Rolling along with what works

The Stones concert from New York airs on HBO tomorrow

January 17, 2003|By Roger Catlin | Roger Catlin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When something works for the Rolling Stones, they stick with it.

They have stayed on top of the concert circuit by sticking largely to their classic songs of the '60s. And although Keith Richards and Mick Jagger will turn 60 this year, they stick with the wise-guy schoolboy answers that band members have given at press conferences since the Beatles did it in A Hard Day's Night.

When the venerable rockers faced television critics in Los Angeles recently, via a satellite hookup from Montreal, they couldn't help quipping.

How will they translate their 2002-2003 tour to television, when The Rolling Stones: Live From Madison Square Garden airs on HBO Saturday?

"We're going to turn it up," said Richards.

How does the band distinguish itself from bands that have lost so many members over the years?

Richards: "We're alive."

You're playing Houston on the 25th. How will that show be different from the one on the 18th?

Richards: "It will be a few days later."

Charlie [Watts], whenever we see the Stones, your expression seems to be one of extreme boredom throughout the set. And even now, you're just kind of staring off into space. Are you excited by the music still, or is it just your natural expression?

Watts: "Both."

Is Bill Wyman absolutely retired? Is there any way he would ever play with you guys again?

Richards: "He could come back as a funeral director."

Amid the joking, overlapping cracks and rapid-fire comebacks, there was the occasional nugget of information about the show.

"The Garden is an intimate place, really, for us," Jagger said. "I think Madison Square Garden is quite - you feel quite close to everyone there."

On the Stones' current 40th anniversary tour, highlighting greatest hits, they have learned scores of old songs they hadn't played for years, and in some cases had never played in concert. On different nights they showcase songs from beloved older albums such as Exile on Main Street and Let It Bleed.

For the HBO special, though, the Stones haven't decided what they'll do.

"No, we haven't actually done the set list yet," Jagger said. But no doubt there will be more than a few favorites.

"Now, of course, there are nights when you want to throw the set list out the window," Jagger said. "I think people like to hear certain things, but you don't want to just play those. You want to play other things."

Rock 'n' roll has taken its lumps in recent years - beaten on the charts by rap and pop. But it's not dead, Jagger said.

"I think rock music is still interesting," he said.

Day-to-day operations on tour are smoother now, they say. "We're really comfortable with each other's company," Jagger said. "I think that's why we managed to sort of keep together so long."

And, by now, they're immune to what people write about them - good or bad.

"There are music critics that sometimes, of course, when they write really good things about you, you think that they are probably on to something," Jagger said. "And when they write bad things about you, you just say, oh, they've completely lost the point, and they're too old to be ... still doing it."

Their own age, of course, is not only one of the main issues that come up in press conferences like this, but it's also often one of the first. "An age question to start with!" Jagger exclaimed before answering with a little more thought.

"All the milestones have been passed and surpassed, I think. So we'll coin a few more new ones," he said.

Roger Catlin writes for the Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

On TV

What: The Rolling Stones: Live From Madison Square Garden

When: 9 p.m. tomorrow

Where: HBO

In brief: Turn it up.

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