The familar scene: the Stones gearing up to hit the road again, this time for their “A Bigger Bang Tour,” an 18-month sojourn across the planet which launches in Boston on Sunday and has already sold out 98% of available tickets.
The press collectively marvels at
a) how remarkably OLD these guys are — Charlie Watts 64 and recently recovered from throat cancer, Keith Richards 62, Mick Jagger 61, Ron Wood 58 — and cites late night talk show jokes (Leno – “The We’re Grateful We’re Not Dead Tour,” Letterman – “They’re part of the Living Will-Palooza Tour”),
b) the amount of money they have made touring (a gross of $1.125 billion since 1989, $751 million via 12 million tickets sold in the ’90s, more than any other act),
c) and discusses with Jagger and Richards why they still do it, why people still come to see them in such staggering numbers, and speculate on whether THIS IS THE LAST STONES TOUR.
Thus far, the answer has always been “no.”
Here are a few quotes from Edna Gundersen’s interview for USA Today:
Richards – “I remember a sense of doom when our first record got in the top 20. It was conventional wisdom at the time that it would all be over in two years.”
– “We’re on the cutting edge. Nobody’s been here before, and it’s kind of an adventure. They wonder why we’re still here. Well, why not? We’re a great band. We love to play. If there’s that many people who love to hear us, what’s the beef? I intend to get a lot older and a lot more wrinkled. So sharpen your pen.”
– “There’s this perception that Mick and I are always fighting,” he says. “Most of it is very smooth sailing. Every time we stumble across the odd spat, everyone hears about it.”
– “The audience is our gas tank. You can feel lousy, it can be 102 degrees, but get on that stage and you’re cured. It’s adrenaline, endorphins and pheromones. It’s one of the biggest lifts in life.”
Not quite as poetic or as stunning as Jagger’s famous “Sometimes I like being on stage better, sometimes I like sex better” from 30-odd years ago, but hey, the guy IS 62.
Jagger – “I’ll do your show, David Letterman, and you come do mine.”
– “We wouldn’t tour unless someone said, ‘Look, there are a lot of people who want to see you.’ I always say, ‘You sure?'”
– “We did this record [A Bigger Bang, their first album of new material since 1997] with minimal technology, just suitcases of computers. I didn’t want to go into a massive glass-and-stone $10 million studio with all the bells and whistles. All that technology can change the way you play. We pared it down, and the intimacy worked.”
So there is money and camaraderie and the challenge, but I think their biggest kick is how stunned people always are by how GOOD they are. I was sure stunned when I watched their early-’03 concert on HBO:
- The concert had been on for a few minutes. My first reaction was to be taken aback by the close-ups of Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie: man did they look old and craggy. When you’re about 60, the penalty for remaining rockstar-thin is a cadaverous face and hollow cheeks. But when the cameras pulled back, or my eyes lost focus as I drifted off for the first time of many over the next couple of hours, 30 years melted away and the magic was real. What a great show!
Every time the Stones dust it off again and hit the road I am skeptical that they can live up to the title “World’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band,” but playing a mix of favorites from their 40 years as a band, they seemed to actually gain energy as the show went on and the Madison Square Garden crowd became more and more rapturous.
…Besides the core Stones (Bill Wyman retired in the ’90s), standouts included the remarkable lungs (and I mean that literally and euphemistically) of singer Lisa Fischer, who matched Merry Clayton’s archetypal original vocal on “Gimme Shelter” note-for-note before transcending it with a super-human flourish that I feared might cause structural damage to the Garden; and stalwart saxman Bobby Keys, who didn’t have to imitate anyone: he played on all the original recordings, and particularly shined on the extended coda of “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’.”
Hear me now and believe me later: the Stones are a better band live now than they were in the ’70s when their lives, bodies, and minds were a quagmire of sex, drugs and alcohol. I saw shows back then that felt like they were going through the motions, disrespecting their own songs, their audience and themselves. Age has focused them, yet taken away very little of their maniacal energy, and Keith Richards is still the greatest rhythm guitarist who ever lived. Long live rock, indeed.
And that is why they still play and people still go.
Click here for the Stones’ A Bigger Bang media for audio, video, and pics.
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