Rolling Stones, the Wiltern, 11-4-02

Solomon Burke. The throne, the cape, the flashing sign reading SOLOMON, the shtick. I mean, you know where Prince and James Brown stole their stuff from, you know it intellectually, but to actually see it in practice is kind of humbling. I am counting people on the stage and then my friend leans over and says “25”. They had to put one bass player in the wings, they had so many people. It was utterly fabulous, even if the crowd didn’t give a shit. I’ll never hear Otis sing “Dock of the Bay” but hearing Solomon Burke sing it was pretty damn close. He kept trying to get the crowd to sing and all I can think is, “But I want to hear you sing, not the off tune dorks singing ‘Stand By Me’ behind me”. I was so, so, so glad to see someone like this in this opening spot, I haven’t had anyone this appropriate since Screamin’ Jay Hawkins opened up MSG in 1981. All of a sudden he’s saying, “Thank you and good night” and I’m thinking “What, so short?” and then I look at my watch and it’s already 8:45. 45 minutes.

Intermission, and it’s time for spot the celebrities. I knew Neil Young was going to be there due to a well placed telephone call earlier. Stephen Stills sits down and then Neil comes in a few minutes later, and they’re hugging. I saw Tom Petty get his seat right before Solomon started. Peter Boyle, front row balcony, didn’t look so hot, but Benecio del Toro in person was quite the opposite. Don Was walks by through the pit and into the backstage. David Fricke, in the pit and clearly having a good time. (Hey, in my world, a rock critic is a celebrity). Speaking of which – Cameron Crowe for a brief moment. We were looking for Nancy, but I heard later he was there with Kelly Curtis. Eddie Murphy and Sugar Ray Leonard, also in the pit. We’d walk out at the end of the show behind Mick fleetwood, and then see Tom Waits chatting with friends across the lobby.

Usually, these days, I don’t freak out until I’m inside the venue, in my spot, and see the stage for the first time. But I didn’t this time, and that kind of worried me. I was turned around for the entire set change, until at one point I turn around and the stage is practically bare compared to all the stuff that was up there for Solomon. And then the lights go down and — oh my fucking god. It wasn’t like the arena shows, where they walk on one by one and it builds up and you applaud them individually, it was just instant, there’s Charlie – Ronnie – Mick – Keith! And then they start playing “Jumping Jack Flash” and it was like the atom bomb explodes. You know that feeling when they play JJF at the end of the show, and there’s fireworks and confetti and pandemonium and chaos? Well, imagine that feeling at the beginning of the show. It was like I was frozen in time and I honestly could not breathe, I mean I was breathing but I felt like even just breathing would have taken away from my concentration on that stage.

“Jumping Jack Flash,” the song that absolutely defines the Stones to me, more t han any other song, it has all the elements that to me are the Stones, the riffs and the lyrics and the searingly sharp vocals. I think I lasted a minute before I started crying so fucking hard, but I am crying and singing and I am dancing my ass off, I could really care less whose drinks I was knocking into behind me. But I am of course crying through all of this so it’s this weird tumult of emotions. And it’s even weirder because of the level we were at, dead level with the stage in the first row of the second levl, and there were lights on us constantly, and it was easier for the band to see us than the crowd in the pit below. So when Ronnie kind of looks in my direction and makes this Ronnie-face and mugs, it’s all I can do to not start crying again.

So I barely recover from that and then Mick says, “The next one’s called ‘Live With Me'” and if I thought I was dancing my ass off before, it was just complete and total abandon with this one. Of course, this is the time the waitress is trying to deliver drinks to the people behind us. I don’t care. I’m not stopping, not now, not for this song! Like I told the people (who were interviewing fans outside in the line before the show), this is my chance to be that girl on “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out” who screams “Paint It Black, you devil!” This was my chance to be the girls sitting on the stage at the El Mocambo. This was my chance, and I was going to take it for all that it was worth. It’s time for the sax solo, and I point at bobby and scream, “Bobby fucking Keyes!” oh my god. Yeah. Bobby Keyes. We’re used to Bobby being there, but he’s still Bobby Keyes, he still played on fucking “Exile,” ya know, he’s played with everyone and on seemingly everything… And this is fucking “Live With Me”! I used to play this damn song non-stop in college, driving my roommates fucking nuts, I just love that bassline, I just love the rhythm section, it’s one the best ‘get dressed up and ready to go out’ songs ever. I swear that Mick pointed in our direction during the last “don’t you think there’s a place for you/inbetween the sheets” line… But at this point I no longer trust my memory.

