By Robert E. Martin
Having seen The Rolling Stones four times in my lifetime, there is little doubt they are indeed ‘The Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Band’ of all time. Unlike The Beatles they have managed to remain relatively intact for 50 years now; and unlike other pioneers such as The Grateful Dead, whom also recently celebrated their 50th anniversary with a short series of 4th of July weekend concerts, they took American rhythm & blues, chewed it up, and sold it back to American teenagers In the 60’s at twice the tempo and ten times the creative insouciance.
Each time I have witnessed the Stones live & in person it has taken me a day to recover and their appearance July 8th at Comerica Park as part of their ‘Zip Code’ 50th Anniversary Tour of America was no exception. From the first time I witnessed them at Earl’s Court in 1976 on their Black & Blue European Tour up through their 1981 Still Life tour, 1994 Voodoo Lounge tour (both of which I also saw in Detroit) to this recent excursion at Comerica Park each show shared the all-important elements of anticipatory excitement coupled with focused & escalated musical energy that many other landmark bands have also displayed, but never had the wherewithal to sustain.
Most important is the fact they realize within their DNA that rock ‘n roll, with its roots stemming from R&B, when played & executed and properly conceived is truly music for the common man; and a glance at their audience quickly proves this, as every conceivable social & economic demographic imaginable is always represented at their shows: yuppies, aging hippies, bankers, financial investors, bikers, and soccer Moms all pulled together through the celebratory magic of their musical mojo.
With over 40,000 fans packing Comerica Park to witness this larger-than-life iconic group of rock ‘n roll outlaws (and multi-millionaires to boot – yes, like any great entity they are loaded with contradictions) it seems appropriate to assess this concert experience from different perspectives. Seeing as Review contributor Bo White was also in attendance, what follow is our respective perspectives on what undeniably was one of the biggest & most explosive Rock ‘n Roll musical extravaganzas of the year.
As my close band of homeys found our seats in the highest tier at Tiger Stadium, with a spectacular view of the Detroit skyline and drops of blood dripping from the red digital Glimmer Twins Stone’s logo flashing on the massive LED stage screens, what was conspicuous at this latest outing was the lack of any fans in their 20s. Considering that most 20-somethings are into Electronica & Hip Hop these days, while not surprising it certainly does prove that Time Waits For No One.
Most of the crowd was between 35 and 70 so I would peg the average age of this audience at 55. This made sense seeing as when it comes to the Stones, while its Only Rock n’ Roll, it is definitely expensive. Average ticket prices at this show were $250 and our nosebleed seats ran $100 even. You could get a souvenir Zip Code official leather jacket for $600, a T-shirt for $50, and if you were on a budget beer cozies were only $10.
The next obvious thing I noticed as opening group Walk the Moon took to the stage was the absence of people firing up any pre-concert doobies, which was a ritual at each of the three previous Stones concerts I’d attended. Apart from myself, the only other person I saw smoking even a tobacco cigarette was guitarist Ron Wood; and the majority of people surrounding us were aging groupies and retirees from the Woodstock era eager to recapture some of the zeitgeist from their youth, along with younger working stiffs and secretaries eager to channel the energy.
By Bo White
After all my years of attending concerts I’ve come to the conclusion that my concert days are coming to an end. Don’t get me wrong I love the music and the songs but I don’t like people, especially concert goers and I’ll tell you why: these nincompoops stand up during the entire show and block my view of everything including the screens, sing every effin’ lyric of every song, stink of beer and cigarettes, and smoke marijuana but won’t share.
Then there are all those yuppie dinks, walking tall, shoulders back like they have a stick up their collective butts. They are smug and self-righteous and never actually listen to the music; instead they talk about driving the Rover over to their summer residence in Charlevoix.
But really now, I’m not here to gripe to you about my curmudgeon-like approach to life; It’s just my fear of losing my passion for rock & roll and my ongoing battle with father time. It’s this inevitable I will grow old factor. But until I take my last breath, I will live it to the hilt.
This brings me back to rock & roll. The Rolling Stones are performing in Detroit in a huge stadium made for professional baseball. Back in 1972 I bought four $10 dollar tickets to see the Rolling Stones at Cobo Arena. They had just released Exile on Main Street and they were on the top of their game. I was enjoying a busy summer. I helped roof and repair city school buildings in Saginaw, got up a 5am, got to work at 6:30am and patched roofs till 4:30pm. Then I would hit the clubs; visit with semi-automatic girlfriends and take in all the Dionysian delights a young man might covet.
After a month of serious debauchery, alcohol and weed I came down with a serious attack of mononucleosis. It knocked me down for the count. It took me a good five months to heal and an entire year to regain my strength. My friends Garno & the Nabber visited me while I was convalescing. When I asked about the concert, they said,” It was the best show EVER!!!
