After 50 years, certain aspects of Rolling Stones concerts are completely unsurprising, even if you've never been to one. The show concludes with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Charlie Watts plays his Spartan drum kit with flair and swing. Mick Jagger has more energy than a cheerleading squad that's been chugging Red Bull.
Kicking off their 50 & Counting tour last night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Stones had plenty of twists, however – starting with the UCLA marching band, which began the show by working their way through the crowd while playing a remarkably funky version of "Satisfaction." Highlights of the set included a vigorous version of the folkie nugget "Factory Girl" from Beggar's Banquet and a song the Stones had never before played live ("never ever ever," Jagger testified), despite it being a Number One hit: "Emotional Rescue." The 1974 single "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)" got a stripped-down bluesy arrangement that made it sound like it belonged on 12 X 5, a decade earlier.
"You Can't Always Get What You Want" had a choir on loan from California State University's Long Beach campus and climaxed with a gospel breakdown. Country star Keith Urban came out for the Some Girls deep cut "Respectable" (very cool choice) and not only sang the hell out of it, but held his own trading guitar solos with Keith Richards and Ron Wood. He fared much better than Gwen Stefani, who looked adorable in a sparkly Stones shirt and ironed Seventies hair but couldn't find the heart of "Wild Horses," just offering vocal swoops and hiccups. Mick Taylor's one-song appearance on "Midnight Rambler" has been well-hyped, but the return of the prodigal Stone was still a treat. When Jagger and Taylor leaned in together, Jagger adopted his most ominous demeanor, but Taylor struggled to keep a grin off his face – he looked like he was having the time of his life, and he played like it, too.
Similarly, when Richards took charge of the band for two songs ("Before They Make Me Run" and "Happy"), he had the gleeful demeanor of a teenager who'd just swiped his dad's car keys. "It's great to be here," he told the crowd. "It's great to be anywhere, let's be honest."
Jagger also alluded to the band's advancing years, saying that they were playing the Staples Center to make the Lakers look younger. (The show was pushed back one day so it wouldn't conflict with a potential Lakers playoff game.) But Jagger, at 69 years old, is in fine voice and still has an astonishing array of dance moves: he struts across the stage like Bob Fosse demonstrating a solo for the funky chicken, he windmills his arms in secret semaphore messages, he hops from one foot to the other as if the floor was electrified; he even does jazz hands. Richards contents himself with his trademark move, the left leg kick, but each time he does that kick, it feels like he's genuinely moved by the sounds coming out of his guitar and needs a physical outlet.
If Richards' fingers aren't as nimble as they once were, his phrasing has only improved with time. When he and Wood hit the core of a song, as they consistently did, they felt like two old friends sitting on a park bench, finishing each other's sentences.
The band was rounded out by the Stones' usual sidemen, including Darryl Jones on bass, Chuck Leavell on keyboards, Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler on backing vocals, and Bobby Keys on saxophone. The sound gradually filled out as the evening went on, until "Brown Sugar" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" were full-blast rock & roll, capable of blowing a 50-amp fuse.
Although the arena was full, to pack the house, the promoter had to sell a slew of tickets discounted to $85 at the last minute. Top-notch seats went for as much as $600, which prompted Jagger's best line of the night: "Good evening, Los Angeles! Or is it really just Beverly Hills, Brentwood and parts of Santa Monica?"
1. "Get Off of My Cloud"
2. "The Last Time"
3. "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)"
4. "Paint It, Black"
5. "Gimme Shelter"
6. "Wild Horses" (with Gwen Stefani)
7. "Factory Girl"
8. "Emotional Rescue"
9. "Respectable" (with Keith Urban)
10. "Doom and Gloom"
11. "One More Shot"
12. "Honky Tonk Women"
13. "Before They Make Me Run"
15. "Midnight Rambler" (with Mick Taylor)
16. "Miss You"
17. "Start Me Up"
18. "Tumbling Dice"
19. "Brown Sugar"
20. "Sympathy for the Devil"
21. "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
22. "Jumpin' Jack Flash"
23. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"
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