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Published: 2006/12/05
by Randy Ray

Rolling Stones/Alice Cooper, Cardinals Stadium, Glendale, AZ 11/8

It’s Alright, Ma (It’s Only Rock n’ Roll)

When it comes to music, if we work on it together, there’s something that just happens. I don’t know how or why: I leave that to the mysteries of alchemy. – Keith Richards, According to the Rolling Stones,
edited by Dora Loewenstein and Philip Dodd

The Rolling Stones continue through the jungle of their immortal past by skipping the clunky classic rock vibe. Instead, the band is a well-oiled and salty blues hit machine built upon a two decade long campaign to reinvigorate their live act. Since the 1989-90 Steel Wheels world campaign, the Stones have been on a mission to prove that their brand of rock n’ roll can not only age gracefully but, be played with the same originality, spirit and balls of the devilish masters who first paved these mysterious roads. Acts from Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers to Robert Plant have been able to endure with an imaginative grasp of the hourglass curse.

The Stones hit the lights, Keith Richards came out to center stage and roared right into the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” monster riff. They were off like a hurricane had miraculously hit the Arizona desert. The timeless headbanger ripped around the stadium and appeared to assault the eardrums with a fatal punch. “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll” followed and continued the jab, right cross, uppercut pace that the Stones have mastered before sliding into a taut and Jagger/Jogathon version of “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” A bit of the late 70s/early 80s vintage creeped into the set with “She Was Hot”complete with NC-17 video vampsand the cracker tonk of “Faraway Eyes“since we’re in the desert country,” quipped Jagger, as Ronnie Wood plucked a fine steel guitar and Richards shimmered on acoustic while the crowd sang along to Jagger’s loopy Southern drawl.

The Keith Richards meaty portion of the program expanded outwards and that’s when my review thesis developedfrom his three decade dismissal of narcotics and his current fame rage as the hippest pirate dad on the planet (to son, Johnny Depp of Pirates of the Caribbean-fame)rock n’ roll is all about one’s soul, conviction, passion and survival. It’s more than just sex, drugs and rock n’ roll to someone like Richards and as he astutely said many years ago, “on any given night, any band can be the Greatest Rock n’ Roll Band in the World.” By that, he may have defined the crucial need for artists to continually find new ways to reinvent their live material from the bar to the festival. Making that perfect, anal retentive, attention-to-detail Pet Sounds album is critical, don’t get me wrong but music is ultimately meant to be played in front of an audience. Consequently, that audience expects the artist to offer an experience one couldn’t get anywhere else. Greatest Rock n’ Roll Band in the World? That is a dodgy term and a misunderstood yardstick to judge any band in an noncompetitive artform butwellin my neck of the existential woodsthe Stones owned that title on November 8, 2006.

Richards glided “All Down the Line,” with a cigarette dangling from his roguish lips as Charlie Watts nailed down an impressive backbeat. Darryl Jonesthe Stones’s bassist since Bill Wyman’s 1992 retirementoffered a deep bottom tone while straddling the necessary boogie that defines the band. Chuck Leavell on keyboards, Bobby Keys and company on horns gave the Stones that Motown glimmer that never goes out of fashion.

“Midnight Rambler” was over-the-top as Mick sucked on his harp, Watts pushed the tune inward and Richards/Wood sank the voodoo riff into an undercurrent of swamp rawk. The Let It Bleed-scorcher remains awesome in a criminally weird and erotically Machiavellian way. Exile on Main Street reappeared with “Tumblin’ Dice” before a laidback “You’ve Got the Silver” simmered and Keith, again, on lead vox and slide on a piecing “Connection” continued the ride through Muscle Shoals. Mick frolicked about like a whirling dervish on “Under My Thumb” but Leavell on keyboards stole the early spotlight with a haunting intro to the ancient chestnut about Jagger-edged misogyny.

And let us not forget Mick Jagger’s seasoned showmanship. No one knows how to hold a crowd in the palm of his weathered hand better as he fluffed his painfully skinny-assed tail feathers and jogged a 5k run from downstage left to right and back to center stage without breaking an aristocratic sweat. A mini-stage moved into the middle of the crowd and the Stones raced through sturdy versions of “Start Me Up” and “Honky Tonk Women” before returning to the main eight-storied stage for a blistering take on West African mojo via London, “Sympathy for the Devil” as six spiral flame swords rocketed from the top of the stage before the heavy milieu was extended with rapid-fire renditions of “Paint It Black” and “Satisfaction”with more exploding flashpots arcing towards the skyclosed the set. Keith Richards again took center stage for an encore of “Brown Sugar,” which circled the band back towards their main “JJFlash” sonic hookthe dirty raw sound of black-and-soul hypnotic rock with a heavy heaping of British flamboyance.

The inaugural gig at the new retractable-roof stadium had hometown resident vampire, disc jockey and post-glam rocker, Alice Cooper opening for the British bad boys of rock. Cooper and crew delivered a punchy hour-long heavy metal set that was surprisingly contemporary. Whereas the sound mix was a bit harsh and muddy at timesno different than one would have expected during Cooper’s 70s salad dayshe appears to have weathered the musical changes of his genre quite well by emphasizing smart riffs, occasional campiness and a strong ear for the almighty hook that burns. Cooper’s band muscled through their set like rockers with something to provefrom “Million Dollar Babies” to “School’s Out” with newer material to add weight ala his current retroproof slab, Dirty Diamonds. And you knowthey didn’t really need to prove anything. However, one doesn’t want to be considered either a nostalgic act or a tired gimmick from glam rock’s past and Cooper, somehow, defies those controversial tags albeit with the apropos red, white and black face paint to ward off the eroding facial landscape.

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