People at the Staples Center in LA this week spent a considerable chunk of cash to be in the same room as The Rolling Stones, and I’m sure everyone in attendance had a swell time, but I’m still not sure it’s worth around a grand for a good pair of tickets to be able to say you were there when the Stones played “Emotional Rescue” for the first time ever in concert. From what I can tell, that was the only real surprise (oh, “Factory Girl,” maybe, and the fact that they’re still playing those two new songs in midset: why are they still flogging those mediocre tunes, when they could be doing songs from 12 X 5 or Between The Buttons?), in a set that otherwise was Basic Stones. I guess if you’re charging that much, and playing to 15,000 people — and let’s leave aside the question of whether it’s worth $500 a seat to see any rock band on the planet: well-off fans can do what they want with their resources — you have to play it safe and crank out “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Brown Sugar” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (which Jagger once said he couldn’t imagine still singing when he was 40).
Meanwhile, over in Raleigh, North Carolina a couple of days earlier, Bob Dylan played a set that included “Things Have Changed,” “High Water (For Charlie Patton),” “Thunder On The Mountain,” “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” “Love Sick,” and “Early Roman Kings,” all from the last two decades, plus “Visions of Johanna,” “Ballad of A Thin Man,” “Tangled Up In Blue”…you get the idea. You could argue (and I would) that the Dylan repertoire from the ‘60s and into the ‘70s is richer than The Stones’, but that’s a discussion over beer and pretzels, and all I want to point out is that night after night, Dylan is drawing on an insanely deep catalog of songs, that he trusts his fans not to revolt if on a given night he decides to skip over “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Blowin’ In The Wind” or “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” that he’s brought along up-and-coming band Dawes as his opening act, and that with Ticketmaster fees, top price for his show is $58.35, around 1/10th of the highest-priced Stones ticket. And still for under a hundred bucks, you can see Bob Dylan this summer with Wilco and My Morning Jacket.
Friends in Los Angeles were all giddy about being able to catch the Stones’ warm-up show at the small Echoplex venue, and I know what a kick it is to watch Keith and Charlie up close, and I’d have wanted to be there as well, because they are, after all, the Rolling Stones. Yet even in that joint, where they could’ve done anything, tried out older songs that hadn’t done in a while, gone a little deeper, the highlight seems to be that they took “Little Queenie” out of their pocket for the first time in a really long time, so we’re at the historic juncture where the Stones doing a Chuck Berry cover is an event. I hope it was a fun three minutes, because then it was back to the hits.
It’s not for me to tell the Rolling Stones what to do, but I’m going to anyway. Play theaters for a week, like Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers are doing in NYC at the Beacon this month, make each night a unique thing, a bunch of blues and rock & roll covers one night, then a ’70’s Stones Night, or a night devoted to Aftermath or Some Girls or Exile On Main St, an online request night. Schlep guests on stage like The Allman Brothers Band does during their Beacon residencies (The Stones are already doing that: Gwen Stefani and Keith Urban cameo’d at the Staples). Charge a few hundred bucks a ticket if you like. I realize that the Stones can’t do what Dylan does. For one thing, Dylan has actually made albums in the ‘90s and in this century that are worth listening to, so there’s that advantage of having great material that isn’t at least four decades old. Still, there are ways the Stones could honor their legacy that don’t involve asking their aging fans to pony up one more time to hear the classic-rock staples. “Start Me Up,” for real? “It’s Only Rock and Roll”? That’s just predictable, and lazy. What if, just at the next gig, instead of singing “Happy,” Keith sang “Burn Your Playhouse Down” — the duet he recorded with George Jones — with Keith Urban? I’d pay good money to see that.