It’s one of those things about attending a concert – any concert – at HP Pavilion in San Jose: no matter how you approach the venue, you’re likely to run into those hardline Jesus freaks waving signs and condemning you to hell for whatever music you’re about to enjoy. So, like clockwork, last night as I walked towards the ticket office outside the arena, one of them turned his bullhorn on the bunch of us crossing the intersection and, in full brimstone righteousness, shouted - “what are you gonna tell the lord after you die?” To which, a lone voice from the crowd responded – “I’m gonna tell him I saw the Rolling Stones.”
It pretty much summed up the enthralled vibe of last night’s crowd, even before the group got into the venue. Neither obscene ticket prices nor the threats of judgment day were going to stop the concert-goers from catching the Stones one last time, and the enthusiasm was clearly palpable (if not heavily intoxicated) inside the arena from the start.
I went into HP last night with a million things on my mind about this show, and left with a million more. I could likely write a doctoral thesis about all the issues that surfaced in my brain surrounding the Stones and their half-century legacy: of what it means to grow old in rock’n’roll, or whether there’s any rebellion left in music (“punk rock” gala at the Met, anyone?), and most of all, this time around, of what we’re willing to spend for a concert experience versus the integrity of what we're actually getting. But if we push all of that to the side for the minute and just attend to the million-dollar question, about the quality of the band’s performance last night, I’d say that the Rolling Stones were (excuse me Jesus freaks) pretty goddamn fantastic.
I can’t speak for their show last week in Oakland, or the earlier East Coast dates of this tour, or for that matter….whatever the hell happened to you that night when you went to see them at Madison Square Garden in ’75. But last night, at the Shark Tank…the Stones seemed like they were out for blood.
Kicking off a 22-song set that would run close to two-plus hours, the band quickly blazed through a few big hits – including “Paint It Black” and “Get Off of My Cloud” – with Mick Jagger immediately charging around the length of the stage in dervish-like blurs of energy. The Stones were all smiles when they pulled up guest John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater fame to turn out a rowdy cover of the Valentinos “It’s All Over Now” early in the set.
The show really got traction towards the middle of the night as the band stepped away from its biggest hits and settled into developing lesser known tracks (well...in comparison, at least), including riveting takes on “No Expectations,” "Bitch," and “Emotional Rescue,” before calling up Bonnie Raitt to play slide guitar and duet with Mick on an epic rendition of “Let It Bleed.”
Yet, for however much the band sent the place ape-shit with “Honky Tonk Women,” the show-stopping cold blooded killer of the evening was clearly a ferocious 12-minute version of “Midnight Rambler” with former guitarist Mick Taylor surfacing to add formidable contributions to the already impressive mix. At any other concert, it was the slam dunk moment to shake your head and feel like you’ve officially gotten your money’s worth. But on this tour, the band really upped the ante on when and if that moment could occur.
Of all those peripheral issues surrounding the Stones performance, the ticket price was the one that –rightfully – dominated the conversation since this leg of the tour was announced. And since the moment we all realized that the $1200 asking price for a pair of lower tier seats didn’t include a four-night stay in Hawaii, Stones fans began to determine their threshold for paying to see the band, possibly for the last time.
Those prices (officially termed “dynamic pricing,” which really just means institutionalized scalping) were criticized in editorials, and kicked around in chat rooms. It was a horrendous strategy for the band on what really is a victory lap of its 50-year legacy, being both a betrayal of its fans and far cry from what is supposed to be to its roots as a group of bluesmen.
But it still brings us back to the same point, anchored off the actual performance, and whether or not the band’s showing could live up to those prices. And last night, Mick and Keith sounded pretty savage on that third verse of "Jumping Jack Flash," and Ron Wood did more than his share of heavy lifting on some big tracks (in addition to just being the coolest guy on stage), while Charlie’s backbeat kept the house ushers busy all night trying to quell the manic dancing in the aisles from song to song. There was even a local choir (from SJ State) to properly deliver “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” And maybe most of all, Mick was still moving 900 miles per hour during the last few songs, even as much of the crowd watched the encore half-exhausted from the non-stop energy he exhibited all night.
So in this sense, the question regarding the quality of the Stones' performance seemed to be pretty much a no-brainer to last night’s crowd.
But as far as the tour's big question, of what you’re willing to pay to see such a show, well, I’ll leave you to answer that one for yourself.