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Stoned Again

[whitespace] Rolling Stones

Time has not withered the energy of the Rolling Stones

Text by Sarah Quelland
Photos by George Sakkestad

The last time I saw the Rolling Stones was October 1994 at the Oakland Coliseum during the Voodoo Lounge tour. Far beyond the nose-bleed section, my friend and I were seated in what we dubbed the bat cave--a concrete stadium cove with an uncomfortably low ceiling.

Despite our unfortunate location, we were determined to enjoy ourselves. But standing hunched at our seats led to a surprisingly vicious verbal assault from the ill-tempered Metamucil-swilling ex-hippie couple slumped behind us, and dancing in the aisle brought a disagreeable security guard (code name: Big Brother) with a big black flashlight to bark us back to our seats every 10 minutes or so. Needless to say, the situation was not ideal. But even the stodgiest old cranks surrounding us couldn't discolor the Stones' performance filled with boundless energy and timeless rock & roll songs.

Rolling Stones Where the Coliseum's audience was unforgivably indifferent, the crowd at the San Jose Arena Monday (April 19) at the rescheduled No Security tour was extremely enthusiastic. Perhaps the more intimate setting (the arena's capacity is 17,000-20,000, whereas the Coliseum holds 48,000-62,500) made the difference, or maybe the steep ticket price ($39.50-$300) kept those less interested away.

But I'm happy to report that there was standing, dancing, screaming, whistling, hooting and hollering, along with thunderous applause. Not only that, more than a few wispy undergarments were tossed on the catwalk, which stretched from the main stage to a smaller stage near the center of the arena.

It's easy to make snide comments about the Stones. Referring to them as dinosaurs and old geezers, more than one person asked if I'd be close enough to see frontman Mick Jagger's dentures slip. References to wheelchairs, oxygen tanks and IV-hookups filled with various substances were also popular digs.

Rolling Stones

Watching them live is a different story though. Those "geezers" had this twentysomething writer hoarding her mother's binoculars so she could ogle, of all people, guitarist Keith Richards. Weathered, rugged and appearing considerably fit, Jagger, Richards, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood look better than they have in years, and their stamina is remarkable.

Starting off with "Jumping Jack Flash," the Stones put on an intimate show for an arena. Following the "less is more" adage for once, there was no elaborate set like the inflatable backdrop at the Coliseum or the outrageous rigged-up design used for the Steel Wheels tour. There were no gimmicks. This was just straight-forward rock & roll based purely on the performance and skill of the legendary band.

The band was accessible, interacting with the audience as it took its time moving down the catwalk, and there was a great deal of band camaraderie, as if, after all these years, they're the best of friends.

Rolling Stones Rather than churning through all the old hits, the Stones, who have a seemingly infinite well of material to draw from, seemed to focus on lesser-known tunes. However, they did include classics like "Honky-tonk Woman," "Paint It Black," "Get Off of My Cloud" and "It's Only Rock and Roll."

During "Brown Sugar," the crowd went crazy following Jagger's "I said, yeah, yeah, yeah" with a resounding "wooooo!" Riff-master Richards teased the crowd with the classic opening to "Start Me Up" before launching into the song from 1981's Tattoo You. When he casually took a chair and sat down for an acoustic performance of "You Got the Silver" (from 1969's Let It Bleed), I got chills as he sang, "Hey babe, you got my soul/You got the silver, you got the gold."

Rolling Stones

Sympathy for the Stones

Natural and down-to-earth, the Stones' performance was pretty much everything it should have been and nothing it shouldn't. It was as if the band had recently communed with its bluesy roots and took the rock-star attitude down a notch. The show concluded with the choice encore "Sympathy for the Devil" and left the audience screaming and stomping for more as the house lights came up.

The only truly disappointing part of the night was opening act Sugar Ray. Why this fledgling two-hit-wonder radio band--known for MTV's summer party favorite "Fly" and the current single "Every Morning"--was chosen is baffling.

Rolling Stones About half-way through its set, my mom astutely observed "I think they only know one song." But at least Sugar Ray has a sense of humor about its limitations and seems to know the clock is ticking; its latest album is titled 14:59.

I suppose a lot of girls are taken with Sugar Ray vocalist Mark McGrath's California-boy good looks, which could account for the band's popularity. Personally, I prefer the rebellious hard-living old-timers to the fleeting vanilla celebrities. I hope when I'm older, I'm lucky enough to wake up every morning next to someone with as much lasting appeal as Richards or Jagger--they're really not bad for a bunch of old geezers.

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Web extra to the April 22-28, 1999 issue of Metro.

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