Rolling Stones and Friends Deliver Star Power at Tour Opener

Jagger on the Mic
Chris Godley

The Stones opened their set with "Get Off of My Cloud?."

Joining the legendary rock band at Staples Center for the first arena concert of its "50 and counting" trek were Gwen Stefani and Keith Urban -- onstage -- and Jack Nicholson and Kelsey Grammer in the crowd.

“Good evening, Los Angeles!” bellowed Mick Jagger at the Rolling Stones’ official tour-opening show Friday night at Staples Center. “Or is it really just Beverly Hills, Brentwood, and parts of Santa Monica?”

That was one way for the band to take the piss out of the controversy over extravagant ticket prices for the show, which had most of the non-nosebleed seats being offered at $600 a pop. After news reports pointed to an abundance of good seats still available for a king’s ransom this week, hundreds or even thousands of premium ducats ended up going for $85 each in a last-minute lottery, meant to ensure that the Stones would play to a full house and even some fans from suburban outposts like Encino and Pomona might get in.

It only took a few minutes into the nearly two-and-a-half-hour set for the Stones to remind everyone what they’d paid all that money for: “This could be the last time, this could be the last time, could be the last time, I don’t know,” sang Jagger. A lot of fans probably substituted the words “Probably so” for “I don’t know,” since the frontman and Keith Richards both turn 70 later this year, while drummer Charlie Watts will be 72 in less than a month.

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But if there hadn’t been the usual big-screen coverage of the band’s faces, anyone squinting from the merely $250 rear-loge seats would have been hard-pressed to objectively peg the band members as being a post-debauchery day over 30. Jagger’s trademark calisthenics in particular would tax most men a half-century younger, just about any of whom would rightfully feel compelled to get off his cloud, if not his treadmill. The singer made regular skipping-and-bounding rounds on a semicircular catwalk that extended almost halfway across the Staples floor, in the shape of a lower lip, complementing the giant upper lip that acted as the stage’s proscenium.

Jagger does like to bring out the guest stars (Richards being less high on the idea). Friday night, the on-stage VIPs were No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani, on “Wild Horses,” and country star turned American Idol judge Keith Urban, adding both lead vocals and guitar solos to “Respectable.”

Stefani certainly dressed the part for her 1971 ballad, putting on a full hippie-chick vibe down to the headband that topped her completely straight, waist-length locks. But wild horses couldn’t drag her natural vocal range down low enough to be a good fit for the register that the song requires. 

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Urban was a more apt choice for the upbeat “Respectable,” and while Richards and Ron Wood each got a solo in on the tune, their guest took two -- and looked like he was having the thrill of his life. His guitar heroism was a natural fit for the Stones, and if the band should ever decide to soldier on a little longer while Wood goes and does a Faces reunion tour, Urban would make a perfectly acceptable fill-in. Given the tension on Idol these days, he might well have been begging for the gig backstage.

The Stones also brought out a third lead guitarist for “Midnight Rambler” -- Mick Taylor, who stood alongside Richards during their most arguably fruitful period, 1969-74, in the gap between Brian Jones’ death and Wood joining the group. This was no surprise, as Taylor had done the same duty in a series of preliminary dates in November and December of last year, which included a pay-per-view special. He’d been reported to have been rehearsing several other vintage tunes with the band, so some older fans were disappointed that his opening-night appearance stuck to the expected “Rambler,” which was a clear set highlight.

Although spies outside the group’s Burbank rehearsal studio had provided tantalizing lists of obscure covers and album tracks the band rehearsed from the tour, there were only two surprises in Friday’s set list. One was the country ballad “Factory Girl,” from Beggars’ Banquet, which hadn’t been played live since 1997. The other was the last-days-of-disco title track of 1980’s Emotional Rescue, which Jagger introduced as “a song we’ve never done on-stage before -- never, ever, ever.”

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Although some on-stage signage reminded the crowd that this was a 50th anniversary celebration, the set list suggested that two decades in particular were being celebrated a lot more than the subsequent three. Nothing in the set post-dated 1981’s “Start Me Up,” except for the requisite two new numbers (“Doom and Gloom” and “One More Shot,” both tagged onto last year’s Grrr! greatest-hits set). If a few more hardcore fans wanted to grumble about how the song choices stuck to the expected smashes, their voices were assuredly drowned out by the fans who, for their $600, were very happy to hear “Happy.”

Jagger apologized to the crowd about a playoffs-mandated date change that led the opening night to be put off by a day. “Sorry if it inconvenienced you,” he said. “It was gonna be either us or the Lakers. So now you’ve got us. It didn’t matter to Jack Nicholson, because he was coming to both of them.” Later, he added, “The only reason we’re here is to make the Lakers look younger.”

The crowd indeed roared its approval when Nicholson made his way down a floor-level aisle to his courtside -- or lipside? -- seat. Other stars on hand included Melanie Griffith, Kelsey Grammer, and Pierce Brosnan (for the band's previous unannounced show at L.A. club the Echoplex on April 27, Johnny Depp and Bruce Willis were among the famous faces in attendance). There was some competition for a star turnout, as Elton John was performing at an MS benefit across town, so more celebrities may show when the Stones return to Staples Center on May 20 as part of a North American tour that encompasses a mere 17 dates.

Set List:

Get Off of My Cloud?
The Last Time?
It’s Only Rock & Roll (But I Like It)?
Paint It Black?
Gimme Shelter?
Wild Horses? (with Gwen Stefani)
Factory Girl?
Emotional Rescue?
Respectable? (with Keith Urban)
Doom and Gloom?
One More Shot?
Honky Tonk Women?
Before They Make Me Run?
Midnight Rambler? (with Mick Taylor)
Miss You?
Start Me Up?
Tumbling Dice?
Brown Sugar?
Sympathy for the Devil


You Can’t Always Get What You Want?
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
?(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

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