High-energy Stones show is worth the wait Thirty-six years may have passed since 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 reputation as ... well, you know.
For more than three decades, the Stones have been ballyhooed as the World's
Greatest Rock and Roll Band, a tag that sometimes has seemed more like an
albatross around the band's neck than a testimonial to its collective talent
Keith Richards took to the stage to hammer out the
uniquely explosive opening chords of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (the set started at
9:18 p.m., for those keeping track), the Stones left no doubt that they had
come 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. With
his characteristic mix of athleticism and bravado, he introduced his signature
persona - "I was born," goes the song's opening line, "in a cross-fire
hurricane" - and showed that, while years have added lines to his face, they
haven't removed spring from his step. Oh, for that kind of energy and charisma
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 the
sitar 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 have
dominated the stage, but his bandmates held their own. Richards, posing as the
cool and rebellious dark knight to Jagger's court jester, yanked sounds out of
his guitar, performing with an economy and fluidity that comes from having
nothing left to prove, but a lot left to give. Ron Wood, in the role of
rambunctious little brother, got carried away at times; his playing on
"Tumbling Dice," a song about taking chances when that's the only thing left
to 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 asked
after the band's third number, "Oh No, Not You Again," one of only two songs
they performed from their most recent album, A Bigger Bang. "Quite a lot's
happened since '69. The Colts have bolted. But the Ravens won the Super Bowl
The crowd ate it up, glad to have the Stones back in town.
Unlike their performances last year in Washington and Hershey, Pa., the
Stones seemed intent upon celebrating their legacy. Perhaps consciously
recalling the 1969 performance they gave at the Civic Center (as the Arena
used to be called), the group launched into "Midnight Rambler" about halfway
through 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 a
belt as Watts pounded out one of the group's most scabrous beats. Those
theatrics are a thing of the Stones' past, but it was nice to see Jagger
saunter across the stage seemingly with murderous intent, appropriate for a
song that invokes the Boston Strangler.
The band further delighted the crowd by including the apocalyptic "Gimme
Shelter," an ode to love among the ruins that stands as one of rock's most
disturbingly beautiful anthems. It's a hard song to do live, especially
without the transcendent backing vocals of Mary Clayton, which made the
original song take flight; her successor here, Lisa Fischer, screeched more
than soared. But Jagger's strong vocals and Richards' spare guitar solo were
things 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 but
disappoint. Where was "Street Fighting Man"? "Shattered"? "It's Only Rock n
Roll"? "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 Always
Get What You Want" and "Start Me Up" ... really, what's there to complain
No other band has been responsible for so many songs that are essential to
an understanding of rock and roll. With luck, Baltimore won't have to wait
another 36 years for the Stones to return. But if that's what happens, here's
guessing they'll be worth the wait.
Of course, both Jagger and Richards will be 98 years old. But I wouldn't
bet against them.
Stones show is worth the wait
After 36 years, rockers still fill stage with high energy
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