Got Lame If You Want It

MCI Center, Washington, DC
October 3, 2005


Let me tell you about Monday, October 3. Went down to the MCI Center in the heart of Washington, DC. Outside, the place was lined with limos and black town cars - dozens of them, as thousands of other attendees shuffled in. Not just any attendees: These people were mostly sporting rather impressive Ralph Lauren shirts, wrinkle-free slacks, suits, well-manicured nails, perfectly coifed hair, $1,500 necklaces, handbags straight off Fifth Avenue, and gaudy watches that would turn the average jeweler’s eyes into saucers. On the way out, after it was over, one could observe security taking down banners hawking the Ameriquest mortgage company.

What was I attending? A corporate retreat? An accountants’ convention? A political fundraiser? (Well, close - there apparently was a GOP event going on in town, and a lot of them seemed to be there.) A Pat Robertson revival?

No, no, no, and no. Folks, this was a motherfucking Rolling Stones concert.

After seeing this show - or whatever one would call it - I can say with utmost confidence that the Rolling Stones are most certainly not the “World’s Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band.” Matter of fact, this current edition has nothing to do with rock ’n’ roll -- or anything remotely resembling rebellion -- whatsoever. What they presented on this night was mostly a display of crass commercialism, careful market research, and opportunism.

After kicking off with a sloppy version of “Start Me Up” (wow, no one saw that one coming!), the Stones shambled through a lazy first hour or so filled with uninspired and often slower versions of overdone songs like “You Got Me Rocking,” “Tumbling Dice” and “Bitch.” Each number was followed by pauses stretching out a minute or more, as Mick Jagger either babbled aimlessly or shouted such eloquent turns of phrase as “Are yew feeling fy-yne?” while Keith Richards switched guitars after practically every song (question: what the hell for?). These were the kind of pauses that would kill the average band trying to build up a head of steam and get the crowd going, but of course, these are the Stones, so they can do it. And so what if they played many of their own songs in versions that even the lamest classic rock cover band would find embarrassing? These are the Stones, so they can do it.

But then, they weren’t exactly playing to the most demanding crowd. Sure, there were probably a few real Stones fans in the audience -- but with even the cheapest seats checking in at $163 a pop, it’s safe to say that there probably weren’t many. Most of the aforementioned overdressed yuppies sat on their hands as if they were attending a marketing research seminar, either politely rewarding each song with clapping or overdoing it to the point of absurdity with indiscriminate yelping (“like, hey, I can rock out, maaaan!”). Dancing was nonexistent (not that it’s easy to do in the claustrophobic MCI Center), other than a few saps whose rhythmless moves would have made them candidates for the “Soulless Music” ad in Amazon Women on the Moon. In short, the vast majority of the audience didn’t know much about music -- a fact made abundantly clear when Jagger paid tribute to the late Otis Redding before a cover of “Mr. Pitiful,” even flashing his hip mug on the jumbotron, only to hear virtual crickets from the dopes in the seats.

“Mr. Pitiful” actually represented a turning point in the show -- or at least it ushered in a second half that was more tolerable than the first. While also sloppy, the Redding cover at least had the soul and a (slight) groove that the first half sorely lacked, making the way for a decent version of “Miss You,” a good version of “Honky Tonk Women” and an encore of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” that almost made me forget how pathetic the versions of “Shattered” (which sucks in the first place), “It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll” and “Satisfaction” were.

Granted, the Stones had to do at least a few familiar tunes to get a general audience going, and the resultant promotion of their latest album (whatever the fuck it’s called) is to be expected. But for the admission they were charging, it shouldn’t be asking too much to at least expect tight musicianship, a set with a little bit of energy, or, for that matter, at least a few surprises in the song selection. For its predictability and staleness, this set might as well have been a Stones DVD presented on a large movie screen.

And don’t even try that argument that the Stones are merely growing old gracefully. Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent are about the same age as Mick and company, but on the tours they’ve been doing as the Zombies for the past five years or so, they’ve put their heart and soul into it every night, playing not only “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season,” but left-field selections from their solo albums and even forgotten Zombies cuts. Their sweat and blood goes into it, they sign free autographs afterwards, and above all, they don’t charge outrageous prices like $50 for T-shirts (read that again: fifty dollars for one stinking T-shirt!). (As my sister said about the overpriced tongue shirts: “You might as well buy one that says ‘I know nothing about rock ’n’ roll.’ ”)

Undoubtedly, the Stones have earned their place in history and recorded a lot of great music (a lot of which I own, lest anyone misunderstand). But that should not exempt them from critical scrutiny. If nothing else, it’s time for entertainment reporters and especially music writers who should know better to stop giving them a free pass. Though they don’t know the difference, even yuppies deserve better than what they got on October 3.


Number of beers it would have taken to enjoy the show: