Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Stones At The Rose Bowl | Lefsetz Letter

They were rough.

Until “Sympathy For The Devil.”

Sometimes I wish I lived in New York, like last night. Sure, traffic is bad in Manhattan, but you can always take the subway. I read in the “Wall Street Journal” that they expect you to be on time in NYC, whereas in L.A. meetings are always flexible, because of the traffic. WAZE told me to take the 405 way north into the Valley, and to then cut to Pasadena via the 118 and the 210. Which is many more miles than taking the 101 to the 134, but that’s stop and go, and I’d rather go, especially since my car has a standard transmission.

So I ignored the parking instructions, I depended upon the app. And that was a bad choice, because I ended up on the wrong side of the venue. Luckily, there was little traffic to my final destination. And at this point, I was speeding, the only thing my car is good for, and that’s when I saw the cops. You know how it is, you get that sinking feeling and wait for the flashing lights. But they didn’t turn on. Then I went the wrong way down a one way street, which sounds dumb, but if you’d been there… But ultimately I made it to my space. And wondered how in the hell I was gonna find my way back to my car after the show. Lisa said it was between the two palm trees, but they were not the only palm trees.

And then I got in line to get in.

Now it wasn’t until ’72 that you couldn’t get tickets to the Stones. There were seats available in ’69. But after “Brown Sugar,” and the breakup of the Beatles, it left the Stones iconic, it wasn’t until ’78 that they started playing stadiums. A ticket in ’75? Nearly impossible. But a friend got me one in the back bowl of the Forum. And they were rough that night too…

Until they hit “Tumbling Dice.”

So I’m in the queue, waiting to be scanned for security. And that’s where I got to look at the people.

Now in SoCal, you rarely see overweight people. Especially not at a show like this, these attendees don’t only go out once a year, they’re entrenched in entertainment life.

That’s one thing that astounded me…HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE THERE! Now if you were selling shoes, something people need… And everybody with their own personality and social scene…

And what I encountered were old and young people. Not the nearly dead, using walkers, like at the Simon & Garfunkel reunion tour back in ’03, but adults. And their children. There was a dearth of thirtysomethings. Early fortysomethings. You see it was a show for people who’d been there and done that and wanted to show their kids their roots, unlike previous Stones shows. For a long time there, it was execrable. All these people in their leather jackets…they were afraid of the Stones back in the sixties and seventies, they were latecomers in the nineties… They’ve moved on. And what is left is those in their concert t-shirts, who were going to see the Stones one more time.

Yes, this could be the last time, I don’t know…

Oh no!

People had lines in their faces, they were experienced, but they had to make the pilgrimage one more time, for something that is almost gone and whose return might never be.

Now the opener was Kaleo, which actually played rock, what a concept! But the truth is they’re from Iceland, which is not supported by all hip-hop all the time. And standing on the stage watching them, listening to their manager tell their story, who caught them on YouTube and flew over to sign them, I got excited. You remember excitement, don’t you? This was rock and roll. And now rock is dead.

So I got to meet Keith’s guitar tech. You should have seen the row of axes, whew! And the monitor mixer gave me a complete rundown. Remember when we were fascinated with the equipment? When going to the studio was a thrilling event? I’m still interested. Turns out they’ve got a 100 monitors. 100! Almost nobody uses in-ears. And then when Kaleo finished, the stage was cleared. You see Kaleo did not set up in front of the Stones’ equipment, that was all brought out after the opening act. And it’s a rush.

Now I had an all access pass. Yup, on the poster, where they listed them all and what privileges they conveyed, I was at the top of the list, with my picture on the laminate. This goes into my trophy case along with the reserved sign from the Roxy with my name on it.

Now even though I could roam everywhere, I also had them give me a pit pass. Up close and personal. Which kinda makes it like a club show, even though it’s not. And even though you think you’ve seen it all in production, the giant screens, the way they were used, it was something new, you could really see everybody. Even if you were in the way back.

So the opening number…

Is “Street Fighting Man.” I had the set list, but I don’t like to look, but eventually I did. And you know the sound on the record, with its power, how it’s an assault? That was not the sound last night. You see unlike every other band on the planet, the show is the Stones, playing live. The only things that were on hard drive were the choir in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and the rhythm in “Sympathy For The Devil.” And for those who lived through the sixties, who played in garage bands, you know…it never sounds like the record. There are open spaces and mistakes when music is played live, by humans.

So Mick is dancing, just like in that rehearsal video in the dance studio.

And everybody is doing their part.

And I’m thinking they have balls, to go out and be a rock and roll band in a stadium in 2019, when shows are heavily produced and in your face.

Now the next number was “You Got Me Rocking.” Which curiously didn’t come totally together. It wasn’t that anybody was out of key, it’s just that it did not have the drive of the recording, with the heavy emphasis. They were running through it and it didn’t wholly gel.

But when the number was over, they showed Charlie Watts’s image on the big screen, and he was SMILING!

Now if you’re close you can’t stop looking at Charlie. Ronnie Wood looks like his face was chiseled Brancusi. Keith’s hair is a shadow of its former self. As for Mick, he’s super-skinny, but he too has that craggy face. You stand there and wonder…HOW DID HE BECOME A SEX SYMBOL?

But it’s Charlie, who appears over the hill, nearly dead, who fascinates.

Unlike the metal acts, the famous drummers, he’s got a small kit, no bells and whistles. And he sits there, holding the left stick like a pro, not gripped in his palm, and his body doesn’t move much, and then you realize…this 78 year old guy is the engine of the entire band, AND HE DIGS IT!

So then you start looking around the stage, and you notice the band is having FUN!

