May 15, 2013
By Shawn Perry
Whenever the Rolling Stones come to town, it becomes an adventure for me to see them. And it starts by not planning anything beforehand — no buying a ticket when they first go on sale, no asking others to go, no wondering what I’ll eat and drink and buy pre-showtime. Nothing preconceived or plotted out. Much like the best music of the Stones, it’s a sloppy, risky way to go, yet it seems to work out.
I missed opening night at the Staples, so one of the two Honda Center shows figured into the equation. Talk about sticker shock. There was no way I was going to pay $600 for a prime seat. AEG, the promoters behind the pricing structure, reportedly set the face value high in an effort to scurry the scalpers. To their credit, this tactic was effective to some degree. Marking up an already high-priced ticket, many of which were still available through Ticketmaster up until the day of the show, was simply not a viable option. Many scalpers, hoping demand would catapult prices, found themselves with lots of tickets they couldn’t unload unless they offered steep discounting, in many instances below face value.
To astute concert goers, it opens up the possibilities of getting decent seats for reasonable rates. For casual fans, however, seeing the Rolling Stones is on a more novel, something-I-can-tell-my-grandchildren-about level — you know, the ones most likely to buy tickets early because they’re afraid the show will sell out and the Stones will never be back again — and the knife was already in. To twist it even further, AEG released “cheap,” last-minute $85 tickets in a lottery-like fashion to fill in the gaps. I stuck with my plan — the only plan — and waited until I was at the venue to get my ticket.
After finding $10 offsite parking with easy access to an alternate route to home, I surveyed the grounds for where I might score. A gathering of enterprising sellers and buyers across the street from the Honda Center seemed like the best place to start. I remember going to the same spot in 1999, and no one would take less than $200 for a Stones ticket. Tonight, it was around $250 for a $400 seat. And that was only if you could find someone selling because most were looking to buy. The police sat nearby, watching all this in plain view without concern for what amounted to a money-losing proposition for all involved. Not a good sign.
Over on the grounds of the venue, buyers and sellers were more discreet. I found a gentleman wandering aimlessly, hoping to get rid of a pair of tickets for whatever he could get. The seats weren’t all that great, but I got one for $20 below face value — and way below the $200-250 benchmark. I actually had enough money to buy a couple beers, a hot dog and a $30 program. A merchandise catalog was free, but everything inside it wasn’t. And so the adventure began.
After inspecting the lay-out, I headed up to my seat and prepared myself for the show with a scheduled starting time of 8:00 PM. When it got to 8:20, the woman next to me asked if they were always late. I answered, “They’re the Stones — they do what they want.” She registered a look of concern. Another half-hour passed and the lips that surrounded the mouth of the stage melted into the darkness as the house lights came down. “Ladies and gentlemen…the Rolling Stones…”
And there they were — Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood — blasting off with “Get Off My Cloud” and “it’s Only Rock “n Roll.” The set list for tonight didn’t go too deep, which means it’s too difficult to assess what they will do at other shows because there are so many essential songs. It was great to hear “Rocks Off,” but they could have very done without “Emotional Rescue,” and the two new songs, “Doom And Gloom” and “One More Shot.” Not that anyone noticed, but there are about 30 or 40 other songs they could have slotted in.
Keith Richards took over for “Before They Make Me Run” and “Happy,” but the rest of the night belonged to Jagger and whatever excitement he could summon. The first was a raw blues number called “Champagne And Reefer” with John Mayer sitting in. Guest stars with the Stones, especially those from a different era, sometimes over extend themselves in an effort to impress the band, the audience, maybe themselves. Mayer played it cool and ripped off a few fiery leads to show the masters he was worthy to be standing on the same stage.
One man who definitely deserved to be on that stage was Mick Taylor, who came up for “Midnight Rambler,” and later for the encore of “Satisfaction.” He was far more animated than in the early 70s, and seeing him peel off a few momentous benders as Jagger scattered through the verses really made me wish I’d had the chance to see him back in the day. At least there’s enough video out there for a proper background check.
Ronnie Wood, reportedly alcohol- and drug-free, played astoundingly well. He tastefully threw a little pedal steel onto “Happy” and his leads on “You Can't Always Get What You Want,” which featured the USC Thornton Chamber Choir, gave the song a spirited edge. Richards, whose guitar playing was patchy in spots, eventually earned his stripes on “Sympathy From the Devil.” Charlie Watts simply never misses a beat, no matter how old he appears to be.
Most of the members of the Stones’ extended touring band have been on the payroll for at least 20 years. Bassist Darryl Jones, Bill Wyman's replacement in the early 90s, thumped through an otherwise delirious “Miss You.” Chuck Leavell, a member of the Allman Brothers Band in the mid 70s and the main man behind the keys for the Stones since the mid 80s, owned the raggedy cadence of “Honky Tonk Woman.” Saxophonists Bobby Keys (on and off with the Stones since 1972) and Tim Ries took on key solos in “Brown Sugar” and “Waiting On A Friend,” respectively. And, of course, Lisa Fischer, who stole the spotlight during “Gimme Shelter,” and Bernard Fowler have been adding their supportive pipes to the Stones stage show since 1989.
While it was a treat to see Mick Taylor, the overall show was fairly standard. Nothing exceptional, nothing mind-blowing. A legendary band with a 50-year history giving the people what they want. Saturday night sounded a little more captivating. They did “Shattered” and “You Got the Silver,” plus Dave Grohl came up for a rousing run-through of “Bitch.” Other than that, the set was the same. Will the final night at Staples be any different? We'll know soon enough. Then it’s off to Toronto, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and London. We may never see them together in California again. I thought about that as I scrambled across the bridge and picked out a $5 bootleg shirt before heading home. If it’s true, I will miss my adventures with the Rolling Stones.