Stones Electrify Arizona

Video screen captures on my humble Android: (top) Keith, left, and Ronnie lay down that elemental Stones guitar attack; (above) Mick prances and cavorts like the athlete he still is.


My wife and I saw the Rolling Stones in Glendale, August 26.

It was raw. It was perfect in its imperfection.

There was a special electricity, a special poignancy, for the cognoscenti. This may be the Stones’ last go-round, at least as a touring band.

Mick Jagger amazed, as reporters had said about previous dates. Heart problem my ass.

Keith looked closer to a medical event than Mick did. But the leathery icon stood there, looking battered and a little tired, and overcame a slow start to rescue the night, for it is his band and always was.

From the opener, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” to the final encore, “Satisfaction,” seventy-six-year-old Mick Jagger danced and gesticulated and writhed with Dionysian exuberance, Ronnie Wood captained lead moments and amped up the energy in the near-sellout crowd, and Charlie Watts played his modest traps with a proficiency improved by time.

And Keith Richards, with a growl that built to a typhoon, threw his arms around the night to carry us home.

I recall it starting to happen on “Honky Tonk Women.” After Jagger got done sneering and vamping, the four-screen video display flashing images of the “barroom queeeeeen in Memphis,” Keith stepped up. Playing a single stinging, dissonant note, an elemental, jarring Keith note, he went into an extended riff that magnetized him. We were waiting for that, for we are lost without him. Mick is lost without him.

Later, perhaps during “Midnight Rambler,” Keith showed his mastery of the guitar. You felt him going one way, issuing raunchy chords and riffs, then catching himself and see-sawing back the other way. There’s a call-and-response there. He speaks through his axe, like an old bluesman. He is an old bluesman.

And to think I’d been worried whether I’d be able to stay up, accustomed as I am to going to bed at seven thirty and waking at two fifteen for work. Adrenalin took over. I was out of my seat dancing and singing. Wore myself hoarse. Barb hadn’t been to a rock concert in ages and worried if she was up to it, saying she’d been a bit of a crotchety old lady of late. I’m proud to say she was Hippie Chick incarnate, party girl revivified, taking cell phone pictures, dancing her ass off, hooting and singing. Like the blues song says, she was shakin’ just like a willow tree.

It was a sometimes uncomfortably mixed crowd, but nothing could stop the fun.

Barb and I laughed afterward, driving to our miserable Quality Inn with no in-room coffee or proper plumbing, about the old bag behind us kvetching about how she’d have preferred seeing Donny and Marie. “Down in front!” she’d groused all evening.

“It’s a Rolling Stones concert!” Barb said as we laughed about the night’s excitements and surprises. “Who sits?” The crowd was older. Of the younger people, a lot seemed distantly respectful, but others threw themselves into the roar.

I put six hundred bucks on my Visa for this. It was worth ten times that.

High points for me included “Sad Sad Sad” off of Steel Wheels, never until now a song I remember loving but now rippling with tripartite guitar energy (including from Mick); the slurry country number “Sweet Virginia” and R&B rocker “Tumbling Dice” off of Exile on Main Street, the spectacular if overproduced double album that takes its place in the Holy Four of albums (all from the Mick Taylor years); “Midnight Rambler,” off of Let It Bleed, extended and vamped up to snaky, evil glory, the sexual menace well and responsibly presented as theater; and a hip-swiveling, can’t-sit-still “Brown Sugar,” the most dance-inducing rock song ever, off of Sticky Fingers.

The magic night wrapped up magically, especially in the first of two encores.

On “Gimme Shelter,” Sasha Allen took the cameo vocal on what may be my favorite Rolling Stones song, off my favorite Stones album, Let It Bleed. She had big shoes to fill. Who didn’t get goose bumps when a black woman named Merry Clayton took that anthem skyward with her electrifying performance fifty years ago?

“Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away!”

Ms. Allen took the responsibility of channeling that divine assist in the proper spirit, making it her own, changing things up a bit, and giving Jagger exactly what he needed to sell the song. “Gimme Shelter” is a cry for help; it’s also a sexual statement, like many Stones songs. It was a pleasure to watch the interplay between the comely African-American chanteuse and the ageless satyr, who at one point leaned back on her, back rubbing back, a moment so amusing she broke out laughing. The video display – flickering, almost subliminal images of police brutality – mixed with the vibe of sexuality to create a message, a contradiction, a political statement made all the more effective for its being covert. The song had a shattering, finishing effect on the night.

I made the mistake of wearing cowboy boots. My feet didn’t hurt till we got out of there, into the near hundred degrees of midnight in the Phoenix area.

We contemplated our whole lives in light of the eternal gift of the Rolling Stones. And thought about how, in today’s ugliness and turmoil, a gossamer line separates us from one another.

“I tell you love, sister / It’s just a kiss away, it’s just a kiss away.”

Barb and me having the most fun we’ve had in years. We will never forget the Rolling Stones.

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