“Who’s this opening act?” asked the guy next to me. “Ameriquest,” I said. “I mean, Alanismorrissette.” Under banners for the behemoth subprime lender, the queen of alt-sass candor belted “Hands Clean” to a still mostly empty Garden. Forced to show us her hits, she trudged through “Ironic,” which found her swallowing the pesky word itself, “Isn’t it irumpfffhh?” She had grown out of her old songs, and seemed desperately in need of one good “Tumblin’ Dice.”
This guy and I had tickets emblazoned $454.50, a powerful suspended sentence. “Do they just print that on the freebies so we feel like we’re getting something special?” I asked. But the rows of paunch-draping golf shirts and a dude with a Deadhead skull on the back of his suit jacket told me different. These seats were the trophies for trophy wives. Plus, “special” doesn’t even begin to describe the rocking we were in for. During the break, a wobbly lending-company blimp rimmed the perimeter, reminding us to get that re-fi. But soon the corpo banners were gone, and bud pungency wafted our way like arena-sized home spray.
The Rolling Stones, expected to gross $200 million touring their new album, aren’t here to dismantle an atomic bomb. And they’re not gonna bash Bush for kicking back on the day their beloved N’awlins music died—no matter what Mick Jagger implies on the meticulously diffuse new “Sweet Neo Con.” But watching them saunter and skip to “Start Me Up,” 62-year-old Mick in black lowriders and a glittering belly shirt, Keith Richards doing triple-Vioxx knee bends like Jack Sparrow dodging the plank, could break anyone’s heart of stone. These wily, wiry men and their wiry counterparts Ron “Rehab” Wood (per Mick’s intro), and Charlie “I Just Had My Lymph Nodes Removed and Spent Six Months in Chemo” Watts are the world’s best advertisement for wealth. Wealth of talent. And just plain personal chef-driver-trainer-osteopath-bloodscrubber wealth.
And only after a bleeding volcano like last Tuesday’s “She’s So Cold,” could a zillionaire joke confidently about soaking fans for half a grand. Mick went for it. “We have a lot of friends in New Yohhk—well, maybe not so many after you see the ticket price.” We laughed. Strangely enough, though, the record the Stones made for this tour, A Bigger Bang, is actually good. On first listen, I was folding clothes and shaking my ass, and it wasn’t till the eighth song that I remembered it was supposed to be bad. At the show, they added Bangers like “Rough Justice” (whereupon a determined NYPD cop sprinted past our seats in a burst of mash-up choreography), the bloozy “Back of My Hand” with Mick on slide, and rote rocker “Oh No, Not You Again,” performed on a barge-like floating stage in the round. Sensing a potential energy drop, Jagger whipped out emergency moves: the backward-leaning “lunge stomp,” the “shake ‘n’ clap,” the “jazz-hand goalpost,” the “drawn bow ‘n’ arrow,” the “double point,” and thrillingly, a modified “ba-fungu.”
For some reason, we didn’t get “Shattered,” for which I’d have gladly forgone the silly cover of “Get Up, Stand Up.” (Judging by crowd response, the stockbrokers vaulting from their seats to fist-pump during “Bitch” are also passionate about human rights.) “Miss You” and “Honky Tonk Women” dripped with lasciviousness, prompting a ladies room conversation that went like this: Older woman: “Ya see, ta us, he’s still sexy.” Younger woman: “I’m 22 and he’s wickedly hot.” Heed these words, Williamsburg rockers.
If the slowed-down “19th Nervous Breakdown” sounded like a Vicodin taunt rather than a dexy delirium, it still worked better than the herky-jerked “Paint It Black.” And I would have gone with a more retro Godardian treatment on “Sympathy for the Devil,” though I s’pose Mick “Support the Troops If Not the Policy” Jagger would probably balk at JumboTron footage of revolutionary mayhem.
No “Sweet Neo Con” either. Tour sponsor Ameriquest’s lending practices are under investigation. And a Federal Reserve study out this week shows that African American home buyers disproportionately pay subprime rates. But as we said, this stuff isn’t the Stones’ bailiwick, and no amount of crossfire hurricane or racial tension could have derailed his fat Tuesday “Brown Sugar” encore. The white people danced as the white brass band blew themselves blue.
As for the new album’s political-sounding title, is it meant to conjure anti-war ire or is it just a geriatric plea for the perfect fuck? Hell, it could be a reference to the huge bang-for-buck markups at the merch table. Or even a consideration of intelligent design. Maybe it just refers to the confetti-puking blast that scared the living shit out of me at the end of the show. Whatever. The Rolling Stones will never be our ideological beasts of burden. But four decades along, they’re still a gas.