During 50 years of performing, the Rolling Stones have done some peach gigs: They’ve stood before Hells Angels at Altamont, sold out Wembley Stadium and Madison Square Garden, gigged the Palladium in Hollywood, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for “The T.A.M.I. Show” and countless rounds at the Forum. Until Saturday night, though, the band had never played Echo Park.
In a surprise gig described early in the set by Stones singer/dancer/showman Mick Jagger as “the first show of our North American tour,” the band played the Echoplex, a basement club with a capacity of 650. In the crowd were friends, family and a few hundred lucky, patient fans who’d won a ticket lottery earlier in the day.
I am a very fortunate Rolling Stones fan, and watched from a peach spot just in front of the sound board as the London band, currently celebrating 50 years as a unit, performed 60 minutes’ worth of classic material that focused on their work from the late 1960s through the early ‘80s, including “Love in Vain,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Respectable” and “Miss You.”
They did so on an extended stage that cut the Echoplex’s dance floor by half, so the Stones gig felt even smaller than those who know the venue might expect. When Jagger splashed some of his drinking water into the crowd, I got drenched — and then like any true fan, wiped the water all over my head, licked my lips to get some into my mouth. (This morning I feel like I’ve got some of Jagger’s DNA in my system.)
When Keith Richards, bandanna wrapped around his shock of gray hair and with gold hoop earrings, stepped up to hit the classic opening riff of “Start Me Up,” he did so with a force that knows no age, filled with power, confidence and the pure spirit of a man who has internalized blues, rhythm & blues, rock & roll and country. His six strings sent shock after shock through the venue.
Ditto Ron Wood, whose physique is as lithe and lean as his guitar lines; during “Street Fighting Man,” he worked with as much inspired physicality as in his days with the Faces.
The band’s been oiling the machine at a rehearsal space in the Valley, and the set had the feel of a final dress rehearsal for its upcoming tour, which starts Friday at Staples Center — capacity 19,000.
In the same way it’s unfair to critique the soft opening of a restaurant, this Stones gig at the Echoplex isn’t the one to review — that’ll come on Friday — but it is one that needs to be documented. After all, how many more times will the band be playing such a small space?
The set’s highlights were when the band stretched its material, and on three occasions these expansions thrilled the Echoplex. To see the Stones perform their classic dance-floor stomper “Miss You” on a Saturday night in a tight, sweaty space was as thrilling as you’d imagine. Bassist Darryl Jones pushed the rhythm, and his smooth solo was funkier than Bill Wyman’s original. Jagger pushed the crowd to sing along to his “oooh"-filled chorus, and the room did so willingly.
The Stones’ former guitarist Mick Taylor has been doing gigs with the band of late, and on Saturday he arrived for two of the evening’s most bluesy numbers: “Love in Vain,” the Robert Johnson-penned song that the Stones (with Taylor) covered on “Let It Bleed.” To watch Wood, Richards and Taylor work the blues was to witness three great guitarists tap into the depths.
As they’ve done for years, the Stones brought backing vocalists Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fischer to harmonize with Jagger, and keyboardist Chuck Leavell resurrected the late Ian Stewart’s piano runs like a mystic.
Equally deep was “Midnight Rambler,” which Jagger presented with as much menacing energy as ever. Again, with the three guitarists working a chunky blues progression, the band delivered both big volume and energy; these didn’t seem like 70-odd-year-old men but vessels for a music that is as timeless in 2013 as when the Stones were starting out.
And any mention of time must acknowledge the metronomic Charlie Watts, a man whose jazz-inspired drumming offered typical consistency. Equally adept at the disco rhythms of “Miss You” and “She’s So Cold” and the rock of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Brown Sugar” — both of which the band performed in its encore — Watts continued his uninterrupted reign as rock’s most measured drummer.
How was the gig? How the hell do you think it was? It was the Stones in a little club, and for most in attendance, a dream come true.
That’s how it was.
Set list for the Echoplex show, April 27, 2013
— “You Got Me Rocking”
— “She’s So Cold”
— “Live With Me”
— “Street Fighting Man”
— “That’s How Strong My Love Is (Otis Redding cover)
— “Little Queenie” (Chuck Berry cover)
— “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” (The Temptations cover)
— “Miss You”
— “Love in Vain” (Robert Johnson cover, with Mick Taylor)
— “Midnight Rambler” (with Mick Taylor)
— “Start Me Up”
— “Brown Sugar”
— “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit