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Topic: USA Today Return to archive
09-10-02 10:27 AM
nankerphelge BOSTON Forty years ago, roughly four millennia by the rock 'n' roll calendar, a scrappy bunch of British teens assembled on stage at London's Marquee Club to unleash a sinister blues-driven sonic boom.

Mick Jagger leads The Rolling Stones on the U.S.-leg of the Licks tour.
By Winslow Townson, AP

Last week, the lads materialized before 15,000 fans at the Fleet Center arena to detonate another noisy reminder of a rock manifesto entering its fifth decade.

Each occasion elicited an identical reaction in Keith Richards.

"It's the same feeling, a feeling that you're home," the guitarist says. "It's an amazing year for the Stones. They're acting as frisky as teenagers. They're raring to go."

The Rolling Stones opened their Licks tour last week with a trio of rowdy concerts showcasing an astonishing and unprecedented variety of hits, covers and rarities. The stadium, arena and theater shows sold out and garnered enthusiastic reviews, proof that our youth-worshipping culture is not yet Stone-deaf. The next triple threat starts tonight in Chicago.

The 40-date North American leg continues through early February, after which Licks heads to Europe, Australia, Mexico and the Far East, possibly including the first Stones concerts in China. Michael Apted, who directed Enigma (which Jagger produced), is shooting a tour documentary.

The first trek since 1975 to launch without a studio album is instead fueled by remastered reissues of 22 ABKCO albums recorded from 1963 to 1970 and the Oct. 1 release of Forty Licks, a two-CD retrospective with four new songs.

Immune to loud buzz about the tour's 40th-anniversary pretext, the band isn't dwelling on its legacy or longevity.

"We don't talk about things like that," says Richards, 58. "We might have an inner glow about keeping a band together this long. People thought it couldn't be done. We never thought of trying it. We ... are ... just ... here. It's a vague mission you can't give up until you keel over."

Jagger, 59, shares Richards' reluctance to reminisce as years go by.

"I did my reflecting when we scrambled at the last minute to do the credits for (Forty Licks)," he says. "We'd listen to a song and say, 'Who's playing piano on that?' Other than that, I'm just living in the present."

The past, as rehashed by the media, can be burdensome.

"You sometimes wish the press would review the show as a show instead of doing all this pontification about your history," Jagger says. "Some of the journalists have been doing this as long as we have, and they don't know what to say anymore, so they add up our ages and print that. But I'm not complaining, because the reviews are really good."

The New York Times observed: "The Stones defy time and derision by pleasing themselves first .... They are entirely professional without growing routine. (The Stones are) still in command of music everyone expected to fade with their youth."

The retro album projects furnished a logical excuse for the painless and lucrative option of a stadium tour with a rigid greatest-hits repertoire. Yet the band, out to satisfy itself as well as fans, took the labor-intensive and less profitable route of spreading classics and obscurities across three venue sizes. (Check the math: a ballpark take of $140,000 for a theater show vs. $4.3 million in a stadium.)

Jagger and Richards compiled wish lists and settled on 130 songs. During six weeks of rehearsals, they resurrected tunes deserted since the '60s and '70s.

Richards recalls, "Throughout the years, certain songs have screamed out, 'I want to go on stage!' With others, it was more like, 'Remember me?' And they'd get trampled. When we'd pull out one of those forgotten ones during rehearsals, I'd think, 'I can't remember this thing. It'll be a miracle if I get through the first verse.' I found if I stopped thinking about it, the fingers knew what to do. When the brain did get involved, it was to remember things like the stupid psychedelic lamp that was in the room on the winter day I wrote it. In a way, these songs are my diary."

The Stones sussed out such curiosities as Sad Sad Sad, Heart of Stone, Casino Boogie, Winter, I Got the Blues, Slave and She Smiled Sweetly. They also agreed to reshuffle the deck nightly and move traditional encores to the opening.

"We've been crying out for years to do this," Richards says. "Playing stadiums is fun but you're restricted. If you want to change a song, you have to consult the lighting crew. We have a lot more freedom now, and the band is hot. The machine fell straight into place. We'll keep feeding it with fresh stuff to keep it pliable and unpredictable. Right now, it's all very fluid. These first few shows are experiments. The audience will let us know what works. For the band, it's interesting. It's hard to keep a band fresh in an enormous stadium production. You love being there but you don't realize that habit and routine quickly set in and the show becomes a grind."

Jagger found the intensive rehearsals fun and relished the notion of songs as test balloons.

"It's a lot of trial and error," he says. "Some we'll play once and go, 'Hmm, this isn't cutting it.' We always rehearse a load of songs we don't end up playing. If you're only doing stadium shows, you might change two or three songs a night, but this time we're pushing it. You still have to put together a list that flows, and you still have to put some well-known ones in there."

In recent years, the band's road clout far exceeded its pull at radio, though new records sold respectably: Fans bought 1.8 million copies of 1994's Voodoo Lounge; the subsequent tour grossed a staggering $124 million that year to set an industry record that still stands. Though aware that fans crave shots of bygone favorites, he does not buy the theory that the Stones audience wants a strict diet of oldies.

"They want a mixture," he says. The band may play only three or four newly penned tunes this outing, but many of the fringe nuggets from early albums fall into the "new tune" category for younger concertgoers and casual fans. "The real trainspotters know everything, but when it's 25,000 people, many will only know the well-known songs. Why should they know more?"

In mid-August, the Stones played a 15-song set in a Toronto ballroom "to give the band the smell of the crowd and the roar of the greasepaint," Richard jokes. "We realized after that gig that all this band needs is an audience."

Even Jagger, whom Richards says "understandably wants to make sure it's safe and conservative at the beginning of a tour," quickly loosened up. Three songs into opening night, Richards glanced at the singer, who appeared a bit grim and tense, threw an arm around him and cracked, 'Hey, pal, listen. For you and me, this is much easier than living at home." Jagger laughed and limbered up.

"The whole point is to have a good time," Jagger says. "You've got to get the right combination of professionalism and this bar-band mentality."

With Stones knock-offs clogging the airways and little separating the teenage and Stone Age brands of garage rock, the band has good reason to relax and revel.

Richards hasn't heard current copycats.

"I've been busy listening to Rolling Stones records," he says.

Clearly, so have the Hives, the Strokes and the Vines, leading the scruffy garage revival. The movement, reversing a rock slump and challenging the reign of hip-hop and boy bands, is delightful if not instructive, Jagger says.

"I love it," he says. "It's gratifying that people are realizing rock 'n' roll is still vibrant. It's great that doors are opening but it's hardly a breakthrough. Imagewise, it looks very much middle-'60s, but musically it's more ironic. Obviously, it's unapologetically taken from that era. They're not trying to hide their influences any more than we were trying to hide that we got lots of ideas from Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. I don't have a problem with that. And I'm sure some of the bands will go on to create their own style."

Staying power and refurbished relevance seems to be muting detractors who declared the Stones obsolete a decade ago. Still dogged by questions of retirement, the Stones have dashed past every finish line drawn in the sand by critics and cynics.

"It's obvious you can't do this forever," Jagger says. "But it's pointless to speculate. I don't see the future beyond 18 months. I honestly don't know what we'll do."

Huge in the '60s, the Stones remain huge as they approach their 60s. Though dinosaur jokes persist, the late-night gags (David Letterman: "It's Metamucil for your ears!") that proliferated with 1989's Steel Wheel(chair)s Tour began dying out as the Stones steadily retaliated with jaw-dropping might and agility.

"Now the word is age-LESS or time-LESS," Richards says. "If you carry on long enough, you're gonna confound your critics. The wrinkled rocker bit so what? When you get my age, you'll get wrinkles too. I'd like to see some of these cats keep up with us on stage. We're in this game called rock 'n' roll, predicated on the fact that you can't play after you're 18 or 20. We've broken the rules again. But when didn't we?"

09-10-02 10:56 AM
luxury1 Oh, what a great article--full of classic quotes from "our boys." Thanks for posting it nanky
09-10-02 10:59 AM
jb It's kind of scary, they are getting a lot of good press this time. Unfortunately, it's a little too late to improve ticket sales. Apparently, Cohl does not think this tour will come close to the $ made on past tours.
09-10-02 11:35 AM
Riffhard . Apparently, Cohl does not think this tour will come close to the $ made on past tours.

That's true Josh but only because of the type of tour it is.When every other show is an arena as opposed to a massive football stadium it stands to reason that they won't make as much money.They have gone on record saying this tour isn't about just the cash.That said,it will still be the highest grossing tour of the year hands down.

09-10-02 11:39 AM
jb We are going to lose the all time $ record to U2 which almost topped VL last tour. They did'nt play stadiums either, but sold out atleast 2 shows every venue. We then are not even going to be able to say we are the #1 grossing act of all time...this combined with dismal record sales (#15) behind the likes of Bon Jovi and AeroSmith, is certainly not looking to good for their legacy!
09-10-02 12:22 PM
Maxlugar Speaking of U2...

Has anyone else noticed that the radio is playing their new musical piece of excrement infinitely more than Don't Stop on the radio?

They'll take the time to cram it down the ears of the general public until they like it. Not a new Stones song though.

That song makes my testicles shrivel into California Raisins. Only they aint dancin' and singin'. In fact my right one just hung itself off the back of my ass.

Poor lil' fella.


[Edited by Maxlugar]
09-10-02 12:39 PM
jb Yes Max..the radio stations will play that shit ad nauseum..but "Don't Stop" will never see the light of day. U2 has tragically become more successful and popular than the stones.
By the way, that was a nice thing to remember those lost on 9/11. I am with you New Yorkers in 73 yr old Mom was on Church street the morning of the attacks and fortunately made it out o.k.
09-10-02 12:47 PM
Riffhard Maxy and everyone,
Fear not my friends.At my station on the Jersey Shore we are playing Don't Stop considerably more than U2's peice of shite Electrical Storm.In fact I get a healthy amount of requests for "that new Stones tune".Many people in the industry seem to think that as the tour progresses that Don't Stop may very well turn into a decent sized hit for the boys.I gotta say that it's really growing on me.I think it's their strongest single since Start Me Up or at the very least When Love Is Strong.One reason.Mister Ronnie Wood!He really lays down that sweet little solo with conviction.Ofcourse,the fact that it opens with the Human Riff doing his thing like noone else can helps too!

09-10-02 01:03 PM
Maxlugar Thank God we have you out there Riffy. A one man Stonesian transmiter! Shine on!

Thank you Josh. I am glad your Mom made it out. Too many friends of mine did not. At this exact moment last year, I was leaving the WTC to come back up here in midtown. Within 24 hours it was gone.

Please read Charlie Daniels opinion piece in the NY Post today. There is a real man in the entertainment industry. I'm gonna buy an album of his just to say thanks.

09-10-02 01:14 PM
Stones When The Rolling Stones recertify their catalog they will most likely jump into the top 5 for record sales. Most of their catalog has not been upgraded for at least 10 years or ( much ) longer.
09-10-02 01:14 PM
Joey " Only they aint dancin' and singin'. In fact my right one just hung itself off the back of my ass. "

Simply Beautiful ...................

09-10-02 02:53 PM
jb Joey, what shows are you going to this week?
09-10-02 03:31 PM
Miss U. I don't like U2. Never did.

I have little doubt the Stones will out-sell them this tour.