Thieves in the Night
Photos by Gregory Bojorquez
THE ROLLING STONES, SHERYL CROW at Staples Center, October 31
Strange to see Sheryl Crow warming up for the Stones, whose current cultural saturation falls oceans short of hers though not within this asylum of middle age, where numerous empty seats gaped as she and her do-it-all band rocked modestly through her hits and a strong new song. Such a singer, such a writer, even a good occasional bassist: What would happen if Crow stopped being good-naturedly wounded for a minute and got some blood on her perfect teeth? We'll never know.
The Rolling Stones summed up their dilemma as early as 1968, when they waxed "Street Fighting Man." While many wanted to hear it as a battle cry, the song was really just Mick Jagger's ironic apology for not being the revolutionary pig-burner he was trumped up as; his mission was just "to sing for a rock & roll band." By the time the Stones opened with that song on Halloween night 2002, after a minidirigible featuring the conjoined logos of Their Satanic Majesties and E*Trade had floated above our heads, and 200 limousines had pulled away outside, Jagger's message had long been understood: Party today, but invest tomorrow.
Jagger whirled out in a classy ibis-beak mask, fluttering his fingers with shamanic allure, and the party commenced. The Stones remain good entertainers, if sometimes a bit mechanical, with Charlie Watts generally whomping out detail-free four-on-the-floor in lock step with Darryl Jones' basic bass. They were plainly glad to be playing anything new, which made "Don't Stop" less mediocre and gave their cover of "Love Train" some real juice. "Monkey Man" packed a lurching jolt. "Tumbling Dice" regurgitated that big ol' groove; so did "Honky Tonk Women," which splashed especially rich chordal coloring from guitar granny Ron Wood, who also cut into some smoking slide on "Love in Vain." The jam on "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'" was full of sparky dynamics; Bobby Keys again proved himself one of the few who can still blow gut-roaring rock & roll sax. The intimate blues set on the runway (à la Elvis' 1968 comeback), without the horn, keyboard and vocal support players, was kinda cute and warm. No "Gimme Shelter." No "Midnight Rambler." We do not approve of violence.
Jagger belted solidly, and his jazzy off-rhythms on "Brown Sugar" were neat, but by far the best moments came when he left the stage to Keith Richards for a few songs. That old bastard is so romantic, so charming, so goddamn real his broken crooning on the slow ballad "Slipping Away" was heart-fluttering, and his compromised yet rocking valor on "Before They Make Me Run" got me teary; I wonder why.
The crowd, pumped up by the closing "Jumpin' Jack Flash," poured out of the hall and across the street, marching boldly against the light, exactly as if that meant something.
THE ROLLING STONES at Staples Center, October 31, and at Edison Field, November 2
Beyond the finale's unintentional homage to the White Stripes (a conflation of blood-red confetti and pulsing white smoke) and this tour's loose lick-up-the-past theme a set list emphasizing the post-'60s era(s) and Exile on Main Street in particular the Staples Center concert was largely about the redemption of Ron Wood. Given the thankless task of replacing the far more fluid, dazzling soloist Mick Taylor in 1975, Wood's usually credited more for being a visual icon, for looking the part of a Stone, than for his sympathetic chunk-and-response conversation with Keith Richards. At Staples, Wood was especially impressive on the slide, carving up "Love in Vain" with oily, spiky precision. Other highlights: Chuck Leavell's gumball piano rattling around the corners of "Street Fighting Man" and the icy intro flickering of "Monkey Man." Mick Jagger, sporting black suspenders and a white shirt, warned, "This is really too fast," before a properly rambunctious (and fast) "Rip This Joint." Contrary to critical consensus, the one new tune, "Don't Stop," was memorable and kinda poignant, a deceptively laid-back statement of purpose. Biggest surprise: a goofy but exuberant version of the O'Jays' "Love Train."
