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Concert Review: The Rolling Stones, live in Philadelphia, 6-18-13

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It had been a few years, me and Charlie and Keef and Ronnie and Mick. Sure, I saw them at 12-12-12, but the last time before that was 2002. I wouldn’t have even been here were it not for those magical $85 tickets, the Stones hating the scalpers so much they were doing everything they could to keep them out and get us in. The $85 tickets entitle you to a random envelope with two tickets in it; we had horrible seats in the very upper level at the side of the stage, but they were $85 (and that’s including fees!). Just when I was resigned that at least they were side stage, but worried I wouldn’t be able to stand and dance, at 8:50 a gentleman appeared at our section with a stack of tickets and we were magically upgraded downstairs to the first level. Where there was plenty of room to dance, and no one sat down for any reason except to catch their breath.

The stage is magnificent, elegant, practical, without any of the bombast of previous tours. The lineup too is without bombast (with the exception of Chuck Leavell; I will get to that later). The boys and Darryl and Lisa and Bernard and Bobby Keys and another sax player. No big horn section or additional vocalists. It was more than enough.

The show opens with a short film featuring fans of the band, famous and not, talking about what the Stones mean to them–this is a 50th Anniversary tour, after all–and it was beautiful and irreverent and silly and serious. And then there they are, that moment when you realize you are in the same room as the Rolling Stones.

I kind of questioned “Get Off Of My Cloud” as an opener and don’t think the boys quite found the right pace for it, and did not think the set reached true liftoff until “Gimme Shelter” and Lisa Fisher blasting things open vocally and energetically. “Wild Horses” also felt a little flat and I was not looking forward to Brad Paisley’s “special guest” appearance, especially once I realized the fix was in on the web vote — but he brought an emotional dimension to “Dead Flowers” I felt was missing from the song that preceded it.

And then – “Emotional Rescue“! Unbelievable that this came out this tour. Unbelievable that they worked it out. Unbelievable that it stayed. I love this record–it is the great, underrated NYC Stones album as far as I’m concerned–and it worked! Mick sold the vocals, the rhythm was dead on.

“I WILL BE YOUR KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR,” I deadpanned at the end, right out loud, in a moment of not believing I actually get to do this. The 20 something guy in the row in front of me is shaking his ass; a lot of us are doing exactly that, old white guys dancing up and down the stairs, drunk girls a couple rows up, me to the best of my ability in front of my seat, banging my knees on the row in front of me. The woman my age behind me is holding her phone up to film it. It was a real Philly audience, singing when they should sing, dancing when they should dance, talking when they shouldn’t but not yelling at anyone to sit down and getting down when it counted.

The two “new” songs were moments of “Oh, wait, I know this, it’s actually not half bad,” and then “Honky Tonk Women” got the vehicle back on track, as far as I was concerned. The guitars were up high enough in the mix and it all sounded good and true and proper. All the action was back with Ronnie, Keith and Darryl, though, Darryl holding it down, taking us into the groove where Bobby Keys stepped in. It was not Bobby’s best night, and that made me sad; I have said goodbye to enough legendary sax players for my lifetime already.

The band intros followed “Honky Tonk;” Charlie getting applause from Keith, Ronnie doing the “I’m not worthy” bow. Keith’s intro led into the solo set, which was preceded by what can only be described as a victory lap. He got the center mic, he got the spotlight, he waved and mugged and gave us that Rasta salute. Philly cheered and yelled and applauded and it was as sad as it was wonderful. I do not know that I could go to multiple shows and watch that every night. It would remind me too much of my mortality as well as theirs.

It was more of a Ronnie night than a Keith night, and there were sound problems with the guitar mix especially–they would suddenly be ON, like when you’re standing down front and the monitor near you gets turned on–but Keith was in lovely voice and full of energy. “You Got The Silver” was received with surprising attention, and “Before They Make Me Run” had a boisterous sing-a-long in our section.

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And then, all of a sudden, it was the opening to “Rambler” and there was Mick Taylor. It was one of those, “Gosh, I never thought I’d see this in my lifetime,” goose-bumpy moments. I love that there is no grand intro, that they don’t make a big deal about it, he’s just there and he’s playing and I’m listening to it. I love that the guitars and Darryl all huddle back at Charlie, I loved watching them work in concert and enjoy working together. The sounds coming out of those guitars were big and in your face, and Mick managed his penchant for both mischief and malice in the right amounts: the song had depth and danger; it didn’t lose the “tourists” and it had the power that I am always looking for in that particular number. The stage was red, Mick was real, full-on Mick. He pulled his shirt up 1/3 of the way and there was an audible squeal from the pit. It was glorious. It was “Midnight Rambler,” you know? It was fucking Midnight fucking Rambler. It did itself proud.

