The inexhaustible Rolling Stones gigged San Diego’s Petco Park this weekend, the first stop on a 15-city North American tour that will take them to cities missed on their continental run of a few years back. Called the Zip Code tour, the summer jaunt offers the band yet another opportunity to ponder real life issues in song.
On Sunday, these topics included brown sugar (and why it tastes so good), the whirlwind life of the devil, dissatisfaction despite trying and trying and trying. In “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” Mick Jagger wondered why a lover with satin shoes and cocaine eyes wouldn’t let him in despite all the banging. Ah, memories.
Unlike lesser big-budget bands who accidentally fall off stages or get fat and ugly, the Stones just keep on rolling, seemingly indestructible boulders that once set in motion can make an exciting mess of things. When a Rolling Stone does tumble, for example, it’s from a coconut tree, not off a bicycle. The injuries may take longer to heal, the lines on their faces may be deeper -- Charlie Watts is starting to look like a Day of the Dead drummer -- and it may take a few more songs to get to peak momentum, but the joy and urgency mostly remain.
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Riffs, rhythms, prances, genetics and marketing combine to create the so-called world’s best rock 'n' roll band. This recipe drew a sold-out baby boomer crowd to wear their lip-and-tongue Stones logos, get super drunk and party in the aisles of a baseball stadium.
From riff No. 1 -- “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” -- the thousands were locked in. The Stones seldom paused, driving through hits and highlights from its heavy catalog: “All Down the Line” moved with runaway train momentum. “Bitch” featured a killer cameo by young Texas bluesman Gary Clark Jr., who opened the show. Trading solos with Richards, Clark delivered a run that was both patient and melodic, one less about quantity than quality of notes.
Mid-set jams “Street Fighting Man” and “Honky Tonk Women” showcased the Stones’ musical dexterity, while Jagger, 71, relied on his physical dexterity to run the stage. As skinny and fit as ever, he pumped the crowd with timeless grace. For his part, Richards looked mummified a decade back. Now, at 71, he just looks like an old blues dude having a blast playing guitar. Rhythm guitarist Ron Wood, 67, still smokes cigarettes onstage and still slays with his six strings. His carved features are more distinct and his head of hair is suspiciously thick. He still wears that devil-may-care grin when he solos.
Still, the Stones are not superheroes. Behind the scenes, it was a rough 2014. Last spring Jagger’s longtime partner, L'Wren Scott, took her own life. In December, Richards’ best friend, saxophonist Bobby Keys, died. Time, it seems, is less and less on their side. But despite the shifting sands, the Stones showed a determination to forge ahead -- even if they seemed less interested in exploring heartbreak and mortality.
Which is to say, real-life issues didn't steer the set list in emotional new directions. Hardcore fans mostly know what they'll play, part of a batch of songs the Stones have perfected over the years. But at Petco, the Stones mixed it up because of a new reissue of “Sticky Fingers” they’re marketing. The release of the band’s countrified rock album from 1971 provided a good reason to bust out a few lesser-known dusties, including the album-closing ballad “Moonlight Mile.”
As the night gained momentum, Jagger sang of wandering Central Park and muttering in “Miss You.” With the help of a Cal State Long Beach choir, he sang of not always getting what you want but somehow always getting what you need.
Fifty-plus years in, who cares if the Rolling Stones hit the occasional bum note or two (they did), poked along a little less urgently than in their '70s prime (they did) or messed it up on occasion? Does it matter whether they used social media to help select a song to play, as they did for “Street Fighting Man”? No.
What’s the point of that? They already won the race. The rest is gravy. Only time itself, it seems, will stop the Stones.