Sunday, April 27, 2008

A new experience

I had a new experience on Saturday. I had read about Martin Scorcese's new Rolling Stones concert movie Shine a Light and saw that it was playing at the IMAX theater in San Francisco. So I went to the theater and I got to the counter to buy a ticket. The woman there asked, "Were you born before 1948?" I thought, "They must be doing some kind of survey, but I'm game." So I said, "No". And she said, "So, no senior discount".

A what discount? I went away thinking, "Do I really look old enough that she thought I would be taking the senior discount?" Not that I have anything against senior discounts, on the contrary. I plan to take full advantage of them one day and use them for a long time. But I had just never been asked before.

Then I thought about it from her point of view. The woman selling tickets was probably all of 22 years old. So she sees this guy in front of her who has less hair than the average 22-year-old guy, and he's asking to buy a ticket for a geezer rock concert movie, for Pete's sake. No wonder she asked.

Not that the audience was entirely older. There were a number of them I saw who were probably there for a chance to see this band they've heard their grandparents rave about. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against geezer rock either. One of my favorite albums - now that we download them, I guess "album" works better than "CD" - or maybe I should say one of my favorite downloads. Anyway, one of my favorite one of those things is a collection of popular songs by Stephen Foster, who died in 1864. And frontman Mick Jagger is obviously in very good shape while also looking like the sixtysomething guy he is.


Now, I admit at moments I thought I was watching one of those Viagra commercials. Part of that is due to the presence of Keith Richards, who died about 1983 but continues to function quite well as a zombie. Be warned, though, watching two hours of a film in which Zombie Keith is frequently on camera can send your mind to some strange places, even without any chemical stimulation. For instance, is that thing on his head a headband with stuff hanging from it, or is it some kind of strange zombie growth? And Zombie Keith kept getting close to the audience and even shaking hands and stuff. One time I thought for sure he was going to take a chomp out of somebody.

Proof of (undead) life after death: that thing on his head? Don't ask

Zombie Keith also smoked a lot, which I guess is not unhealthy for the undead. One of the scariest moments of the movie was when the band was singing a country song called, "Faraway Eyes". At one point it shows Zombie Keith singing the line, "Get a girl with the faraway eyes", and you see his own eyes. And they are far away, let me tell you. Most of the time he also had a weird smile on his face, conveying the idea that being undead is a joyful experience. Or maybe he was thinking about chomping off a few fingers from the fans ... it makes your mind go to strange places.

Now, back when the Rolling Stones first began their pop music careers, back in the days when indoor plumbing was becoming a big thing, they had kind of a reputation as rebels. But now Mick Jagger has one of those honorary knightships from the Queen of England. And this was a benefit concert for Bill Clinton's charitable foundation, so Bill himself was there to introduce Sir Mick and the rest of the band.

Christina Aguilera singing with some old guy

This really is a concert movie, with relatively little in the way of documentary background. And most of what Scorcese includes of that type is older interviews designed to emphasize what a loo-oong time these guys have been playing. And I understand it was all footage from a single concert, not a compilation from a tour, like many of these concert films are.

I really did enjoy the movie. The sound was excellent to my ears (I don't count as audiophile and can't tell you why vinyl records supposedly have superior sound to CDs). And the songs were good. Jagger still has a strong voice.

The highlight of the film comes fairly near the end, when Christina Aguilera comes out in stiletto heels to duet with Sir Mick on "Live With Me", a bawdy number from the Stones' 1969 album Let It Bleed. (No comment on whether I was around to buy the album when it first came out in that distant era.) Back in the day, Sir Mick cultivated an image of himself as a world-class stud. Doing a sexy dance with a hot young pop star now makes for an entertaining dirty-old-man act. But the two were pretty equally matched. Christina didn't overshadow him too badly. Seeing that one performance is worth the price of admission.

If you run into this entity in a dark alley, run away

Although this concert would be enjoyable if you didn't know the songs before, presuming you were open to rock music, they are a bit of a nostalgia act. I particularly enjoyed hearing them do a couple of songs that I hadn't heard them do in a concert setting, "Just My Imagination" and the blues number "Champagne and Reefer".

But I did notice that most of their songs were from their releases of the 1960s and 1970s. (I'm not saying I remember these from their release dates, you understand. I don't claim to remember much of anything before 1985.) From the set list of the film, I count only two, "Start Me Up" (1981) and "She Was Hot" (1983), that they released on studio albums after the 1970s. The extended soundtrack also includes a 1981 release, "Little T&A". Nothing from later albums like Dirty Work (1986), Steel Wheels (1989), Emotional Rescue (1994), Bridges to Babylon (1997), or A Bigger Bang (2005) .

If they can find only three songs from their recordings of the last 28 years to use in a concert, and none from the last quarter century, I think that qualifies them as a nostalgia act.

Still, there's something to be said for picking quality. And they included four songs from my favorite Stones album Exile on Main Street (1972). "All Down the Line", "Loving Cup", "Tumbling Dice", and "Shine a Light". During the late 1960s and early 70s, when both Keith Richards and Gram Parsons were still alive, the two of them hung around together. Parsons is usually called a "country-rock pioneer", although I don't think anyone except for the Eagles who play that kind of music actually like the "country rock" label. There was a heavy country influence in the Stones' music from early on, and it shows in their work from that time. In the film, Ron Wood played pedal steel guitar on the kitschy country number, "Faraway Eyes", the one in which Zombie Keith displayed his. And it shows in their work still. Sir Mick used heavy Southern intonations on their version of "When Tears Go By" in the film, for instance.

Their blues and R&B influences are also very much on display in this film. The film itself closes with them doing that Britney Spears song, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", though they used slightly different lyrics.

Gratuitous Shakira photo

One other thing I thought about during the film was that Sir Mick has a reputation for doing a lot of dancing on stage. Which he does. And his movements create an additional sense of excitement and focus the audience's attention. He's been doing this for a long time and knows how to keep an audience's interest.

But most of his on-stage moves in this film actually consist of walking around and pointing and doing some quick turns now and then. No doubt he puts out a lot of energy, which surely helps him stay so slim. And there were a few times where he shakes his booty. And some dirty-old-man dancing with Christina. But his dancing acrobatics, even in older footage I've seen, don't come close to some of on-stage moves I've seen Bruce Springsteen do, for instance.

Sorry, Mick. You're good, but you're not Shakira.

(Hey, the whole point of this post was to use that line!)

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