“Miss You” was another decided ass shaker, heavy and solid. It went on too long but so many of the songs just do, you know, they always have; listen to “Tumbling Dice” on any ’73 bootleg and that horn line just will never end (and you had coked-up Jagger to contend with as well). Back in the day when I was going to more of these I would time some of the songs just to try to make a point, back when the mailing lists were full of suggestions on how to improve the setlist, and bemoaning the presence of the ‘warhorses’. This tour is a warhorse. There is no pretending it is not. Those are the songs people are paying $600 to hear; they are not interested in “Jiving Sister Fanny” (although they SHOULD be).

The audience loved “Start Me Up,” the aformentioned “Tumbling Dice” was, indeed, still too long, and in a slot where I was hoping for “Street Fighting Man,” dedicated to Taksim Square, we got “Brown Sugar.” As I have aged, I have been bothered by this song more and more, and live I could not forgive it either. But I let myself yeah-yeah-yeah-WOO the gazillion million times Mick needs to do it.

And then it was the backing track to “Sympathy,” which I was actually fine with until Chuck Leavell came in and got all show-offy and flamboyant instead of just HITTING THOSE CHORDS. Just hit them! They stand alone! They are there unadorned FOR A REASON! And then Mick is out wrapped in this crazy scary fur and there is just a little touch of malevolence, just a little, a hint, a shading, this is not a R rated “Sympathy” but it’s not G rated either, and the guitars strike and snarl and make your insides feel warm.

“A choir,” I said in the encore, “That means–” “There’s a guy with a French horn up there, WHAT ELSE COULD IT BE,” said the SO. And yes, I am setlist sequencing in my head, moving the warhorses around like chess pieces all night. I have not been setlist watching simply because of lack of time, so it is more the gesture of a retired master than anything serious. They brought out a local choir to add a fantastic, picture-perfect background to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (yes, also too long) before taking us into “Jay-Jay-Eff,” I actually said out loud, the song that defines the Stones for me more than almost anything else. As Mick pranced around the runway, I pointed out that I thought that this was the song where Mick would come out in the cherry picker, which I saw in the exact same place I was standing at the moment, the site of the former JFK Stadium, back in 1981. My first show, down from NYC, learning the trick of coming down on NJ Transit to Camden and then SEPTA across the river into Center City and changing to head down to Pattison.

And then an encore; yes, we are getting an encore, even in a show sequenced to end at 10:58 and the encore to begin at 11:01, it is the only thing it could be, which is “Satisfaction.” There is MT again, back up with the guitars, and while I understand bringing him on and could have easily named half a dozen songs I would have loved to seen him play, this would not be one of them. I do not think he added to it, I think it bloated the song, which was having trouble picking up speed. And this is “Satisfaction,” which should be sharp and sear and be the aural equivalent of a mic drop. But that song is the riff and the rhythm, and the drum break makes the fucking song. I want crisp, dammit. Perhaps I want too much.

And then the bows, and they linger, waving at us, smiling at each other. I stood at the entrance to the tunnel, watching them leave, and with both hands, blew them all a kiss, in farewell and in thanks. For everything.

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“Tumbling Dice” : Bruce & the Stones

Bruce & Mick. Photo by Mayumi Mo. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

I WASN’T THERE, regrettably (sort of), I deliberately chose to sit this circuit out (and why is a much longer and very different post). But friends were there (many, many friends were there, from all over the world) and my best friend Sharon’s husband was kind enough to send me video clips of the moment, and I watched the (illegal) clip from the PPV multiple times last night because IT IS A MOMENT.

One, Bruce is absolutely beaming. In that moment, he is that kid whose mom took him to Atlantic City to see the Stones. He is not trying to be cool or laid back, he is a 16-year-old kid getting to be onstage with THE ROLLING STONES. It is charming and infectious. It is delightful.

Despite my reservations about the song choice (see below), there is no denying that “Tumbling Dice” is a great fit with his voice. Mick gave him almost enough room, although it would have been nice if Lisa and Bernard had backed off just a tiny bit more. I loved the interplay with Ronnie and adored Ronnie and Keith circling Bruce as he took the solo and most of all loved Ronnie’s exuberant fist pump once Bruce was done. (I was grumbling about Keith not cracking a smile until the hug at the end.)

The hugs at the end! And the handshakes. And Bruce of COURSE making a beeline to shake Charlie’s hand (Mick cutting him off halfway) and then Bruce making sure he got there in the end. Keith’s face lighting up with his hug. All of that would have made it worth the price of admission.

