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Rolling Stones fans get some satisfaction

Saturday, January 11, 2003

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

Even after all these years, it's only rock 'n' roll. And yet, there is a bit of rocket science involved in constructing the ultimate set list for the Rolling Stones 40th Anniversary tour -- a list that gives the casual fans the hits they came to hear while throwing in enough obscurities (or songs that weren't on "40 Licks," at least) to keep the real fans coming back for more.

Mick Jagger sings "Start Me Up,"during last night's Rolling Stones concert at the Mellon Arena. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

And while they could have used another song or two (or even four) from any album leading up to "Beggars Banquet," last night's set at the Mellon Arena struck a pretty decent balance between the songs that everybody knows and the obscurities while keeping the number of songs that no one really needs to hear again to a refreshing minimum.

Keith Richards hit the stage first, slashing his way through the intro to "Street Fighting Man" with a look that said he knew he had you at "Hello" -- a great way to open a show, especially if you're a band that's got at least another couple hundred classic tracks to draw on. But the show got better as the band began to loosen up and get into the music themselves. Even Mick Jagger, whose movements seemed overly mannered at first, was dancing like a guy who felt it -- and how could anyone not feel it with Charlie Watts practically daring certain portions of your body not to shake it? -- by the time he got "Midnight Rambler." Of course, by then, the show had a life of its own on the strength of such well-chosen treasures as "Monkey Man," "Live With Me," a surprisingly intimate "Angie" and the boozy, bluesy swagger of the title track to "Let It Bleed."

The set drew heavily on "Let It Bleed" and other midperiod classics, including both "Exile on Main Street" and their finest hour, "Beggars Banquet." And those songs are exactly the sort of material the band excels at, even after all these years. Now if only Keith and Mick could be persuaded to crank out an album or two of new songs in the spirit that so moves them as performers. Not that "Don't Stop" didn't sound good. It just wasn't "Gimme Shelter," an obvious highlight for obvious reasons, from the staying power of the song itself to a blistering solo from Richards and the sex appeal of super-vixen Lisa Fisher belting out the chorus.

Joining Fisher in the Stones support group were a number of familiar faces -- sax man Bobby Keys, keyboardist Chuck Leavell and former Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin, who, like ex-Face Ronnie Wood, looked every bit as cool as any member of the Strokes.

Other highlights ranged from the band stretching out on an epic performance of "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" to "Tumbling Dice," "Happy" and "Honky Tonk Women." And if Jagger seemed a bit like he was back at work on "Satisfaction," the rest of the band put it out with a youthful abandon that made it feel like something they'd just whipped up at rehearsal, especially Woodie and Keith, whose fire-breathing solo was enough to make you hope he plays until his fingers fall off, long after his kids have forgotten the Vines.

Ed Masley can be reached at emasley@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.

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