Which version do you want? The one wherein creepy old men have trouble playing their own material or the one wherein legendary rock stars remind their audience of what once was and never will be?
The vibe was amazing…
Remember when you used to go to the show and not only were you excited, but you could feel the buzz, it was palpable? Sure, many came in limos, but with security checks we were all in line together outside, reminding ourselves that the seventies were the heyday of our lives, and despite crumbling bodies, we once ruled and our music still does.
There were no young people in attendance. It’s too expensive to take your kids for a glimpse. Sure, there were a few people under drinking age, but mostly it was boomers, with lumpy bodies but eager faces. Orange County isn’t where you go to parade, but experience…
The World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band.
Only they weren’t.
Give the Stones credit. They’re actually playing!
And that’s the problem… Mick’s giving it his all, he probably needs oxygen and a blood transfusion when it’s over, but Keith is waltzing along, hitting half the notes and frequently unable to play his own signature riffs.
Like “Gimmie Shelter”… How many times did I sit in the dark with my headphones on listening to that eerie sound? Keith just couldn’t get the riff right. As for “Satisfaction”…I’m not sure he’s listened to the record.
But then he’d surprise you and toss off a perfectly executed intro to “Paint It Black.”
So if this was any other band, there’d be a plethora of extra people, behind the curtain, doubling for the faces.
Speaking of which, Ronnie was much better than Keith, but he never fit into the band to begin with, he could never replace Mick Taylor. Who came out and positively blew us away with fluid notes on “Midnight Rambler.” He may look like crap, but he can still make his axe sing! Proving once again, that it all comes down to individuals, you can’t replace an artist, it’s never the same.
But I’m WAY ahead of myself.
The intro movie… Was on such a small screen as to be hard to see, famous people testifying as to the greatness of the Stones. This was superfluous, you can either stand on your own or you can’t. And curiously, during the show the video screen fit the entire stage, making it much more visible…it was not the best Stones stage of all time, you didn’t see it and have your jaw drop, like it did for U2′s 360, but it was beyond serviceable.
But that was what the band was…until the aforementioned “Gimmie Shelter.”
It’s weird, because as buzzed as the audience was before the show, during it they were relatively sedate, there were no peaks, until Lisa Fischer sang Merry Clayton’s part.
Lisa’s the star of “Twenty Feet From Stardom” and she’s the star of the first half of the Stones show too. She misses not a note, her voice is so powerful, she exudes the sex in rock and roll that Mick Jagger can’t, since he’s dieted down to nothing, you can almost see his bones. What a sentence that must be, being unable to eat so you can fulfill the image of your audience, which has aged itself.
Hell, Lisa was not svelte, but if you think sex is about appearances, you’ve never done it. It’s about a spirit inside. And Lisa evidenced hers.
And the next highlight was…JOHN MAYER!
Yes, he made it on soft rock ditties. Yes, he was overexposed. Yes, he said some stupid things. Yes, he dates every starlet on the cover of “People.” But now that his moment in the spotlight is gone, we can see his legend is deserved, he can truly wail, and he did, on “Champagne and Reefer.”
Don’t know that song?
Interestingly, the three non-hits were some of the biggest triumphs. “Doom and Gloom” was great, and “One More Shot” was almost as good. With our expectations low, with the Stones not needing to live up to the legend, they could stretch out and play.
And that’s where you’d want to see them, a place where they don’t replicate the hits, but improvise, groove, noodle and impart energy. Like a club.
But they’re too big for that.
And yes, as reported, Keith’s voice is better than ever, even though he looks like the crypt-keeper, but he kept pulling his mouth away from the mic, and it’s not like he’s got a phenomenal voice to begin with.
So they’re running through the hits. And some renditions are so pedestrian, you’d wince if you didn’t know them by heart and were somewhat thrilled to hear them live.
“It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)” was…eh.
“Waiting On A Friend” verged on execrable.
“Emotional Rescue”…Mick did a good job, I’ve got no idea where the band was.
