The Music of the Rolling Stones: Hot Rocks 1964-1971
Tuesday, March 13
Better than: Paying $300 to see The Stones.
Okay, so maybe most of the audience was old enough to remember the first time they saw Mick Jagger shake his hips and lips on The Ed Sullivan Show. And a sea of salt-and-pepper hair, thick eyeglasses and bellies betraying too many Big Slam Breakfasts at Denny’s was spread among the seats. But last night at Carnegie Hall, the years melted away as a slew of artists paid tribute to the Rolling Stones. Gone, briefly, were the horrors of adulthood (like the couple who told me, with a shudder, about taking their daughter to see Miley Cyrus). Instead, the mostly middle-aged crowd was able to relive the naughty kicks of “Let’s Spend The Night Together” and “Honky Tonk Woman” for nearly two hours. They got to shout, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Woo!” without their kids running from the room. And, finally, to really dig a wide array of Jagger and Richards’s most brilliant songs.
And no, Justin Bieber did not come out and sing “Satisfaction.”
It became apparent that the show would be great when Ronnie Spector slayed “Time Is On My Side.” Backed by a sympathetic house band, the badass chick rediscovered her lost sense of pitch, belting out the R&B classic. Maybe her exultation was a result of knowing her psycho ex-husband was safely tucked away in prison. But when Spector gleefully gave up a trademark “Whoa hoa,” the crow went absolutely batshit.
Peaches, wearing some sort of spangled naugahyde jumpsuit, was next, and she wiped the floor with a version of “Heart of Stone” that remained true to the Stones’ rebellious spirit. She screamed about all the “girls I’ve known” who’ve tried in vain to break her, and the audience members, most of whom probably haven’t bought a new record since Goat’s Head Soup, grudgingly gave it up for this sizzling siren.
There were a few UFO—sighting moments, ones that would never be seen again. The forever fabulous David Johansen, once thought of as Mick Jagger’s déclassé cousin from Staten Island, tmade mincemeat out of 1965’s “Get Off Of My Cloud.” He smiled his Dead End Kids grin, shook his tight, white-jeaned ass and made the song his own. When David Jo boomed, “I decided to take a drive downtown,” the song’s locale shifted—permanently—from London to New Yawk.
Whereas Johansen was wonderfully comic, Steve Earle and Marianne Faithfull made strong personal statements with their choices. Introducing “Mother’s Little Helper,” former druggie Earle said, “This is the first song I ever learned on the guitar. That’s probably why I’m so fucked up.” His rockabilly-ish take on this ambivalent ode to Valium was hilarious and hair-raising. Then, Faithfull, who knows hell so well she can probably describe the furniture, sang “As Tears Go By.” The palpable sense of regret she put into the first Jagger and Richards song had the audience measuring the years, wondering how this gravel-voiced woman was able to uncover the wounds of so many total strangers.
Since the evening had a WFUV tie-in, there was some soft-rock hell to pay. Shorn of his Ode-To-Bozo hairstyle, Art Garfunkel came out, and somehow received the evening’s biggest ovation. This unsettling display was followed by a rendition of “Ruby Tuesday” so cool and feckless, it made “Scarborough Fair” sound like The Sex Pistols. Equally deflating were two appearances by Art’s spiritual son, Marc Cohn. His background vocals on Jackson Browne’s version of “Let’s Spend The Night Together” were superfluous enough. But when Cohn got hambone—bluesy on the wistful “Wild Horses,” you just wanted to lasso him and tether him offstage.
Still, minor distractions. Rosanne Cash and John Sebastian produced a haunted, menacing “Gimme Shelter”; Ian Hunter blew the crowd away with “19th Nervous Breakdown.” Faithfull reappeared and rasped her way through a “Sister Morphine” so powerfully, it could’ve knocked a syringe out of a trembling hand. And to close it out, the whole cast came onstage for a cluttered, joyous “Tumblin’ Dice.”
The night brought to mind Mick Jagger’s speech when his band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame back in 1989. Quoting poet Jean Cocteau, he said, “‘Americans are a funny people. First you shock them, then they put you in a museum.'” Okay, so in actuality, the show was a theater. But despite the long-ago predictions that The Stones would render civilization uninhabitable with their dirty songs and droogy ways, the songs of Mick and Keith are absolutely classic now. If their stuff doesn’t belong in Carnegie Hall, whose does?
Critical bias: These are probably the best, sturdiest rock and roll songs ever written.
Overheard: “Did you call the sitter?”
Random notebook dump: Faithfull co-wrote “Sister Morphine” with Mick. Let’s hope she’s seeing some royalties.