[“Tumbling Dice” is an unfortunate choice. It is a song that, in my opinion, the Stones have never ever ever played well live. (I am not the only one to hold this opinion — yesterday when I posted, “I know what they’re playing and it’s a song the Stones never play well live,” the overwhelming response was, “Tumbling Dice?”) There are a lot of problems with the song live, usually the horns and the fact that they never seem able to figure out how to end it crisply. Last night was no exception but it was saved by the horns being much, much lower in the mix than they usually are.]

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A (Re)view From The Cheap Seats at 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief

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I am generally not a fan of festivals, mega-concerts, or gimmicky guest appearances. I try to stay away from these things. However, the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief was a confluence of too many artists I cared about for me to avoid it, and we were lucky with tickets.

My $150 “obstructed view” tickets were side-stage, just past the video screen. Two seats away and across the aisle, the $250 section started. This was a pricey gig. Obstructed meant obstructed by the side video screen, and even that wasn’t too bad; artists who put their mic at the front of the stage (like Springsteen, the Stones, and the Who) were visible enough; those who needed some distance between themselves and the audience (Roger Waters, Bon Jovi) were tough to see. Luckily most of the artists I cared about were in the former category. The video screens at the front of our section, usually used for hockey or other sporting events, worked but were mostly blocked by people standing up for the show. I think that given the ticket price, the event producers could have placed two smaller video screens facing the obstructed view sections.

Walking into the Garden was fun; there was an air of genuine excitement and anticipation. I appreciated that the entrance process (at least at 6:30) was brisk and uneventful. (It is funny to me that an event of this scope in this city at this storied venue could go so smoothly, while recent concerts I attended in Kansas City and Phoenix required the audience to enter through metal detectors. If this wasn’t a target, neither is a Bruce Springsteen show on a random Thursday.) Going up the escalators to the seating area, a time honored MSG ritual, you saw a wide representation of band shirts, mostly focusing on Stones, Springsteen and Beatles.

From 7pm onward, there were constant reminders announced over the PA: “Please take your seats, the show will begin promptly at 7:30pm.” These increased from every 10 minutes to every 5 minutes to every 2 minutes, until the lights went down and we heard the countdown, the audience joining in for the “5-4-3-2-1” and then the explosion of applause as the lights came up and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band walked onstage.

“Land of Hope and Dreams” was a little choppy to the trainspotter (*raises hand*) as the band distilled it from its usual length, but still retained majesty and power and was the absolute right choice to open the show. I expected “We Take Care Of Our Own” but thought Bruce would skip “Wrecking Ball”. Once he started playing it I understood why, but feel like the audience would have connected better with something more familiar. (The original leaked setlist had “Born To Run” as the opening song, and although I appreciated the thematic connection by using “Land of Hope And Dreams” instead, I wish he had gone with the big guns up front. This is just me being dismayed that other acts on the bill got bigger responses than Bruce did.)

The introduction of “My City of Ruins” was absolutely masterful. It was important, powerful, genuine, and a little subversive, as it spoke to the many first responders in the crowd, while in front of an audience of very monied contributors. The “Jersey Girl” tag was a fine way to incorporate history and a crowd favorite and be even more on topic, and I think a better call than performing the entire song for this crowd.

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I’m not sure Bon Jovi was necessary or added anything to “Born To Run.” However, I was glad it was “Born To Run” instead of “Jersey Girl,” which was the original plan. I am also not sure anything was served by having Bruce come out later for “You Can’t Go Home.” I don’t think that either contribution was that interesting or added anything to the performance. Born To Run does not work well as a duet; I realize that the JBJ song Bruce guested on is, but I don’t think it’s that interesting of a song choice, to be honest. (I would have rather seen Bruce come out for “Dead or Alive,” which is when we saw him walk out backstage. One advantage to our obstructed view seats is that we had a completely unobstructed view to all of the setup proceedings. Major hat tip to the stage crew, they worked hard.)

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“Born To Run” at Madison Square Garden is one of the most amazing moments of Rock and Roll, ever. “Born To Run” at any Bruce Springsteen concerts is one of my favorite things to watch. I have video clips of it from venues all over the world because it is this amazing, communal, transformative moment of unity and energy and of standing there singing one of the best songs ever written with 20k other people. “Born To Run” last night was not any of those things, and I don’t understand; who doesn’t know the words to “Born To Run”? Even if you only buy music because someone told you to buy it or fill up your iTunes library with stuff you read about you would know about “Born To Run,” right? And the rich donors downstairs who were the ones sitting on their hands are all old enough to grow up with it. In that moment, my only thought was: I understand why Bruce spends so much time in Europe. (This was amplified later when I watched the polar reaction to anything Bon Jovi did, which to me just sounds empty and poppy and sugary sweet. But then again it always has. I appreciate his politics and his charity work but sorry, dude, not my thing.)

