A tale of two venues

The difference between the Stones' two area appearances was more setting than set list

The next and final part of the show, back on the main stage, was fairly standard and pretty much the same regardless of venue: "Sympathy for the Devil," "Tumblin' Dice," "Honky-Tonk Women," and "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and "Start Me Up," with an encore of "Brown Sugar." Another unifying theme was the band's relentless self-marketing: shills stood outside the venues, passing out brochures for the Official Rolling Stones Visa or MasterCard--"the card with attitude" and no clearly defined interest rate. If you didn't bring enough green for a $10 fridge magnet, a $35 Bridges to Babylon T- shirt, a $60 '72 tour blanket, a $100 denim jacket, a truly hideous $150 mouth-and-tongue table lamp, or a $350 leather jacket, fear not--others were standing by, hopping from one foot to the other in the evening chill and passing out mail-order catalogs.

The folks at the Speedway have a lot to learn about rock 'n' roll crowd control. Our party walked through our gate without ever having our tickets torn, touched, or even looked at; tickets were likewise irrelevant to gaining access to whatever section you were sitting in. This meant that there were whole squadrons of interlopers on every row that had to be notified, argued with, and sent packing before you could sit down; on their way out, they had to walk over folks already seated and past others who were trying to take their seats. This quickly led to foot-traffic jams, which, combined with the large numbers of people hanging out in aisles and on steps and landings, made getting around a full-contact, shoulder-out, head-down exercise more appropriate for linebackers than for folks spending hundreds of dollars on an evening of fun.

The crowds at Owen Field and at the Speedway were a bit different in the ways you'd expect: Norman had the younger crowd, rowdier and more exuberant, while the Speedway seemed to hold the whole variegated race of rock fans within its mammoth oval: parents and kids happily sharing the concert experience and vodka-impaired troglodytes who drove in from Amarillo and could hardly speak beneath a sour-smelling shout or stand up. There was a guy in a battered cowboy hat with a beard, a new black eye and a cut on his cheek, bikers in their leathers, college kids from Austin, skanky-looking skate punks from Highland Park and Haltom City--everybody was flying their flag, declaring who they were even as they came together as a bigger whole. One long-tressed dude in wrap-around shades was even there in his kilt, no doubt still waiting for Axl to send him that return ticket from Paradise City.

There was a palpable sizzle in the air at both venues, a spark that drew power from expectation: The Rolling Stones. Live, here, tonight. I'll tell all my friends about it tomorrow and everyone at work on Monday, and later I may even tell my kids. For the most part, the Stones--despite the overall roughness of their performance (both venues saw an abundance of flubbed notes and mis-cues) and the general impression that they're a bunch of jet-setters who have to re-familiarize themselves with their music every couple of years--rewarded that excitement.

The band knows to surround themselves with talent: a four-piece horn section led by the great Bobby Keyes on tenor sax, Darryl Jones on bass, former Allman Brother Chuck Leavell on keyboards, and three top-notch backup singers: Blondie Chaplin; Bernard Fowler, who has worked with Richards, Watts, and Ron Wood on their solo projects; and Lisa Fisher, who does a star turn on "Gimme Shelter" every bit the equal of the original and brought the house down both times. On drums, Watts has the same bemused dignity that he's always possessed and remains a rock-solid rhythmic presence. Nobody understands the soul that lurks within simple riffs better than Keith Richards, who is still the rock minimalist's minimalist, with an undimmed sense of the chunka-chunka rhythms and high, quavering single-line solos that are the band's musical trademark. Whether kicking his leg up in the air to accentuate a change in a song or squatting on his haunches at its end like a warrior sneaking up on a herd of gazelle, Richards is pure cool presence. Ron Wood--like Richards and indeed the rest of the band--has a craftsman's ability to make everything he does look easy. It wasn't until later in the show, when a video camera was mounted on the peghead of his guitar, looking down the instrument's neck, that you got a sense of what playing the electric guitar might really entail--the fingers forced into unusual shapes, the strings shining as they're bent, pushed, pressed, and pulled around the frets--and that it may not be as easy as it looks. Grinning, still mop-topped, with a cigarette dangling from his lips, Wood was the joker to Richards' street fighter.

In fact, Richards seems more and more the heart and soul of the Stones. Jagger has cleaned up his delivery considerably--you can understand what he's saying--but still comes off as a bit bored and by-the-numbers. He's still amazingly fit and active for a man of 56, running to and from the runways at either end of the stage, but his stage mugging is but a shadow of his former rooster-on-acid prancing. The waves and flicks of his hands he uses to accent his vocals seem more like the motions you might use to indicate to a delivery boy where to put down a sack of groceries than any incitement to rock.

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