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HERE AND NOW

Rockin' like they're 40

Laugh all you want, but the Stones are still the kings of soulful rebellion.

October 31, 2002|Robert Hilburn | Times Staff Writer

There's no bigger target for ridicule in rock 'n' roll than old age, so let the jokes begin: The Rolling Stones are coming to town for three shows starting tonight at Staples Center.

Heard this one?

Question: What are the six most dreaded words at a Stones concert?

Answer: Mick Jagger saying, "Here's one of our new songs."

We could also go on about how the Stones tour should be sponsored by AARP and point out that these guys were topping the chart before Eminem was born.

But the Stones, of course, always get the last laugh.

Fans collectively will pay tens of millions of dollars to see the band on this tour -- and they'll keep lining up for tickets as long the Stones keep rolling, because they are unique. When they're gone, there's nothing to take their place. Sorry, Aerosmith.

You can be as cynical as you want about these grandpas' ability to play exciting rock 'n' roll -- until the house lights go down. Then I defy you not to be thrilled -- especially at the Wiltern, where we'll have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see them in the intimacy of a 2,200-capacity room. The group's sensual sound is going to be so overpowering that you're going to feel as if you are sitting in one of the speakers, and Jagger will be so close you will be able to look him in the eye.

Is it any wonder that this show sold out in 10 minutes?

Jagger and Keith Richards may have more lines in their faces than a street map, but they've mastered the guitar-driven celebration and rebellion of the blues as well as anyone who ever stepped onto a stage -- and they haven't lost the recipe.

There is such magic in their recordings that to this day, everyone who picks up a rock guitar is likely to try a Stones song. Even Bob Dylan is delighting himself and audiences by playing "Brown Sugar" on his current tour.

If you have any doubt about the lingering allure of the Stones' music, listen to "Forty Licks," the band's two-disc retrospective. There are some forgettable new songs on it, but the classic '60s and '70s tunes are as much starting points in rock 'n' roll history as are Elvis Presley's "That's All Right" or Chuck Berry's "Maybellene."

The first thing we hear on the album is the strum of the guitar, followed quickly by the steady, repetitive sound of Charlie Watts' drumming, Bill Wyman's sensual bass line and then Jagger's voice, which matches the self-affirming energy and rejoicing of the guitar so well that it serves as a fourth instrument. The song, "Street Fighting Man," was one of Jagger's late-'60s attempts to reflect the social rebellion of the times, but it's the music, not the hazy lyrics, that defines it.

Eventually, the Stones took marvelous steps toward expanding their sound (going deeper into the blues in "Honky Tonk Women") as well as some embarrassing stumbles into adult balladry ("Angie").

They have been at their most powerful when they simply write songs that seem designed to do nothing more than salute their own legacy as a band with soulful and absorbing edges -- songs such as "Start Me Up," "Tumbling Dice" and "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)."

What makes the Stones so satisfying live is that they improve on the original recordings -- Jagger brings a greater maturity and command to his vocals, and Richards and Watts, the other original members, are more confident and expressive musicians. Trust me. Staples will be exciting, Edison Field will be interesting, the Wiltern will be priceless.

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Robert Hilburn, the Times pop music critic, can be reached at robert.hilburn@latimes.com

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The Rolling Stones

Tonight at Staples Center: 8 p.m., 1111 S. Figueroa St., L.A., (213) 742-7340. Sold Out.

Saturday at Edison Field: 7 p.m., 200 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 254-3100. $50-$350.

Monday at the Wiltern: 8 p.m., 3790 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (213) 380-5005. Sold out.

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