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Review: The Rolling Stones in Fine Form at HP Pavilion

In Music
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Mick Jagger knows how to personalize a show. In between cries of “San Ho-zay!” and a nod to the Sharks, Jagger recalled playing the San Jose Civic Auditorium all the way back in 1965. Either he has an amazing memory, or a good patter researcher.

Jagger regaled the large, all-standing crowd at HP Pavilion with a great (if surely apocryphal anecdote) about a ’70s tour when he met “two guys named Steve working with a bunch of wires in a garage,” who asked him to be part of an invention that would change the world.

“I said, no thanks, that’ll never work,” quipped Jagger.

Of course, by now, the Rolling Stones are the biggest rock & roll band in the world just as Apple is the richest company in the world (give our take the day’s stock price), and they gave a rousing two-hour-plus set to drive the point home.

After a dispensable video montage of Stones fans remembering their crush on the band, the show started just after 9pm with “Get Off of My Cloud,” as the trim if grizzled figures of Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts (with Darryl Jones on bass) emerged in front of a large screen topped by a huge inflated upper lip.

PHOTOS: More images from the HP Pavilion concert

The opening numbers felt a bit unsteady, but “Paint It Black” was as rich and chilling as ever, with its downright apocalyptic plea: “I want to see the sun blotted out from the sky.”

Also from the band’s early days, “It’s All Over Now” sounded sharp, and was amped up with guest guitar work by John Fogerty. Richards, generally laid-back seemed energized by Fogerty’s roaring solo work and added his best licks of the night so far.

Also on the guest-star list was Bonnie Raitt, who is as weather-beaten as Richards these days, doing a nasty duet with Jagger on “Let It Bleed.”

But the signal add-on of the night was Mick Taylor, the Stone’s guitarist from 1969 to 1974. Taylor helped the band scorch its way through “Midnight Rambler” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The latter was given added depth by the SJSU Choir, which provided the necessary soaring backup vocals.

Aside from a few clunkers—“Emotional Rescue” has never worked, and never will; Richards’ vocals on “Before They Make Me Run” and “Happy” were desultory; Mick needs to jettison the feather cape on “Sympathy for the Devil,” it makes him look like Big Bird in mourning—the show felt thrilling and alive, even if these were songs most of the audience knew by heart. There’s a fine line between nostalgia and timelessness, and the Stones know which side to come down on. Otherwise, the spectacle of a 70-year-old man in tights gesturing like a spastic mime and imitating snake slithers with his arms would be ridiculous by now—but somehow It never grows stale.

The centerpiece of the night—and proof that the Stones still matter a hell of a lot—was a sensational version of “Gimme Shelter.” The song, with its heartfelt cries for relief from the overwhelming tragedies of history, nature and evil (including the devil we are supposed to sympathize with), can raise the hackles on one’s neck. Lisa Fisher injected the song with her full-bore upper-register vocals, proving a worthy match for Jagger in the “it’s just kiss away, kiss away” section.

Other memorable moments: Ron Wood’s sensational turns on slide guitar and general sense of joyous abandon; and Richards’ penetrating solo on “Sympathy for the Devil.”

The night wound up with, naturally, “Satisfaction,” another song that has never lost its relevance—the world is more full of “useless information/supposed to fire my imagination” than ever, thanks to the Internet and the world-changing invention Mick supposedly saw in that garage.

Taylor returned to the stage for some powerhouse guitar work, and Wood, Taylor and Richards, pressing together in front of Watts’ drum kit, looked like they were having the time of their lives—proof that you can turn back the clock again and again.

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