Rollicking Rolling Stones still have what it takes

by Mark Sweeney | 1/14/03 6:00am

What is there left to say about the Rolling Stones?

No band in the history of rock and roll can surpass their legendary status. They have persevered through band member deaths, crippling drug habits and inner turmoil.

Clearly, the Stones are legends. But from a band whose youngest core member is 55 years old, one wouldn't expect an electrifying show that could top the live efforts of nearly any band in existence today.

Apparently, the Rolling Stones are not just any rock and roll band.

The Stones put on an outstanding show before a packed Fleet Center in Boston Sunday night, thrilling fans both young and old. The virtually non-stop set included 24 tunes that spanned the group's entire career.

After an opening set by up-and-coming rocker Ryan Adams, the Rolling Stones burst onto the stage. Opening with one of their recent classics, "You Got Me Rocking," the band immediately had the crowd on its feet, and the frenzied state of the audience would not abate until the band retired backstage nearly two and a half hours later.

Another song known for its shout-along chorus, "Start Me Up," came next. For these initial numbers, the band meandered around the stage while each member played to a different section of the crowd.

At the center of the musical storm was lead singer Mick Jagger. Jagger, who seemed to be in better shape than most Dartmouth students, showed why he is widely regarded as the archetypal rock 'n' roll frontman. Even at the age of 59, Jagger pranced and preened around the stage like a teenager. And his vocal ability was amazingly solid for a man who has been belting out songs to crowds for nearly four decades.

Backing Jagger were guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood. Richards, also 59 years young, played his usual foil to the extroverted Richards by slinking around the stage and hammering his famous riffs.

Wood, the junior member at 55, at times nearly stole the show from Jagger. Wood spent much of the concert in amused conversation with bandmates and the audience.

Much of the first half of the show was devoted to showcasing some deep cuts from various classic albums of the band's career.

Also included early on was a rendition of "Don't Stop," the Stones' new single from their recent greatest-hits package, "Forty Licks." While the song is one of the better latter-day Stones singles, it lacked the power and thrill that comes with hearing the group's classic tracks.

One of those timeless tunes, "Sympathy for the Devil," kicked off the second part of the show. The Stones then rolled through many of their best-known songs in the latter half of the concert.

"Sympathy for the Devil" was arguably the most exciting number of the night. A massive video screen behind the band displayed a flaming representation of the Stones' trademark tongue logo, interspersed with shots of the members playing. The band embodied the fierce, demonic nature of the song with their frenetic performance, highlighted by two fiery guitar solos courtesy of Richards.

The video screen augmented the already enthralling show by showing the band from various camera angles and displaying images of old album covers, photos and animations. A camera attached to the end of Wood's guitar provided a close-up look at his axe work during solos.

The Stones churned out crowd-pleasing hits like "Tumbling Dice," "Gimme Shelter," "Midnight Rambler," "Honky Tonk Women," "Street Fighting Man" and "Satisfaction," as well as another first-rate album track, "All Down the Line," from 1972's "Exile on Main Street." The band made effective use of a horn section and background singers to add more layers of sound to the already expertly performed songs.

Also included in the set was a pair of songs that featured Richards on lead vocal: "Thru and Thru" and a great track from 1978's "Some Girls," "Before They Make Me Run." While it was entertaining to see Richards, the ultimate rock 'n' roll survivor, at the mike belting out tunes, there was a sense that something was missing when Jagger was off the stage during those two songs.

After 20 songs, the band walked down a path to an elevated circular stage in the middle of the arena for three more songs right in the heart of the audience: "It's Only Rock and Roll," "Brown Sugar" and a great cover of Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone." The house lights came on during the third song's chorus, which allowed both the audience and the band to behold the enormous sea of people, all singing along with the song in unison.

The band returned for an encore back on the regular stage, and played a raucous version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" to close out the night. The group left to a deafening ovation.

As the band departed, Jagger grabbed drummer Charlie Watts and led him back onstage for one more farewell. Watts, easily the most quiet and unassuming member of the Rolling Stones, truly deserved the final round of applause. His consistently solid drumming is the glue that holds the band together.

While it's a thrill in itself to simply see such a legendary act as the Rolling Stones, the group did more than bask in its greatness. The Stones showed that even nearly 40 years after their debut, they still know how to put on a fantastic rock show.

It may be only rock 'n' roll, but the thousands present in the Fleet Center on Sunday night still like it.