Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Rolling Stones gathering moss

Songs are timeless, performers aren't

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - Mick pandering to the crowd at every opportunity with his decades-old kung-fu dance moves. Keith uttering "Thank you Columb-i-us!" into the mic. Ron dropkicking guitar picks into the front rows. Charlie doing, well, whatever it is Charlie does.

When the year is 2002, and each Rolling Stones tour packs less of a wallop than the last, these are the images in which the sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena in Columbus Sunday night could take comfort. Because if a $300 ticket-holder wasn't distracted by the Stones' zany stage antics, he may have judged the band's performance on song-by-song quality, which in turn would make him question his sizable investment.

The nearly 21/2-hour performance had its highlights, like the finale, when they played "Mannish Boy," "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Brown Sugar" on a mini-stage in the middle of the main floor, and the revved-up encore of "Midnight Rambler" and "Jumping Jack Flash."

But the meat of the set was littered with missed opportunities - great song selections but mediocre playing.

The main culprit was the man who reportedly dried himself out for the tour, guitarist Ron Wood.

Mr. Wood single-handedly torpedoed a four-song block from Beggars Banquet. It began with "No Expectations," and Mr. Wood's acoustic-slide playing was the key to the song. Unfortunately, some of the licks were never played, as he was busy adjusting the waist on his dungarees.

"Stray Cat Blues" and "Street Fighting Man" fared better, with help from large ensemble arrangements that included longtime Stones-road keyboardist Chuck Leavell, three backup singers and a four-piece brass section anchored by saxophonist Bobby Keys. Darryl Jones, who has been with the band since Bill Wyman quit, was back playing bass.

Mr. Wood hardly played at all during the last Beggars Banquet number, "Sympathy for the Devil." His contribution to the tune was flicking his cigarette at guitarist Keith Richards, then walking over to retrieve it and smoke it some more.

Led by drummer Charlie Watts, the Stones sustained the jazzy coda of "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," with Mr. Keys contributing a note-perfect rendition of his solo from the Sticky Fingers cut. But when it came time for Mr. Wood to play the Mick Taylor solo, he came up short not only because he's a pure rhythm player, but also because he didn't seem to care.

Worse than what Mr. Wood did or didn't do was a version of the O'Jays' "Love Train," which the band performed in a disco style faithful to the original. Singer Mick Jagger wore a spangled white-leather overcoat for the occasion. Bootsy Collins might have been able to get away with it, but it looked truly ridiculous on the 59-year-old Englishman.

Equally surreal but far more satisfying was the Stones' choice to open the show, the White Stripes. It has been a meteoric rise for the Detroit blues-deconstructionists, who not to long ago could be seen around these parts playing underground rock shows and the Southgate House. The arena was about half full for their 40-minute set, and the crowd seemed to enjoy the songs from last year's album White Blood Cells plus covers of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and Bob Dylan's "Love Sick."

E-mail cvarias@enquirer.com

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