“Hey, hey, hey!” Mick Jagger shouted as he rushed to the stage last night at the humble Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, beginning a surprise Rolling Stones gig to officially launch the 2015 Zip Code Tour. The appearance followed days of rumors suggesting that the band was set to play an intimate club show in Los Angeles, and all speculation ended Wednesday morning when the Stones announced the concert online. The $5 tickets, believe it or not, immediately sold out.
At the Fonda, the Stones wasted no more time with talk. They immediately ripped into their signature opener, 1981’s “Start Me Up,” with a restless onstage energy, and Jagger anxiously paced and waved his arms, snarling, “Kick on the starter, give it all you got, you got, you got!” Ron Wood took the night’s first guitar solo, hopping in place until Jagger playfully bumped him hard on the shoulder.
Jagger, 71 years old, led with a lean physical energy that could outpace most of the fans in the room, and the years have only added ease and depth to his bluesy growl. When the band followed with “When the Whip Comes Down,” he shouted the lyrics like a crank on a New York street corner. Keith Richards then flashed a bright grin, gray hair tumbling from beneath a scarf tied across his forehead, and leaned into the riff on “All Down the Line.”
Just days ahead of the tour’s first stadium show in San Diego, the band appeared well-rehearsed and fully-charged for the summer. Stripped of video screens, fireworks and the giant inflatable girls they’re known to bring to the world’s biggest stages, the Stones remain a supremely gifted rock & roll band. On this night, no theatrics were needed.
The tour is timed to the coming Sticky Fingers reissue, and here the band played its 10 songs in one set for the first time. “We’re going to do the whole of Sticky Fingers – but in the order of the 8-track tape,” Jagger joked, rearranging the set list for a better-paced show. “Next time we’ll come back and do Satanic Majesties.”
“Sway” included some sultry soloing from Wood, who added his own accent into the song while Jagger sang wearily of living “that evil life.” The singer was raw and vulnerable on “Moonlight Mile,” and as Charlie Watts pounded the mallets, a light fog hovered over the stage.
“There might be some Sixties drug references in this record,” said Jagger, introducing “Sister Morphine” to a generation-spanning crowd that included everyone from Harry Styles to Jack Nicholson. Opening with the stark acoustic chords of Richards, the song was scratchy and haunted as ever, Wood recreating the searing Ry Cooder slide guitar twang. “That is seriously a bit of a down song,” the frontman concluded. “There’s more to come. I think it was sort of a down period.”
Richards sat with a 12-string for a bit of mournful blues on Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move,” the first song of the night that belonged undeniably to the iconic guitarist. As it ended, Jagger turned to the crowd and asked, “Can you sing one? Let’s try it.” He then led a spontaneous chorus through the tune’s melodic moan, and Richards reprised the old folk-blues riff.
The Stones first visited Hollywood back in 1964. That trip didn’t go quite so well, and Dean Martin made fun of the young long-hairs when they appeared on his variety show Hollywood Palace. On Wednesday, Jagger spoke of the location and celebrity quotient, joking that actress Jane Fonda was in the house with her late father, Henry, and Miley Cyrus was there with Clark Gable. “Taylor Swift is here with Dean Martin,” Jagger went on. “Thank you, Dean. I love your work.” The band then tore into a well-timed “Bitch,” raging to a chopping Richards rhythm and a brassy blast of horns.
The last Stones road trip included a guest spot for former guitarist Mick Taylor. His absence is particularly conspicuous considering the prominent role he played on Sticky Fingers, but the band managed to fully recreate most of those songs without missing a step. The one exception was the seven-minute epic “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” The Stones began with a grinding Richards riff, but then the guitars went soft and funky as the saxman Karl Denson took centerstage for a round of sultry, jazzy honking. Keyboardist Chuck Leavell played a rousing lead and Jagger shook a pair of maracas at the crowd, but guitars were nearly invisible for much of this beloved album cut. Taylor was missed.
The band’s encore began as a tribute to B.B. King, who died last week and “was one of our favorite guitarists,” Jagger said. Their smoldering take on King’s “Rock Me Baby” included solos from Richards and Wood that were among their finest moments of the night. The elegant bluesman was a generation older than the Stones, and he kept making music for almost his entire life. At the Fonda, the Rolling Stones looked ready to continue that tradition, keeping the music active and alive right until the end.