Of course no mega concert bill will be perfect, and this one had a combination of all-time favorites as well as artists I respect but have no feelings about (Roger Waters, Alicia Keys, Billy Joel) and other artists I dislike on varying levels (Bon Jovi, Chris Martin). Roger Waters’ set could have been fine, but the song selection completely halted the momentum and energy of the show. I did appreciate that Waters wandered the stage from end to end, waving at the cheap seats all the way up in the rafters.

Eddie Vedder’s sole appearance in the night — despite a billing on the level with Chris Martin and Dave Grohl — was to join Waters for “Comfortably Numb.” Now, Roger Waters has another singer who has long hair and, if it was late at night, rainy, had lost your glasses and were hard of hearing, you might confuse this individual with Eddie Vedder (as many people tweeting from the show did, including journalists who should have known better). However, once Vedder walked out onstage and opened his mouth, all doubts were removed. He was in fine voice and did a great job on the song.

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You send Adam Sandler out to occupy the crowd during Chanukah in New York City and he does not perform “The Chanukah Song?” and insteads performs a terrible perversion of ‘Halleujah” (which I think should no longer be performed by anyone who is not Leonard Cohen or Jeff Buckley anyway). Like, I am not one of those people who stands there and yells at anyone to play their hit, but when you are at a charity concert trying to raise money, that is what you do: you play your hit.

I did not expect to have any feelings about Eric Clapton, who I respect but generally find boring. I did not find him boring tonight; I think it was playing with a trio which forced him to be energetic and dynamic and emotive. If I’d never seen Eric Clapton before, this was the Eric Clapton I would have wanted to see, instead of an all-Unplugged/”Tears In Heaven” Clapton-Lite.

This was also an appropriate precursor for the next act, as Jimmy Fallon introduced (and we shouted along with him), “Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones!”

The Rolling Stones.

I have so many feelings about the Stones. I have such a complex relationship with the Stones. It is love and hate and conflict and as I get older it does not get simpler; for example, I can’t even listen to “Brown Sugar” any more (but absolutely do not judge anyone who can; I wish I could). The last time I saw the Stones was the “No Security” tourthe Wiltern in 2002; after that, it just became so expensive and impossible to game the system and I just couldn’t justify the money, especially with all the reports from people whose opinion I trust that Keith was not himself after that “fall from a coconut tree” and Ronnie’s sobriety was questionable at best. I didn’t have the money to invest in pursuing them, and I was not sitting in the rafters with people there to just say they saw the Rolling Stones.

Like I said, it is complicated.

But last night it was just a flash and bright lights and magic and Keith and Ronnie and Charlie and Mick, and Bernard, and Chuck Leavell blocked by the large screen. I had to switch places with the SO to see Charlie better, and this was not a case where I would demur or say that I was fine; I have to see Charlie. He is the rock; he is the fulcrum.

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I hate “You Got Me Rocking” and do not see, MICK, how that song choice was going to encourage anyone to purchase the pay-per-view (the reason they were limited to two songs). I said on Twitter that YMGR is the Stones’ version of “You Better, You Bet” in that it’s a song that the band rates higher than the audience does and thinks we like it more than we actually do. It was also anticlimactic. You’re the fucking ROLLING STONES. Come out, play “Satisfaction” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” drop the mic, leave us gasping for more. YGMR was a just a let-down, once I got over the initial euphoria of seeing them again.

But then it was “Jumping Jack Flash,” and come home, all is forgiven. It was loud and and familiar and beautiful to hear, standing in this building, with the ghosts and the memories. Unlike the Who, who seemed strong and solid, the Stones seemed fragile, breakable, not entirely held together tightly enough. They are old. They have lived. They have been through a lot. I defend their right to play on a stage as long as anyone is willing to give them money (and even after that, as far as I’m concerned). I just knew at that moment that I was fine with this being au revoir, at least for now.

Alicia Keys was fine, a breather, a strong performer, the only female headliner or major performer in the lineup. (I do not count Lisa Fisher or Patti Scialfa, sorry.) She is talented. She is from New York. She did not pay the Yankee National Anthem (aka “Empire State of Mind”) at this time (although it was on the list), and I was grateful.

I don’t remember the introduction to the Who. I just knew it was coming. If I have a complicated relationship with the Stones, that is nothing compared to my emotions around Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend’s current live performing ensemble. It is complicated. Again, I support their right to perform onstage whenever they want. I am just not sure I always believe it and unlike the Stones, if Townshend and Daltrey are not believing, what is on that stage is flat and lifeless. Luckily they know this too and generally only go out if they are feeling it. But this time around, i worry about Roger’s voice, and last night showed me that — adjustments to arrangements notwithstanding — I had good cause to be concerned.

