When Mayor Michael Nutter declared this Rolling Stones Week in Philadelphia, he probably hadn’t considered including Faces keyboardist and Stones collaborator Ian McLagan (famously during 1978’s Some Girls tour, recently documented on the Live in Texas ’78 BluRay) as part of that schedule. I’m here to right that wrong by placing McLagan’s performance at the tiny Tin Angel alongside the Stones’ more epic undertaking at Wells Fargo Center, because, in its own way (especially as up-close as I was to the Stones, thankfully) each event shared a similar intimacy.
Of course, there was immediate grandeur about Tuesday night’s 50 & Counting show at the WFC (there are tickets available for Fri., June 21’s show) just from the look of its stage: The Stones lips and tongue open wide behind them.
The songs themselves were huge in their shambling might: loudly riffing and manic (thank you Ronnie Wood for those sneaky solos set against Keith Richards’ crunchy rhythms) and powerfully yet sensitively drummed (we appreciate that, Charlie).
Some of that bigness comes down to the fact that every tune obviously had the weight and the history of classic rock upon them. They’re time worn and historically regarded — every note and every lyric is Bible verse when you’re standing in a drunken stadium of Stones fans — to say nothing of their force and vigor in a live setting. It may seem trite to say this, but in a dozen different ways, the Rolling Stones’ hits (and that was what they played, their biggest songs, no rarities) only come alive with the nearly violent zeal of staged performance. Even something studied, subtle and imbued with the holy spirit of a swelling choir (Philly’s The Crossing, in a guest turn on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) was devilishly electric and grimy, from its blowsy, gospel piano run to the soft toot of a French horn. It was scope and grit that gave new tunes such as “Doom and Gloom” and “One More Shot” their might. If those newer songs’ melodies aren’t memorable on record, their heft and widescreen envisioning was.
Yet, as blunt, dirty and direct as the punk rock born of the Stones’ initial primal screaming sound, energy and economy is what made Tuesday’s undertaking as intimate as it was epic. So did the jokes, tittering things that seemed more like shared asides than stadium-filled yuks. Both Mick Jagger and Richards (who really had no on-stage unified chemistry other than the fact that they played the stuffing out of songs they’d written) separately mentioned Philly’s 331st birthday on Tuesday. The singer brought out and rang the mini-Liberty Bell that our Mayor had given him and the guitarist told the wildly applauding crowd, “It’s your birthday, not mine. I don’t know which one’s older,” before singing “You Got the Silver,” the first of two vocal appearances for Richards (despite his usual rasp and the on-stage cigarette breaks, his voice sounded better than any time I’ve seen him since the X-Pensive Winos shows at the Tower).
Heading back to the sound, the Stones were lean and mean: just the core band, two saxophones (including honky tonking Bobby Keys), two background singers (including Lisa Fischer who made handsome work of her windswept co-vocals during “Gimme Shelter”), and singer/guitarist Brad Paisley (who did an un-fancy and buttery duet with Jagger during the mangy, countrified “Dead Flowers”). Beyond the core, the most welcome presence was that of Mick Taylor, the Stones’ lead guitarist from 1969 to 1974, who, with Jagger and co., turned “Midnight Rambler” into a lengthy, lean, blistering psychedelic blues workout of the highest order. You wished that Taylor had done more beyond this and his appearance during “Satisfaction” where he added some much needed stuttering buzzes and belches.
While the band made sloppiness into an art form (their calling card from its start really) Jagger was a chattering, conversational frontman, albeit one who, at 69, is skinnier than me and gyrates more than a stripper on a hot day in a bar without air conditioning. He may have forgotten some lyrics during “Sympathy for the Devil,” but he sounded kiddish and effervescent on “Get Off of My Cloud,” lurid and leering on “Miss You,” and during my favorite moment — the slippery “Emotional Rescue” — he oozed a sort of mean, musky charm that has made him a lizardy icon for decades. Nothing was perfect — it never is at a Stones show. It took a while for the band to feel out the room and each other. Jagger seemed off on more than a few occasions, but, can we give them a hand for making no effort to hide their age? Every wrinkle and crease showed up proudly on their faces, their bodies and their sound). Double bravo.
The night previously, on a platform far smaller than Wells Fargo’s, stride pianist and (surprisingly) soulful singer Ian McLagan took the stage (with just bassist Jon Notarthomas) for his own sold-out audience at the Tin Angel atop Serrano. A fit figure with a moppish shock of white hair and a gentlemanly rasp of a voice, McLagan talked up the Stones show (“saw it in LA, it was faaabulous”) and his old pal Ronnie Wood (“looks marvelous”) as if he was hawking tickets. Beyond the sales pitch, McLagan talked about his late, great Faces mate Ronnie Lane and played a small, earthy handful of boogie-woogie-ing songs either penned by Lane (the sweetly rustic opener “Hello Old Friend), co-penned between them (the blustery, clumsily sexy closing number “You’re So Rude”) or dedicated to his memory. While the crinkly, bluesy likes of “I’m Hot, You’re Cool” and “Little Girl” were particularly dashing (to say nothing of his supple balladry and the forlorn crevices of his vocals), it is McLagan’s mere presence that was the highlight of this show. He could have just showed up and talked (which he did mostly) and his audience would’ve been rapturous.
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