DC at Night

DC at Night

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Stones Are Still Rolling (and Rocking Too)

Mick and Keith 1969

More Mick and Keith 1969
I first saw the Rolling Stones live in 1969 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. I paid $6.50 for my ticket. Of course, it was an outrageous price (still it wasn't the most expensive ticket - that was an astounding-for-the-time $8.50), but they were the Stones and I would be pretty close to the stage. I loved rock and roll and, to me, the Stones were the epitome of what that music was all about. I admired their talent and especially their swagger - their literal we are the Rolling Stones and we'll piss anywhere we want attitude. I don't think I was obsessed , but I was definitely influenced. Some examples. In the 60's and 70's, I played in bands whose main source of material was the Stones. I was once an hour late for a Villanova University final because one of my friends, using a toothbrush as microphone, spent most of the night pretending he was Mick Jagger and was too stoned and hung-over in the morning to find his contact lenses. At my 1973 wedding, I wore a 3-piece suit very similar to the one Jagger had worn 2 years earlier when he had married Bianca. I convinced my wife to name our son Michael (Jagger) Keith (Richards) Price. (In my defense, she wanted to name him Zarba. Remember, it was a time of great experimentation)..
The Stones today in 2013

Last night, 44 years after I first saw them, the Stones and I returned to Philly for their 50 and Still Counting Tour. It would be the 12th time I would be seeing the Stones perform and much had changed over the years, nothing more dramatically than the cost of concert attendance. I had picked up 2 tickets off StubHub that let me sit in my favorite concert spot - directly in the middle of the stage behind the sound booth. The cost for those 2 seats (which, while perfect for sound, were about as close to the stage as Baltimore is to my current home of Washington, DC) was $500. But these were still the Stones, and even if Keith Richards could live forever, I didn't think I could. This tour could be the last time and I didn't want to miss it.

So at 8 p.m. on a rainy Philly Tuesday night, my wife and I found ourselves sitting in our $250 seats, waiting for Mick, and Keith, and Charlie, and Ronnie, and the rest, to take the stage once again. And at exactly 9:02 (remember we're talking about the we-can-do-what-we-want Stones here) the lights dimmed, a brief relive-the-years retrospective was shown on the giant screen, and then came the announcement the crowd had been waiting to hear "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones." And for the next 2 hours, in an age-defying feat of musical mastery, the Stones demonstrated why they are still the world's greatest rock and roll band. Here's a song by song report of the night.

Get Off My Cloud
The 1965 opening song established from the start that the Stones were offering rock n' roll history here. I would have preferred "The Last Time." But the Stones might not have wanted to deliver that message.

It's Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)
Jagger prances and dances as Richards and Wood demonstrate how to work a perfect 2-guitar weave.  It might only be rock and roll, but the crowd loved it.

Paint It Black
This 1966 chart-topper with its sitar-like beginning was the 1st hint of a darker side of the Stones to come. After this hit, much of the Stones career would be colored in shades of black and red.  "I see a red door and I want it painted black." When it was released, some Stones fan contended that Jagger was singing about a (red door) prostitute. But that came later with "Honky Tonk Women" and Some Girls.

Gimme Shelter
This apocalyptic song,  forever linked with the December 1969 murder at the Stones Altamont concert and the death of the hippie peace-and-love dream, provided a chance for back-up singer Lisa Fisher to shine. It's not easy to out-Jagger Mick Jagger, but on this number (Rape ... Murder ... It's just a shot away) Lisa did just that. Definite candidate for best song of the night.

Wild Horses
Jagger tells the crowd things are going to be slowed down. The result - "Wild Horses" from the classic Sticky Fingers - possibly the most beautiful ballad the Stones ever recorded.

Dead Flowers
At each concert on this tour, the fans have been able to select one of 5 song choices on the internet for the Stones to perform. Philly's choice is this country rocker, also from Sticky Fingers. The Stones have been featuring a special guest at each show and country star Brad Paisley joins them for this tune. It is a perfect fit for Paisley, who proved once again that he is not just a pretty-boy in a cowboy hat, but a solid  guitarist. The Stones, especially Richards, have always had an affinity for American country music.

Emotional Rescue
My least favorite song of the night. But it brought many of the younger members of the crowd to their dancing feet. It also demonstrated that at 70, Jagger can still sing falsetto and drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Daryl Jones (who years ago replaced original bass player Bill Wyman) form one of the great rhythm sections in all of rock.

Doom and Gloom
One of 2 new songs the Stones are performing on the tour. Classic Stones. The accompanying video on the large screen was quite imaginative. Click here if you want to see the official Stones YouTube video for the release.

One More Shot
The 2nd of the new songs. Those who wanted only the hits they knew used this segment for a bathroom break. Those who wanted to hear what the Stones, after 5 decades, are still capable of coming up with stayed in their seats to listen. If you haven't seen the Stones on this tour or you are one of the ones who used this tune for a break, you can click here to hear what you missed.

Honky Tonk Women
Ever since the 1980's, the Stones, who have often been accused of  misogynistic lyrics and behavior - "Under My Thumb" or "Stupid Girl" anyone - have been using this song for visual fun. Remember those giant inflatable dolls. Tonight was no exception. The mascot for this tour is a gorilla (Grrr!). In a takeoff on the classic film King Kong, on the main stage screen a giant woman with exceptional breasts climbs an Empire State Building-like structure. She is then attacked by gorillas flying WWI type planes. One of them shoots off her bra, but then spins out and crashes into her breasts. Oh yeah, and the Stones delivered a strong version of this song while all this was going on. Also a chance for keyboard player and band musical director Chuck Leavell to show off with a great honky-tonk country piano ride.