The last time I saw Pete and Roger onstage was 7-6-2002, not very long at all after we lost John. I wasn’t going to that show, even, because of ticket prices (the lawn at the Gorge was $86!) but then John decided to depart this planet and a horde of Who fans in Seattle decided I needed to go, and I ended up in the fifth row and getting a piece of Roger’s tambourine at the end of the night. I have not gone since; I have not felt the need to. I had a great run.

I sang along to “Who Are You” and wondered how many people know the story behind the song. I sing along with absolute precision to “Bellboy” — a curious choice for a Quadrophenia number when the entire album is rehearsed and you have the horns there; no “Real Me”? No “5:15”? — and was lost in my teenage remembrances of hearing this record for the first time, of discovering this story, until I stopped to think, “Oh, wait, there’s the Keith bit in this song, who’s going to do–” and my reverie is interrupted by Hologram Keith Moon on the big screen, Roger facing him, as a backing tape brings Moonie into MSG. This was disturbing, and jarring, and even more upsetting as Roger seemed to interact with the screen, waving goodbye to him at the end.

The kids behind me jumped up and down and up and down as Pete started “Pinball WIzard” and I was glad that all was not lost, that, despite no one seeming to care about “Born To Run,” that “Pinball Wizard” got the respect it is due. I had just settled in to enjoying that, when I realized what was next, and “Listening To You” was overwhelming. It was always overwhelming, but this was homecoming, this was ancient times, this was love and time and, you know, so much, everything you know, everything you remember.

“Love, Reign O’er Me” was a heartbreak moment, can Roger sing it, can he do it, there was a collective, audible sigh of relief from the audience after he got through the first verse. And it was fine, it was fair enough, good enough, but sad, for a man that didn’t smoke and took care of his voice and was by far not the biggest drug user of the 60s, I wish he still had more of it. But this is a demanding piece and Quadrophenia is vocally demanding and emotionally demanding and musically demanding and while I admire wanting to tackle it again I wonder if it was necessary. But he got through it, and we applauded gently, and with feeling.

And then “Baba” to end it, everyone should have the chance to sing “Teenage wasteland, it’s only teenage wasteland” in a crowd of 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden, everyone who cares about rock and roll should anyway. It is a thing you should do. It is a thing you should see. It is a thing you should feel.

“Tea & Theater” was at the end, no musicians, just Pete and Roger, stripped down. I questioned this move, wanting something like “Bargain” or “Join Together” or one of the great Who songs about the audience, one of those anthemic, slightly obscure, unifying songs. But “Tea & Theater” actually did that, because it was for the people who genuinely cared about Pete and Roger, and it was genuine and raw and at the end, Pete shouted for everyone to go get a fucking beer.

Which most people did, or tried to do; it was time to run out and get a drink and take a breath and try to find a snack (it was a very long night; they were sold out of hot pretzels everywhere at this point). I was willing to sacrifice missing some of Kanye for all of this but we got back to our seats just as he was starting. Kanye had massive sound problems, and was the first act for whom I needed to use my earplugs.

I do not dislike Kanye West. I own records by Kanye West. Kanye had the thankless task of performing in the middle of a lineup he didn’t fit in, in front of an audience that didn’t care that he was there. And frankly, he brought it. He worked his ass off. He sang to the entire crowd, he worked the peanut gallery, he paid attention to the cheap seats. He donated his time to this charity, and he was paid back by the prime floor seats vacating, leaving the front section very empty. Now, truth be told, those people might have left after the Stones and the Who no matter who was next. But I was insulted on Kanye’s behalf.

The people who did stay did their best to dance and be into it (even Chris Christie was paying attention!) but I disliked the general rockist antipathy against Kanye because he was the only rap artist in the lineup. I mean, I hate Chris Martin and Coldplay, but I can sit down and read my email while he’s onstage and can also say, I don’t like his music at all, but he showed up in a suit and prepared and seemed sincere (and the Stipe thing was mega cool, but more on that later). It was ridiculous to watch the reaction of people to the skirt — people who probably own more than a couple of David Bowie or KISS records — and then people overreacting to the abbreviated “Golddigger,” when they didn’t have any problem with Roger Waters not changing the “do goody-good bullshit” lyrics to “Money” earlier in the show.

The mic drop to end the set was classic.

