SAN DIEGO, Calif., May 26, 2015 − The Rolling Stones stadium opener in San Diego on Sunday for their ‘ 2015 “Zip Code Tour” at Petco Park proved they are a long way from retiring. When Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts call it a day, they will be irreplaceable.
The Rolling Stones are as energetic and relevant as they’ve ever been, even without needing to play or the audience caring to hear anything newer than a track from their “Steel Wheels” album. San Diego, for its part, proved an adroit choice to kick off the tour. While Los Angeles and San Francisco were overcast, the weather was sunny and cheerful over Petco Park and the city’s downtown skyline, as was the mood of the crowd anticipating the greatest rock and roll band on earth.
Petco Park, home to baseball’s San Diego Padres with a seating capacity of 43,000, was sold out, not surprisingly, with Stones fans filing in hours before the show kicked off. When festivities did get underway, the audience got acquainted with the opening band led by Gary Clark Jr. of Austin, Texas. Clark, a Grammy Award-winner, confronted this nearly impossible task and won the only battle possible: winning hearts and minds by making friends with a Stones audience. He succeeded.
Clark and his band are pure retro. Clark’s music takes you directly back to 1969, with its tight alloy of classic hard rock, blues, psychedelia and funk − and a noticeable vocal resemblance to the lung power of Paul Rodgers. Also included was a respectful and adroit tribute to recently departed blues great, B.B. King.
The Rolling Stones themselves opened their lengthy set with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” The crowd came alive and remained riveted on the action until the stage went dark 2 hours and 15 minutes later.
Mick Jagger is the exception that proves the rule in pop music. While some artists have hung around even after their gifts skipped town long ago − as witnessed during the beloved Neil Diamond’s show earlier this month at the Hollywood Bowl − seeing Jagger, Richards, Woody and Watts on stage was an easy glimpse back at any moment of this band’s storied career.
Nothing involving the ravages of time was evident during the Stones’ performance other than the band members’ accumulation of extra wrinkles. Jagger’s unflagging intensity is something no one can adequately describe. It has to be witnessed. The 72-year-old Jagger doesn’t walk from one part of the stage to another. He gallops. The local media reported that Jagger spent his off time during his visit to San Diego enjoying some of the excellent hiking trails nearby.
Equally remarkable is that Jagger and the band skillfully avoid self-parody. They accomplish this in the best of all possible ways: it’s always obvious fact that Jagger and the band aren’t there to collect a paycheck. They love what they do and they love their fans.
Jagger, who despite his stage persona, is a student of life and would never be at a loss to recall what city he’s in − also treated the local crowd to a sample of his biting wit. He exclaimed to concert-goers between songs, “We are having such a great time in San Diego. It’s so beautiful here. Why would anyone want to leave? Especially the Chargers.” He was getting in a jab, of course, about the San Diego NFL franchise’s scheme to move north to the Los Angeles suburb of Carson. The audience ate it up.
The program’s repertoire centered, more or less, around the “Sticky Fingers” album, which is being re-released this June with additional, previously unreleased material.
One of the songs, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” illustrates the musical diversity the band is capable of incorporating into their mix. The extended jazz workout in the second half of the piece was actually originally a spontaneous jam caught on tape, unbeknownst to the band, by the album’s producer, Jimmy Miller. As Keith Richards noted, “We didn’t even know they were still taping. We thought we’d finished. We were just rambling and they kept the tape rolling. I figured we’d just fade it off. It was only when we heard the playback that we realised, Oh, they kept it going. Basically we realised we had two bits of music. There’s the song and there’s the jam.” Touring saxophonist Karl Denson powerfully re-created the Bobby Keys solo for the Petco Park crowd.
Ron Wood, beside adding good-natured energy and stage presence, played exciting and impeccable leads most of the night, while Richards filled in the riffs.
Wood has grown as a soloist. The former Rod Stewart, Faces and Jeff Beck sideman guitarist extraordinaire covered Mick Taylor’s solos and interludes so masterfully that nothing from the “Sticky Fingers” or other material Taylor was associated with was lost in translation at all.
Aside from Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts is the best illustration that, at the end of the day, it’s not all about playing a zillion notes and flashy solos. It’s much more about serving the needs of the song. It was unfortunate that, perhaps one of the few times ever, a drumstick flew out of Charlie’s hands on stage when the camera happened to be focused on him.
Mick Jagger got a short break during the middle of the set when Keith took center stage to perform a pair of songs, “Slipping Away” from “Steel Wheels” and “Before They Make Me Run” from “Some Girls.” Richards’ efforts made the case that even without Mick Jagger, this band would still be among the best in the world. But without Mick Jagger, it just wouldn’t be the Rolling Stones. Nonetheless, Richards was in fine form and carried his segment off with distinction.
The second half of the concert gave the sense that the music was linked together by something like a built-in story arc, a trilogy of sorts. The set started off with “Gimme Shelter,” representing the cries of a desperate soul searching for meaning and connection. Lisa Fischer conjured up the magic created by original female lead Merry Clayton’s performance on the “Let It Bleed” album, and she did it with stirring perfection.
Two songs later, Mick Jagger re-created the lyrical memoirs of the Prince of Darkness from “Sympathy For the Devil” with dramatic intensity (and a feathered cape), as Ron Wood delivered the song’s blistering lead guitar thunderbolts.
But the war between light and darkness was resolved with the rousing gospel sounds of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” replete with an appearance by the California State University of Long Beach Chamber Choir. While it is often true that you can’t always get what you want, the audience at Petco Park got exactly what they wanted and needed during this show. And at the end, they got “Satisfaction.”
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