At one point during the Rolling Stones’ show at the TD Banknorth Garden on January 13 — part of the second leg of their “Bigger Bang” tour — a bemused Keith did manage to mumble something about “déjà vu,” but this was no rehash of the Fenway Park gig that got the tour off to a celebratory start on August 21. (They played a second Garden show on Sunday the 14th.) Yeah, they opened with a loose and swinging “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” that took a few bars to come into focus — which is saying a lot for such a familiar song. But that’s Keith and Ronnie’s style: whether they’re toying with the crowd or with each other, they seem to enjoy stumbling into their bloosier rockers rather than nailing the hook right away. Maybe it pisses Mick off, though he seemed his usual happy self as he half-sung/half-shouted a chorus as fully etched in our collective cultural memory as the lips-and-tongue Stones logo that adorned all the merch the capacity crowd had already feasted on, from the $15 faux laminate ticket holders the guy in front of me wore around his neck to a $600 leather jacket that one couple were debating about as I made my way into the venue. Hell, what’s six bills when you’re shelling out up to $450 for tickets?
The show may have started in similar fashion to the Fenway gig, with Keith’s free-form soloing and beefy Chuck Berry licks fighting with Mick’s flashy moves for the spotlight during “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “It’s Only Rock and Roll.” But then, with keyboard man Chuck Leavel leading the way, they launched into “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” setting the tone for a set that featured almost a dozen tunes they hadn’t played back on that hot summer Fenway night, including a perilously loose “Midnight Rambler,” a shambling “Happy,” and a smooth “As Tears Go By” that featured some nice 12-string acoustic strumming by Keith.
After seeing about a dozen Stones shows in the past dozen or so years, I’ve started looking for something — anything — critical to report. Yet when you consider how easy it would be for the “Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World” (or at least, to judge from all the 18-wheelers parked out back, one of the biggest) to go through the motions, it’s surprising to watch Ronnie wait for Keith to give him the nod before breaking into the lap-steel solo on “Happy,” or look on as Keith makes eye contact with Mick before glancing back at Charlie to mark the end of “Tumblin’ Dice.” Yeah, they’ve got a couple of keyboard players, a four-piece horn section, three back-up vocalists, and a monster of a bassist in Daryl Jones to keep some semblance of order. But there aren’t even many club bands left who deliver the level of spontaneity that distinguishes the Stones as dinosaurs in the very best sense of the word.
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