Mick Jagger’s dancing has never been understated, but it gets even broader when he’s performing in open-air stadiums — as he was last night when the Rolling Stones kicked off their 2015 “Zip Code” tour with a rock-solid performance at San Diego’s Petco Park. Blessed with one of the most charismatic frontmen in rock history, the Stones don’t need to do much extra work to entertain a sold-out stadium: they’ve even retired the gigantic inflatable “Honky Tonk Women.” The show began with the band emerging in color-coordinated outfits of purple and blue to perform “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and it ended with fireworks as they played “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Otherwise, they were content to spend two and a quarter hours playing their greatest hits (leavened with a few less-obvious selections from their insanely deep catalog) and let the 71-year-old Sir Mick flail his arms like he was waving semaphore flags.
These days, Jagger has utter commitment to many parts of his job: he runs across the stage (and into the crowd on a lengthy runway) like he’s doing windsprints to qualify for an Olympic squad. He sings with surprisingly clear diction, as if he were trying to settle decades-old questions about mumbled lyrics for any fan who comes to a Stones concert. He plays harmonica better than ever. And he changes outfits like he’s a Vegas showgirl, wearing everything from red spangled tailcoats to capes adorned with feathers. What he can’t quite bring himself to do is ask the crowd “Are you doing good?” and sound like he means it — whenever he enacts that particular show-biz ritual, the words sound like they’ve been marinated in sarcasm, suggesting that there is a corner of Jagger’s soul that was never touched by show biz. Similarly, when Jagger announced that they would be playing a song selected by fan vote, he told the crowd that the band didn’t know the results until they appeared on the screen. “It’s a surprise for us,” he declared, and then muttered, “If you believe that. . .”
Keith Richards remains the heart of the Rolling Stones, but for long stretches last night, he appeared to be accenting songs with his guitar and letting Ron Wood do more of the heavy lifting. The two guitarists’ interplay has evolved over the years, but a mutual affection comes through in the music, and in the way that Richards did a brief slow-dance waltz with Wood during “Sympathy for the Devil.” For his two-song turn on lead vocals, Richards chose “Slipping Away” from Steel Wheels and “Before They Make Me Run” from Some Girls (although he originally announced his second song would be “Can’t Be Seen,”-adding “God knows what album this is on.” Personal memo to Keith: it’s also on Steel Wheels!).
Drummer Charlie Watts was indispensable, as always; the Stones were also joined by Darryl Jones on bass, Chuck Leavell on keyboards, Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler on backing vocals, and (with Bobby Keys having died late last year) Tim Ries and Karl Denson on saxophone. Also spotted providing backing vocals from his seat in the audience: basketball Hall of Famer (and famous Deadhead) Bill Walton.
The evening’s highlight came early on, with a set of three songs drawn from Sticky Fingers. “Not the whole album, which we did the other night in Los Angeles,” warned Jagger. “I think we got away with it.” “Bitch” featured bluesman Gary Clark Jr. (also the evening’s opening act, delivering an excellently heavy set). On “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” original guitarist Mick Taylor was missed, but Wood stepped up to deliver his own stinging interpretation of the solo as the band got extremely polyrhythmic. “Almost jazz,” Jagger commented after the song. And “Moonlight Mile” was slow, hypnotic, and gorgeous.
Jagger, ever the gracious host, noted that the Stones were the first musicians ever to play a concert at Petco Park, back in 2005, and made a point of praising the Petco corporation. “They provided all of our backstage catering,” he claimed. “I personally like the chicken and venison tin.”
1. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
2. “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)”
3. “All Down the Line”
4. “Tumbling Dice”
5. “Doom and Gloom”
7. “Moonlight Mile”
8. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”
9. “Street Fighting Man”
10. “Honky Tonk Women”
11. “Slipping Away”
12. “Before They Make Me Run”
13. “Midnight Rambler”
14. “Miss You”
15. “Gimme Shelter”
16. “Start Me Up”
17. “Sympathy for the Devil”
18. “Brown Sugar”
19. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
20. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”