“Neighbors” is a weird choice, but then I have this sudden huge wave of deja vu, of moving to NYC in 1981 to go to school, to “Tattoo You” coming out, to somehow finding out that Keith lived above Tower Records on Broadway in the village (I don’t know if any of this is actually true, but it was the gospel back then, in ye olde fashioned pre internet, information available easily and everywhere days), and of my first Stones shows that very year, that very fall, and I’m still singing along as hard as I can. “Hand Of Fate,” Jesus Christ! I remember the first time this came up in the setlist this tour, and I’m not believing that I’m getting to hear this. The guitars are so perfect, so exacting, so sweet. Keith is playing, and playing hard. And – two guitars in the mix! Ronnie. Ronnie fucking wood, looking so good, so happy, so animated, and nailing everything he hit, or at least nailing it close enough. Maybe if I’d seen a dozen shows on this tour I could nitpick, and I know there was one slip during the song, but I wasn’t taking notes, I was dancing.

I think this was the point at which I turned to my companion and said, “oh my god. I can never go to another concert, ever again.” I was so childlike and earnest when I said it, too.

The steel guitar gets set up and I take the phone out of my pocket – the quiet ones are the best ones to do live remote during, we’ve learned – and I’m wondering if we’ll get “Love In Vain” like they did at Staples the week before (I got a phone call during that one, and I just sat there with my eyes closed and the phone to my ear, listening) – but – Jesus. God. No. “No Expectations”? If there was a song that wasn’t anywhere near any list of ‘Stones songs I will hear live in my lifetime’, it would probably be ‘No Expectations’. And it was stunning. The only thing that ‘ruined’ the quiet grace and elegance of this song was Ronnie kind of mugging… But it’s Ronnie, and he’s back and he’s healthy and I don’t care if he stands on his head all night. I couldn’t sing to this one, I could just stand there quietly, holding the phone, tears streaming out of my eyes.

Keith changes guitars, hits 1/4 of a note and I already know it’s “Beast Of Burden,” but I think this is when Mick made the wisecrack about all the celebrities there, squinting up at the balcony. And yeah, then a huge cheer when Keith hits those chords. This is not one of my favorite live numbers, I always thought Jagger exaggerated and distorted the structure of this song in the arena shows, but not tonight. Not at all. He lets us sing the “woooooooooo!”‘s during the last verse, and I’m just smiling. I just smiled the entire fucking show.

And then I hear the intro and it’s this wide mouthed, jaw on the floor, screaming to the ceiling when “Stray Cat Blues” starts. This is another one on the list of “I’ll never see this and I probably don’t want to see it because I don’t want to see Jagger phoning it in”. But I have to tell you that he was absolutely stunning, completely riveting, out on the end of the catwalk, crouched down, full of venom and darkness and everything that is in this song, just poised like a panther ready to strike. I could not take my eyes off him for one second. The guy behind me trying to wave at the camera out in the audience for crowd shots got his arm smacked back sharply – all without taking my eyes off that stage for one fucking second. There could not be a better version of this song – okay, there could be, but this was exactly how “Stray Cat Blues” should be sung, how you think it should be sung, how teenage me would lie on her bed and listen to the Stones and feel really – dangerous, like I was listening to something really forbidden. I have never seen Jagger this intense, and this beats that 12 minute 50 second version of “Midnight Rambler” at the b-stage in San Jose in 1999, which at the time made me feel like I had slipped into a time warp and was back in 1969 (and people who were there who actually saw the Stones in 1969 agreed). Tonight wasn’t 1968, but it was still vicious, but it was modern, it was Mick right now singing it, not Mick trying to be Mick in 68.

Now, you have to understand that I love “Emotional Rescue”. I love that album deeply, irrationally, I will defend it at any time or place, at any time, and I will never back down, and I can usually convince anyone I’m in an argument with to at least go and listen to it again before writing it off. So when “Dance, Pt. 2” showed up in the setlist I was overjoyed. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t work so great live, it’s probably a better studio track, I’ll give you that. But the chance to be able to dance to it live was something that I knew I really, really needed to do. And the horns were glorious and the guitar riffs were on, even if the rhythm was a little sloppy. I didn’t care. I love this song. I love this record. I hear it and I think New York City, I think summertime, I think Greenwich Village, I think of this record coming out and buying it and loving it and not caring that no one else I knew did or cared, it was mine.

