When I’m trying to recall something from my life thus far, there are generally two points of reference that I use: 1) what band I was listening to the most and 2) who I had a crush on at the time. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become harder to categorize things this way, because my habits have become less and less obsessive — in both areas — and thank god. When I was younger, my obsessive behavior was very polarizing. For the most part, I was either completely, absolutely in love with something or I completely, absolutely hated it. As I’ve become older, as I’ve learned more, as my tastes have become more discerning, the grey area has fleshed out, and there are fewer things that I feel comfortable saying that I “love” or “hate.” One of the many positive aspects of this is that now I can use how often I return to something as a barometer for how much I like it, because I’m not putting all of my energy into one thing, and because I’m not liking or hating everything an equal amount. The result of this is that it becomes even more important to me when a song, album or artist catches hold of my ears and doesn’t let go.
I’ve always liked the Rolling Stones. I remember my mother playing “Start Me Up” to try and get me up in the morning, and I recall rocking out in the car or dancing about the house to any number of their big rock hits. But I didn’t love the Rolling Stones until about a year and a half ago.
My summer of last year was largely spent interning at Resonance four days a week. Resonance HQ is located about 25-45 minutes from my house, depending on the traffic, which gave me two solid chunks of driving (and music listening) time each day. It’s practically a crime to listen to any radio station but KEXP when you’re in Seattle, but that summer found me really renewing my interest in older music, and as it just so happens, KZOK, the classic rock station in Seattle, is really, really good. It’s not like the ones I’ve heard out here on the East Coast where they play the same 50-100 songs.
The Rolling Stones: “Gimme Shelter” (download)
One sunny day on my drive home I was listening to KZOK and they played “Gimme Shelter.” I was stunned. I can’t truly say whether or not I had ever heard it before, but listening to it that day felt like I was hearing it for the first time, like I was hearing the Rolling Stones for the first time, even though I wasn’t. This time I was really listening, and listening intently.
I got lucky, in a sense, because The Rolling Stones were getting ready to release A Bigger Bang in the fall, so KZOK played a lot of Rolling Stones that summer, and each time they did, I felt like I did when I heard “Gimme Shelter” that time. Even the songs I had heard before felt new to me.
The Rolling Stones: “Beast of Burden” (download)
I don’t know why I didn’t go out and buy one of the Stones’ older albums that summer, but I didn’t. And my CD burner was broken, so I didn’t go in to my mother’s collection and copy any of the albums she has. I just waited for their songs to find me, and one way or another, plenty of them did. I found myself falling in love with “Wild Horses,” “Miss You,” “Ruby Tuesday” and “Beast of Burden,” as most people probably did when they heard them for the first time. (This isn’t to say that I don’t still love these songs, because I absolutely do.)
I wasn’t completely inactive, though. I did buy A Bigger Bang (mostly for “Rough Justice” at first, but I truly do think it’s a solid effort even though they’re obviously not in their heyday), and for my birthday I asked for tickets to see them at Giants Stadium in September.
Seeing them live the first time was, as expected, incredible. But it also made me feel like I just wasn’t up to snuff as a Rolling Stones fan. Did I drink, dance, sing and have a great time? Did I finally understand was is so attractive about Mick Jagger? Oh, you bet I did. Did I know everything they played? No. I probably knew about half of the songs, and that just bothered me. Considering the amount of material they’ve produced, it’s quite something to know every song they’ve ever written, and I didn’t expect to get up to that level that quickly. But I enjoyed seeing them so much even just knowing half of the songs, I decided that I wanted to squeeze as much out of The Rolling Stones as I possibly could.
As my Junior year started, I lost sight of that notion, and found myself immersed once again in classes, producing the indie rock show at our radio station and a new relationship. I didn’t set out to discover the Rolling Stones as I had wanted to — but like before, they set out to find me.
The Rolling Stones: “Mixed Emotions” (download)
Through television (mainly Nip/Tuck) and radio, songs like “Mixed Emotions,” “Under My Thumb” and “Mother’s Little Helper” found their way to my ears and I remembered how much I liked them and how I had wanted more of their music when I saw them. So I finally borrowed my mother’s Rolling Stones CDs, and off we were, rock music and rock music lover hand in hand. By the time their half-time show at the Super Bowl came around, I was convinced that my knowledge was adequate should they ever come to town again.
Much to my luck, they came through last week, and much to my luck a friend told me (I’ve been pretty wrapped up in job and apartment hunting, so I rarely look at anything else). Interestingly enough, they came to the same stadium (Giants Stadium) at the same time of year (later half of September) as they did the year before, when I first saw them.
Apparently Kanye West opened, but my friend and I got there 30-45 minutes late, so we didn’t see him. We also didn’t know he was opening. I’m not sure how we didn’t know that, but his name wasn’t on our tickets anywhere.
I was a bit nervous when the Stones first started playing. The song choices were great (“It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Monkey Man,” “Sway”), but the timing sounded a bit off. I don’t know if it was the band, or the sound, or because we were sitting near the back of the stadium, but it wasn’t sounding right. Luckily, by the time they got to “Just My Imagination” they were sounding on point.
The Rolling Stones: “Midnight Rambler” (download)
They followed “Just My Imagination” with a really spectacular version of “Midnight Rambler.” This is another case of a song that I liked just fine before, but after hearing it live I find to be even better. Keith Richards played a few songs where he took over lead vocal, which they followed up with “Under My Thumb,” which is probably my favorite of the songs they played.
After that, they busted into a stream of hits — “Start Me Up,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Sympathy For The Devil” (for which Mick donned a furry hat and coat, it was perfect), “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Satisfaction.”
I was bummed that they didn’t play “Miss You” or “Gimme Shelter,” because they didn’t play either of them last time I saw them and those are two songs I’d really like to hear live versions of. I was also a bit miffed over the fact that they only played one encore, and it was only one song (“Brown Sugar”). I was certain that they’d at least come out for a second encore to play “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” but no.
There was plenty to enjoy about the show, though. Believe it or not, the Stones have still got it. Mick ran around the stage like he was 20 again. I was especially impressed with Keith’s still nimble fingers. Some of the older acts I’ve seen live now default to backing musicians for difficult parts, but not Mr. Richards. He took control of that guitar like the rock ‘n’ roll expert that he is. Ron Wood and Charlie Watts, too, sounded more like the professionals that they are as opposed to what you might expect 60-year-old rock musicians to sound like (which they also are, except for Ron Wood who I believe is 59.)
I came back from Giants Stadium once again wanting to hear even more, wanting to know even more and wanting Mick Jagger more (oh yes). As timing has it, my generous mother recently bought Gimme Shelter on DVD for me, which I am quite anxious to watch. I also treated myself to a copy of the DSD Remastered version of Let It Bleed — and the remastering definitely makes a difference.
Just for kicks:
These are my favorite Stones songs at the moment. In “Memory Motel,” it’s the part where Keith sings “she’s got a mind of her own / and she uses it well,” coupled with the melody played by the keyboards/piano that really does it. “Too Much Blood” appeals to me because it’s pretty weird, but manages to be different for them while still sounding like the Rolling Stones (which is something they do very well, and one of the reasons why I love them so).
If, after reading all this, you think that I’m perhaps a bit biased in my review of the show, David Fricke from Rolling Stone reviewed the same show, and his review is up here.
Coincidentally, Berkely Place posted a ton of Rolling Stones covers yesterday, so go thank them for that.