The Rolling Stones Deliver A Stunner In L.A.

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On "You Can't Always Get What You Want," there was a long guitar break and then a sax player, Trevor Lawrence, appeared to join the solo. The guttural, pure instrumental voice was stunning. Ron Wood's weakness on solo runs was embarrassingly displayed — it was one of only four mistakes I counted at that performance. This is a so-called sloppy band — though in fact, they are one of the tightest in the world — and four mistakes in total is as perfect a night as anyone ever gets.

Next came a set of songs that I call the Danger Suite. By this time, the crack of cherry bombs had doubled the intensity, reminding one of the possibility of violence that has always charged a Rolling Stones concert with tension and catharsis. The Danger Suite begins with "Midnight Rambler," moves to "Street Fighting Man," returns to rock frenzy with "Jumpin" Jack Flash" and closes with their encore, "Sympathy for the Devil." Three more horn players (Jesse Ed Davis, Bobby Keys, Steve Madeo) emerged for this last part of the show and drove the rhythm section to a peak that must have lasted a half-hour or more.

"Midnight Rambler" is a show-stopper under any circumstances. Its very texture is tension. There were six different tempos in the live performance of this song. On some nights they have used the long guitar sections for riffing and ad-libs, but this night "Rambler" was controlled, frightening in its precision, not an extra bar or slip in it, every note honed to the unceasing buildup.

This ritual dance on the theme of murder is shaking. It is followed by the nostalgia and excitement of the themes called forth by the blunt, similarly violent mood of "Street Fighting Man." The collective effect is one of mystery and abandon. But I like it. I like it. I like it. I like it. I like itonly rock & roll. I like it. Only rock & rollBut I like it. I like it . . .

"Sympathy for the Devil" — though not among the finest of their songs — is a finale that cannot be denied. There is something about it like a firestorm: the introduction of evil and the simplicity of the lines, "Just as every cop is a criminal, and every sinner a saint," . . . Gimme shelter, indeed, oh please . . .

In San Francisco, where I saw two more shows, Greil Marcus, author of Mystery Train, reminded me of something I had said to him at the time we were assembling our coverage of the Altamont concert. (Which was five-and-a-half years ago. It is time to remove the curse of Altamont from this group, from rock & roll itself, from ourselves.) I had pointed out that the victim was snuffed as the band played "Under My Thumb," not, as everyone still believes, during "Sympathy for the Devil." Apparently, I said it doesn't matter; no one will ever think that it didn't happen during "Sympathy"; even if it didn't happen during that song, it did. And so, this last song in the show, in the Danger Suite, calls forth the reality of an actual, remembered, distinct death.

In this year's performances of "Sympathy," in L.A. at least, the blatant evil of the piece was diminished by the deliberately considered addition of other elements, particularly the several dozen Latin drummers and dancers who circled the stage, with Jagger joining in, dressed in all types of everyday outrageous funk, giving the whole stage and song — as Jagger was playing call-and-response with the wild-eyed audience, screaming high-pitched "wooo-wooo"s back and forth, making the hall resonate with wild, electrifying, haunting screams — the partial ambience of a Caribbean Mardi Gras dance, as if in blissful ignorance of the most popularly frightening of all of the Stones strains.

At the end I was convinced that I had seen not only the best show of this tour but possibly the best Stones concert ever. They are better as a band in 1975 than at any previous time. That's a conceited claim, stated in a conceited fashion, but I think it's true. I was raving about it for days afterward to anyone who would listen.

This is a story from the September 11, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone.

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