I wasn’t planning to see the Rolling Stones this time around, even though they were playing a few miles from my house. Tickets prices from 150-600 seemed exorbitant beyond the pale, and the ‘cheap’ seats sold out right away anyway, so I initially gave it a pass. A couple of weeks before the show, I learned from one of my colleagues that one of our university choral groups would be backing the Stones on one song, which piqued my interest. Then I watched as the top and middle tier tickets for the preceding show, at the Oakland Arena, gradually decreased in price, so I began monitoring availability for the San Jose show, and a similar pattern emerged. The day before the show, I went to the venue and asked for the best seat $150 could buy, which turned out to be in the 8th row of the lower section immediately facing the right side of the stage. Although it still pains to think of $150 tickets as reasonable, that price point worked for me, so I plunked down my card.
The next night, I got to the pavilion about 730, just as people were being let in for the 8 PM show. Getting inside, I learned that my 8th row seat was actually the first row, as the lower seats had been removed to allow for an ample pit between the stage and the seats. From that vantage point I was able to watch the rich and famous wander in and out of the ‘tongue pit,’ the general admission area situated between the stage and the circular runway that stretched well out into the audience.
The 8:00 starting time proved to be quite optimistic, and I watched some of the Stones ensemble musicians wandering around down in the pit and, watched as the light crew made their way up a precarious rope ladder to their posts on the lighting rig about 100 feet above the stage. Finally, near 9 PM, a video started playing with various celebrities sharing their earliest memories of the band A tape of martial drumming started playing as the musicians picked up their instruments and took their places onstage and, following an introduction, the group slammed into “Get Off My Cloud.” From the start, Mick Jagger was all over the stage, gesticulating with his hands and running from one side of the massive stage to another while singing. At 70, Jagger remains in remarkable shape, and his energy throughout the entire 2 ¼ hour show was a marvel to behold.
The band plowed through the hits, with Ron Wood picking up an electric sitar for “Paint it Black” and picking out country riffs on his lap steel for “No Expectations” and “”. The guest stars were well chosen for the bay area – John Fogerty trading vocals with Jagger on “It’s All Over Now” and Bonnie Raitt singing and playing some mean slide guitar on “Let it Bleed. As on other stops on the tour, Mick Taylor came out for guitar turns on both “Midnight Rambler” and the final encore, “Satisfaction.” Chubby and weathered, Taylor shows his years much more plainly than his former bandmates, but his blazing, if sometimes overly busy, solos showed that his remarkable chops are still intact.
Charlie Watts remains one of popular music’s treasures, and his crisp drum work, as devoid of showmanship, melded nicely with the equally understated, but brilliant bass playing of Daryl Jones. Chuck Leavell, now a Stones veteran, knows just what is needed to embellish each Stones song with keyboard ornamentation and drive. The brass team of Bobby Keys and Tim Reis trotted onstage as needed, and added that extra punch to songs like “Bitch” and Keys inevitably added his signature solo to “Brown Sugar.”
Additional singers Lisa Fisher and Bernard Fowler mostly just added depth to Jagger’s vocals, although Fowler was given a chance to show her solo chops on a couple of tunes, notably through a very sexy duet with Jagger on “Gimme Shelter.”
With the exception of one newly recorded tune, the workmanlike rocker “One More Shot,” pretty much everything the Stones played was recorded between 1965 and 1980. From what I could see, the audience was pretty evenly split between those who were old enough to have seen them during those formative years and those who weren’t yet born then.
It was an energetic show, with Jagger showing no signs of slowing down, although an inconspicuously placed lyrics teleprompter was clearly visible from my stageside vantage point. The same can’t necessarily be said of Richards, who played with fire, but mostly hung out on the same place onstage, finally taking a relaxed lap around the tongue pit near the end of the set.
The show’s high point for me was the first encore, when the San Jose State University Choraliers joined the band for a gorgeous version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
The fact that the core four of the Rolling Stones are alive, together and performing 50 years after the group formed is remarkable. That they can still deliver world class rock and roll with conviction is nothing short of miraculous.