Rolling Stones, San Jose, 4-22-1999
I arrived in San Jose at around 5pm and grabbed a taxi to a pub where my friends had gathered. It took two beers before I felt myself getting into the spirit of things; that, and seeing old friends and meeting unexpected new ones who’d arrived from all over the globe seemed to transform me. That, and the addition of strategically placed caution tape, the visual theme of this tour. I had a stripe of the reflector tape around my upper right arm and someone tied a streamer of the smaller kind around my left wrist. It was extremely festive, it was silly, it was a special code that only we understood. Like little kids getting dressed up for Halloween.
Despite me saying I didn’t think I wanted to see this tour, I couldn’t afford it, the usual complaints – that all changed when I landed great seats. I knew they were good, but I didn’t know exactly how good until I made my way to the floor during Sugar Ray’s (bleah) opening set. As I walked down the steps towards the floor I could feel it kicking in – that pre-show excitement. As I get older, I tend to not really FEEL it until I’m in the room and see the stage, and then it tumbles down a thousandfold. This time was no different, except when I was escorted to our seat location, which ended up being dead center at the front of the b-stage, second row. Even better, friends and familiar faces are all around us.
The opening is a great black and white video showing the Stones walking down a hallway, looking for all the world like a band of outlaws (still). It was absolutely perfect in terms of setting mood, tone, and a wonderful air of anticipation, the crowd’s applause growing louder. I’ve got tears coming to my eyes. And then there they are, there’s Keith kicking in, and this sense of relief, of homecoming almost, washes over me and I am speechless with delight.
I could not get over just how ON they were. And how great our seats were; being dead center, b-stage, only one row of people in front of us, meant that our vantage point was STRAIGHT down the empty runway. No one blocking our view. Pre-“Honky Tonk Women,” Keith has NO guitar on, and I’m wondering what on earth is going on — then it’s on, him sautering around the stage, oh-so-casually, as he strokes those opening chords out. “I Got The Blues” was pure joy, “Paint It Black” sharp and sweet. I’m splitting my time between the video screen and the stage.
Keith’s solo set, and there it is, the song everyone had been talking about – “You Got The Silver,” a million times more wonderful than I ever could have imagined it. This was Keith, this is the essence of who the man is and why I love him so much. Wistful. Plaintive. Emotive. Pure. To my utter delight, “Before They Make Me Run” follows. “It’s like 78 all over again!” someone next to me shouts excitedly. Oh yes, it was.
And then, here they come, down the runway, one at a time. We hopped over the front row so we could be at the stage as soon as Keith’s set ended. Now, I’ve been close to the b-stage before – in Seattle 97 walked back so I was level with it, and in Portland 98 I made a beeline for the front, but I was so caught up in the getting-there nerves that it just wasn’t the same, wasn’t as intense as tonight was. And then again, they were tight and playing unbelievably well, undoubtedly the BEST I have ever seen them. “Route 66” was choppy and sloppy. Next, “Get Off Of My Cloud” and that was IT, I was just shot up in the stratosphere, remembering the first time I heard this song. The crowd is screaming and ecstatic. My companion tosses a pair of lace panties onstage, and it lands in the middle of the stage, where Ronnie grabbed it and twirled it above his head. Jagger is just manic, frantic, in my face almost. He is damn serious. He is INTO it.
And behind him, there’s The Man. Dressed in black, shirtless, open black vest. Elegant, striking, effortless. I’m trying to watch the others, Ronnie and Charlie back there, but I can’t, my eyes keep being drawn back to Keith. Watching him play to the crowd, ham it up; watching someone throw a joint on stage and keith reaching down, scooping it up, putting it in his pocket. Ronnie wants a cigarette and is showered with them.
It seemed to last forever, you know. I’m screaming and singing and jumping and doing the “We’re not worthy” pose, I’m taking pictures, I’m drinking it in, all of this simultaneously. “Midnight Rambler”. I couldn’t believe that this was really next, really here, that I was getting this, here, now. And I realize that I am hot, I am sweating, I am panting, this was heat, this was rock and roll, this was the fucking Rolling Stones in a bottle, the very essence of who this band IS, transformed into 12 incredible minutes. Keith is slicing and striking, a vision in black up there. It was pulsating, it was purely sexual, but not in that teenage way, in an utterly mature, deep, essential, vital way. The pulse of life. By the end, I am weak and shaking. It’s unbelievable.
And then, and then, Keith comes to the front of the stage, and he’s smacking hands down front, and I am proffering this African-themed scarf I’d found while packing, and threw in the suitcase as an afterthought, some vague thought of trying to give it to him, black and red and green and gold. Keith’s colors. He sees it, I see him notice it, and he’s working his way over, smacking a hand next to me out of the way. And then he stops, and takes the scarf with one hand, puts the other hand on top of mine, and looks right into my eyes and smiles that Keef-smile and says something, I don’t know what, for the world of me I don’t know, time stopped. Does this sound foolish? Or childish? I don’t really care if it does. All I know is in that split second I connected with my guitar hero, my childhood sweetheart, my teenage Prince Valiant, and the world stood still. He then hands a pick to a 10 year old kid who was two people away from me at the front, Somehow I manage to climb back to my seat but I am stunned at this point. Overwhelmed.
By the time we reached “Sympathy For The Devil” I wanted to do nothing more than go out into the aisle and just dance my ass off, triumphantly, dance like I haven’t in YEARS. I think I could have done it unhindered by security but I didn’t know at that point if I could make it that far, so I just boogied away at my seat. And that was it. I don’t know that I could have taken any more; I think I even sat down for “Start Me Up”.
After the show, we made our way back to the pub, where I had a drink and just glowed and tried to memorize it all so I’d never forget it. I remember talking emotionally with with a friend who has been a fan since the late 60’s, trying to explain why that moment with Keith was everything to me, was so important to me, what the whole evening meant to me. The whole depth of experience I brought to the moment, how the Stones are this intangible but elemental piece of my being. It’s more than just a rock show, it’s our lives, and their lives, and their lives on stage, and ours intertwined with it all. The music, the history, the magic. They wouldn’t be the Stones without us, and we wouldn’t be who we are, individually, without them.
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