Damon Wood

Rolling Stones, San Jose, 5/8/2013

May 10th, 2013

Jacki and I managed to score a couple of decent tickets to the Rolling Stones show at HP Pavilion in San Jose. Below is my review — I’ll try not to sound like a rock critic.

I should say that I am very forgiving of anything the Stones do. I’ve become an even bigger fan than I already was over the years, and listen to their early 70’s stuff quite a bit. I recently made a fun project for myself of creating a rough clone of Keith Richards’ main guitar (which he calls “Micawber”), and I’ve been keenly studying the nuances of the Stones’ groove-engine. At the same time I wasn’t really expecting to be wowed by any pyrotechnics, either literal or figurative-performance-wise; the guys are basically 70 – in uncharted territory now, first-generation English rockers giving whatever they’ve got left after 50 years on the stage. Keith is also pretty arthritic at this point – his leads are often painful for me to listen to, and though he was never really any kind of shredder, I get the sense that his peak as a player is behind him.

That said, the Stones just kicked ass. What an amazing band they are! That’s really the thing about them: they’re just a rock’n’roll band, but their groove and their command of their material really make them a global treasure. Actually, “command of their material” is not quite right – I’ve watched I don’t know how many live versions of “Jumping Jack Flash,” and I don’t think they’ve ever gotten the ending to that song figured out – but the slop is half the fun with them! They’re like the ultimate garage band. They’re rich and old and have every reason to coast through these performances, but they did nothing of the kind. They played that funky music, white boy, and they meant it.

It was worth the price of admission alone just to hear and feel Charlie Watts’ swinging, laconic groove pumped through a million watts of sound reinforcement (no pun intended). He’s really getting on in years, but there are few who can lay it down with the style and swing that he has. Feeling that Watts kick in the chest is something I’ll never forget. He may as well be 25, the way he plays: his playing hasn’t aged a day, unless you want to chalk up how RIGHT it is to his 1000 years of playing experience. He’s a unique force.

Charlie Watts has said: “Oh, you have to follow Keith.” Keith’s leads may be a little rough (that’s what Ronnie is for anyway), but his rhythm is as sharp and devastating as ever. He seemed to be a little under the weather, actually; for most of the show he was the one guy who sort of hung back. He woke up for the latter 3rd though, and started doing some real legwork. He did this sick thing on “Honky Tonk Woman” where he would slow down the return lick at the end of each verse phrase, just a hair, so that everyone in the joint had to shake it just a little harder to keep from staggering into the next row. That kind of stuff is seriously cagey, deliberate musical mischief. What a bad man Keef is. My hero.

I’ve also decided that I love Ronnie Wood. Love him! He’s really a great guitar player – his slide playing is excellent, his leads are clean, and his tone is freaking gorgeous – but it’s also clear that he has SO MUCH FUN onstage! Sometimes he’s really focused and there’s something really cool about his concentration on the job – a real pro at work – but most of the time he’s totally animated and it’s like he’s having the time of his life – ONCE AGAIN Ronnie is happy to be alive because he’s a ROLLING STONE!! Lucky bastard. Love him.

Jagger is obviously a force of nature unto himself – it’s all true, not much else to say. He gives so much – watching him is almost exhausting, he puts out so much energy onstage. Again, this is a 70-year-old man we’re talking about here, and he’s strutting all over this huuuuge stage set, singing at the top of his lungs, brokering communication with the band and the audience. It takes real generosity of spirit to wring that much out of yourself every night. AND he can blow one hell of a harmonica solo. Another funky ass limey, that Mickey J.

There are certain songs that, I don’t care who you are, just cannot be done justice live. One case in point is “Gimme Shelter.” The studio version of that song is, IMHO, the single greatest rock & roll song of all time. But live, they just can never quite capture the eerie, relentless beauty of the studio take. I don’t think it’s actually, physically possible to do. So seeing them play it live is, on one level, sort of a disappointment. However, on another level it’s just freaking awesome. Here we are: in the same room with the band – the people (Keef, Mick & Charlie) – that created this majestic work. We were overwhelmed with gratitude for having the opportunity to witness and share the song with the creators, to see them evoke it before our eyes and ears. There were many moments like that for us last night.

Other songs killed on their own merits. “Jumping Jack Flash,” train-wreck ending and all, totally blew my mind – it soared and slammed – the guitars sounded HUUUUUGE, and Charlie just stomped it. “Roots Rock” my ass, they sounded like a 747 coming in for a landing. “Brown Sugar,” another one that sometimes is a little wonky live, was just right this time. And as a bonus, by request, they did an absolutely gorgeous, delicate version of “No Expectations,” the song I didn’t know was my favorite Stones song until very recently.

