Saturday, September 30, 2006

Matter of fact, it's a gas.

I was born too late, I imagine. I was born in 1971 and grew up after some of my favorite bands had hit their prime or fell apart. In the time since, one of my secret goals was to see all of my favorite British warhorses in some or fashion before they died. The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles (as solo artists), Led Zeppelin, and The Kinks.

I got Paul and Ringo years ago, seeing Paul on February 9, 1990 (the anniversary of their appearance on Ed Sullivan) at the Worcester Centrum, and Ringo not long after at the Kentucky State Fair. The Who remain to be seen, primarily because I can't rouse myself to spend hundreds not only for tickets, but to travel hundreds of miles they always seem to be away from Louisville, especially when the backbone of the band is long dead. Led Zep. Well, we know why that won't happen. As for The Kinks, between strokes and shootings, that probably won't happen either.

Which brings us to the Stones. When it was announced I was excited beyond words. My first and probably only chance to see them. I got my tickets within minutes of the presale, and anxiously awaited the big day.

1st... the complaints. Churchill Downs did a HORRIBLE job with this one. After all the fanfare about the event, you'd have thought CD would have used its skills on Derby Day to make a better event. They didn't.

Let's start at the entrance. For some reason, nobody ever tries to tame the lines to enter a venue, so people were lined up blocking through traffic for security and taxis. Once let inside, the ticket takers didn't scan the tickets like at other venues, but instead tore the tickets, and then put holes in them when you got to your section. NOT COOL!

Once inside, the Brantley ushers had no clue how to get to the track seats. We wound up walking way out of our way to find an entrance and then had to walk all the way back to our seats. When we got to our seats, they were poorly marked folding chairs. The marking of each section was a price tag with the section on it and some Post It notes to indicate what seat number you were near.

Problem two became apparent at that point. Because the track understandably doesn't want people on a normal day to go into the track area, there were very few entrances, of too small a size. This created bottlenecks on the track. Plus, because they were channelling two to four times as many people through the entrances underneath the grandstands, there were huge bottlenecks in the back. During Alice Cooper's set, I went to use the restroom and some woman warned me "Don't go, it'll take you an hour to get back." When I saw the waves of people trying to get in, I turned back.

This wouldn't have been so bad had Churchill bothered to put porta potties and refreshments on the track side of the event. The only beverages they were selling was beer.

I was excited because all week they'd been promising great weather, and for a moment, it seemed that it would be nice, if somewhat cool. The sun was blazing.

As the time for Alice Cooper rolled near, the rain started. Never quite a deluge, but enough to get you wet and make you miserable. "If I see John Belski, I'm kicking his ass," I told my wife. What if it stormed, I thought. I couldn't imagine a bunch of drunk, wet, people running for shelter in a space that 2 or 3 people could fit in at a time. Worse, the ushers were conspicuously absent, trying to corral the crowd (I guess) so people were funnelling wherever they wanted, including crowding the aisles.

I remember looking around and thinking the people in line with me and sitting around me were old enough to be my parents. How was that possible? This is a rock show. Then I realize that the Stones were old enough to be my parents. It made me realize how timeless the band truly is.

Alice Cooper did a competent if rather bland set. I'm not a big fan, but it was cool to see him perform. His set was short and rather lacking in theatrics he's known for.

Then the Stones came on. OH MY! From the first bars of Jumpin' Jack Flash, it was clear that they weren't letting the rain get to them. I'd seen video and heard live CDs of Stones performances in the past. You'd think that in 40 years their performances would get more and more like other contemporaries. Essentially lifeless recreations of their hits with some nice stage effects to try and distract you. Instead, based on all accounts, including those of longtime fans, the boys are doing some of the best shows of their lives. They were incredible! From a sound mix that was far better than any show I've been in, especially one of this magnitude, you could hear almost everything clearly. Mick was actually singing, not talk singing or spitting out lyrics like in some shows I'd heard. He was hitting notes that a guy his age who has been doing that many shows for over a year should not be hitting. Charlie anchored the band as always, getting a huge sound without looking like he was even breaking a sweat. Ronnie and Keith looked like they were having a good time, lost in their own guitar playing. All of it was played out on a huge stage that added to the show without becoming the show.

Because it was their first time in Louisville in years, they stuck mostly to hits, to the delight of the many casual fans there, I'm sure. But each was performed with a vigor that belied the number of times they've performed them. While the rain sucked, the rain added a cool element to the video of the boys hammering out the hits. It all came to an early climax with Midnight Rambler, surpassing the Get Your Ya Ya's Out version for all 12 or so minutes. The obvious Dead Flowers kicked the studio version's butt as well, as Mick brought cheers to the crowd singing about "making bets on Kentucky Derby Day." Mick was a marvel, strutting around, playing to the crowd, and looking about 30 years younger than he is. His stage moves bordered on self parody, but somehow he pulled it off.

What amazed me about these shows is that the $240 I paid for two tickets was more than worth it. Not just because I saw living legends, but because the guys put on an incredible show. The sound, stage, and above all performance was far superior to any concert I've been to before. Rather than sounding like a cover band on their own songs (a charge I could hurl at the recent Journey/Def Leppard concert I saw), they sounded like men who have been playing together for years and still find new reasons to enjoy it. Songs that had no reason to be played with anything but competence, such as Satisfaction, sounded fresh again. Even the new tunes off A Bigger Bang had the crowd rocking and cheering.

In the end, I got more than I ever thought I could hope for. I got to see classic songs performed with most of the core band intact in an energy filled concert that musicians 1/3 of their age couldn't have pulled off. For two plus hours, all of my cares, including being soaking wet and the fact that I was trapped with several thousand drunks disappeared, and I was in music heaven.

And as for kicking John Belski's ass... I almost got my chance by proxy. About midway through the show, Kevin Harned and three friends (including a very young looking girl) appeared right next to us standing and watching the show. He disappeared a couple of songs later. I guess he feared for his life.

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