Rock of ages

Something very odd happens to regular folk when they get within 500 feet of Keith Richards. It’s as if one enters an invisible rock ‘n’ roll vortex of some kind, a vortex that inspires one to immediately consume cigarettes and whisky.

The Stones at Pac Bell Park, 11-9-02

Snapshot No. 1: Vendors have sold thousands of these little Stones tongue/mouth logos ($10), each one blinking with blue and red lights. You stick them on your lapel or your spaghetti strap, where it blinks away for the entire night. There must be 10,000 of these suckers blinking away when the stadium lights go down, which is also when the reason for their existence becomes instantly clear. Pac Bell is now filled with twinkling Stones tongues, which send a semi-psychedelic Morse code-type message to the stage: “We are ready. Bring it on.”

Snapshot No. 2: Also visible as the place goes black are the flames of thousands of lighters being ignited. They aren’t sparking off because folks are holding them up in that standard rock-concert-lighter-tribute shtick. No, thousands of lighters are going off because thousands of people are, in the time-honored tradition of Rolling Stones concert behavior, lighting thousands of joints.

Snapshot No. 3: In the smaller venues on this tour, the Stones are delighting long-time fans by playing obscure songs from the depths of their discography. Not tonight. Here, in front of 45,000, they are cranking out hall-of-fame rocker after hall-of-fame rocker, most of which come from the widely hailed “golden era” of the Stones, that bountiful stretch of four quintessential albums (Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street) released from ‘68 to ‘72. It doesn’t take long for us in the audience to become overwhelmed by the crunching, grinding delirium generated by hearing all of these rock ‘n’ roll standards piled together in one glorious, raunchy streak—"Brown Sugar,” “Gimme Shelter,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Wild Horses,” “Let It Bleed,” “Tumblin’ Dice,” “Midnight Rambler,” “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Street Fightin’ Man,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women.” Wow.

And they’re playing the stuffing out of each song, just burning them up, extending choruses, extending bridges, taking each song to thundering heights that were only hinted at so long ago on the studio versions. It’s a great, great, rock concert that, somewhere along the way, becomes more than a great rock concert. It becomes the amplified roar of an entire generation, a generation that just happens to be going apewire in this place tonight as it celebrates some of its most beloved anthems.

Snapshot No. 4: At the end of the one encore tune, “Satisfaction,” two giant juicy red lips appear on the huge video screen spanning the stage. The lips smack together in a good night kiss large enough for 45,000, and then fade away.

Snapshot No. 5: For the next three days, I awaken with the mighty riff from "Street Fightin’ Man" in my head.