The Rolling Stones
"A Bigger Bang" World Tour
Friday, November 4, 2005
I wasn't expecting to attend the Rolling Stones' current "A Bigger Bang" tour this year. At $1000 to $1,500 per ticket (the going rate for decent ticket broker seats), an evening with the Glimmer Twins was out of my price range - I don't even know if I'd shell out that much for a Smiths reunion. But I got the call from my sister-in-law Thursday night. She works at Ameriquest - I'm not sure what that company does other than deal in home financing and I really don't know what she does for them, but the company is sponsoring the current leg of the Stones' jaunt across the Americas.
"Do you and Robin [the wife] want tickets to the Rolling Stones show tomorrow night?" she said. "I don't know where the seats are, but it's free - you just have to pay for parking."
Because of my backhanded knowledge of Orange County and more specifically Angel Stadium, I squeeze my vehicle through neon orange pylons and traffic barriers which line the north side of the stadium and ease into a parking space which is no more than 25 yards from the rear entrance thus bypassing the ridiculous $20 parking fee. Even better, because we ran up to the turnstile in such a harried state (it was 9:10PM and Mick insists the band hits the stage no later than a quarter after), the security guard forgets to pat me down and the bottle of Maker's Mark in the side pocket of my cargo shorts enters the ballpark undetected.
Rob and I each purchase two plastic bottles of domestic beer and run to the nearest usher to ask him where our seats are.
"You're on the field level," the frail Hispanic usher says. "Take any tunnel down to the field and walk towards the stage."
At this point, I can't believe my luck - free tickets, I dodge the parking fee, my smuggled bourbon whiskey goes unnoticed and those aforementioned free tickets are eight rows away from Keith Richards. If my balls get licked later, this is officially the greatest night ever.
As we settle into our seats (which are of the uncomfortable folding plastic variety) and clink our plastic beer bottles in a toast to the sister-in-law, every light in the stadium blacks out, all 45,000 people in attendance simultaneously roar as if this were a public hanging and Keith's opening chords of "Start Me Up" literally reverberate throughout the stadium. About the same time, two massive plumes of fire shoot from the two metallic towers that flank each side of the stage.
(These towers alone are architectural works of art. Each one is about ten stories tall, made of brushed steel and mesh and includes lodging for Stones fans that aren't afraid of heights or ticket prices in the thousands. The whole stage, which spans the entire outfield, looks like a soundstage from Blade Runner or Metropolis.)
Keith's echoing chords bring on a warm, comfortable feeling of me being 11 again, home during summer break and playing the opening track of "Tattoo You" over and over on my shitty cassette player. The Stones have now become a brand, no longer really putting out vital music anymore (don't believe the critics, the band's new LP, "A Bigger Bang" is fairly pedestrian by the Stones' standards - it makes "Steel Wheels" sound like the "Exile on Main Street" comeback they're always promising).
But it's not about the new stuff anymore really. I mean, the band has always been good for one, maybe two modest singles per record since 1981's "Tattoo You" - it's about the spirit nowadays. Mick, as old he is (now 62 I believe), can still sell the line "You make a dead man cum."
So dressed in tight shiny black trousers, a midriff-exposing muscle shirt and a pair of Air Nikes that won't be on the market until April 2006, Jagger runs through several stadium-grade hits before he takes a breather and chats up the crowd.
"Hello Anaheim. How are you?" Mick says while the entire crowd goes batshit. "Anyone here work at Ameriquest? I hope you didn't have to mortgage your home for your tickets."
The boos and hisses from the diehard purists are immediately drowned out by the deafening cheers from what I can only presume are Ameriquest employees. Me? I don't care - I think it's fucking genius that Mick not only shrewdly acknowledges the golden handshake from his band's opportunistic corporate sponsor but plays the whole thing up with a wink as if to say, 'Yeah, fuck it - some American conglomerate is slipping us millions of dollars to put their logo on the tour posters and we're not even going to think twice about taking it.'
After a swampy rendition of "Bitch," the night takes its first lull with a Ray Charles cover, a tune I could have done without. Up until this point, the band was firing on all cylinders. Yeah, it was sloppy, but the stadium shows are supposed to be that way - Keith looked healthier than he's looked in 20 years - unfortunately, he seemed to be so caught up in the moment, he sounded like I sound when I try to pull off "She's So Cold" (which by the way was a major highlight of the evening).
Speaking of the band, Ronnie Wood seemed to have problems all night long. As a matter of fact, every flub, missed cue and out of tune riff can be attributed to the chap. He just looked so frail up there: rubbing his forearms to keep warm, blowing into his fists, coughing - it was an outdoor gig during a November evening, but it wasn't that bad. The look of bewilderment was astonishing on him - as if it were his first stadium gig ever.
But poor Charlie Watts, take a look at the picture to the left. See those white letters on the Plexi-glass surrounding his drum kit? That's the evening's setlist in large 2 inch boldface text. It's almost funny that Watts' eyesight is so bad that he needs a blown-up setlist just like my 82-year old-grandma who has to purchase her Reader's Digest in the geriatric large-print format, but then you realize that Charlie is nearly 65 years old - man wasn't intended to pound out the backbeat to "Jumpin' Jack Flash" past his 50s.
But crack wise all you want about the Rolling Stones age, the band still knows how to entertain a stadium crowd - the entire set was a greatest hits package minus Keith's two token blues tunes (which provided the two of us with ample time for another beer run) and a couple requsite songs off the new album to appease the critics. If you read Robert Hilburn's Los Angeles Times review of this show this morning (as I did), you'd think this gig was an incredible letdown. A missed opportunity to stun a complacent crowd with tracks off "A Bigger Bang."
I call bullshit. This show took place in a 45,000-seat stadium. Tickets topped out at $450 if you were lucky to get through the Ticketmaster phone lines (like I mentioned earlier, private brokers had no trouble getting rid of the mid-range seats at $1,000 a pop). As much as one thinks that Orange County is white-collar, this audience was mostly made up of working-class stiffs in paper-thin concert shirts from the Stones' tours of the '70s. The unwashed masses don't want to dissect Mick's socio-political lyrics of "Sweet Neo Con" - they want to get shitfaced in the parking lot, buy a $65 commemorative hooded sweatshirt and pump their unmanicured fists to "Satisfaction."
By the way, if you're wondering, it wasn't the greatest night ever, but it was a close call.
Start Me Up
You Got Me Rocking
She's So Cold
Oh No Not You Again
It's Only Rock & Roll
(The Night Time is) The Right Time
Slipping Away (solo Keith)
Infamy (solo Keith)
Miss You (small stage)
Get Off Of My Cloud
Honky Tonk Women (back to main stage)
Sympathy for the Devil
Paint It Black
You Can't Always Get What You Want (encore)
Jumpin' Jack Flash (encore)
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