Some folks on the Stones list are just head over heels in love with “Everybody Needs Someone To Love”. I, however, am not. As an occasional chestnut – sure. But not every night. However, I changed my tune when Solomon Burke came on for the last verse, trading lines with Mick. Okay, shutting up. At the end of the song, Solomon tries to give Mick his cape, and proclaims that Mick is now the undisputed king of rock and roll – someone told me today that she thought Mick was mortified, but that’s not what I saw – I saw Mick as being complete and totally flabbergasted and actually kind of humbled. He even walked over to Ronnie and kind of burbled something about it.

The interaction. People I know who were in the first-level pit just below stage level were saying that Mick was pissed and was yelling at everyone, and I swear I didn’t take my eyes off that stage for 1/4 a second so I don’t know how I missed it – I was just struck by the constant interaction. They talked to each other, they smiled, they were cracking jokes, they delayed songs because they were talking to each other, all four of them. That’s the one thing that’s always bothered me, okay, I’m never gonna get Mick coming out to sing backup with Keith on “Happy” or have Keith taking the backing vocals on “Live With Me”, but god, it always seemed like four disconnected people up there (five when Bill was still with them). It was hard for me, and is one of the things I struggled with over the years and decided it would just be something I’d overlook.

Okay – what? “That’s How Strong Our Love Is”? Oh my god. This isn’t even anything that was on any kind of list I ever even thought about making. Jesus! And it worked after “Everybody Needs Someone To Love”, it really did, but it was one of the few songs last night that was kind of a blur. I think I started breathing normally again right about now. However, what I didn’t need to hear was “Going to a Go-Go”. Having that and “Everybody Needs Someone To Love” in the set is just a waste of a space in the setlist to me, even with the great horn solos. Maybe if I was a Mick girl and got off on the dancing thing I’d feel differently, but all I’m thinking is that I could be having “Shine A Light or “Sway” or “Moonlight Mile” or something else. But of course I still had fun and sang along and didn’t even mind too much.

Next is the “Before They Make Me Happy” moment (as someone I know refers to Keith’s solo set). He changes into this shiny satin green shirt that he leaves unbuttoned, I am so close I can see the scars, I can see the Ethiopian cross, I can see [censored by request]. He’s at the center mic and he’s smoking, and making some comment that I cannot even remember now – I completely sympathize with the girls who have met Mick or Ronnie or whoever and just freeze and can’t manage to say anything, lord knows I can never remember anything Keith says, even when he’s saying it to me [San Jose 99, when he talked to me from the b-stage]. Keith could read the telephone book and I’d be happy, and I’d be happy for that song or “Before They Make Me Run”, but then to pull out both “Thru and Thru” and “You Don’t Have To Mean It” – god. Knock me over with a feather. And it was great, the melody was pretty sparse, but Keith is hitting those lines, the delivery could not have been any more Keef. “And you know this heart is constant – right?” he tells us, making me shake my head in disbelief. It was offhand, charming, totally Keith.

I love watching Keith play reggae. I mean, I even own the “Wingless Angels” album. But last night he was happy. Like I said, he was focused all night, he was really playing hard, he just kept looking to his fans on his side of the stage.

So Keith’s done, and I’m trying to recover – this has to be the best solo set I’ve ever seen him do, he meant it, he didn’t just rush through it – and then out of nowhere those chords and I just arched my head backwards and this totally involuntary, almost blood-curdling scream comes out – “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”! The song that has been the song to hear this tour, the song we are only getting because Ronnie is back, and doing so good, and so well, and me thinking I’d get to hear it would almost be too much, wouldn’t it? 12, 15 minute versions, everyone talking about how totally orgasmic they were, there’s no way, right? It would be too much, wouldn’t it??

I mean, wouldn’t it?

