It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll was a ballsy choice for a song and album title; I winced when I heard it, fearing the Rolling Stones, having gained an emotional paunch, were attempting to regain by proclamation what could only be established by deed. I was wrong; the song was a violent, funny, sexy embodiment of the Stones’ addiction to rock ‘n’ roll, the album a brilliant, characteristic admixture of raunchy silliness (“Short And Curlies”), ominousness (“Fingerprint File,” “Time Waits for No One”) and cheerfully self-conscious hard rock (the sibilant “Dance Little Sister,” “If You Can’t Rock Me,” the title song).
The Jagger last week in Boston was full of the spirit of It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll. After Aaron Copland’s stately “Fanfare For The Common Man” announced them, the Rolling Stones bounded onstage to a deafening greeting, with fighting versions of “Honky Tonk Women” and “All Down The Line.” Jagger leaped around, fists flying and mouth pouting, like a slim Muhammad Ali. The guitar combination of Wood and Richards proved to be the most powerful the Stones have ever offered. Wood is essentially a rhythm guitarist; his long solo stretch on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which came later in the evening, showed a less sensuous touch than Mick Taylor’s and an inability to escape from predictable resolutions. When he added rhythmic treble detail work to Keith’s booming, bassy chordings and Billy Preston’s keyboard poundings, though, the upshot was in all probability the most fully realized “Rolling Stones” sound ever presented in a live show (though it was reported that Thursday night’s show packed less punch). But, even more important, Wood’s ebullience, more controlled here than in a Faces concert, clearly harmonized with, and perhaps furthered, the Stones’ spirit of happiness and relaxation (I might have said looseness, but that implies sloppiness, and the Stones were exact on just about everything except the dual-guitar introduction to “Give Me Shelter.”)
“If You Can’t Rock Me,” with a blank-faced Keith tossing off thin, jagged leads, led into “Get Off of My Cloud” and then into “Starfucker.” As Jagger pointed at the audience and shouted “starfucker” a wind-filled balloon-phallus, at least 20 feet high, emerged from the front-center of the stage. As if to tell us that he too was on for the ride, Jagger straddled the object. On “Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” Mick spoke-sang the words histrionically, reminding me of Richards Burton in Hamlet, but Mick leavened his posing with self-mockery. Then, to lift the mood, came “Happy,” a favorite of mine because of Keith’s squeaky, vulnerable vocalizing of some of the Stones’ raunchiest lyrics; “Tumbling Dice,” in which Jagger imitated James Brown’s shuffle; “Luxury”; and “Heartbreaker.” Jagger’s singing on this last song was shattering (a sure indicator of the state of Mick’s voice is his degree of control over the harder numbers – during his last outing in Boston he didn’t fare nearly as well) but the most poignant moment of the concert came afterwards. After “Heartbreaker” began, a member of the audience threw a coat onstage; after playing had ceased, Keith casually picked up the coat, inspected it, tried it on for size and tossed it aside. (If there were ever a vagabond millionaire, Keith Richards is it. This is why I’ve always felt Keith to be the heart and soul of the Stones. He’s the one who, while immersed in some musical project, beckons Mick back from across the oceans for one more album.)