Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The Rolling Stones have for a decade and a half epitomized the unadultered sensuality of rock 'n' roll. They were the roughnecks to the Beatles' boys-next-door, the musical Alex and his droogs, the musicians most blatently influenced by sweaty black artists like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. While the Beatles were discovering psychedelic utopias and the Beach Boys California ones, the Stones were writing about the rock-bottom realities of the English streets.
Well, it's 1978, they're all filthy rich, and they're still the epitome of rock-bottom, ear-shattering rock 'n' roll. Thursday night at the Warner, the Stones blazed through a set from which the tawdriness and glitter of recent years has been stripped to reveal the clean, mean lines of their art. Lead singer Mick Jagger looks, if possible, leaner and harder than he did in his 20s, and his voice has gained a new steel edge, too, despite a rumored cold.
Keith Richard and Ron Wood may not be the most inventive guitarists in the field, but they know what they like - long screaming crescendos and tight, tough chords. Their duets/duels sound sometimes like cocks fighting and sometimes like a single spontaneous thought.
But even when Richard and Wood are skipping about the stage in that cheerful anarchy that has always characterized Stones performances, it is Jagger who holds the eye. He is more than merely peripatetic, he is possessed - rutting, strutting, alternately the most outrageous macho sexist and the ambivalent, preening "feminine" alter ego. He is the soul of his songs; raunchy in "Honky-Tonk Women," lascivious in "Brown Sugar," torrential in the climactic "Jumping Jack Flash."
Although Thursday night's concert did not include the explicitly sexual "Some Girls" (possibly the first general-release album track to carry a strong-language warning), it did include a powerful version of their current single, "Miss You."
The concert was enhanced by the simple and highly effective stage set, which consisted primarily of three "Casablanca"-style ceiling fans which were turned on in the midst of "Tumbling Dice," and lights which threw the shadows of amplifiers into cityscape silhouettes.
All in all, it was a vintage performance. If you loved 'em in '68, you'd love 'em in '78.
R&B vocalist Etta James, the opening act, is a singer of undoubted power, but her performance Thursday night brought to mind Dorothy Parker's famous description. "She ran the gamut of emotions from A to B." Only in this case, James' gamut ran from Janis Joplin to Tina Turner. It was too much . . . insistence. The choice of material was very good, but the strain was too much. Perhaps a nightclub atmosphere would relax her, thought with two saxes and a trumpet, constantly blasting it's difficult to lay back.