Rolling Stones Satisfy in Epic Tour Opener — Concert Review
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The Rolling Stones were the first band to ever play a concert at San Diego’s Petco Park back on 2005’s A Bigger Bang Tour, and they returned with a fury last night (May 24) to kick off this summer’s Zip Code Tour.
Any doubts as to whether the Stones could still fill a baseball stadium while delivering the sort of rarefied rock and roll circus that’s become their trademark were erased almost immediately when the band stormed the stage with a hungry, rugged version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (see the above video).
Flanked on a massive stage by high-definition video towers and ushered in with a smoky hail of fireworks and colorful bursts, the band made it clear they were there not to merely trot out a nostalgic night of memories and reveries, but rather to remind a jam-packed house that they are still very much a force to be reckoned with.
The classics came hard and fast. “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll.” “All Down the Line.” “Tumbling Dice.” Mick Jagger, resplendent in a deep purple sequined jacket over a silky magenta top and black tights, remains an incalculable music force. Focused, determined and in strong voice, time and again he skipped, strutted and sashayed his way out the long runaway into a sea of hungry humanity, electrifying the masses both up close and far up into the rafters.
He seems impossible. Yet there he is. It’s not just his confidence of doing this for so long that makes Jagger such a master craftsman. It’s his understanding of what it requires. He exhorts, conducts and leads the crowd. But he teases it, too. He seduces it. He knows what people are paying for, in some case thousands of dollars, and he delivers what everyone wants and expects of him with passion and aplomb.
While the pretzel-thin Jagger does his thing out on the edge, punching the air and hypnotizing the believers, back at the main stage basecamp, of course, there are other forces at play. The wily Ron Wood, whose playing was especially sharp throughout the night, cavorted and bounced like a nervous child while his partner-in-musical-crime, Keith Richards, flashed bright white pirate grins, all the while holding down the riffs like some ghostly Lord of the Delta. Drummer Charlie Watts may be more iconic than any of them. Of all the Stones, he seems to have shifted the least since many first saw him on The Ed Sullivan Show. He is the most reliable. We can measure time against him. Watts is grayer now of course, but no less elegant, serious and in full command of the beat.
The band is punctuated with some sturdy and familiar faces including vocalists Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, a couple of solid sax players (though the late great Bobby Keys is sorely missed) and bassist Darryl Jones. But it’s the fearsome foursome that is the magnet of attention.
They did a mini-set from 1971’s Sticky Fingers to help promote an upcoming re-release, comprised of “Bitch,” (for which they were joined by opener Gary Clark Jr.), “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and the gentle, Japanese-tinged ode to the road, “Moonlight Mile.”
Richards took a turn on two personal and poignant numbers, “Slipping Away” and “Before They Make Me Run.” But for many it came down to the dyed-in-the-wool classics to get the juices fully flowing. We forget sometimes just how embedded some of those riffs are in our collective subconscious. No matter how many times we’ve heard them live, on record or on the radio, when the opening notes of “Honky Tonk Women,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Gimme Shelter” or “Brown Sugar” cascade over us, deep emotions are triggered and unleashed. Those songs are now part of our DNA. They affect our metabolism. And so a mass of humanity is reborn over the course of the cool summer night; throbbing, swaying and celebrating the sounds that raised us, got us drunk and took us down dark corners.
When Jagger begins blowing those first haunting notes of “Midnight Rambler” and Richards crunches the blues opera’s first cryptic chords, the stage becomes a jungle of sonic mayhem, bathed in purple and blood-red light. Keith Richards once said that to know the real Jagger, just listen to him play harp. And in those reedy breaths, he seems right. The true bluesman emerges throughout the 12-minute epic; mysterious, mythical and mercurial. At one point in the tune Jagger breaks out in a manic, alarming, twitching series of cathartic moves. He seems possessed by the music himself, just as we are. It’s a bonding moment.
But then the Bob Cole Conservatory Chamber Choir from California State University, Long Beach hits the angelic opening notes of the first encore, the stately, atmospheric “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and it’s back to the grandeur and church-like atmosphere that Jagger seems especially in tune with. He clearly wants to celebrate, and so celebrate he does. That he will be 72 this summer means zero. When he breaks out in full sprint during “Brown Sugar” and makes it all the way from stage left to right in about 10 seconds, you realize it’s not about age. It’s about heart, energy and a force of will. It’s about the joy of watching arguably the greatest entertainer in modern history. It ended just around midnight and with the last strains of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” still rattling around the ballpark.
Forty years ago this summer, the Rolling Stones embarked on their now-legendary 1975 Tour of the Americas. A lot of the press back then wondered seriously if perhaps it was the last haul for a band that was then all of just 13 years old. And after all, Jagger was approaching his 32nd birthday.
Now, they are taking North America on yet another wild summer ride. Hours before the show, thousands wandered around the venue, sporting concert shirts that went back to the ’60s. Seniors, hipsters, 30-somethings, 40 and 50-somethings, millennials, teenagers, little kids; it is a cross-section and multi-racial communal tribe that is all-inclusive, just as it will be in all the other cities they play. They deny nobody.
And any talk of this being the last time or a thousand other tired cliches seem irrelevant. This is a band that is still performing at a peak level — one that every other band on the planet can learn from — that reaffirms, for two hours and 15 glorious minutes, not just the magic and mystery of music, but of life itself. They are just that much an inspiring force of nature. See them this summer. They are waiting to spoil you. And you’ll get what you need.
Rolling Stones Set List — Petco Park, San Diego, Calif., May 24, 2015
1. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
2. “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)”
3. “All Down the Line”
4. “Tumbling Dice”
5. “Doom and Gloom”
6. “Bitch” (with Gary Clark, Jr.)
7. “Moonlight Mile”
8. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”
9. “Street Fighting Man”
10. “Honky Tonk Women”
11. “Slipping Away”
12. “Before They Make Me Run”
13. “Midnight Rambler”
14. “Miss You”
15. “Gimme Shelter”
16. “Start Me Up”
17. “Sympathy for the Devil”
18. “Brown Sugar”
19. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (with the Bob Cole Conservatory Chamber Choir from California State University, Long Beach)
20. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
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