Stones show is worth the wait


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 and longevity.

But from the moment 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 at 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 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 in 2001."

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 about?

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.

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