Ron Wood wasn't quite as sharp at Edison Field, and Charlie Watts sounded a little tired on a leaden "Honky Tonk Women," but the band played longer, and mixed in a dozen tunes they hadn't performed at Staples. Everything was bigger and louder in Anaheim, especially the row of black gas tanks mounted perilously high above the massive stage, belching humongous fireballs choreographed to the ominous rhythm of "Sympathy for the Devil." The emotions were bigger, too, with "Gimme Shelter" taking on a timely resonance ("war, it's just a shot away"), as violet searchlights probed the audience reproachfully. Deep feelings turned to indulgent sentimentality on a gloriously mawkish "Angie"; couples throughout the stands began making out. For the acoustic-driven "Sweet Virginia," the crowd erupted in spontaneous "woooh!"s when Jagger drawled, "Thank you for your wine, California," perhaps overlooking his forked-tongue following line: "and your sweet and bitter fruit."
The higher reaches of the ballpark's ironically named "View Level" were literally rocking by the time the group thundered impressively through "Midnight Rambler." It was only rock & roll, but, as Keith Richards rasped, "It's good to be here. It's good to be anywhere."
KEITH RICHARDS at the Joint, October 28
Every time the Stones come to town, rumors abound about 'em turning up at some li'l dive for a "surprise show." This time out, the impossible-to-get-into Wiltern gig seems to fill that intimate-venue void, so when we heard one or more Stones might turn up at the Joint last week, we were a bit skeptical. Still, the club's Monday-night jams, which feature Waddy Wachtel, Terry Reid and others, have been attracting some biggies Roger Daltrey popped in recently so we made the hopeful trek to the tiny Westside hang.
Frizzy-locked guitarist Wachtel offered a set of familiar rock hits, fondling his ax with the kind of possessed affection only a guitarist of his caliber and skill can do without looking cheesy, while the other musicians played off his ebullient energy. Then Wachtel slyly declared, "Ya never know what might happen later," before launching into "Paint It Black," and a thick layer of anticipation filled the air during the break. An hour later, the second set began, and making an entrance from the back kitchen like the riff royal he is (forget about Mick's knighthood) was King Keef, the essence of cool in a casual black suit and silver jewelry. The expensive wino climbed onstage, greeted the crowd with his throaty, sometimes indecipherable ramble, and noodled out a few loose and effortlessly lovely blues numbers, languidly plucking his shiny guitar, chiming in vox whenever he felt the urge. Next he dove into the notorious opening licks of "Start Me Up," moving about and standing so close to the edge of the tiny stage we feared he might fall. Two Rolling Stones backup singers, Blondie Chaplin and Bernard Fowler, fleshed out Keith's sweetly sparse screech on the classic, then all three chimed together on a soulfully unrestrained version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," ending the magical moment far too soon.
"I'd like to stay longer," said rock & roll's grooviest grandpa, an impish grin suggesting his mind was now on the bigger fish he'd be frying later that week. "But I've got work to do."
THE STROKES at the Greek Theater, November 1
I was convinced the Strokes might be really important when I visited my 12-year-old cousin a while back and saw that he had let his buzz cut grow out into a dirty mop after hearing Is This It. His head now looks like a shrunken replica of lead singer Julian Casablancas' visage. Though my cousin hasn't quit the baseball team yet, he has started playing bass guitar. The Strokes are that good.
At the Greek Theater, they were even better than on record. Dressed in '70s-cum-'80s Lower East Side uniforms, they knocked out 16 songs in under an hour five new ones, all 11 from their debut, and with minimal banter. They did the album's import version, playing "N.Y. City Cops" instead of the clinker that replaced it stateside post-9/11. The lighting was classic and understated, yet arena-rocking enough to illuminate the faces of the 12-to-15-year-old girls singing along to Casablancas' every word. They did no encores.
The old songs delivered on their record's promise with a danceable, robotic bounce and a weave of hooks so tight you barely noticed it was sewn out of older patches of sound. As the titles of the new songs indicate "You Talk Way Too Much," "The Way It Is" they aren't breaking much new ground lyrically, but musically they seem to be slowing down, adding layers and complications, "sophistication." Who knows if the 'tweener demographic will roll with the new material without a fight, but it's admirable to see an emerging band already trying to challenge their audience.