(Not surpassingly, it was a very, very white crowd last night. I was pleased to see that my section had a reasonable diversity of age and sex; there were young kids and people with grey hair and families and teenagers. I was also pleased to see that interests were wide-ranging; the African-American girl who danced to Kanye was wearing a Stones shirt; the teenagers behind us were excited and up and bopping around to everything; the 30-something women in front of me were most excited by the Who; the business-looking dude on the aisle perked up when I noted Charlie Watts’ drum kit being wheeled into position backstage: “That’s Charlie’s kit, right?”; the group of middle-aged folks down the row sneaking cigarettes all night (grr) cared about BIlly Joel and Pink Floyd. People got up or sat down depending on the artist or the song, and aside from some initial grumbles, it was very much live and let live up in the cheap seats. This was a surprising relief, as I have known plenty of people who have had stuff thrown at them for standing up during concerts.)

I realized I have not talked about any of the videos or special guests from the various hurricane Sandy areas. In our position in the obstructed view seats, it was tough to see the video. I appreciated the recognition but also felt like there was a little too much promo for Robin Hood; there were a lot of people doing good after the hurricane, all over this city, churches and council people and community boards and other organizations, like Occupy Sandy. As a New Yorker, that part did irk me, more and more as the night went on.

After Kanye’s set was about the time I started to feel a little burnt out, a little, “Wait, what time is it and who else is left?” It was a good time to sit down and have a snack (thank you, Kind bar thrown into my purse) and wait for Billy Joel.

I was trying to explain how I felt about Billy Joel, which is that I don’t hate him but he’s never been my thing (although I hated some of the songs at the time they came out, because they were everywhere, all the time, and because, as Will Hermes pointed out on Twitter, back in the day, you chose Bruce or Billy, not both.) But there’s always been something I’ve liked at Billy Joel, the songwriting, the large band, the saxophone player, the very New York attitude, the lack of pretense. He was in great shape, and it was great to see him in great shape. And I know every word to every song whether I want to or not.

I was rolling my eyes at Chris Martin and managed to safely ignore “Viva La Vida” but then the SO says, “Hey, it’s the garden gnome,” which is our code for Michael Stipe (he wears this hat in the winter that makes him look like a garden gnome, and used to show up to the Patti Smith December shows with it all the time) and this may have leaked on been rumored (it’s so hard for me to remember right now), but Michael Stipe singing “Losing My Religion” in front of all these people again was a beautiful, wonderful, fun thing.

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(12-12-12 was the most-leaked major concert event I have ever seen. There were leaks of information as soon as they started rehearsing, and you didn’t have to look very hard. I was offered information on an off-the-record basis Wednesday morning and as soon as that email arrived, another one did with the same information, without any type of embargo. I had the entire lineup card not long before I walked in the building. Usually I like surprises (I was very, very glad I had avoided all of the spoilers for the ROck & Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary concerts) but tonight I was just glad I knew when I had enough time to run to the bathroom before the Stones.)

And now, you know, the Beatle. The last time I saw Paul McCartney it was from the front row in Hyde Park, in the mud and the rain. Now I am seeing him with his band and they are razor-sharp and tight as hell and support him so very very well. The first few minutes of “Helter Skelter” I was all, “If we all just got pranked by the UK press I am going to be pissed,” but then I was just glad to hear “Helter Skelter” being sung by a Beatle.

I was a fan of Wings so quite enjoyed the unexpected “Let Me Roll It” and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” appearances. I could question the wisdom of those selections after midnight, but at least they were songs a percentage of the people in that building and watching wanted to hear, and not the next song, a forgettable love song written for the current Mrs. McCartney, performed by DIana Krall.

(PAUL. IF YOU WANT TO PERFORM A LOVE SONG ON PIANO, TRY ‘MAYBE I’M AMAZED.’)

But “Blackbird” was perfect and special and everyone sang or sort of held their breath that they were in this moment, this beautiful perfect moment that went back to the first time they put the needle into side two of the White Album and it crackled into this track, and we all remembered.

We had seen Novoselic wandering around backstage earlier (he is the world’s tallest man; he is easy for someone who lived in Seattle for 10 years to identify even from the cheap seats) and then later the SO spotted Grohl, so we had a matched set. And then I heard Paul effing McCartney say the words, “Pat Smear,” and world collided, tectonic plates shifted, and we entered the bizarro world. Not because of sacred cows or any kind of punk cred, but because who would have ever thought this, ever envisioned this. I never got to see Nirvana; I was living overseas at the time, and despite thwarted attempts to go to Rome or go to Reading, I just thought, “I’ll see them when I move back to the States,” and then Kurt shuffled off this mortal coil about two months later once I did.

It was weird. And good. And weird. And interesting. And, as was noted by someone else, more Plastic Ono Band than Wings [disclaimer: I work there], but that was okay, too. So it was random. So it was unprecedented. If they had been able to pull it off without fifty million leaks it would have blown everyone’s minds.

