Years Go By
The Rolling Stones, Alanis Morrisette
Arena, Sept. 17
We all heard the same tired jokes recycled from the last time
the Stones went out. Cruel barbs flew around the net. Many
friends flat-out refused to go to this show, stating emphatically
that the Stones were over long ago. Others balked at the ticket
prices, justifiably. Three hundred sixty-four dollars? What
the hell’s that? Who’s getting all that Ameritrade money?
Not us, that’s for sure.
Around 1970, the Buffalo Evening News published soon-to-be
major rock writer Billy Altman’s master’s thesis from the
University of Buffalo’s School of Rock and Roll Studies (no,
I’m not making this up). Altman’s thesis was this: The most
important note in the history of rock & roll was the sliver
of silence between Keith Richards’ first two chords of “Brown
Sugar.” Assuming Altman was right, I put forth the proposition
that a close second is the sliver of silence between the third
and forth chords of “Start Me Up.”
That’s what the Stones opened with. The first three chords
slashed like a knife, then the pause. The crowd roared, but
I couldn’t. I didn’t think I even liked that song, beaten
to death as it was by Microsoft and the radio. But I had a
lump in my throat, and nearly passed out.
For the first hour of the show, the Stones surprisingly dug
deep into their new album, A Bigger Bang, by my count
playing only about three of their countless big hits. Without
the distracting patina of familiarity, the new songs offered
the listener a glimpse into the soul of the band. The new
stuff is close in spirit and form to the raw Exile on Main
Street; only time will tell if there are any classics
there, but suffice it to say that both the songs and the band
rocked like nobody’s business. They meant it.
Keith Richards was beaming, glowing, playing leads, singing
(well!), and he cut the air with his patented stick-figure-
drawing moves. Jagger was Jagger. Every year for the last
40 years or so, a couple guys come out doing Jagger struts,
Jagger faces, and Jagger poses. And they all look like idiots
doing it—except of course, for Mick. OK, and Tina Turner,
who may well have done them all first. Charlie Watts, playing
the same old beat-up maple Gretsch set he’s played for years,
is the most unlikely-looking rock drummer, and, simply, the
best. The best.
The biggest left turn of the show was a crunchy spin though
Ray Charles’ “Night Time Is the Right Time” with Jagger deferring
to the remarkable singer Lisa Fischer, who looked like she
could snap Jagger like a twig if she were so inclined.
We were located on the floor next to a fence that blocked
off a narrow corridor down the middle of the hall. During
the first verse of “Miss You,” the center section of the stage,
with the core band on it, broke free and rolled slowly down
the corridor to the middle of the room, stopping next to our
seats. We stepped over and leaned on the fence, like we were
talking to our neighbors. Except our neighbors were the Rolling
Stones. Two feet away. Hey Keith, how’s them tomatoes comin’
Timeless. Priceless (how “priceless” and “$364” fit together
you’ll have to figure out for yourself). There is the Rolling
Stones, and then there is everybody else.
It’s a long-standing tradition for crowds to rudely ignore
the Stones’ opening acts, but strangely, Alanis Morrisette
didn’t let that happen. She ran her hits, and a killer version
of Seal’s “Crazy,” in the most straightforward, almost dignified
way, without any of her annoying burpy histrionics. The crowd
ate her up and she could easily have taken an encore if she
was allowed one. She was great.