About a Million Random Thoughts on the Rolling Stones Concert

06May13

Actually 15, but it feels like there were 999,985 more swimming around in my head after I saw them on opening night of the “50 and Counting” tour. Here we go:

1.) I Love the Rolling Stones.

2.) AAAAAAAAAAAHH!! And every other sound normally associated with teenage girls. 

3.) No Covers. I’ve now seen them three times, and in both previous times, they sprinkled a few cover songs in the setlist. Not so with this time. Not that they were missed, per se, at least not in the moment. I would have loved to have heard any of the Chuck Berry covers, or some bluesy thing they’ve dusted off, but then again I could make a list of all the songs I would have liked to have heard and we’d be here until Christmas. In a way, you could say that having guest singers on “Wild Horses” (Gwen Stefani) and “Respectable” (Keith Urban) as well as the UCLA Marching Bruins opening with “Satisfaction” were KINDS of covers. Just be happy, Phillip. Moving on.

4.) Sameness. Immediately after this concert, I lifted my personal ban on listening to pre-1977 albums, and focused mainly on live stuff, in some weird effort to relive that night again. I started with “The Brussels Affair,” and I noticed that the show I saw last night (and again in 1997 and 1999) is structured roughly the same way as it was in this 1973 concert. Open with a big hit rock song, close with another big hit rock song. In the middle there is a Keith song (with both cases including “Happy”) as well as a smattering of new stuff. For the 1973 show, that included a block of songs from the recently released “Goats Head Soup,” and for 2013, it included the two singles they put out with the most recent Greatest Hits record. I was kind of amazed by this. It doesn’t quite hold up when you get into the minutiae of every song selected, but it’s interesting that for at least the last 30 years they have constructed a concert around opening and closing big while protecting the lesser known songs in the middle. Makes sense.

5.) Those Keith Songs? vs. THOSE Keith Songs! In a twist that might only delight myself, I share this story: when I was preparing for my first Stones concert in 1997, I was crossing my fingers to hear “Happy,” which didn’t happen (he played “Wanna Hold You” and “All About You”). For the second show in 1999, I was still hoping for “Happy,” but would have settled for “Before They Make Me Run,” but it was not to be (“Thief In the Night” and “You Don’t Have to Mean It”). Coming to the 2013 show, I’ve had plenty of time to prepare, and in that time I have actually come to appreciate and genuinely enjoy many of the later-day Keith tracks (particularly “Infamy” and “Thief in the Night”). I was actually looking forward to hearing some of those… but wouldn’t you know it, he starts off with “Before They Make Me Run” and concludes with “Happy.” I mean, I was happy, but I wasn’t preparing for those things, so I was a little… I don’t know… weirded out by it. 1997 Me was jumping for joy though.

6.) Most Represented Album. It’s technically a tie between “Let It Bleed” (“Gimme Shelter,” “Midnight Rambler,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) and “Some Girls” (“Miss You,” “Before They Make Me Run,” “Respectable”). But it’s a little weird counting all those. Well, it’s weird if you’re me, who thinks about things in weird ways.

First off, the three “Some Girls” tracks include one done just by Keith, so I feel some people mark that with an asterisk, even though that’s pretty a-hole of them. And “Respectable” included a Keith Urban, so it also feels like a little bit of a cheat in this, the most important of competitions.

But on the other side, you’ve got “Midnight Rambler,” which I believe no longer lives as a “Let It Bleed” track. It’s a live song. The album version is good, but I can’t think of a time when I heard “Midnight Rambler” live that was not awesome. One of my first Stones purchases was “Hot Rocks” (on cassette) and on there, they include the live “Ya-Ya’s” version. With such a decision, the band itself officially puts its stake as to what the “true” version of the song is, and where it belongs. This is all technical, I realize, but I wanted to keep talking. That song doesn’t belong to one album. It belongs to the live shows.

