The Rolling Stones At The Rose Bowl, Thursday August 22nd 2019
The Rolling Stones‘ show at the Rose Bowl was very confusing for a few reasons. With these thousands of people camping in their RVs all around Arroyo Seco and spending their retirement money to follow the band, with the city of Pasadena taking the colors of the Rolling Stones for a week, designing a new t-shirt for the occasion, wasn’t the Stones’ concert at the Rose Bowl supposed to be a big celebration? A grand mess? Even NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory located in Pasadena got involved…
The Stones are a big act, their concert, one of their ‘No Filter’ Tour stops, was a state-level event and drained an impressive crowd of 90,000 at the Bowl,… and then this crowd wasted its time and mine. It was a crowd on a constant move, getting up to go where? Buy a pizza in the middle of ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’? Buy churros in the middle of ‘Brown Sugar’?
It was pathetic. If you cannot sit still for more than five minutes, what are you doing there? You’re supposed to see the greatest rock and roll band in the world, and the only thing in your mind is getting food and beer… if you have the bladder of a hummingbird and the attention span of a goldfish, please stay home instead of this constant nuisance for people who are actually there to listen to the band! The crowd was the worst I have ever experienced at a concert.
I’m not even talking about old people. The Stones are old, Mick is 76, Keith 75 and Charlie 78 and some parts of my seat section looked like a retirement house. Lots of people began leaving at least 20 min before the end of the show because it was way past their bedtime? Because they didn’t want to be stuck in the traffic? Oh, the horror to be stuck in the traffic at midnight when you are usually starting to nap at 6:30 pm! I am not making fun of old people, everyone gets there eventually, but when you need one hour to walk down the steps of a stadium, it may be time to stay home, and the most confusing part of this story is that some of these people may have been even younger than Jagger.
My first jaw-dropping moment was at the entrance of the Rose Bowl parking: ‘It’s 50 dollars, credit cards only’, said the woman, and I almost choked on my diet coke. ‘Where is the exit?’ I replied, for $50 I can buy another pair of running shoes and I can walk a mile or two, no problem.
So it would cost you a lot of money to see the Stones, the $50 parking, the tickets (hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on how close you want to be), the food, the drinks, the merchandise,… people are used to spending a little fortune to have a good time, and their idea of a good time is this constant migration. The entire show was confusing, a total mess of a grand mess.
Of course, I had a nosebleed ticket. All seats in a stadium are nosebleed basically unless you are in the pit. And when you are a mile away from the band, it’s already hard enough to concentrate without the surrounding disturbance, but because of this incessant crowd movement, I don’t think I was able to watch the Stones sing one song without being bothered by someone passing in front of me.
This rant about the restlessness of the crowd has nothing to do with Stones performance of course, and in the middle of this chaos, I was trying to concentrate on the tiny silhouette of Mick Jagger walking the long runway, which looked like a tongue extension attached to the huge stage of the Bowl.
‘It has been 25 years since we played the Rose Bowl!’ he told us during the show, but before the band got on stage, we were teased with the NASA logo, and ‘action man’ Robert Downey Jr. suddenly appeared to reveal that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had named a rolling rock on Mars after the Rolling Stones. A beyond-this-world introduction just before launching ‘Street Fighting Man’ and several other classics.
In a middle of an ADD audience, the band was getting all my attention, and I was desperately trying to focus on this man, running like a champion after going through a heart surgery just a few months ago. It was impossible not to think about it, the show was postponed for this precise reason, and it was impossible not to admire Jagger’s resilience and almost super-human powers. At 76, he is still in remarkable shape with a frozen-in-time adolescent silhouette, but do you want to admire Jagger because of his resilience or because of his showman abilities? Don’t get me wrong he is still jogging, kicking, dancing and running, he is still super rockstar Mick Jagger, wearing an awesome collection of dazzling jackets during the course of 19 songs… but I was waiting to relive that jaw-dropping moment I had experienced when I saw the Stones in Las Vegas in 2016. He was moving like a rock god at this time, barely touching the ground, and I could tell he was a bit slower on Thursday night. Can you really blame him for being 3 years older? As for the rest of band, guitarist Keith Richards, drummer Charlie Watts, and guitarist Ronnie Wood, it was difficult to see who was doing what from this distance, despite the large screens. After decades of touring, they play each song in their sleep.
The vintage ‘She’s a Rainbow’, the winner of the request vote by fans, sounded a bit unusual in this arena rock show, and I bet a lot of Pasadena residents were disappointed they didn’t have the chance to play ‘The Little Old Lady From Pasadena’ (where else are they going to play this one?). They surprised everyone when they moved down the long runway to settle a sort of secondary improvised stage and perform two songs ‘Sweet Virginia’ and ‘Dead Flowers’ as if they were some ‘70s band busking on the corner of a street. It was very early in the show, and something bands usually do during an encore, but it worked, at least for me, because it brought the band closer to the crowd. Something I would have desperately wanted.
They got through a tamed version of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ without this insidious flair that made the Stones’ reputation, and after a giant sing-along during ‘Honky Tonk Women, the Keith Richards solo came and put the crowd a bit to sleep. If ‘Miss You’ lacked textures from my seat, ‘Paint it Black’ had bravado and brought people back on their feet, and continued their clapping and cheering during ‘Midnight Rambler’.
Before ‘Start Me Up’, Jagger reminded us it had been 55 years since their first LA show, and yes, they played many of their crowd-pleasers, from ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ to ‘Brown Sugar’, which got the best moments of the show with creative colorful graphics added to the split screens. ‘Gimme Shelter’ during the encore followed by (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction were the big finale expected, completed by fireworks, the ultimate crowd-pleaser.
I don’t have enough Rolling Stones experience for reference, I haven’t been to enough concerts to discuss the nuances of their interpretations of the songs last night, it was only my second time seeing them, and as impressive it is to see them still kicking in their mid 70s, their performance at the bowl was okay to great (the last 4 songs) but not mind-blowing. Maybe it was the unfocused crowd (it didn’t help), maybe it was the distance (a ticket in the pit would certainly have been a totally different experience), but a stadium show should fulfill the ambitious expectations of a stadium show. I wanted to be overwhelmed with emotions and I was just feeling good at best.
The Stones canceled twice on me, in 2016 in Las Vegas and last May in Pasadena, Each time, they caught up, with an effortless brilliance in 2016, and with an easy rest on their reputation last night. It’s only rock & roll, but I didn’t want to just like it, I wanted to be blown away.
Street Fighting Man
You Got Me Rocking
She’s a Rainbow
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
B-Stage / Acoustic:
Sympathy for the Devil
Honky Tonk Women
You Got the Silver (Keith Richards on lead vocals)
Before They Make Me Run (Keith Richards on lead vocals)
Paint It Black
Start Me Up
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction