The Rolling Stones go from bogus to brilliant in Vancouver

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEB. 5, 1998

I’ve seen my fair share of B.C. Place rock concerts over the years, but none that have left me as perplexed as last Wednesday’s (January 28) Stones show. It started out shockingly lame before transforming into something wild and wonderful, and I would have sworn that the current, corporate Stones were way too predictable for that.

The show kicked off as you’d expect any Stones gig might, with Keith Richards striding up to the front of the stage and dramatically slashing out the opening chords of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. But after I’d recovered from the sight of the grey-haired codger bounding about in a full-length, leopard skin–patterned coat, it became clear that something was terribly amiss. Here was “the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band”, as some say, in the throes of perhaps its finest song, and I wasn’t feeling anything. I should have been caught up in the thrill of the moment, cheering and punching the air, but I could hardly get my toes to tap along to the gutless sound rolling off the stage.

There was no edge at all to the guitars, and the trademark trash-can slam of Charlie Watts’s drums was strangely neutered. It’s common knowledge that the acoustics are iffy in the B.C. Place echo chamber, but I wasn’t taking notes from any nosebleed section or tucked-away media lounge. I was right down in front of the stage, 14th row centre, so the feeble sound production was flabbergasting.

Even more worrying than that, though, was the realization that the band wasn’t playing well. I stood there dumbfounded while the legendary combo walked through “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and then delivered a sluggish “Gimme Shelter”. There was none of the usual rowdy interaction between Richards and Mick Jagger, who made a point of totally ignoring each other. Jagger appeared particularly perturbed, and by the time “Ruby Tuesday” came around he was loudly cursing about the feedback from his mike.

Immediately following a so-so version of “Under My Thumb”, Jagger approached guitarist Ronnie Wood and clearly proclaimed, “Thank you, Ronnie, we couldn’t have done it without you,” which I instantly took to be a backhanded swipe at Richards. On the next number, “Miss You”, Richards responded by hunkering down in front of Watts’s drum kit for a smoke, stabbing petulantly at his guitar as if to say, “Okay, Mick, you can carry this one, pal.” For his part, Jagger scratched ineffectively at his own guitar while slinky backup vocalist Lisa Fischer rubbed his ass and then salaciously licked her fingers.

You go, girl!

Around this time I started wondering if maybe this was it, if these feuding fogies were gonna stomp off the stage and leave me holding a ticket stub for the last Rolling Stones show ever. But then the tone of the show started to change. A hydraulic catwalk was extended from the original stage to a comparatively tiny one in the middle of the floor, and the Stones rambled across it to take their positions on the circular platform. They only played three songs in this club-sized setting—“Little Queenie”, “The Last Time”, and “Like a Rolling Stone”—but somehow that brief encounter in close quarters managed to enliven the group like a double shot of Geritol.

Next thing I knew, the Stones were rocking out like the street punks of old, and with their revitalization the sound system’s gremlins were banished, strangely enough. Jagger and Richards still weren’t buddy-buddy, but any antagonisms they may have harboured for one another got channelled into hot-blooded versions of “Sympathy for the Devil”, “Tumbling Dice”, “Honky Tonk Women”, and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. By the time the band quit to the classic reverberations of “Brown Sugar”, I was wondering what had happened to the Mick and Keith impostors who were up there 22 tunes ago.

 

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