May 20th, 2013 | Live reviews

all photos by mitch

Join Me in Vegas: A memo from Mitch is like Beelzebub in your ear. The fellow who talked me into going to my first Burning Man is a brother journalist and professional bearer of heavy tidings, so an invite to see the Rolling Stones in Las Vegas isn’t the kind of thing to laugh off. By midafternoon Saturday, the Strip was like a lobster boil and the Tropicana’s pool shimmered with girls in bikinis splashing among potbellied men futilely splitting tens at the floating blackjack table. I contented myself with nothing stronger than a few king Marlboros as daylight faded and the hours counted down to showtime. Back home in my desk was a quantity of brutal hashish I was pleased to leave there, as this job called for a clear mind and composure.

Critsucker Blues: The Stones’ troubles moving six-hundred buck tickets on this “50th and Counting” tour are well documented and I suspect the only reason there hasn’t been more piling on is the band’s catalog is about as well-known and relevant to most critics these days as Ish Kabibble’s. Any serious interest in the Big Boys of Classic Rock is usually written off as an amusing eccentricity (like Mike Stax’s lust for the Pretty Things or my Spirit fixation) and few critics would judge the Stones by the same standards as approved cult heroes like Lou Reed and Roky Erickson. Younger fans may be pardoned for not genuflecting before this Act We’ve Known for All These Years because the last few of those years have been pretty hideous.

Besides, hooting at a quartet of filthy rich seniors for Hoovering up the last pfenning from a gigantic fanbase then Guy Grand-handing out remaining seats for eighty-five bones per is appropriate because it’s funny. Bigger boffo laffs would attend indicting Dubya and Cheney or boiling Glenn Beck down for chicken grease, but even the most feckless hipster must take schadenfreude where found, just like everyone else. The suggestion on the back of 1965’s Rolling Stones Now! that fans mug a random blind man to get the bread to buy the LP is too little remembered and too often heeded.

We’ll Ever Be Their Beasts of Burden: Legging it over to the MGM Grand Arena, Mitch cautioned that the seats weren’t the very best, but I was too busy craning my neck at the gathering mob to care. The music press is lodged up in the nosebleeds occasionally and I’m usually way in the back of any festival mob. Turned out the seats weren’t at all bad; somewhere two thirds up audience left and nearer the stage than most in this low-rimmed indoor bowl. This crowd was about what you’d expect- mostly middle-aged hardcore fans with a leaven of younger people very aware of participation in a sacred rite. The roadies endured heavy rounds of applause and there was plenty of howling and stomping before the lights went down a little after eight. Jumbo screens lit up with testimonials of evil behavior at Rolling Stones concerts from Iggy Pop, Martin Scorsese, Johnny Depp, Pete Townsend, and other participant observers just before the band threw out an explosive rendition of “Get Off of My Cloud.”

The crowd went apeshit as Mick Jagger strutted and bawled through “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Paint It Black,” his ancient hellfire snarl fully intact as cameras zoomed in on Keith Richard’s knobby hands, elegant Ron Wood carrying the brunt of guitar chores and the great Charlie Watts blandly ticking away on the riser, the drummer’s chalky skull-like face looking in repose like some senior vice president in charge of soul acquisition.

Indeed, if I wanted to see a lot of geezers rocking like the Last Trump was about to snap down, I needed only to peer at the nearest several hundred audience members. “Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust” but not yet. That the special kind of freakiness touted in the opening film didn’t manifest anywhere nearby was likely due as much to the proximity of several thousand hotel rooms as any visible shame.

Album sides like “You Got Me Rocking” and “All Down the Line,” were perfectly acceptable tonight, no matter how much I’d have preferred “Salt of the Earth” or “Ventilator Blues.” Pop star Katy Perry came out to duet on “Beast of Burden,” gyrating convincingly with Mick before departing to cheers and whistles. Jagger made with the intros, with gestures to legendary sidemen Bobby Keys and Bernard Fowler checked by Woody’s sustained ovation and raised by an audience chant of “Charlie! Charlie!” before mention of Keith nearly blew out the roof. Richards took over vocals for “Before They Make Me Run” and “Happy” after the giddy frontman bounded offstage for whatever restoration awaited.

Renegade Stones guitarist Mick Taylor appeared for “Midnight Rambler” and the greatest hits package rolled on until a scorching run at “Sympathy for the Devil,” with Jagger hitting those lines about raging blitzkriegs and putrescent bodies with a cynical yawlp you won’t hear on the record. The Stones loped offstage to wait out the audience demonstration, as the Green River High School Choir filed in for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” “Jumping Jack Flash” followed and, finally, “Satisfaction,” which went off in a general tumult.

The audience filed out into the night, the casinos and the cops. Their last ya-yas spent, many swaggered heroically like they’d just seen the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band. Even the legions of girls in miniskirts gamboling outside the MGM Grand seemed impressed with us, their merry giggling soon obliterated by the nonstop Vegas din of ringing bells and tinkling ice.

— Ron Garmon