Mick Jagger was in a cheeky mood -- as if he ever isn’t, at least publicly -- as The Rolling Stones opened their 2015 tour Wednesday with a surprise set at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. The 1,200-capacity theater is “a bit smaller than the Staples Center,” he pointed out. “We’re at the Fonda, and of course we’ve got Jane Fonda…” The audience on the floor followed his sightline to the VIP balcony, searching in vain. “…and her father, Henry. And Miley Cyrus, and Clark Gable. Taylor Swift’s here with Dean Martin. Thank you, Dean; love your work.”
In fact, Swift was simultaneously opening the U.S. leg of her own tour 1,600 miles away, while all the other visiting dignitaries Jagger mentioned were either MIA or, in the manner of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, still dead. The real guest list was good enough not to require any fabulist stretches on Jagger’s part, though, with Jack Nicholson, Harry Styles, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Willis among the very important people. Non-VIPs included a few hundred fans who’d gotten sweaty fingers going online at noon to buy $5 tickets for a show based around the 1971 Sticky Fingers album, unzipped in its entirety for the first time on stage.
Jagger previously told Rolling Stone the band is considering playing all of Sticky Fingers -- which is getting a deluxe reissue on June 9 -- on their upcoming 15-date Zip Code tour. Whether that will happen remains to be seen: A press release issued just after Wednesday’s pop-up gig described it as “a one-time-only set.” So when Jagger told the crowd that in playing a full album “we’re gonna do something we’ve never done before,” he may also have meant that it was something they’d never do again. Sunday’s previously scheduled official tour opening at Petco Park in San Diego will tell the tale.
Following three opening standards, Jagger got to the part fans were salivating for. “We used to make these (records), and they went round and round and round. There was a cardboard cover people would stare at for ages, reading inferences in that had nothing to do with anything… We’re gonna do Sticky -- in the order of the 8-track tape,” he announced. Perhaps noticing some too-dutiful nodding on the part of the fans, he added, “A lot of this is a joke, so don’t be too literal.” The running order of the album was significantly changed, not in honor of primitive technological restrictions, but because there was no way the Stones were going to do a set-within-a-set that started with “Brown Sugar” and ended with four slow songs in a row. So the group started the album performance with “Sway” and ended with “Sugar,” with Jagger sounding nearly apologetic about some of the less frenzied material that came in-between.
“I should’ve warned you before, there could be a lot of ‘60s drug references in this record that could confuse some people,” the singer cautioned, before the band went into “Sister Morphine.” (Not to worry: the cocaine references in that song and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” could be explained to the younger people in the audience as that stuff Joan tried on the Mad Men finale a few nights earlier.) After “Morphine,” he quipped, and/or apologized, “Yes, indeed, that’s a bit of a down song. And, there’s more to come! It must have been a down period.” No apologia required when the following number had Keith Richards breaking out the 12-string acoustic for “I Got the Blues,” capped by a moaning sing-along that elicited Jagger’s first full grin of the night.
For much of the Sticky Fingers run-through, Richards held back and let Ron Wood take the guitar leads, at least the ones that originally belonged to Mick Taylor, who re-joined the Stones for guest spots on their 2013 tour but apparently will not be participating in this one. Richards finally came to the lip of the stage for the touring staple “Bitch,” only to let Wood take over again and expertly emulate Taylor’s style on the most expansive number, fan favorite “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” which had new addition Karl Denson replacing the recently deceased Bobby Keys on the famous sax-solo coda. “A bit of jazz, almost jazz, there -- a rarity,” Jagger vamped afterward.
Just as the show opened with three non-Sticky numbers, there were three unrelated encore numbers, including covers of B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” and Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” There was no “Satisfaction,” but a surfeit of actual satisfaction, as diehard devotees on the floor (and maybe even a few of the VIPs in the balcony) enthused that they might’ve just seen the Stones show of a lifetime.
“Thank you, Los Angeles! I hope you all got your $10 back,” Jagger said, referring to the fact that fans who’d spent that much for a pair of tickets online had their money refunded when they went to pick up their tickets… a favor that presumably won’t be repeated when the stadium part of the tour gets underway. As with many great one-night stands, some false promises were made: “Next year we’ll come back and do the whole of Satanic Majesties,” Jagger fibbed.
May 20, 2015 Rolling Stones set list:
Start Me Up
When the Whip Comes Down
All Down the Line
You Gotta Move
Can't You Hear Me Knocking
I Got the Blues
Rock Me Baby (B.B. King cover)
Jumpin' Jack Flash
I Can't Turn You Loose (Otis Redding cover)