Dinosaur days for REM, Springsteen, and those IMAXed Stones
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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 StonesMartin 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. These days sax sidekick Clarence Clemons may find it necessary to sit out many songs on his throne/easy chair set to stage left and organist Danny Federici is sidelined by melanoma, but the leader still possesses a unflagging fire and expansive romanticism even if it is spent stumping for Hillary Clinton as of late. On Saturday night, what was striking was less how indebted the latest long-players by younger artists like Arcade Fire and the Killers are to Broooce than the long arm of his influence on so much '80s radio rock: everyone from Don Henley to Patti Smith to the Pointer Sisters to John Mellencamp.
And whither goes the next greatest rock band, after Springsteen, to attain critical mass: REM? The combo drew kudos for their recent South by Southwest turn and as with Brooce and the Stones, Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, and Peter Buck have chosen to grow louder with age, writing their new album on electric guitars rather than toning it down with dinner background Musak. More than 25 years into the band's history, REM's 14th album, Accelerate seems to plonk down in the Stones' tax bracket with the opening "Living Well Is the Best Revenge," if not for the clearly articulated, biting irony of Michael Stipe's lyric, "Baby I am calling you on that." Favoring rock 'n' roll blast in a compact 34 minutes, with only traces of the Velvety subtlety and Southern primitive melodicism I once treasured the band for, REM has instead picked up where "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" left off, retuning its glib soothsaying for post-WTO riots, post-Katrina times, driving it through a pop filter, and sprinkling "Sympathy for the Devil" whoos on the closer, "I'm Gonna DJ." "Look at the world and see plenty of reasons to be angry," guitarist Peter Buck has said, describing Accelerate. We'll see if they still rage, live.
With Modest Mouse and the National
May 31, 6 p.m.; June 1, 5 p.m., $39.50<\d>$89.50
UC Berkeley, Berk.