The Rolling Stones continue their amazing reign as the elder monarchs of the Rock World. Their massive "A Bigger Bang" world tour is the hottest ticket on the market & with good reason. The Stones are a guaranteed commodity & they deliver the goods every time.
The Rolling Stones retain their massive popularity through sheer hard work, despite occasional mis-fires. Its a legacy that continues to grow with each passing recording & tour. God knows they don't need the money. What makes them so inspiring to me is their passion & drive, not to mention their well of creativity, professionalism, marketing savvy & trend-setting stylism.
I know I won't miss another Stones tour. Age is not a factor here. It's an honour to see these grizzled warriors displaying their craft. Personally I hope they continue to perform into their 80s, like the old blues singers that inspired them in the first place.
A brief & obvious history: Jagger & Richards first met as school-mates in short pants when they were in primary grades in 1954, the year I was born. By the time they got a band together with Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman & Brian Jones in 1962, they had know idea they'd be spending the next 43+ years rocking together. If they continue for another 7 years they'll be celebrating 50 years as a band!
When the Stones first started rolling, they were a largely derivative unit of Blues/RnB mimicking upstarts, riding the Beatles first wave of the British Invasion into the TV sets of North America & eventually the world. Many people will disagree on this point, but John & Paul did lend the Stones their first hit with "I Wanna be Your Man".
More ragged & blues-oriented than the Pop-starry Liverpudlians, London's young Rolling Stones gave us a dangerous alternative to the Beatles cherubic image. And once Jagger & Richards charted with their first self-penned hit "Tell Me", they seldom leaned on anyone else. Their legendary hits proferred on "High Tide & Green Grass" in 1966 already revealed the group's greatness as songwriters.
The album "Their Satanic Majesty's Request", (the Stones' 1967 response to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper) has long been considered an embarrassment. I disagree. The album did feature brilliant artwork & two classic songs: "She's a Rainbow" & "2000 Light Years From Home", but in retrospect it should have contained the singles "We Love You" & Dandelion", as well as the lesser known period piece, "Child of the Moon". With this augmentation the album would stand in much higher regard as a progressive document of the psychedelic 60's.
After all, the Beatles remarketing machine recently had the revamped "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" released to great acclaim. And besides, the Beatles followed up Pepper with the disjointed "Magical Mystery Tour", while the Stones roared back in 1968 with a dark vengeance on "Beggar's Banquet", followed closely by "Let It Bleed" in 1969, both legendary albums, fusing acoustic roots-rock with electric blues.
We all know that Lennon & McCartney permanently parted ways in 1970, so you have to give the edge to the venerable Stones with their jaw-dropping catalogue of hits. If the Rolling Stones' legacy only consisted of their 60's output, which ended with the live, "Get Your Ya Ya's Out", from the ill-fated Altamont tour, they would still have to be considered with the Beatles, as one of the two greatest acts of that explosive decade. As it is, in 1971 the Stones, despite rampant unhealthy lifestyles, managed to give us the magnificent "Sticky Fingers" as their introduction to the dissolute 70's.
Scandal has come to be expected from these bad boys of R&R. Jagger's ongoing amorous peccadilloes & Keef's notorious drug busts/Swiss blood exchanges, for example. Almost every post-'72 album from the Stones has been released to scathing disregard. They soldier on in spite of jibes from the media, which has delighted over the years in ridiculing their efforts, writing them off as passe or out of focus. Most artists would wither from this treatment, but the Stones have always taken it in stride & it simply adds to their mystique.
When "Exile on Main Street" first came out in 1972, it was panned by critics. The dark sprawl of the recording even confused many of their long-time fans. Now it is considered to be the best double album in rock history. Talk about revisionism.
Some people say that "Exile" was their last great album. I don't think this is true, although the consistancy of each subsequent album in the 70's & 80s would have to be questioned. "Goats Head Soup" & "It's Only Rock & Roll" both contain several important songs that continue to retain their vitality. A major turning point here was 1976's stylistically strong, "Black & Blue" which introduced Ron Wood to us all, as the new Stone Apparent (guitarist Mick Taylor's replacement).
