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Review: Rolling Stones, at 50 years, remain rock beasts

OK, so it’s no longer akin to getting walloped with a deceased fish.

Iggy Pop upon seeing the Rolling Stones for the first time way back in the day: “It was like bein’ hit with a dead mackerel,” the spindly Stooges frontman and punk progenitor smirked in a series of taped testimonials to the glory of the Stones, which played on a massive video screen backdrop right before the band took the stage at the MGM Grand Garden on Saturday, and also featured the likes of Johnny Depp, Courtney Love, Perry Farrell and others singing the band’s praises.

“Just how skinny they all are. It pisses me off,” actress Cate Blanchett remarked.

With limbs the diameter of Slim Jims, that much has remained unchanged for this rawboned bunch.

But the concussiveness that Pop spoke of or the danger that Martin Scorcese later applauded in the same montage has been transformed into something else.

The Stones still play to their strengths, but those strengths have changed.

“What’s that funky sound?” singer Mick Jagger asked during hard-nosed, rock ’n’ roll depth charge “Doom and Gloom,” one of two new songs the band performed, his eyes radiating heat like sun-baked asphalt. “It’s the tightening of the screws.”

But if anything, the band has taken the opposite approach with their iconic catalog, loosening the reins a bit, letting the songs breathe, performing one hit after the next with the confident ease of a slugger rounding the bases after having knocked one over the fence.

In a way, it makes them an even more commanding presence, to see a band enthrall a sold-out concert hall almost effortlessly.

Standards like “Get Off of My Cloud” and “It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It),” which opened the show, were performed in playful, unconstrained fashion, lithe and limber instead of muscular and bullish.

Jagger, 69, still works the stage like an agitated aerobics instructor confronting a class full of couch potatoes. When he sings, he always looks like he’s in the middle of telling someone off, wagging his fingers, throwing his arms out, swishing those pneumatic hips, gesticulating with a traffic cop’s forceful gestures.

His voice remains ageless, exemplified by his Bee Gees-worthy falsetto on “Emotional Rescue” and similar vocal acrobatics on “Miss You.”

Jagger’s primary foil, guitarist Keith Richards, also 69, tends to conserve his energy, releasing it in bursts, like he did during blues exorcism “Happy,” which he sang in that rumpled, weather-beaten voice of his.

He’s the cool breeze to Jagger’s hot gusts, taking the time to smooch a back-up singer mid-solo during “Gimme Shelter” and standing back while fellow guitarist Ronnie Wood, a comparatively youthful 65, did the heavy lifting on songs like “All Down the Line,” which he fired up with an unbridled lead.

The Stones have built up as much rock ’n’ roll equity as any band ever has, and they spend it casually, simultaneously acting their age and defying it, possessing the wisdom to know their limits and the chutzpah to occasionally disregard them.

“After all is said and done / I gotta move, it’s still fun,” Richards sang convincingly, looking like he still meant it, during “Before They Make Me Run,” a song that was written after he was busted for heroin possession in Toronto in 1977 and the future of the band was imperiled.

Heroin also took its toll on former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, who left the band in 1974 in part because of his growing addiction to the drug.

On this tour, Taylor has been making appearances with the group, playing on a pair of songs Saturday, a set-ending “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Midnight Rambler,” the show’s centerpiece.

Perhaps the most climactic moment of the evening, the song escalated slowly, like a tossed off cigarette catalyzing a forest fire, with Jagger blowing hard into a harmonica as Richards and Taylor gradually ratcheted things up from shambolic waltz to full-on blues sermon, 10 minutes of rock ’n’ roll at its most flammable.

“There’s something I just want to say: owwwww!” Jagger yowled in the middle of it all, sounding as if he had been jabbed with a rusty needle, his outburst as fitting an encapsulation of the song’s primal surge as any.

In addition to Taylor, the show featured other guests.

Pop tart Katy Perry traded lines and tawdry glances with Jagger on “Beast of Burden,” and the Green Valley High School choir backed the band on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which worked itself into a gospel-like fervor by song’s end.

“We’re gonna vent our frustration,” Jagger sang on the latter number. “If we don’t we’re gonna blow a 50-amp fuse.”

And so they vented, as did the crowd, until their voices were blown in place of said fuse.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin
@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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