When I finally saw the Pixies years ago – another of my very, very favorite bands – I came away with two thoughts: 1) That was an incredible, amazing show! And 2) Some bands’ material is just waaaay better than the band itself. The Pixies’ songs are freaking spectacular, each one a 2.5 minute moment of shimmering triumph and glory; and they put on an okay show, but you could tell they don’t really like each other and they’re not terribly interesting to watch. Even if they hadn’t made it explicitly clear that they were only doing the reunion tour for the money, it was plain to see in their performance.

And the Stones put the Pixies to shame in this regard. Not only do they have, oh, the deepest catalog of life-changing songs under their belt, but they put everything they have into the music and the show. And it’s obvious that they love what they do.

Back to the band’s strengths: the groove was right all night. A lot of bands, Stones included, often just rip through each song, and even if they “really mean it,” in the heat of the performance they hit everything too fast and too hard – the finesse gets lost if the tempos are too fast. (I’m totally guilty of this when I start songs sometimes) If you watch Shine a Light and check out “Tumbling Dice,” you might notice that the weight of that song is pretty much lost, because they just blaze through it. It’s not bad, really, but it doesn’t have that snarling strut that the song needs, there’s no room for the vocals to shine and the hips to swing. Last night, though, they really hit that one – and everything else – just right. Whether it was Keef or Charlie starting the song, they had the presence of mind to slow it down and let the songs do their thing. Again, this is a band of rich, old mofos who don’t need to make it slam as hard as they do. And yet they do, like the consummate pros they are.

One more really terrific treat: Mick Taylor. They brought him out for the encore (Satisfaction), but also during the set for freakin’ “Midnight Rambler.” In case you don’t know, Mick Taylor is the best guitarist the Stones ever had – probably the best English blues player to come out of that generation, hands down (without hesitation, I am including Eric Clapton, Peter Greene, Rory Gallagher and Jimmy Page in this statement). He was also present for the peak of the Stones’ career, through Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. And if you haven’t heard a live version of “Midnight Rambler,” it’s sort of their live magnum opus, just a sick 12-minute blues jam with about 4 movements and a lot of dynamics and jive. Having Taylor on the job for this was just awesome, and something I would never have expected to be able to see in my lifetime (why would anyone expect this? He quit the band in 1974). At the end, seeing Ronnie, Keef, Charlie and both Micks take a bow together, well, I sort of got something in my eye right about then. Good lord, I can go to heaven now.

I didn’t honestly have any real hopes of being wowed like this going in. But by the time the Stones got through the first verse of “No Expectations,” I knew they had brought the poetry and the cojones to exceed all of my own.

(Hey, it was better than the Watts pun, wasn’t it?)

Random items:

There was no opening act, which was very nice. Who needs it? Everyone probably appreciated the early (-ish) wrap-up, demographics being what they were.

They doubled it up, Gospel-style, at the end of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Actually, that song was excellent because they enlisted the San Jose State Vocal Choir for the intro and throughout. Very nicely done.

Couple of cool cameos: John Fogerty (on “It’s All Over Now”) and a very saucy Bonnie Raitt (on “Let It Bleed”).

The SJ Mercury News noted that one reason to see the Stones this time was that they weren’t shopping a new album; therefore they wouldn’t be subjecting the audience to half a show’s worth of, “WTF is this crap song???” Instead it was all gravy. There was one song I didn’t recognize (“One More Shot”) but that was actually pretty slamming, to tell the truth.

4 Comments Comments»

  1. Robin J says

    Nice review. I wonder why, when a band like the Stones play after all these years, it’s honored and honorable, but when you see an ad for a summer festival, featuring Paul Revere and the Raiders (with 2 original members!), we take an eye-rolling pass. I get that it’s the quality of the songs and musicians and all that, but the Stones seem to be able to do it without it only being about nostalgia.

    June 26th, 2013 | #

  2. Damon says

    That’s a good question, however look no further than the fact that the Stones are headlining yet another arena tour, and bands like Paul Revere & the Raiders are on the county fair circuit. Sure, there are people who roll their eyes at the Stones too, but the numbers are with the Stones. I think it’s also the depth of their catalog that keeps them vital, even if recent work is not up to snuff exactly. PR&tR were pretty much one hit wonders, weren’t they? Maybe two hits? Pop has its artistic cred, but generally it doesn’t seem to have much staying power, maybe by definition. The Stones have had their pop moments, but they’ve also made a career of carving their own path and keeping it real. Flashes in the pan go to the county fair circuit; they’re the ones who rode coattails. Maybe that’s one reason why we roll our eyes at them? Coattails and/or lack of substance.

    June 26th, 2013 | #

  3. Eric Pease says

    nice review. totally agree. we loved the show too. my 3rd Stones show since 1982. great to see Mick Taylor with the Stones again.

    my photo’s here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericpease/sets/72157633457413654/

    December 9th, 2013 | #

  4. Damon says

    Wow, cool Eric! Again, excellent photos. That was a great show, and they made it seem effortless.

    December 9th, 2013 | #

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