Rolling Stones and Pearl Jam let the good times roll
How do you know you?re in a great band? Obviously, you have to have good music. You have to be able to adapt with the times without essentially changing your style. You can have impressive individual musicians, but you always have to work as a cohesive unit. Stage presence doesn?t hurt either.
Maybe you just have to be the Rolling Stones.
On Wednesday, thousands of very lucky western Pennsylvanians ? as well as people from Ohio, Kentucky, New Jersey and as far away as Colorado ? got to see what may very well be the greatest live band in the world. PNC Park, which can house 38,365 people during a baseball game, was filled to capacity, with thousands more Stones fans on the field in front of the massive multi-story stage and hundreds more relaxing outside the park on the grass or on more than 100 boats anchored in the Allegheny River.
After receiving two tickets for my birthday from very generous, benevolent parental figures, I was now in the midst of it all, eight rows up from the field. Call me sheltered, but this was the largest concert I have ever been to in my twenty years, and quite an experience it was.
I occupied a tenuous position, both literally and figuratively. Although the seats were amazing (and expensive ? thanks, Dad), I was younger than most of the audience members around me. The majority of the college students were up in the highest cheap seats. Furthermore, I was sort of caught in a cross-generational dilemma. Was I here, like many of my peers, to see Pearl Jam open, or was I going to hang out with the grown-ups and cheer for the Stones?
The answer, happily enough, was both. Was there ever a band more worthy of opening for the Rolling Stones than Pearl Jam? Probably not. Already a great band in of themselves, Pearl Jam whipped most of the audience members under the age of 50 into a frenzy. As a child of the ?90s, I was raised on Pearl Jam. I still remember the family purchase of Vitalogy as a crucial, profound childhood event, and Riot Act occupies a permanent place in my car?s CD magazine. I was expecting a lot out of them.
They delivered. Eddie Vedder looks and sounds exactly the same as he did when I was eight, minus the plaid shirt. Clutching a bottle of something alcoholic, he frantically played the guitar, ran up and down the length of the massive stage, vaulted over sound equipment like an Olympian, and practically drove the more diehard Pearl Jam fans in the audience (some of which I was perilously near) to religious head-banging epiphany. Older Stones fans kept yelling at them to sit down.
However, by the end of their set, those same crotchety fans were singing along as Vedder launched into a cover of Neil Young?s ?Rockin? In the Free World.? Next to me, the grungy twentysomething who had been leading his section in screaming out the lyrics to ?Better Man? and the angry middle-aged man behind him both sat down together to share a smoke.
Then, in a burst of fireworks and flames (literally), came the Rolling Stones.
Belting out the beginning to ?Start Me Up,? Mick Jagger leaped out onto the stage in a gold sequined jacket, setting a frantic pace for the next two hours, and the rest followed suit. Let it be known: Mick Jagger is not of this world. He defies all laws of nature and physics. The man is 62 years old, and yet for two hours straight he swished, sashayed, slunk, and slithered his way through song after song, never missing a beat. How does he do it? We mere mortals may never know.
Although Jagger truly is the paramount front man, he rarely upstaged his fellow Stones. Charlie Watts breezed away on his drums without expending any apparent effort, Ronnie Wood danced around with his guitar, and Keith Richards was, well, Keith Richards. ?Good evening, Pittsburgh,? he croaked to the audience with a deadpan face. The place went crazy.
The lineup included old classics like ?You Can?t Always Get What You Want,? ?Paint It Black,? ?It?s Only Rock ?n? Roll,? and ?Sympathy for the Devil,? which Jagger delivered in a top hat, silhouetted in front of a red screen. They also performed songs off their new album A Bigger Bang, which to me seemed a little generic.
In fact, the only thing that bothered me about the set was its lack of edge. In my opinion, the Stones are best when they?re at their worst, as in the terrifically creepy ?Midnight Rambler,? or when they?re singing the praises of misogyny in ?Under My Thumb.? No such politically incorrect music sullied this evening. It was most definitely a golden-years concert for the Stones, which was saddening. I guess I arrived a few decades too late.
However, on the walk back to the parking garage, swept along in a sea of exalted fans, I overheard the lady next to me commenting to her husband, ?Did you see some of those kids in there? I was impressed. They knew all the words for Pearl Jam, but they knew all the words for the Rolling Stones too.?
Maybe that?s the real key to being a great band ? the ability to leap generations in a single bound.