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Music

The Rolling Stones at the Rose Bowl: Rock stars rolling out of bed into history

Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones -- from left, Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards -- at Thursday night’s Rose Bowl performance.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Somebody must have whispered into Mick Jagger’s ear. Or maybe he Googled it himself backstage as Keith Richards took the mike and sang a few songs. Either way, the Rolling Stones frontman — who greeted his audience Thursday night at the Rose Bowl by announcing, “I think we’ve been here before” — later felt obliged to clarify.

“It’s been 25 years since we played the Rose Bowl!” Jagger exclaimed near the end of the concert, referring to the superstar rock band’s last visit to Pasadena. “And it’s been 55 years since we first played L.A.!” That was Richards’ cue to start up “Start Me Up” — proof, if anyone needed it, that half a century may have dulled the group’s memory but had done nothing to soften its drive.

You think Jagger, once jogged, truly recalled that 1994 gig? It seems improbable — so many stadiums in so many cities for so many years. The thing about the Stones, though, is that they can somehow make a show feel tossed-off and like a capital-E event at the same time; the sensation is of watching a bunch of guys roll out of bed into history.

This one certainly carried a whiff of occasion. Part of the band’s No Filter tour, the concert was preceded by an appearance by the actor Robert Downey Jr., who revealed that the folks at NASA’s nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory had, uh, named a rock on Mars after the Stones.

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“While landing on the red planet’s surface,” Downey told the crowd, the InSight spacecraft “displaced a rock that rolled a fair distance in view of its onboard cameras.” (“I want to bring it back and put it on our mantelpiece,” Jagger quipped.)

More important, Thursday’s sold-out show — rescheduled from an earlier evening in May — came not long after the band’s 76-year-old singer underwent heart surgery; as a result of Jagger’s health scare, each No Filter date has had some heavy anticipatory energy swirling around it: Can he still deliver? And, if so, how many more times?

Rolling Stones
Thursday’s show was the band’s first concert at the Rose Bowl since 1994.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Of course he did at the Rose Bowl; they all did, because delivering is what the Rolling Stones do. Dressed in a gentlemanly array of bedazzled jackets, Jagger, Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts — the last never more Sam the Eagle-ish behind his kit — opened with a crisp “Street Fighting Man” and proceeded to burn through the classics that tens of thousands of people had each paid hundreds of dollars to hear: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” with its perpetual-motion machine of a riff; “Tumbling Dice” and “Honky Tonk Women,” both as funky as they were louche; “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with a deeply churchy coda that reminded you that Jagger was in the building when Aretha Franklin recorded “Amazing Grace.”

At one point the four men walked down a long runway to a smaller secondary stage on the stadium’s floor, where they did shuffling renditions of “Sweet Virginia” and “Dead Flowers.” Then they returned to the main stage so that Jagger could introduce his bandmates, who were joined by touring bassist Darryl Jones, longtime keyboardist Chuck Leavell and several horn players and backup singers. Watts, he said, was “Greenland’s new economic adviser,” a line he’d clearly been relishing.

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As assured as the presentation was here, the concert was also scrappy in that way the Stones alone among their peers can muster. “Gimme Shelter” was suitably nightmarish, sound bleeding all over the place; “Midnight Rambler” was looong and grinding. In “Brown Sugar,” whose images of racial and sexual bondage made the song feel like a sin to enjoy, Richards played the main guitar lick as though it were getting in the way of the real noise he wanted to make — just way more gloriously disheveled than you can even imagine Elton John or Paul McCartney getting.

Before the show’s fan-selected number — every night the Stones open up one slot in the set list to online voting — Jagger rattled off some of the titles that had been in contention (including “Can You Hear the Music” and “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena”) before announcing with obvious disappointment that the winner was “She’s a Rainbow.”

“So I guess that’s what we’re gonna do,” he muttered, and indeed the corny late-’60s psych-pop goof was a real embarrassment.

But what a gas to see Jagger and the rest of the Stones in fine enough health to regret it.


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