7.) “Midnight Rambler.” Yes, again and more on this song. It’s really spectacular, and I think it would sneakily qualify as one of the band’s top 10 songs, but because of it’s truest, greatest roots being so firmly planted in the live category, it gets forgotten or ignored. It feels more like a right of passage for seeing the Stones live, and not every fan has seen them live, so they most likely wouldn’t include that song in their top 10 lists. On the other hand, these theoretical fans might have “Honky Tonk Women” in their top 10, go to a show and have their feelings completely validated by a great performance while always having that original studio single to hang on to as a base. The point is that “Rambler” is a slippery song which seems to not really exist. It’s the closest thing to the Grateful Dead that the Stones may have ever gotten. You really have to see it to hear it. *

8.) Even MORE on “Midnight Rambler.” It was a poorly kept secret that Mick Taylor was to join the band for a song or two on this tour, and for our show he did it for “Rambler.” This further throws the cosmic timeline into flux, because when he came on and that opening harmonica from Jagger kicked in, you felt the chill through the crowd. I thought “This is about as 1969 as we’re ever going to get” just a moment before my concert companion said it out loud. The fact that we both thought so almost** proves that we couldn’t have been the only ones to feel that way.

9.) Fooling Yourself. From this distance, if you kept your eyes off the monitors, you could allow yourself to believe that the Stones look like they did 30 years ago.

2013 meet 1969

I mean… look at ’em.

And really, they kind of do… None of their bodies have changed, and for most of the band, they just have to mill about the stage playing a guitar and look cool while doing it. The only one who has to be an acrobat is Jagger, so the incredible-people factor drops to one. But then you get a guy like Mick Taylor on stage with them, and he’s a contemporary (younger, even). And he’s pudgy, slower. The first thing you think is, “Oh, he really let himself go.” Then you pause and realize, no, he’s in his 60’s. Typically that’s what 60-year-olds look like. It’s the other guys who are freaks.

10.) Further Fooling Yourself and Management of Expectations. Going in, I knew what most of the setlist would be just from experience and my brain. An informal calculation shows that they have played the same 14 songs at every single concert they’ve done for the past 30 years, including “Tumbling Dice,” “Satisfaction,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Start Me Up,” “Brown Sugar,” etc., etc., and they did very well on May 3. They have also typically played lame versions of “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Only Rock n’ Roll” at these same concerts, as well as playing “You Got Me Rockin'” from “Voodoo Lounge” in some sort of weird effort to will that song into popularity. I wanted to enjoy the night, so I told myself that when these three potential let-downs came up, just smile along. I actually convinced myself that I liked “You Got Me Rockin’,” which hurts a little bit.

But the good news is this: they didn’t play “You Got Me Rockin’,” “Only Rock n’ Roll” got a down-and-gritty performance, a la the album cut, and “Sympathy for the Devil” was the least lame I’ve heard it in 3 shows! That’s 2 for 3 with a Reached Base on an Error in my book.

11.) Merch. Too pricey. I couldn’t do it, though in hindsight I probably should have, because it would have been great to own a conversation starter. Even more desirable than a big tongue shirt would be a set of five simple shirts with the words “ASK ME ABOUT THE CONCERT I JUST SAW” written on the front and back. It would help me conserve the energy I had to put in to A.) not talking about the concert all the time for the last few days, and B.) searching for segues in the non-musical conversations I had over the last few days (aka “Oh, he’s having a birthday? Did they sing for him? You know who I just saw sing?” etc.).

12.) First Timers. As I’ve said, this was my third concert, but even so, there were 6 or 7 songs out of the 23 that I’ve never heard before (“Get Off My Cloud,” “Factory Girl,” “Respectable,” “Emotional Rescue,” the two new singles). I swear I’d never heard “Paint It Black” before, but the internet says otherwise. What’s more is that this was the first time they had ever played “Emotional Rescue” live, which seems crazy only in that how could they have avoided that song for so long?

