The Rolling Stones
If last night's concert at Staples Center really was the Rolling Stones' final show in Los Angeles after nearly 50 years of faithful pilgrimages to the Southland, it revealed that the British warhorses are still capable of major gasp-inducing surprises. When the tour officially kicked off at this arena three weeks ago, there was considerable pomp and circumstance to mark the occasion, including visitations from moderately stellar celebrity guests and the stirring spectacle of dozens of blue-jacketed members of the UCLA Marching Band streaming through the aisles, belching out a festive instrumental version of "Satisfaction." However, at last night's bookend sequel at Staples, the thrills and chills were largely musical instead of theatrical.
After a month of touring up and down California and Nevada, it appeared that the Stones had already settled into a relatively predictable routine by the time they arrived again at Staples. Augmented by the occasional special guest, the group usually stuck to the same set list, mixing in a few prized obscurities early on before closing with a fusillade of the major hits. The fact that the "50 & Counting" tour might be the Stones' last one is certainly noteworthy, but what's made this trek so compelling for hardcore fans is the long-awaited return of brilliant former lead guitarist Mick Taylor, who quit the group in 1974 and hadn't performed live with the Stones since a mysterious one-off gig in Kansas City on the 1981 tour.
As much as longtime fans have cherished every fat and juicy note flying out of Taylor's frets during his regular spotlight turn on "Midnight Rambler," they've also lamented that the Stones have barely used him during the rest of the set. At the last few concerts, he's also walked onstage to riff along on the encore of "Satisfaction," although without getting space to do a proper solo. Making matters even more vexing for Taylor fans is that the Stones' set list is filled with songs like "Gimme Shelter," "Tumbling Dice," "Brown Sugar," "It's Only Rock & Roll" and "Honky Tonk Women" -- classics that Taylor either recorded with the band or made his own on definitive live versions on the 1972 and 1973 tours.
For three decades, most Stones fans have found themselves classified in one of two camps -- those who love Taylor's replacement, Ron Wood, and those who desperately pine for the return of Taylor. The irony is that Wood has been a perfect gentleman about this over the years, whether he's asking Taylor to appear on his solo albums or going out of his way on this tour to literally bow and show deep respect to his predecessor. It's been exciting seeing all three living Stones guitarists, including Keith Richards, jamming together onstage on "Midnight Rambler," but it was only at last night's stunning show that the planets of Ron Wood and Mick Taylor fully aligned in a more satisfying manner.
There was little indication at first that this concert would be markedly different than the previous ones on the tour. Following a short opening film of testimonials from such fans as Iggy Pop, Cate Blanchett and Sheiks of Shake drummer Paul Body, the Stones burst into "Get Off of My Cloud," with Mick Jagger prowling the large stage in a glittery jacket. After all of these years, the Stones still remain, at heart, a simple garage-rock band, capable of crashing and burning at any time just like any struggling young punks. It's precisely that uncontrollable, chaotic euphoria that makes the Stones so exciting, especially in comparison to their early peers, who have either retired or turned into slick show-biz lounge lizards.
Several of the subsequent tunes, including "It's Only Rock & Roll" and "Gimme Shelter," came and went without a peep from Taylor, who was apparently still locked up in his backstage cage. When the Stones rattled through "All Down the Line" for one of the first times on the tour, Wood even attempted to mimic Taylor's original guitar parts, which was unusual since Wood usually tries to play the oldies in his own style.