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As Years Go By
By Paul Rapp

The Rolling Stones, Alanis Morrisette

Pepsi 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’ up? Aiy!

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.

 

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