I will theorize why: it came out in 1979, and even though it’s good, it feels like it’s always had the stigma of “Miss You 2.0” about it. “Miss You” came out two years and one album prior, so if they were going to play a disco song, they had that one. The album which followed was “Tattoo You,” which included “Start Me Up,” and I’d wager that the incredible success of that song usurped any plans to incorporate “Emotional Rescue” into the setlist. “Start Me Up” became so popular that it’s one of the three or four songs they absolutely, positively MUST play at every show, and for a band full of “must play” songs, that can take away from the chance to put up skipped tracks. It just got overlooked. That’s my theory, any way. The other theory is that the album “Emotional Rescue” isn’t all that memorable anyway, and I don’t think anyone was clamoring toooooooooo much for that song to re-emerge.

13.) The Fan Validator. I don’t know how this show played for fist time Stones concert goers. I can only speak as a fan, and as a fan, I felt validated and surrounded by “my people***” for a night. As one of my companions said, we were paying for the privilege to honor our favorite band with others who may feel the same way as we do. I imagine that the high ticket prices might have dissuaded casual fans, but whatever the case, I was surrounded in my area by intensity. We had some “Woo Girls” in front of us, and I formed an immediate impression that they were drunk tourists who only wanted to hear “Brown Sugar” and then get the hell out of town. But during “Midnight Rambler,” one of them actually turned to her friend and said, “Oh! My! God! Mick fucking Taylor?!” To which her friend replied, “I know! And during ‘Midnight Rambler?’ WOOOO!” They said what we were all thinking.

14.) I Want To Go Again. They’ll be in the Los Angeles area two more times this month (Staples again and Anaheim). I don’t want to break the bank again. I can’t do that. But I want to go. Very badly. I like feeling excited and good. That’s what those old, skinny bastards do to me. They make me smile.

15.) The Set List, with (!) designating the best in show songs:

Get Off My Cloud

The Last Time

It’s Only Rock & Roll

Paint It Black

Gimme Shelter (!)

Wild Horses (with Gwen Stefani)

Factory Girl (!)

Emotional Rescue (!)

Respectable (with Keith Urban)

Doom & Gloom

One More Shot

Honky Tonk Women (!)

Before They Make Me Run

Happy (!)

Midnight Rambler (!)

Miss You

Start Me Up

Tumbling Dice

Brown Sugar

Sympathy for the Devil

(Break for Encore…and from where we were sitting, we could see them just hanging out behind the drum kit; they didn’t even go to the dressing room — they were ALWAYS going to come back and play!)

Can’t Always Get What You Want (!)

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Satisfaction*** (!)

 

*Tons of video has popped up online after the shows, which is a work killer. I found one for my night’s “Midnight Rambler,” and at first I was nervous to watch, worrying it didn’t live up. Turns out, I’m wrong. It’s fantastic. Either that, or I’m completely blinded with love, because the version online feels and sounds just as great as the version I witnessed and the version which lives in my memory.

 

**Science.

 

***Even though some of “my people” included Jack Nicholson and some dumb ass who had “Tongue Pit” seats, but spent most of his time leaning against the wall. He couldn’t even be bothered to turn around when Jagger stood right behind him. Maybe he was sick, I don’t know. But his body language had way more of a “Who cares?” attitude. I’m reminded of a story from an old boss and friend of mine about the time he saw Frank Sinatra in the 1980’s, and people talked during his show, took long trips to the bathroom, and my boss thought, “Are your lives so much more amazing that you can’t focus for an hour or two on THIS?!”

 

****Yes, even though the UCLA Marching Bruins played this song as the opener, and even though they’ve played it a zillion times over their lives, this version of “Satisfaction” was fantastic. At first I was a little down that they played it at all, just because I want to be hipster about it, but as it built and built, it started feeling more like a singular event than just some song they do. It was probably about 6 or 7 minutes long, with some improv lyrics by Jagger and some meanderings around to make it feel alive.

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