And it’s perfect. It’s just like you think it will be, when you play pretend-I’m-seeing-the-Stones, whether you’re 14 or 40, it’s that version you hear in your head, see behind your eyes. And Ronnie is nailing it, and Keith is perfect counterpoint, and then there’s bobby soaring in, and then Mick is on harp, and it was that stray cat blues intensity all over again, just going and going and going and going and going, and you remember that this man can actually play blues harp, he’s not some dilettante, not that he’d shown much evidence of it in a really fucking long time. I had the phone on starting when Bobby began his solo, and when I turned it off (after forgetting I had it on and yelling ‘oh my fucking god’ at the end of the harp solo into it) I saw it had been on for about 7 minutes. That’s right, seven minutes just from the horn solo onward. I am lost, I am dizzy, I am just overwhelmed at this point. Oh, my god.

At this point, “Rock Me Baby” was anticlimatic, but it was a respectable version. Then, more horns and “Bitch”, another song that can be dodgy live and somewhat intolerable in 99, it was too brassy and Vegasy for me then, but last night it’s true and it’s faithful and everything it should be.

Keith out on the runway, doing that weird sideways crouch he does, that I’m always amazed he doesn’t fall over doing (hell I would trying to do it without a guitar) and then I see that one hand about to hit the strings and I know – I know – “Honky Tonk Women”. One handed. He always plays the intro one handed. One of the greatest rock and roll riffs ever written and Keith Richards can play it one handed. I mean, of course, if anyone could do it, he could, and he makes it look so easy, and he makes it look so effortless, it just always amazes me. Sometimes he does it with this sly, teasing grin on his face, sometimes he just looks dangerous, sometimes he just looks like he knows that he is just being god-like and omnipotent, and “Hell yeah, I’m Keith fucking richards”. Last night it was a combination of all of these.

“Start Me Up,” another one I could have done without, but at least it was a solid version and it didn’t have the overblownness it had acquired in recent years. Me, I just watched Charlie, the entire time. I had someone behind me trying to point at something – go away. Hello, this is me, this is the Stones, I know where I should be looking, and right now I’m going to watch Charlie Watts because nothing is going to happen during this song I haven’t seen before, but I am rarely so close and have such a good view of Charlie, this is when I’m going to watch him, dammit. I highly recommend it.

And then, number one in the list of Top 5 Opening Songs On An Album: “Brown Sugar” – and the confetti starts coming down from the rafters, why the fucking Stones always feel the need to shoot some kind of projectiles at us during the last few songs – I’ve still got a bag of glimmer from 97, a handful of streamers from 99 – at least last night wasn’t anything I could acquire handfuls of and dutifully cart home to sit somewhere until I figure out what I’m going to do with this stuff, exactly, someday. It’s “Brown Sugar”. What could there possibly be to not like about this song? Even the worst bar band plays a good version of “Brown Sugar,” but it’s the Stones and I’m right there and I’ve just seen the best show I’ve ever seen them do, I’ve just had an experience I am not likely to ever, ever have again, ever, I’ve just had the most perfect experience I could ever have, or at least one that will be impossible to top when it comes to the Stones – or anyone else for that matter.

So when they came back on for an encore of “Tumbling Dice” – for years I have been up in arms around this song, it goes on too long, it’s just intolerable – well, for one, it was a great version. It didn’t go on forever, it stayed true to the spirit of the original, and the horns didn’t completely fucking dominate the thing.

Then it’s over. Everyone climbs out center stage for the bow, and they are so close I think I can reach out and touch them, almost, and then the backup players leave and it’s just the four of them, arms around each other, and that’s when I started crying, when everything just hit me at once, everything I saw, everything I felt, everything I had been through with this band in my lifetime, everything this band has meant to me in my lifetime, everything I have ever dreamed of or hoped for, the fact that I got to this show, what the show was and wasn’t, feeling lucky and grateful and sad and stunned. I could not talk. I literally could not speak, at all. I didn’t want to break the bubble, I didn’t want to lose the magic, I felt like if I kept quiet long enough I could hold my breath and keep it all inside me long enough that it would never, ever go away.

Jumping Jack Flash
Live With Me
Hand Of Fate
No Expectations
Beast Of Burden
Stray Cat Blues
Everybody Need Somebody To Love
That’s How Strong My Love Is
Going To A Go-Go

Thru And Thru
You Don’t Have To Mean It

Can’t You Hear Me Knockin
Rock Me Baby
Honky Tonk Women
Start Me Up
Brown Sugar

Tumbling Dice