Rock's future, decades along

Dinosaur days for REM, Springsteen, and those IMAXed Stones
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kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER The money, the fame / And the public acclaim / Don't forget who you are / You're a rock and roll star." These bitter words by the Byrds roll over through my mind while watching the resurrection of three generations of rock hope realized — reappearing at a time when industry majors like Universal, Sony, and Warner Music are busy bowing to the social networking sphere, i.e., MySpace. The sands are shifting beneath the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and REM, all bands I've waved my adoring fangirl flag for, all once toasted as the future of rock 'n' roll when the form was the sexiest game in town. Well, the future — along with the classic LPs, the heavily referenced and canonical tunes, the wives, the money-printing tours — has come and gone, so why not step back from an eyeballful of IMAX and think about whether such once-seemingly-ageless, now-clearly-aging mortals are holding the course or moving forward? Does size still matter?

Lord knows — and Sir Mick Jagger surely realizes — you can throw money at a prestige project: the new Stones–Martin Scorsese business partnership, Shine a Light, is proof. Sure, it's a decent, energized Stones performance — much better than their 2005 date at SBC Park — and certainly the band comes off well in their love for the music (Keith Richards) and artfulness (Mick Jagger). Ron Wood even gets off a nice solo or two. But why bother documenting a Stones live period — the "Bigger Bang" jaunt, otherwise known as the highest grossing tour of all time — essentially recognized for simply raking in a buttload of money for the band? Not only have the Stones been the subject of a much better concert film-documentary — the Maysles brothers' Gimme Shelter (1970), which Scorsese bows to by enlisting Albert Maysles for some camerawork — but rock fan Scorsese has already made a much more multidimensional and affecting concert flick (The Last Waltz, 1978) and a more evocative and heartfelt documentary about a musical icon (No Direction Home, 2005).

Rather, the Stones appear to be recontextualizing their dirty blues-rock for a new, well-heeled generation that can afford them: denuding "Sympathy for the Devil" of its menace and recasting it as a party anthem, far from the madding Altamont crowd. Jagger's toned, dancer's physique looks downright expensive as he attempts to repurpose arena poses in the intimate Beacon Theatre, as pricey as Richards' Louis Vuitton ad and as well-fed as the scrubbed and fratty crowd down front in Shine a Light. Is such a display of power and funds sexier — or offensive — during a recession? Still, the last laugh seems to belong to the Stones: how else to read the final image of Shine a Light as the moon morphs into the Stones tongue than as, "See ya, suckers"?

Springsteen's aging, gray-tressed mob at HP Pavilion on April 5 would never tolerate such winking behavior. As earnest and idealistic in their Silicon Valley fleece and chinos as the so-called New Dylan so many decades along, they yelled back at the holy rollers picketing the front of the Shark Tank — o demon rock "Born in the U.S.A." — and dutifully lowed, "Broooce!" after each song. Springsteen returned their devotion in kind with two and a half hours of superhuman passion that drew from new releases as well as from Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River (both Columbia; 1978, 1980). Even as Broooce rocked "Reason to Believe," off Nebraska (Columbia, 1982), as a bluesy rave-up, or told stories of leaving wife Patti Scialfa at home to monitor their teenagers, his hard-working, well-meaning decency kept shining through.

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