But then came the new tracks and “Midnight Rambler.” Took a while to find the groove, but then the two Micks were off and running, the interplay was fantastic, Jagger running around the ramp and Taylor whipping off fine notes that had the weight of whipped cream but the substance of steak. This was what once was. Sure, Jagger no longer whips his scarf, the lights don’t jump in time, but it all works and you’re happy to be there.
And then comes “Sympathy For The Devil.”
Well, not exactly…
“Miss You” misses.
“Start Me Up” is pretty good, one just wishes it was more than a trifle.
“Tumbling Dice” verges on bad.
Everybody throws his hands in the air for “Brown Sugar,” but thinking back to the dorm room ritual, this was a pale imitation of then original experience.
It’s unmistakable, because it’s on tape.
The intro to “Sympathy For The Devil.”
And Mick comes prancing out in a coat of feathers and he’s shimmying and Charlie’s hitting the skins and Chuck Leavell is tickling the ivories and you start to tingle and you tell yourself…THIS IS IT!
Yup, classic Stones show. Just when you’re about to write them off, they deliver completely and you’re reminded of not only who they once were, but who you were too.
Jagger’s spitting the lyrics. The whole band is locked into the groove. And it’s not nostalgia, it’s got the power of today.
I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
This is rock and roll! Yes, Jagger’s so old he might really have been there, but once upon a time rock was about attitude, not a pose, but a real standing outside the mainstream with your middle finger displayed. And despite this dash for cash, suddenly Jagger is once again that person.
Killed the Czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain
That’s what the Stones once represented. And now they’re locked on. They’ve transcended the audience. They’re in their own bubble and we’re privileged to be able to observe. And the song goes on, the riffs are torn off, the backup singers contribute, and you’re smiling like you’ve just had your first orgasm, or maybe a return visit to the person who took your virginity, it was just that special.
And the closer, “Satisfaction,” was not.
Slightly better was the previous number, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Not quite as good as “Sympathy For The Devil” was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
Yes, they had USC’s choir, yes the French horn played. But what made the song was not the intro or the famous outro, but Jagger’s performance of the lyrics.
Suddenly, he stopped having to prove himself and just sang, and it was more than enough, it was transcendent. This is everything it used to be, an album cut more famous than the hits on AM, something we hear and get transported by.
So there you have it. A few momentary gems amongst a sea of…if not exactly mediocrity, workmanlike performance.
I can see why Jagger wanted to go solo. Keith is trouble. It’d be better to find someone who can play!
But Keith wrote so many of the riffs. And when he occasionally locks on, you swoon!
But it’s occasionally. He’s busy mugging, if only someone else played his part and he performed accents.
And the Stones are loyal, Bobby Keys was there looking not quite as bad as Mick Taylor, and he blew, but you were not blown away.
And yes, Darryl Jones has more fluidity than Bill Wyman, but Bill was basic, just like Charlie, and that was part of the Stones’ magic, like all great recipes, add too much and you kill it.
And Ronnie Wood’s legendary days were with Rod Stewart…who’s making the mistake of flogging a new album. We don’t care. Nobody does. Almost no one can sell an album, cut it for yourself, not your audience, then you’ve got a chance of word of mouth blowing up, we crave authenticity.
And this was the authentic Stones last night. Especially with Mick Taylor.
I know it’s all about money, but Taylor should have been on stage all night, he would have helped.
As for those in the audience…
They don’t go to shows on a regular basis. They’re all about lifestyle, the SUV with the boat and the island vacations, wherein the Stones’ music plays on the stereo.
They’ve all got smartphones, but unlike they’re kids they’re not early adopters, they’ve got one foot stuck in the past.
So they go to see the Stones to remind themselves of who they once were, how they once lived, when you could smoke dope and it wouldn’t be caught on camera, when you had to go to the show to be not only hip but in the loop, when music was the most powerful medium in the world.
It’s not now.
And soon, the dinosaurs who created the paradigm will no longer walk the earth.
So, if you want to catch a glimpse, this could really be the last time.
But if you want to keep your memories intact, you could miss it.