith, moments of shimmering virtuosity from Ronnie (especially on “Midnight Rambler”), and quick-and-dirty, jaw-dropping solos from the other band members — with highlights being bassist Darryl Jones getting jazzy in “Miss You,” and saxophonist Karl Denson channeling recently-deceased sax master Bobby Keys in “Brown Sugar.”

(I evidently haven’t been keeping up with the world of the Stones, because seeing saxophonist Karl Denson’s face lit up on the big screen surprised the hell out of me. Karl is one of my all-time favorite musicians, and some of my all-time favorite shows have been his bands the Greyboy Allstars and particularly the Tiny Universe.)

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Back in November, tickets sold out so quickly that by the time I got back to the computer after stepping away for credit card info, I’d lost my place in the online line. So I bought the cheapest ones for only about $25 USD each. The best seats, of course, were in the thousands.

These seats, cheap as they were, had a clear view of the whole stage at the opposite end of Foro Sol, a baseball stadium and racetrack that’s also the site of the yearly Vive Latino festival, one of the biggest music festivals in Latin America.

But maybe, at a Stones show, it really doesn’t matter how far away your seats are. Mick has an unmatched ability to pump up a crowd, no matter how massive. When Mick dances, strutting down the walkway and waving his arms like a raver girl on ecstasy, you pay attention.

Even when the cameras weren’t on him, when his larger-than-life presence wasn’t projected on the three larger-than-life screens behind the stage, just one clap of his hands instantly got the whole crowd clapping along, 95% of them on their feet for the entire show.

Though my seats couldn’t have been much farther away, I think they were closer than the other two times I saw the band, in 1994 on the Voodoo Lounge tour and 1997 for Bridges to Babylon, both at the Michigan State football stadium.

Twenty years later, after living outside of the U.S. for so many years now, I had no expectations to see a Stones show again. Those ‘90s shows were the biggest I’d yet seen as a midwestern teenager, and they came with groundbreaking stage setups: elaborate walkways, big inflatable dolls and devils, relentless fireworks and pyrotechnics.

Though we did get fireworks at the end last night, the band was undoubtably the focus of the stage show. The tiny figures with their neon suits shimmered and glowed on the distant stage, with only the visuals and graphics on screen to distract you.

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Beyond the personalities, the musicianship, and the spectacle are the songs, essential and immortal: the gospel swing of “Tumbling Dice,” the droning sitar-sounds of “Paint it Black,” the wailing vocals in “Gimme Shelter.”

And perhaps “Satisfaction,” in the final encore slot, really is the greatest of them all. When Keith plucks those first notes, using the same buzzsaw guitar tone of the original, you’re transported to a different time, back to the sixties, when “Satisfaction” wasn’t classic rock, but innovation.

On a Monday night in 2016, as 55,000 people sang along to lyrics they may not even understand, the energy of a song now 50 years old left no one doubting the eternal relevance of the Rolling Stones.

The Setlist:

  1. Start Me Up
  2. It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)
  3. Tumbling Dice
  4. Out of Control
  5. Street Fighting Man (by request)
  6. Wild Horses
  7. Paint It Black
  8. Honky Tonk Women (followed by the band introduction)
  9. You Got the Silver (Keith Richards on lead vocals)
  10. Before They Make Me Run (Keith Richards on lead vocals)
  11. Midnight Rambler
  12. Miss You
  13. Gimme Shelter
  14. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
  15. Sympathy for the Devil
  16. Brown Sugar
  17. Encore: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
  18. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

Good song-by-song review: http://consequenceofsound.net/2016/03/live-review-the-rolling-stones-at-mexico-citys-foro-sol-314/

The Rolling Stones will play another sold-out show at Foro Sol in Mexico City on Thursday, March 17, and then travel to Havana, Cuba for a free concert on Friday, March 25, 2016.

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