For the Rolling Stones, time is on their side

Their latest tour demonstrates that they still rock, advancing years notwithstanding

Pop Music

September 29, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | By Chris Kaltenbach,SUN ARTS WRITER

If this truly is to be the last Rolling Stones tour -- and with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards both pushing 60, it could very well be -- then the time has come to stop obsessing on how old they are, on whether they remain relevant, on whether they've put out a decent album since Tattoo You, on whether rock and roll is a young man's game with no room for elder statesmen who refuse to concede the stage.

The time has come to plunk down your money and go see them, especially if you've never been. There's a reason these guys are called the world's greatest rock and roll band, and it has nothing to do with hype, public relations or fiftysomething fans who refuse to retire gracefully.

It has to do with a body of work unrivaled over the past four decades. It has to do with a group of guys who know everything there is to know about rock and roll, about a band that includes both rock's greatest poseur (Mick) and truest rebel (Keith) -- until you start thinking about those labels, and realize they're immaterial, irrelevant and inaccurate. It has to do with an energy that remains astonishingly undiminished.

And it has to do with that tingling feeling, that rush of adrenaline, that takes over whenever those first jarring chords of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" hit your ears.

Seeing the Stones in concert -- as Philadelphians did three times earlier this month, and as folks around here will be able to do Friday, when the band plays FedEx Field in Landover -- is an experience that defies description in all the best possible ways. To see and hear them play the way they are during this tour and not be moved, in ways both joyful and profound, is to deny the power of rock and roll. To dismiss the Stones, even at this late stage of the game, is less a judgment call than a lack of judgment altogether.

Whether it was Keith smiling through the outlaw anthem "Before They Make Me Run," sultry backup singer Lisa Fischer adding some appropriately apocalyptic shadings to "Gimme Shelter," or the senses-crashing final notes of "Satisfaction," the Stones in Philadelphia were proof that, even in rock and roll, it is possible to age without necessarily growing old. And while professionalism may be a poor aesthetic substitute for passion, it can prove no less satisfying when it comes time to perform.

There's a fascinating, circle-closing aspect to what the band is billing as its Licks Tour, a look back on everything the Stones have done so well for so long. The play list spans their entire career: The 40 different songs they played over the course of their three Philly shows ran the gamut from "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," which appeared on 1965's The Rolling Stones, Now!, to "Don't Stop," which will appear on next month's greatest-hits package, Forty Licks (their 42nd album).

Three different venues

And while the majority of the tour is being performed in single shows in stadiums and arenas (as in Landover this week), the band is also trying something new: In certain lucky cities, they're performing shows in three different-sized venues, small, medium and large. In Philly, that meant Sept. 18 at Veterans Stadium (capacity 50,000), Sept. 20 at the adjacent First Union Center (capacity 21,000) and Sept. 22 at the Tower Theatre in nearby Upper Darby, Pa. (capacity 3,000).

Not only are the venues different, but so are the play lists. The stadiums are for showcasing the monster hits ("Brown Sugar," "Jumping Jack Flash," "Tumbling Dice"), while the arena shows are meant to be a little more eclectic, each one spotlighting a different album (for the First Union Center, it was 1969's Let It Bleed). The small theater shows are meant for the hardcore fans, including songs the band has rarely, if ever, played in front of an audience. (The Tower set included "Heart of Stone" which probably hadn't been heard live in 35 years.)

The concept is not only a stroke of marketing genius -- a lot of fans felt the need to attend all three shows, and ticket packages were sold for more than $3,000 -- but also a nod to the band's unique place in the rock pantheon, as well as to their role in the development of the live rock show. It was the Stones, after all, who pioneered the monster-sized stadium tours in the early 1970s; it was also the Stones who started playing smaller venues, as a way of returning to their roots and forcibly downsizing the scale of their performances, during their 1978 American tour.

True, the average age in the band is around 56, which may be just a tick older than the average age of those paying to see them. But at the Vet, that's not what anyone was talking about. As one well-lubricated fan, drinking beer from a plastic cup shaped like a guitar, kept screaming into his friend's ear, "It's all about the Mick, man, it's all about the Mick."

Confident musicians

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