High-energy Stones show is worth the wait Thirty-six years may have passedsince the Rolling Stones last played Baltimore, but on Wednesday night Mick,Keith and the boys made the passage of time seem irrelevant with a relentless,classics-heavy set of archetypal rock and roll that cemented their reputationas ... well, you know.
For more than three decades, the Stones have been ballyhooed as the World'sGreatest Rock and Roll Band, a tag that sometimes has seemed more like analbatross around the band's neck than a testimonial to its collective talentand longevity.
But from the moment Keith Richards took to the stage to hammer out theuniquely explosive opening chords of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (the set started at9:18 p.m., for those keeping track), the Stones left no doubt that they hadcome to play, celebrate and rock out.
Seconds after Richards set the pace, Mick Jagger launched himself onstage,wearing a gold-colored jacket over a black shirt and black leather pants. Withhis characteristic mix of athleticism and bravado, he introduced his signaturepersona - "I was born," goes the song's opening line, "in a cross-firehurricane" - and showed that, while years have added lines to his face, theyhaven't removed spring from his step. Oh, for that kind of energy and charismaat 62.
Over the next two hours, the band played 20 songs, from "Get Off My Cloud"and "Paint It, Black" (with Richards' ringing guitar substituting for thesitar played by the late Brian Jones when the song was recorded in 1966) to"Tumbling Dice," "Miss You" and "Love Is Strong."
Jagger, alternately jabbing, pointing, prancing and spinning, may havedominated the stage, but his bandmates held their own. Richards, posing as thecool and rebellious dark knight to Jagger's court jester, yanked sounds out ofhis guitar, performing with an economy and fluidity that comes from havingnothing left to prove, but a lot left to give. Ron Wood, in the role oframbunctious little brother, got carried away at times; his playing on"Tumbling Dice," a song about taking chances when that's the only thing leftto do, was unnecessarily self-indulgent. And yet, his slide guitar on "Happy"was one of the evening's highlights.
And then there was drummer Charlie Watts, the personification of cool,whose strong, steady backbeat is a model of percussive reliability.
"Hey Baltimore, we haven't been here for a long time, eh?" Jagger askedafter the band's third number, "Oh No, Not You Again," one of only two songsthey performed from their most recent album, A Bigger Bang. "Quite a lot'shappened since '69. The Colts have bolted. But the Ravens won the Super Bowlin 2001."
The crowd ate it up, glad to have the Stones back in town.
Unlike their performances last year in Washington and Hershey, Pa., theStones seemed intent upon celebrating their legacy. Perhaps consciouslyrecalling the 1969 performance they gave at the Civic Center (as the Arenaused to be called), the group launched into "Midnight Rambler" about halfwaythrough the set. Thirty-six years ago, the song was a show highlight: Jagger,dressed in an Uncle Sam-inspired black outfit, struck the stage floor with abelt as Watts pounded out one of the group's most scabrous beats. Thosetheatrics are a thing of the Stones' past, but it was nice to see Jaggersaunter across the stage seemingly with murderous intent, appropriate for asong that invokes the Boston Strangler.
The band further delighted the crowd by including the apocalyptic "GimmeShelter," an ode to love among the ruins that stands as one of rock's mostdisturbingly beautiful anthems. It's a hard song to do live, especiallywithout the transcendent backing vocals of Mary Clayton, which made theoriginal song take flight; her successor here, Lisa Fischer, screeched morethan soared. But Jagger's strong vocals and Richards' spare guitar solo werethings of beauty.
The crowd certainly seemed to like it. As the song rang out, Mayor Martin O'Malley could be seen in the audience, playing air guitar.
Of course there were omissions, great songs whose absence couldn't help butdisappoint. Where was "Street Fighting Man"? "Shattered"? "It's Only Rock nRoll"? "Angie"? Only the Stones could have a No. 1 song in their canon, like"Angie," and not even perform it.
But with a set that included "Sympathy for the Devil" and "You Can't AlwaysGet What You Want" and "Start Me Up" ... really, what's there to complainabout?
No other band has been responsible for so many songs that are essential toan understanding of rock and roll. With luck, Baltimore won't have to waitanother 36 years for the Stones to return. But if that's what happens, here'sguessing they'll be worth the wait.
Of course, both Jagger and Richards will be 98 years old. But I wouldn'tbet against them.