“I’ve Got A Feeling” was, largely, unnecessary (even though I kind of like the song, or liked the vocals and guitar on the bridge), and hell, I love love love “Live And Let Die.” However, the last thing in the world I expected was full out, 80’s-heavy-metal stadium-quality pyro to explode full throttle on that stage at 1 o’clock in the morning. It was crazy. It was wonderful. It made me worry about the musicians and the photographers and the audience and the large group of firefighters and first responders amassed backstage for the encore.

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That group of civilians was the definitive sign that we weren’t going to get any kind of grand jam finale (as well as the utter dearth of additional equipment), and it was actually okay that we weren’t getting some half-hearted shuffle through a Beatles song. But, when Alicia Keys walked out and sat down, I realized what it was going to be, and steeled myself to either leave, or just grin and bear it. But you know what? Without Jay-Z rapping about the Yankees, it’s a lovely, lovely song. And I am sorry, Alicia, that we could not sing it with you or back to you or even manage a respectably loud enough “NEW YORK” response at 1:17 in the morning, because you deserved it, you really did. But I walked out of the Garden singing it, hummed it as I grabbed a taxi back to Brooklyn on 34th Street, and am kind of glad that the demons have been exorcised from it, at least for now.

It was long, maybe too long, and disjointed and crazy and wonderful and amazing, truly amazing that this lineup could be thrown together so quickly, that there was very little filler, that it ran as well as it probably could run, that it was not a total debacle, that it made money and will help people. It is the kind of thing that makes me glad I live in this city, it is a night that you hold close to you when the rest of the bullshit gets to be too much. It is a something that I will always remember and we don’t get that many of those.

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The Music of the Rolling Stones, Carnegie Hall, 3-13-12

Michael Dorf presents
The Music of the Rolling Stones
Carnegie Hall, March 13, 2012

This was the most star-studded Carnegie tribute benefit show out of the five I have attended (Springsteen, R.E.M., The Who, Neil Young). The announced performers were strong from the outset, it didn’t feel like the organizers were scrambling for talent (which is what it seems like sometimes, with the lineup only filling out a few weeks before the actual show). That’s why it was so surprising that it was so uneven and ultimately unsatisfying.

Unlike previous shows, there was structure: it was going to be the songs from Hot Rocks and they were going to be performed in order, which I do not understand; it’s not like this was Exile On Main Street where track sequencing would actually matter. Sometimes structure is liberating; other times it is just, well, restricting. Unfortunately it was the latter tonight.

THE GOOD: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” performed by Jovanotti, Members of TV On The Radio, and a high school choir was inspired and energetic. “Wild Horses” which was originally billed as just Marc Cohn, but added Rosanne Cash and Jackson Browne. People were going nuts and it was performed as well as the song could be performed but it just wasn’t that exciting. (I realize the song isn’t that exciting, and would call it ‘overrated’ in the canon myself.)

THE VERY GOOD: Ronnie Spector handled “Time Is On My Side” well. Marianne Faithful with “As Tears Go By.” A little disappointed that David Johansen, a clear favorite, didn’t bring more to “Get Off Of My Cloud.” Taj Mahal brought along a tremendous female vocalist to accompany him on “Honky Tonk Women,” which brought up the energy in the room.

THE EXCELLENT: Peaches played “Heart of Stone” fairly straight, with more than a little Janis Joplin, I thought. Steve Earle rocked out “Mother’s Little Helper” commendably. Ian Hunter absolutely brought it for “19th Nervous Breakdown,” surprising even me (and I’m a fan). Ian was one of the only performers to note that he was at Carnegie Hall, that he had seen Frank Sinatra here, and that Sinatra had stood where he was standing now. A little bit of nerves can be a good thing, I think.

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The Mountain Goats were excited and enthused but still struck the right tone for a stripped down “Paint It Black” on piano and drums; I hate to say something like “they practiced and it showed” but I always have respect for someone who cared about doing a good job.

Gomez performed an exceedingly brave arrangement of “Jumping Jack Flash” that slowed it down and sped it up and then ended it on a Ramones-worthy pace; initially you weren’t sure this was a good idea but by the second verse you could feel people’s attention creeping back and they got a big hand at the end. Angelique Kidjo tore up “Street Fighting Man” and was one of the better matches between artist and material in that stretch of the show.

Rickie Lee Jones and “Sympathy For The Devil” could have been a huge trainwreck but the performance was flawless and it actually worked, the people around me who suddenly got all chatty because it was relatively quiet shut up by the second verse, and the fans up in the cheap seats were adding faint “woo-woo”‘s in the appropriate places at the end. At first it seemed to throw her off, but by the end she was doing it herself, working it into her arrangement.