While Woody injected new life into the group's dynamics, by 1978 the "Some Girls" album was looked upon by many as a desperate attempt to stay current. It presented the Stones with a punked-up sound that was out of sync with Jagger's Pop-tart posturing of the day. (BTW: It's consider a classic now.) By 1980's "Emotional Rescue", it seemed like the group was exhausted of creativity & devoid of meaning. The 80's were somewhat of a forgotten decade for the Stones, starting strongly with "Tattoo You", floundering slightly with "Undercover" (a good song & kooky video), then skidding into internal dissolution with "Dirty Work" in 1986. Even this album had it's moments with the funky remake of "Harlem Shuffle" & the battling rocker, "One Hit to the Body". But by 1989 the Glimmer Twins had sorted out their various differences & got back to focusing on writing & performing. With their massive "Steel Wheels" tour as a model, the Stones continue Rolling to this day.
In time many of the Stones recordings of the last 20 years will be reinspected & also found to be of a more significant stature. Even "Steel Wheels", "Voodoo Lounge" & "Bridges to Babylon", have been slagged by pessimists as hollow echoes of the Stones' former greatness. I see these recordings as vital documents of the Glimmer Twins remarkable, continuing songwriting skills.
The Rolling Stones newest studio CD, "A Bigger Bang" is yet another journeyman recording that codifies the Stones' unique & recognizable sound. Most concert goers pay to hear the greatest hits, & while this band does not disappoint them in that department, the Stones are not merely content to simply rework their substantial back-catalogue as a nostalgia act. The Rolling Stones continue to be inspired to create new classics & deliver them with no-nonsense style.
Between defining trashy rock & delivering sweet balladry, Jagger & Richards must be commended for pulling off yet another recording of merit. "A Bigger Bang" adds a few more instant classics to that ever growing setlist. It's not that they need the money. They obviously love what they do. Writing is their passion.
The ballad "Streets of Love" with its confessional falsetto delivery is an instantly recognizable hook, along the lines of "Fool to Cry". And on "Biggest Mistake" when Jagger tenderly delivers the chorus lyric "and I think I just made- the biggest mistake of my life...", he is perhaps reflecting on his relatively recent parting from Jerri Hall. This sentimentality is nicely balanced with a gritty acoustic blues, "The Back of My Hand", featuring Jagger's snarly harmonica & vocals, which harkens back to the early Stones cover of Slim Harpo's "I'm a Kingbee".
Keith Richards' standard gruff offerings are both here, a sandpaper ballad called "This Place is Empty" & a bit of self-mocking wordplay on the rocker "Infamy". In my opinion Keith's rough-hewn ability to reach out & touch your heart is the Stones' secret weapon. That & the anchor of drummer Charlie Watts unerring backbeat.
Turgid thumpers like "Rough Justice", "Dangerous Beauty" & "Oh No, Not You Again" display the bruising ferocity of Keef & Ronnie's guitar intermeshings, while both the moody reggae-inflected "Rain Fall Down" & the lascivious skank of "She Saw Me Coming" would have fit nicely in the "Black & Blue" period.
The least cohesive track on the new CD is "My Sweet Neocom", a swipe at the George Bush regime. It's just not a good fit with the rest of the album. Maybe it'll grow on me more after GWB self-destructs. These days with CDs getting crammed with up to 80 minutes of programming, it is hard to get excited about every cut of anybody's release, let alone the Rolling Stones. I think that recordings just feel better with 10 to 12 cuts, but thats' my observation & I've broken that rule myself. Another gripe is the CD packaging which is badly laid-out & hard to read. Don't tell me I need glasses. That print is way too small!
The Rolling Stones in concert: November 1st, Rosegarden, Portland Oregon:
Opening act Motley Crewe had their work cut out for them from the start here. Its always hard to open for a legend & the Stones' fans have been known to be vociferous & impatient at times. The Crewe did their nasty best to hold the fort for their set & managed to do quite well, despite having a guitarist that makes Keith Richards look like a young health nut.
Drummer, Tommy Lee kept the beat pounding, while lead singer, Vince Ready exhorted the Stones fans to "make some F-ing noise M-F-ers!" Add a hellish roar from the cadaverous guitar maven, a bit of pyrotechnics & some typically obnoxious rock posturing & the audience was suitably warmed up for the headliners.
After a quick turnaround by the roadies, which allowed a visit to the beer-line up & merchandise tables, the stage was set for the Rolling Stones. The air was electric as they took the stage, opening with "Start Me Up"(of course), which provoked thunderous adulation & we never looked back for solid two hours of sheer magic, which was effectively augmented by a video camera crew, feeding live footage to the jumbo screen on the back of the stage.