Given their trajectory, the Strokes beg comparisons with bigger acts. They're not in the U2/Radiohead career-rocker pantheon, but it might just happen. (One suggestion: Ditch the downtown NYC chic. It's fine for the Troubadour but a bit precious for a 6,100-seat outdoor venue.) As for the Strokes vs. Nirvana, well, where Cobain exploded, Casablancas just smolders and jokes. Julian's angst is snide, not suicidal, and that's nothing to complain about. Anyone else come to mind? Well, Casablancas does have a saggy butt. "He's looking a little chubby," my date for the evening noted. Behold the lesson of Brian Wilson, my young prince: Drink light beer and keep playing ball. (Alec Hanley Bemis)
BONOBO, DJ FOOD, AMON TOBIN at the Echo, October 30
U.K. hooligans, East Los kids, Silver Lakeians, beautiful people, weirdoes it's a Ninja Tune showcase at the Echo, yes? Well, Bonobo wasn't about to let fair-weather fans sleep on the sensual swirls of Animal Magic. 'Nobo weaned us off his down-tempo brain-freeze with an understated but jagged energy, and the resulting bliss-out was not so much a mainline syringe as it was a steady morphine drip.
It was lousy to see clubbers blaze unawares past Strictly Kev one-half of DJ Food sitting by his lonesome after a sweaty rare-groove blitz. While partner PC was finishing up a European tour, Kev enjoyed the solo flight, the highlight of which was a garage-jiggered "Good Thing" from Fine Young Cannibals. "There's a big thing going on with mash-ups in London right now," he said, cupping his mouth against the din. "Chopping up punk and pop and all that."
After spending half the night geeking out on software with ELM laptopper RD and negotiating a licensing deal with label vampires, Brit-Brazilian superstar Amon Tobin wasn't in the mood for advanced-jazz deconstructions. Instead, he slathered on the tropics-kissed dream & bass à la his Supermodified disc, and the precision beat-surgeon had us registering every 1/36-tick of snare no matter how balmy things got. You'd think the money shot would be the kaleidoscopic scratch-scattin' "Verbal," from his looser-funner new release Out From Out Where (and it was dope), but the real thrills were these vertiginous bass-drops that dangled teasingly on a precipice before the bottom opened under them. Fact is, Tobin's sets don't climax so much as plateau long and luxuriously, and toward the finish, the darkly handsome dead-earnest jock cracked a smile or two and dragged on a butt as he mixed lethally sexed-up boom-bap. What's a DJ to do if he's unhappy with his highbrow image? Bury it one lowdown groove at a time. (Andrew Lentz)
THE RESIDENTS at House of Blues, October 30
High time for hooey as the Residents play the majority of the songs from their latest, Demons Dance Alone. The octet wields double-malleted xylophone tunes as a trumpet- playing demon-baby is suckled by a triangular-bazonked chanteuse lowing "Life Would Be Wonderful." Animation projects behind as shrouded agents of sinister strangeness employ the strum and scree of trad sqronk guitar. On "From the Plains to Mexico," the fanged demon-baby trains twin spotlights on a crooner in a camouflage leisure suit.
The now-spotlit chanteuse gyrates the hippy-hippy shake on a chair, demon-baby also swiveling gyrally as free-improv fusion meets a carnival of contortions. At "Greener Postures," the demon-baby trains his spotlights across the wavering dust trails of the ever-sonorous bass. "The Beekeeper's Daughter" sees an accordionist now in the spotlights, prosthetic snoot waggling beneath the helmet from a world war to end all wars.
On "Honey Bear," the crooner's songs of nostalgia and remorse resound amid the tinkling of bells and thudding of drums, holding aloft the glowing red ball of the heart. A story is told about James Brown meeting some Residents while the demon-baby cradles an unveiled top-hatted eyeball to hoots and cheers, as "Neediness" leads to the piano-fed encore of "Demons Dance Alone" (seemingly an in/version of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive"). They clap and circle onstage as concussive synths and heavy drumming lead to a victorious exit despite the strains of melancholy tears . . . (David Cotner)
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