You Got the Silver
For years, Jagger has been leaving the stage to let Richards take over lead vocals on 2 tunes. In previous tours, this had been the signal for a bathroom break for non-Richards fans. But tonight, whether as a realization that Keith can't perform forever (can he?) or because they had already used the new songs for that purpose, the fans stayed put. They were treated to Keith at his best. Earlier, Jagger had informed the crowd that Philadelphia was celebrating its 331st birthday. "I read it in the papers," he said. Picking up on that theme, Richards quipped "Thank you Philly. It's your birthday, not mine. I don't know which one's older."

Before They Make Me Run
As soon as the last note of "You Got the Silver" faded, many in the crowd began calling for "Happy," the most popular Richards song in the Stones repertoire. Instead Richards broke into this tune, inspired by his 1970's drug troubles in Toronto. Best version of this song that I had ever heard Keith, who really seemed to be enjoying himself during the entire concert, perform.

Midnight Rambler
This tune, along with "Sympathy for Devil," established Mick Jagger in the pantheon of evil personas. "Paint it black, you devil." It also allows him to show why he is one of the most under-rated harmonica players in rock or blues. As has been happening every night on this tour, the current Stones were joined on this number by their former lead guitarist Mick Taylor (he also returned later on "Satisfaction"), who replaced Stones founding member, the troubled Brian Jones. Taylor played with the group on their great work from the late 60's and 70's. Claiming the life of a Rolling Stone would kill him, Taylor left the group and was replaced by Ron Wood. Listening to him again trading licks with Jagger, it was apparent how much Taylor added to the Stones during his years with them. Another candidate for song of the night.

Miss You
Jagger returned to the stage with a guitar, which the most famous frontman in rock says he likes playing on stage. He told the crowd they would have to help with the vocals on this one. While some have put down  this disco-era tune, it has been a regular in the Stones set list since it was released on Some Girls, perhaps  because it works so well live. Tonight's reworked version with a bass solo also showed why jazz great Miles Davis had invited Darryl Jones to play bass with him.  And I confess, I have always loved this song. If anyone can make disco cool, it is the Stones.

Start Me Up
From here on it was nothing but some of the biggest hits in all of rock. First up was this classic which the Stones have often used as a show opener. I liked it placed here better.

Tumbling Dice
This hit from Exile on Main Street, which many critics contend is the Stones masterpiece album (for me it is Sticky Fingers, with Let It Bleed a close 2nd), gave a chance for backup singers Fisher and Bernard Fowler to take center stage. Also good horn work for long-time Stones live sidemen Bobby Keys and Tim Ries. (Side note: Usually the Stones carry 3 singers and 4 horns with them. The reduced lineup prompted Judy to ask me: "What are Mick and Keith getting cheap in their old age").

Brown Sugar
Now everyone is on their feet. Bobby Keys blasts the brilliant, ballsy sax solo that he 1st laid down in 1969. Jagger is all over the stage and the extended tongue-shaped ramp that lets him prance into the crowd. He flays his arm, directing the crowd to join in. They do. Enthusiastically. The extra-long closing whips the crowd into a frenzy.

Sympathy for the Devil
The lights dim. The pre-recorded drum track begins. Leavell adds a choppy piano riff, much different than the original recording. The audience spots a dimly-lit Jagger, wrapped in a black cloak. He doffs the cloak. "Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of wealth and taste." During his solos, Richards stalks the stage and circles the ramp, stabbing out single notes on his guitar. The song ends; Jagger thanks the audience. The band leaves the stage. The crowd knows there will be an encore. Those really in the know who have been following the tour even know what the 3 songs will be. But that doesn't dim the enthusiasm. A 3rd candidate for song of the night.

You Can't Always Get What You Want
In what may have been the shortest break ever in a concert (before I could even get back from the bathroom) Philadelphia's The Crossing choir, who joined the Stones for this song, were already singing the beginning notes. Solid version tonight. As he has all evening, the irreplaceable Charlie Watts (Richards is on record as saying without Watts there is no Rolling Stones) drives the beat from anthemic to double-time shuffle speed.

Jumping Jack Flash
For me this has always been the greatest rock song ever performed live. It always delivers the crossfire hurricane promised in the lyrics. The Stones extend the long ending tonight. As always "a gas, gas, gas.

Despite the inspired song writing of Lennon and McCartney and Bob Dylan and the brilliance of the Beatles as a band, I think you can make a strong case to enshrine this song as the ultimate example of all post-Presley/Berry rock. Beginning with one of the most recognizable guitar riffs ever recorded, the lyrics drive home the outsider alienation with society that has always been at the heart of the rock's power, mystique, and its hold on the young. And you can dance to it, too. First recorded in 1965, this was the Stones best choice - indeed you might argue their only choice - to close a night representing a 50-year retrospective of their work. We definitely won't get another 50 years, but here's to as many more years of satisfaction as the Stones can deliver. It's only rock and roll, but we still like it.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
A quick Stones Q & A, not to be confused with their song "A Little T & A"
Can the Stones still rock?
  • Yes
What about roll?
  • Ditto
Do they legitimately deserve to be called the greatest rock and roll band in the world?
  • Yes
Are they really playing better now than ever?
  • Based on last night's show, I'd have to say yes.
How many cigarettes did Keith smoke during the show?
  • 3, I think
Did you really spend $500 on 2 tickets for the Stones?
  • Yes
Was the concert worth it?
  • Yes
Did you really name your only son after the Stones?
  • Yes
What would you have done if you had another son?
  • I don't know - maybe Ronald Charles.
Would you see them on their last scheduled American date next week in DC?
  • If anyone wants to pay for my ticket, I am so there. Same with Friday's show in Philly. (Special guest Aaron Neville).

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