Fully expecting a healthy slice of new material, the Stones waited til song 5 (after "It's Only RnR"; "She's So Cold",& "Tumbling Dice") to introduce "Oh No Not You Again" from the Bigger Bang CD. Next they toned it down with a seldom performed "Angie", a lovely rendition, probably replacing "Wild Horses" which I wished they'd have played instead.
Next up was the heavy grind of "Midnight Rambler", with Mick giving his harmonica an effective workout. Charlie's drum shots boomed like a cannon, as Keith slashed into "All Down the Line" which brought the concert to a departure from the usual setlist, with a Ray Charles cover, "The Night Time is the Right Time", which had us all on our feet singing on the choruses again.
Mick welcomed visitors from Vancouver, Canada at this point & introduced the backing band, which was augmented by long-time sidemen, Chuck Leavell on keyboards; the solid & attentive, Darryl Jones on bass; the brilliant vocal trio of Blondie Chapman, Bernard Fowler & Lisa Fisher & finally a horn section led by the Stones' inimitable saxophonist, Bobbie Keys.
Mick then turned the stage over to Keith, who opened his spot with a ballad from the "Steel Wheels" album. This performance inspired me to research & revisit the band's later recordings & I'm glad I did it. Believe me, there wasn't a dry eye in the house after Keith's performance of "Slipping Away". Feel the LOVE! Keef followed this up with "Infamy" from Bigger Bang. Keith & Charlie are so locked in, it is impossible not to groove on every song they play.
We knew something was up when the vocal trio & horn section exited & the core group clustered in mid-stage. As the unmistakable intro to "Miss You" started, the centre section of the stage began to roll slowly forward into the middle of the Rosegarden Arena, which is already an intimate 3-tiered NBA basketball venue.
This brought the band eye-to-eye with the crowd & was a very effective "upping of the ante" performance-wise. The core group then broke into the new song, "Rough Justice", a typical Stones thumper that had the crowd on its feet. This was quickly followed by "You Got Me Rocking", from "Voodoo Lounge", before opening into the unmistakable intro of "Honky Tonk Women". As this song progressed, the stage slowly returned to its original location & by the second verse the horns & vocal section were back in the mix & the place went wild when Bobbie Keys took his sax solo!
"Sympathy For the Devil" followed before Keys got another chance to freak everybody out on "Brown Sugar", where Mick did some sexy interplay with singer, Lisa Fisher's earthy dancing. The last song of the main set was "Satisfaction", which was gritty & intense & set the audience up for some serious hollering.
The crowd roared for about 5 minutes straight before the band returned for two encores, "You Can't Aways Get What You Want" & finally "Jumping Jack Flash". Two hours of bliss & too soon it was over. As the crowd filed out in a satisfied & envigorated stupor it occurred to me that I had never seen such an orderly exit from a rock show. Everybody was peaced out & exhausted by participating in the event.
On the walk back to the hotel I realized they hadn't played "Paint it Black". This fact alone makes me want to see them again ASAP. I just found out they've added a second show in Las Vegas on March 4th. That happens to be my birthday, so I'm just crossing my fingers & buying more 6/49 tickets, just in case...
As a performing band the Rolling Stones continue to have what it takes. There are other mature artists of note still kicking the can & doing a bloody good job of it (eg: Dylan/Bowie/McCartney/Neil Young) & not to disregard any new artists' youthful stars shining. Come to think of it ZZ Top & ACDC are also up there in years as cohesive units, but even they can't match the Stones variety of styles, talents, impact & longevity. For sheer tenacity, the Stones have proven that age is not a factor in pure rock coolness.
Third generation acts like U2 & Madonna can take large bows for their ongoing monolithic endeavors, but who knows how long they'll manage to continue. They are a product of the largely vacuous 80s & to echo the Stones achievements, they'll have to keep it happening for at least another 17 years. Hmmm, a Garbo-esque Madonna singing "Material Girl" in 2025? She could pull it off. Hopefully Bono fulfills his manifest destiny of saving the world by then.
At that time I hope the Stones are still singing "Wild Horses" in their rocking chairs. All I know is that my retirement home will have to have a killer sound system & a recording studio...