Now that’s not how it is today. You work out with a trainer, you try to replicate the records, and you know this tour is about enhancing your brand. Yup, the big money is in the endorsements and privates and you’re just slogging it out on stage, since recordings are no longer that lucrative and it’s hard to gain market share anyway.

But it didn’t start out that way. Before rock, the jazzers, it was a whole life style, they dug it! And the English bands from the sixties, read the old interviews, it was a lark, they didn’t expect it to last. But the most famous, the most legendary rock band extant, still has that same garage/club feeling and attitude, if they’re not having fun, why do it? IT WAS A REVELATION!

But “She’s A Rainbow” was not. It was voted for by the audience. Most people didn’t know it. But unlike on “Satanic Majesties,” it was not a syrup of sound, it fell flat. I just didn’t believe they had the balls to present this. Especially at these prices, in a stadium.

But Mick, he was warming up. He threw off his jacket, he started talking to the audience, and it wasn’t long…before he had them in the palm of his hand. It was fascinating to see a master at work. A whole stadium full of people, and this guy won them over. Showing the power, and the job, of the frontman.

And then he led us into a singalong of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” that was reminiscent of the record, but just barely. This used to be a showstopper, but not last night. But just before, “Tumbling Dice” rocked, it delivered.

And then the core four walked down the runway and ultimately played “Sweet Virginia” and “Dead Flowers” acoustically. And Ronnie’s playing leads with no effects, on an acoustic, and that’s not a full sound, but he too is smiling and then you realize…THEY’RE HAVING A GOOD TIME!

And this is also when you realize that Keith is back in form, and digging it too.

As for Charlie… You see that tiny kit and you marvel.

But then came “Sympathy For The Devil.”

Now back in ’75, during the petal stage tour at the Forum, it was “Tumbling Dice.” When everything finally came together and they were the STONES!

It’s kinda like the Dead. They’d play for four hours. One would be unlistenable, two would be okay, but one was TRANSCENDENT! That’s live music, not made by automatons.

And now Jagger’s fully into it. Wearing his cape. You can hear every word. It’s almost dangerous.

That’s another thing that cracks you up, all these years later, that once upon a time the Stones were outlaws, as was their music. But today they’re in on the joke, they’re not trying to scare or impress you, they’re with you on this night to remind all those in attendance of the way it used to be. To marinate in our memories. To set our minds free and remember…what this music meant to us.

And then came “Midnight Rambler.”

I’ll stick my knife right down your throat baby, AND IT HURTS!

Ironically, Mick didn’t sing that coda. But when he did sing:

Well you heard about the Boston…
Honey, it’s not one of those

It was like he was telling a story. To those who actually remembered the Boston Strangler. But Mick was telling us the Midnight Rambler was worse. And he was not only telling us the story, he knew this guy.

And this is when he got the whole audience on the edge of its seats, this is when people realized they were seeing the Rolling Stones, this is what they paid for, this is what they were gonna miss when it was gone.

And then Keith sings “You Got The Silver.”

I’d like to tell you his voice was in great shape, but it was not. BUT BOY COULD HE PLAY THOSE CHORDS!

Yup, Keith was doing his thing. Illustrating why he’s a Glimmer Twin, an indispensable member of the band. I still miss Mick Taylor, but watching Keith employ those bar chords, in his tunings, with five strings…IT WAS REVELATORY!

Charlie was good last night, BUT SO WAS KEITH!

It was effortless, it was fun, with his guitar slung low, he was being who he used to be, but decades later, wearing the miles but his smile told you he too was in on the joke, he survived and he’s still doing it, makes you feel all gooey inside, and optimistic!

And from then on, it was all about the energy. Some songs were better than others, but you were on the train, the only one that exists, that takes you to nirvana.

And half of the audience was women. And with Mick only feet away, I got it. It was about sex, it was about dancing, the women were moving like they were possessed. You danced to the Stones, not the Beatles. Women are oftentimes perceived as prim and proper, but Mick Jagger and the band injected the music right into their souls and it forced them to gyrate, to move, as if they had no choice.

And the woman sitting behind me… Couldn’t have been thirty, but she knew all the words, even to “She’s A Rainbow” and “You Got The Silver.” Talk about the smile on HER face!

Yup, everybody got what they came for, even if the Stones delivered it in their own special way. They knew we’d come over to their side, that they’d win us over. If they just did their act and were themselves. On paper you think it’s about the money, but in the flesh you wonder what they’re gonna do at home, play checkers and watch television? No, this is where they belong, on stage, playing music, the only place they’re truly happy, you get the feeling they’d do it if only twenty people were there.

Albeit without those screens!

So you’re in the audience, and you’re jetted back to what once was. You expect Mick to be going through the motions, for Keith to be bored, for there to be a backup drummer, BUT THAT’S NOT HOW IT WAS AT ALL! It was like they knew they were good enough, and if we put away our preconceptions and got with the program, we’d be thrilled.

Yup, you see the Stones with preconceptions.

But at this point they’ve got nothing to prove.

So they’re just being themselves.

The World’s Greatest Rock And Roll Band!

P.S. Eating a bacon-wrapped hot dog in the parking lot after the show, I asked the two teenagers what they thought. THEY LOVED IT, THEY TESTIFIED! But it turns out they were not teenagers, one was reminiscing about taking a course in rock music back in college. And then I asked them if they knew the songs, they said half. And I asked them how much they paid for their seats, they said $147. That seemed reasonable. But they were perched in the back, far up the bowl. So what did they do? THEY JUMPED THE FENCE DOWN TO THE FIELD! As that new wave sage once sang…same as it ever was!


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