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Finally, I loved Rosanne Cash’s “Gimme Shelter”; it was warm and not as angry or fierce but it was loud and strong and absolutely valid.

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Last but not least: the house band, which was basically Patti Smith’s band, led by the inestimable Lenny Kaye, plus a keyboardist I did not recognized. This was an inspired choice, because these guys actually played in cover bands and could follow the artists as they made their way and sometimes struggled through the material. Only complaint is that sometimes they just weren’t loud enough.

THE QUESTIONABLE: Glen Hansard is a tremendous talent but – “Under My Thumb”? One of these things is not like the other, said my brain when this pairing was announced. I appreciated his arrangement, with a stand-up bass and minimal guitar, but asking the auditorium to snap their fingers – I am sorry but this is not a crowd participation number in any way, shape or form. This was just a huge mismatch that didn’t work.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops performing “Midnight Rambler” was something I was very interested in, but I feel like they didn’t take it far enough. They stripped the lyrics down and cut out most of them and I feel like this was largely a missed opportunity.

Jackson Browne and “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” acoustic; the crowd went nuts because it was Jackson Browne but this just left me flat. Even the idea of it would leave me flat.

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THE UNNECESSARY: Juliette Lewis saunters out in rhinestone high heels and glitter hot pants and attempts to sing “Satisfaction.” She meant well, I am sure, but she cannot sing, and she has no rock and roll stage presence. She shouted, she ran around, she over-sang, and the audience, being old white men of a particular age, ate up the fact that she has awesome legs and is cute. I have no quibble with her acting but she does not belong onstage performing rock and roll. I cannot believe there was no qualified musician available to perform this particular number.

THE UNINSPIRED: Oh, I just don’t know where to start here. “Brown Sugar” by Jackie Green (straightforward and unmemorable), “Play With Fire” by Rich Robinson (missing emotional timbre entirely), and the worst offender, “Ruby Tuesday” by Art Garfunkel, which just completely emasculated the song and turned it into an AOR arrangement.

The show’s ending was unfortunate. Marianne Faithful was brought back out to perform “Sister Morphine” and while most Stones fans actually give a damn, this was the equivalent of letting the air out of the balloon for most of the people who were there, because it was the cue that there were no actual Rolling Stones in the building. I don’t think this was fair to Marianne and it wasn’t the best note to end the show on; c’mon, it was SISTER MORPHINE for heaven’s sake, the song she wrote about overdosing, that she had to fight with the Stones about to get her fair share of royalties – this is not how you want to end this night that’s supposed to be celebrating 50 years of the Rolling Stones making music, or all the people who just donated money to help keep music programs in schools.

And, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, either rehearse the finale jam number with all participants, or drop it. This is the third time I’ve had to watch people walk out with lyric sheets and mill around the stage and kill any energy that was left in the room because they didn’t know the words or the song. “Tumbling Dice” is quite possibly the Stones’ worst live number–even back in the day, through the magic of bootlegs, it went on and on and on and has none of the energy of the original. As an encore number that only a few musicians were actually interested in, it just stopped things cold, especially once people were fleeing the auditorium during “Sister Morphine” (and may I add, shame on you).

It’s a great cause and a great concept and as long as I’m interested in the artist who is the subject of the tribute, I’ll definitely be coming back.

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shine a light

[trailer removed because it was on a freaking loop with no control buttons. go to www.shinealightmovie.com to see it yerself]

My problem with this remains that the house (well, the orchestra) is fake, and I think history deserved a real fucking audience with real fucking fans, no matter how old, wrinkled and unattractive the fan base might be.

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dear mick and keith

Dear Mick, Keith, Charlie and Woody:

You know, I was kind of proud of you on the last tour, you didn’t release a new album of crappy half-baked songs that we would all pretend that we liked oh so much in order to seem relevant, you just toured. It was easy for me to ignore the gonzo ticket prices because we found a way to beat the system by buying fan club memberships and going to the small theater shows, which were of course the cheapest (so Michael Kohl can say to the media, “We are fairly priced, we have tickets priced from $45 to $350.”) Even with splitting the cost of a fan club membership (we just pretended it was like a Ticketmaster ‘convenience charge’) it was still cheaper and we were still closer than we would be at the Tacoma Dome or FedEx Field. Sure, we had to spend all day sitting on the sidewalk on a cardboard box like a homeless person, but as Laura’s husband Joel put it, “This is the price you pay to see the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.”

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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 rollingstones.com 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 rs.com 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.

Setlist:
Jumping Jack Flash
Live With Me
Neighbours
Hand Of Fate
No Expectations
Beast Of Burden
Stray Cat Blues
Dance
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
Bitch
Honky Tonk Women
Start Me Up
Brown Sugar

Encore:
Tumbling Dice

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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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