STONED AT SBC 

Part of the Current's agenda in seeing this show was to evaluate a new live venue's acoustics, and the verdict isn't going to shock anyone: It sounds like a basketball stadium. Some lonely acoustic engineer out there may object to the following statement, and if s/he's right, the rock world will someday rejoice: There is just no way to make a big, enclosed sports venue sound anywhere near as good as a theater or rock club.

As a result, Charlie Watts gets credit for twice as many beats as he played, because each one bounced back off the rear wall of the room to revisit the ears it passed on the way out. Guitar parts were naturally muddier than the iconic ones on record. And the only really discernible dynamic variation was when Keith Richards stepped up to the mic to sing two songs and the room went silent with fear. (And with love, Keef! No matter how little we want to hear you sing, you're one of the most marvelous people in rock.)

But the folks who shelled out the dough for this show either knew what they were in for or didn't care much, so audiophile nitpicking is beside the point. The Stones vets sitting by me had another concern, claiming that on the day tickets went on sale, the cheapest seat available was $150, and even seats halfway up in the stands were $300. Nostalgia doesn't come cheap, and neither does Satisfaction.

For those of us who hadn't had the privilege of seeing the band back in the day, the bragging rights alone carry a lot of weight. We can now say we saw them, and that boast may reveal more than it intends: Seeing the Stones in person is more fun than hearing them. Mick Jagger, contrary to the laws of physics, biology, and decency, still writhes around at impossible angles, twisting in a way that's all his own. Richards, for his part, continues to astonish the world by being able to stand up, much less being as at ease and cheerful as he was at the SBC. When he told the audience he was happy to be there, he dryly followed that up with something like, "It's nice to be anywhere."

 
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Guitarist Keith Richards gives the crowd a taste of his solo licks as Ronnie Wood picks up the rhythm in the background. The Rolling Stones were in town recently for a reportedly sold-out show at the SBC Center. Photo by Mark Greenberg

There were, thankfully, no giant statues spouting flame, no life-threatening fireworks, no gaudy set decorations. (The single cannon burst of confetti at the show's finale was almost tasteful.) Instead, an IMAX-sized video projection system showed close-ups of the bandmates, sometimes straight but often manipulated in some way. The manipulations were sometimes goofy - as with a trick that made Keith appear as a billboard over rush hour traffic - but were more often a nice consolation prize for those of us not lucky enough to be ringside.

The music was what we all expected: fairly faithful renditions of classic songs, peppered with the occasional newer track like "Don't Stop." If there was nothing especially inspiring about performances of such faves as "Honky Tonk Women" - aside from hearing the freaking Rolling Stones play "Honky Tonk Women" - it's also impossible to imagine what the band could possibly do to those songs at this point.

Some tunes - "Wild Horses" and "Start Me Up," to pick very different examples - were more exciting than others, but the one truly magical, entirely musical moment came with a tune the Glimmer Twins didn't even pen. Toward the end of the night, the boys strolled down a long plank to a mini-stage in the center of the room, where smaller amplifiers were set up to produce a more bar-like sound, and played three tunes. Sound-wise, they were the most satisfying moments of the show - the group should have played half the show down there.

The first song on that stage was a hell-raising cover of "Mannish Boy": With Mick on a howling harmonica, the band pounding out an irresistible stomp, and an arena full of attention concentrated on one tiny platform, the energy was intense enough to make you feel, almost, as if you were crammed into the tiny, smoke-filled back room of some forgotten bar, hearing the best rock 'n' roll band who ever walked the planet.


More by John DeFore

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