Satisfaction? Oh yes
MUKUND PADMANABHAN pens his random thoughts on the Rolling Stones and their recent Bangalore concert.
BACK in the old days, the world was carved up between the Beatles and the Stones. The argument was not over geography. The Beatles, very clearly, had a much larger slice of the musical territory. The debate was really about history. More specifically about the respective roles the two bands had in shaping the growth and trajectory of popular music.
Mick Jagger (left) ... a performance in just the manner you expect of him.
Advocates of the Rolling Stones never tired of pointing out that despite their overwhelming popularity, the Beatles were essentially a bunch of clever musicians who wrote and played cute fruity pop. Okay, the assessment was not exactly fair. But the point they were making was that of the two, it was Stones that had the real inventive thrust to their music, characterised by that raw, drunken and bluesy sound that made them one of the important early representatives of the rock genre.
The debate continues even today when much has changed on the ground. The Beatles split at the end of 1970, with the foursome going their separate ways with mixed, even indifferent, results. The Stones of course just kept Rolling.
Longevity is rarely, if ever, a marker of musical achievement and the 40-year odyssey of the Stones bears witness to this. Their best years came to an end in the early 1970s, roughly the same period when the Beatles went their separate ways. Since then, the truth is the Rolling Stones have travelled generally downhill, gathering musical moss along the way.
The good thing is that the Stones seem to recognise this as sharply as most of their fans. Take "Forty Licks", the recently released Double CD, which is easily the most definitive compilation of their music. Yes, it has four new tracks and yes it attempts to chart the progress (?) of the band from the early 1960s to the present day.
But the compilation is candidly devoted to nostalgia. The whole of Disc One is reserved for the first seven years (1964-1971). Disc Two crams the remainder, a whole three decades in the life of the Stones. But even this disc contains a number of old classics from the early 1970s. In effect, the later and relatively memorable period in the life of the Stones is relegated to where it really belongs: a musical footnote.
The good thing about going to Bangalore last Friday for the Licks concert is that you have a pretty good idea of what you are in for. The even better thing is that very little of this is recent. You could have failed to track the Stones since the 1980s and not missed a beat. (Well, almost).
Gates open at 5 p.m. at the city's Palace Grounds but the show doesn't start until about 7.45 p.m. The griping about unpunctuality dissolves instantly as the band explodes on stage in a flash of light and colour. Almost immediately, a strident guitar lick reveals that the concert will kick off with Brown Sugar, Jagger's deviant blues shocker about sex and slavery. "It's Only Rock `n' Roll" is next which is followed by an exceptionally tight and crisp rendition of "Start Me Up".
By now a couple of things are as clear as day. These gentlemen may be music's equivalent of dinosaurs but they can and do still rock. With his schoolboy hips and abs to die for, Mick Jagger still cavorts, teases, taunts and leers in exactly the manner you expect him to. Guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Woods are still good for those rude raunches, often raising their guitars above their heads or bending down to play their instruments inches from their stage, in a manner that is self-consciously exaggerated or theatrical. In contrast, Charlie Watts' style as he hammers out feisty drum rolls in his typically unfussy fashion is minimalist. The other thing that becomes obvious is that, if time has taken its toll, it is in the old capacity to shock, to slap you in the face with music that assaults your reflexive assumptions, your very sensibility.
They still seem faintly louche, but only in an almost comical and acceptably mischievous way a kiss with the back-up vocalist and a gamy animated sequence on the giant plasma screen backdrop being about the only reminders of a prurient past. More than three decades ago, they inspired the line "Would you let your daughter go out with a Rolling Stone?" Today, you might just be prepared to let your grandma do exactly that.
On stage, Jagger changes enough clothes to make up a man-sized wardrobe. A loose fitting overshirt of tasselled gold gives way to a suitably beady and black costume for the classic "Sympathy For The Devil" in some ways, the best set in whole show. The treacly philharmonic introduction to "You Can't Always Get What You Want" has to obviously be done away with. But it stands up well despite the accompanying drops of rain that get heavier as the show proceeds. Unlike the Roger Waters concert on the same grounds last year, almost everything is played more or less exactly as it was on the original tracks. Not much innovation in this respect, except when it comes to "Midnight Rambler", the third track that is played from the "Let It Bleed" album.
Jagger gives this dark and menacing slow-bluesy tune (which interestingly is not featured in the "Forty Licks" compilation) an unexpected tempo and vigour that keeps it in character with the rest of the concert.
In fact, over the entire two hours, there is only a brief period when the concert touches a softer balladic note, beginning with Jagger's uncharacteristically sentimental Angie and Richards' "Slippin' Away". I wish Richards had played "Losing My Touch" instead, the gravely, but delicate, piano ballad being possibly the best new track on the "Licks" albums.
The concert ends on a familiarly strident bolshy note with a sequence of familiar songs that include "Street Fighting Man", "Honky Tonk Blues" and, quite predictably, ("I Can't Get No") Satisfaction the Stones' signature tune. When the crowd asks for more, they are back with a lively and brawling version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" a splendid end to an extraordinary show.
Satisfaction? Oh yeah.
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