The Rolling Stones at the Wiltern Theater
November 4th, 2002
It was somewhere during the first third of the Rolling Stones’ Wiltern show when I made the solemn vow to myself that I would never, ever, ever, ever go see the Stones in concert again. It was a simple promise, but one I plan to keep. The reason is simple: It will never, ever, ever, ever be as good as it was at that moment when I made that decree in my head. Essentially, it was all too surreal and outrageous for me to even believe that I was standing less than 10 feet away from the band that I have consistently proclaimed as the “only band that matters” for the better part of three and half decades.
As Keith Richards launched into a pumped-up version of “Stray Cat Blues”, I was stunned to realize that these guys are still as dangerous as those droning, wicked, ferocious licks that he played to kick off this classic gem. On this night the Stones were a relentless threat to the old and totally false notion that these guys are yesterday’s papers. You still don’t want your daughter, your sister or your mom to date a Rolling Stone.
They were, in fact, having the time of their lives on stage, digging out and dusting off several old classics that they had played in halls and clubs half the size of the Wiltern years ago. Did I really see them do “Rock Me Baby”, “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” “Going to a Go-Go”, “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” (with incredible opening act Solomon Burke - who wrote the song - joining the band on stage), or was I just dreaming?
Mick Jagger was restless, wild and totally inspired by the crowd’s adulation. He was dead-serious about his performance, but he was having loads of fun too. He was even tickled by the heavy presence of Hollywood elite. At the start of the show, he joked that he would be sure to invite everyone famous or nearly-famous to “come up on stage and join hands” for the final number. (Spotted in the audience were the likes of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Slash, director Cameron Crowe, Eddie Murphy, and literally dozens of other movie actors, musicians, and TV stars).
Drummer Charlie Watts was as consistent and under-stated as ever. Guitarist Ron Wood, though he played as good as the devil, was unusually and unnecessarily nasty to the crowd, flashing his middle finger and mouthing expletives to no one in particular, even as the room cheered him on. But Woody’s out-of-character bad vibes up on stage could not come close to bringing down the high energy and spirit of the evening. With the same additional members used in the larger-format shows (notably Bobby Keyes on sax, Chuck Leavell on keyboards, Bernard Fowler on background vocals, and a host of other support players), the band was smoking hot from beginning to end.
Though they didn’t ignore the hits – they managed to play more than a few of the songs they are best known for (“Jumping Jack Flash”, “Brown Sugar”, “Tumbling Dice”, and “Honky Tonk Woman”) – this show of shows was more about celebration and enthusiasm for the lesser known songs from their 40 year history. The original material they ran through covered a wide spectrum of their recorded legacy including “Bitch”, “Live With Me”, Dance Part 1”, “Beast of Burden”, “Neighbors”, “No Expectations”,. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, and Keith’s “Thru and Thru”.
It was an experience of a lifetime; a night of loud rock, soul, blues and - most likely - broken vows.
- - Benjamin Krepack