- Reporters Desk
By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Columnist
The Rolling Stones are the embodiment of rock ’n’ roll.
As the longest running act in the business they define the genre as well as the generation from which they came.
In his book, Life, Keith Richards explained his music.
“It becomes almost an obsession to touch other people. To write a song that is remembered and taken to heart is a connection, a touching of bases–a thread that runs through all of us. A stab to the heart.”
I was determined to see this act one last time. What else could I do? I began my rock ’n’ roll adventure as a 16-year-old teenybopper in 1964 with the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. I was not ready to surrender to time, and neither were hundreds of thousands of fans across the country.
The Stones booked four concerts in the Southern California with the most recent one being at the Staples Center. Baby boomers cashed in their 401k’s for the most expensive concert of their lives.
My first distinct memory of the Rolling Stones was watching the iconic TAMI Show at the Vineland Drive-In Theater. It was a dream lineup that included the Beach Boys, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and a kick ass performance by James Brown. But the Rolling Stones closed the show and history was made.
At the time, they were a blues band, not wanting to cultivate the screaming fans of bands like the Beatles. Their best known hit back then was the bluesy, “Time is On My Side.”
The Stones were in the center of the blues revival in 1960s Great Britain. Their music has always contained the blues roots of rock, but their manager urged them to move from cover songs to writing their own music.
Teenagers skipped homework to decipher the lyrics to songs like “Satisfaction.” “But he can’t be a man cuz he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me”…sounds clear today, but endless days were invested in the definition of those lyrics. Our parents musical heroes sang about love and romance, this was way different.
The Staples Center concert on May 20 opened with a video montage with the famous and the anonymous saluting the impact that the Stones had on their lives.
Johnny Depp appears in the video to confirm what we all know:
“The Stones make really good music to do really bad things to.”
Additional video of early concert fans contributed to the sense of revisiting history, as well as our own youth.
In The Tami Show, the extent of technology was a few small boxy amps on stage to project their talent. In the 21st century, laser lights, video screens and one of the cleverest set designs going support the show. A giant pair of lips served as the backdrop and a “tongue pit” provided an extension of the stage for Mick to dance around for more than two hours of inspirational athletic display. No wonder baby boomers think they can live forever; Mick seems to prove you can. Many concertgoers will come away awe-struck at his energy.
He gave us a quick glimpse of his yoga tree pose, which must be one of his secrets. But his real power is in his love of performing. It was easy to see how thoroughly he and the rest of the group enjoy performing in LA, an important touchstone in their career. And LA returned the love 20,000 times in what appeared to be a nearly sold-out concert.
The Rolling Stones were legendary for their opening acts. Last time I saw them, it was during the Steel Wheels tour at which Guns and Roses opened. Axel Rose quit the group on stage that night in what appeared to be some kind of dopey joke. Who quits their band when they are opening for the Stones?
Past opening acts included Stevie Wonder, Prince and Tina Turner. But this night it was just the boys.
Mick announced, “Tonight’s special guest is YOU GUYS!” and the crowd cheered and sang along.
After all, many of the special guests they have had on this tour have not held up to the challenge of being on stage with the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band. Gwen Stefani and Lady GaGa received mixed reviews and Katy Perry downright stunk. As a consolation, back-up singer Lisa Fisher’s vocals soared on “Gimme Shelter.”
Although they touched on all the classics, an eclectic set-list proved they were not afraid to pull deeply from their massive catalog. Keith Richard’s solo set was especially rewarding. The 1969 “You Got the Silver” takes on a new meaning when sung by a silver haired Richards. “Before They Make Me Run,” written in 1977 in response to Richard’s heroin arrest in Canada, was tenderly presented by a man who faced his demons and survived.
“Paint it Black” from 1966 is transformed this night with a light show that fills the venue and cheats the audience of its significance. Hitting the charts during the Vietnam escalation, this song was a chilling reminder to teenagers facing the draft that death could arrive at your very doorstep. For this fan, with a guy in the army, it was painfully close to home. The song, coming to the US three years after the assassination of Kennedy cemented the dark aspect of the Stones reputation.
On “Midnight Rambler,” occasional Rolling Stone, Mick Taylor displayed his impressive guitar work, which left some in the audience asking, “who is that guy?” It occurred to me that perhaps Taylor should have stuck with the band. He bowed out about half way through the show, while all the old skinny guys never seemed to run out of energy.
Ron Wood also showed off his guitar prowess and Charlie Watts mesmerized with thundering drum sets, especially on the classics. The closing piece, “Satisfaction,” confirmed why this band will always be No. 1. The song that was their first #1 hit in 1965 brought the entire stadium to their feet. Watts’ ferocious drumming makes the music happen —correction, makes the music thrush through your veins. This is what rock is meant to do.
The pursuit of satisfaction is particularly significant to the so-called “me generation”, and here is where Mick, Keith and the boys have solidified their place in our musical history. “You Can’t always Get What You Want”, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” “Start Me Up” (even if it takes a little blue pill) – and even more Americans are dependent on some form of “Mothers Little Helper.” These songs remain the mantra of the 60s generation and are still relevant in the 21st century as we evaluate the path of our own personal history. Mick and Keith achieved Richard’s stated goal of creating a thread that runs through all of us.
Perhaps the only complaint of the entire evening was a somewhat mushy sound system in the Staples Center. Oddly, the gigantic venue seemed almost too small to contain the exhilarating sound of the Rolling Stones. Their music is best experienced outdoors beneath the open sky with giant blow-up dolls and balloons floating high overhead.
You have the sun, you have the moon, you have the air that you breathe – and you have the Rolling Stones! –Keith Richards