I meekly smiled and mumbled insincere thanks. From that day on I made a promise that someday I would see The Rolling Stones. I want to dig Satisfaction in all its fuzzbox glory and hear those deep cuts that kick it out. Just listen to Keith Richards guitar work and his open tuning technique that worked so well on Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Brown Sugar and others.
The setlist was tight, just what I expected, hits mixed in with deep cuts. Before the show opened up, the fans had an opportunity to pick one of four or five songs. The song that got the most votes was added to the setlist. I picked Rocks Off and it made the list and it proved to be one of this show’s highlights.
The band was tight and Mick Jagger proved to be a charming front man. He came prepared, held his hand, palm up as he pointed to the exact spot of the southern mitten in Detroit. He won the crowd over by mentioning Bob Seger and Kid Rock and Eminem and congratulated the Detroit Tigers on their regional championships for the past five years. The dude did his homework.
The show opened with a collage of images of the Stones through the stages of their long career. Then the band walked onto the stage with a roaring approval by the fans. Jumpin’ Jack Flash opened the show. This was a high energy set with the four long time members of the Stones taking the stage hostage. Jagger’s soulful baritone was powerful. He sang and danced and mugged for the crowd. He’s a showman who possesses an improbable stamina. 70 years and counting and Jagger still has the gris gris.
Ronnie Wood’s slide was incredible; he worked his craft with an easy aplomb. Charlie Watts is an amazing jazz drummer who happens to play rock & roll. He does that hesitation beat and holds his sticks properly like we were taught in junior high school.
Next up was a spirited It’s Only Rock & Roll, a hard rocker with a heavy beat and great slide work by Ronnie Wood. Jagger changed the lyric to “you think you’re the only girl in Detroit town.” By and large all those golden rock solid chestnuts were faithfully rendered for the masses. And we loved them for it. It brought me right back to when Satisfaction and Honky Tonk Women carried me over the edge of civility and into more urgent carnal desires.
Jagger pumped up the crowd over and over again. He needed only to shout out, “Hi Detroit Michiganders and we were all his, hot and ready….especially when he asked, ‘Are there any Yoopers here?’ in his refined English drawl.
Exile on Main Street garnered several songs; it is truly one of the greatest Stones LP’s. I loved Keith Richards vocal performances on Happy and Before They Make Me Run. Their work on Sticky Fingers was represented by a lusty version of Brown Sugar and Bitch and a stunning version of Moonlight Mile, one of the few ballads performed during the course of the evening. Gotta hand it to Jagger - he sustained a high energy level throughout the 2 and ½ hour show. He even delivered an incredible falsetto on Moonlight Mile, a song about sadness, regret and redemption.
He may not be a singer per se but he is an expressive vocalist. He danced around the stage all night and never let up. He’s aged well! The Ronnie Wood/Keith Richards alliance is what makes the music jump, scream and electrify. Charlie Watts tightened it up. Honky Tonk Women is truly a masterpiece of carnal delights. Jagger was up for the task and he delivered. The background singers were part of most of the songs.
Gimme Shelter was a highlight. Mick sang the lyrics like a man possessed…rape, murder is just a shout a way; love, sisters is just a kiss away, a perfect dichotomy with really no resolution. A true masterpiece!
The encores included You Can’t Always Get What You Want (with members of the Oakland University Choir). It was equally incredible!
The Stones ended the show with a raucous and sloppy (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. PERFECT! At the very end of the show, following the encores, the symbol of the Rolling Stones big red tongue morphed into the Detroit Tigers logo! This was followed by a stunning fireworks display (see accompanying video). I
It was the perfect end to an incredible night of music.
By Robert E. Martin
There’s not a lot for me to add to Bo’s assessment of the concert, which I find intriguing because while our perspectives of the audience were so drastically different; it underscores how powerful the Stones are at touching upon a common musical chord amongst their fanbase.
Apart from core Stones members, the group were also joined by a sax and trumpet player (replacing Jim Price and the late Bobby Keys) that added extra oomph behind the riffs on songs like Bitch and Rocks Off. They were also joined by keyboardist Chuck Levell (of the Allman Brothers) to handle keyboard parts contributed by the late Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart.
Musically, Keith and Ronnie were often fused into a seamless interlock of guitarmanship, which when joined together possess a singular power to their sound. Keith played much more lead guitar than I remember from previous shows; and Ronnie’s amazing slide-work added an important lift and movement to the sound.
Another noticeable distinction worth mentioning is that on all of their ‘hits’ performed at this show, the musical constructions were changed and shifted in subtle ways – none of the songs were performed ‘note-for-note’ as they are on the recordings; and in some instances, beats and rhythms were either slowed or accelerated. A visual equivalent would be the way Cezanne would pain 20 different versions of the same bowl of fruit.
When all is said and done, this show was definitely one for the history books.