It's Only Rock'n Roll
Rolling Stones : 8:50 p.m.-10:45 p.m.
El Paso was the perfect host for a Rolling Stones show, a happening international city right next to Juarez, Mexico. The city is sprawling and busy with nicely worn vintage cars cruising around, naturally preserved by the desert weather. It was warm and in the high 60s Fahrenheit for the show, the complete opposite of the polar conditions for last week's Chicago date. Mick addressed the crowd in both English and Spanish.
The Sun Bowl is the prettiest outdoor venue I have attended for a Stones show. If you are familiar with Sun Devil stadium in Phoenix from a show or the movie Let�s Spend the Night Together, imagine a more intimate, mountainous setting. There are four peaks, one at each corner of the stadium. The lights of the A Bigger Bang stage and the pyrotechnics created dazzling light and shadows on the rock faces of the mountains. People were visible on the peaks; they had climbed a mountain so they could see the show for free. Even the walk in to the show seemed like a desert hike, past large rocks, ocotillo plants, and cacti.
Dave Matthews did an amazing job getting the crowd whipped up with familiar songs and intense instrumentals. Unlike the usual lukewarm response for a Stones opening act, the place was packed and jumping for Matthews and his band. It seemed some people were there more to see Dave Matthews than the Rolling Stones. The crowd was a mix of college people from The University Texas El Paso, and stylishly dressed aging hipsters psyched for a big night out. It seemed different and better than the Docker and Polo shirt crowds seen in many other cities.
Similar to the snippet of Wichita Lineman at the Wichita show, the Stones did a great sounding first verse of the Marty Robbins country music classic El Paso. With the mountains as much a part of the show as the stage, Mick sang the opening line, �Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl� to the Mexican/American crowd. It was one of those incredible moments that inspire people to return show after show.
Matthews� opening performance seemed to raise the Stones� musical game, making the instrumentals tight and earnest in versions of Shattered, Streets of Love, (and from the small stage) She�s So Cold. Streets of Love turned into an all out jam, with Mick improvising bluesy cries over Keith�s acoustic and Ronnie�s electric guitars. For Let it Bleed, there were two microphones set up. Mick said �I don�t know where Dave Matthews is, he�s probably on his private jet heading toward San Francisco or someplace like that, and we wish him Godspeed.� Then Mick introduced Let it Bleed, and did the whole first verse by himself, with the empty second mic. Suddenly Matthews hurried out and attacked the song, and Mick (with acoustic guitar) and the band looked they really enjoyed the duet. It was the most energetic version of Let it Bleed that I have ever seen.
Keith received an extra warm welcome from the crowd, speaking for many of us when he began his two songs by saying, �Well, it was along haul, but I�m here�. For You Got the Silver and Little T&A (which Keith introduced simply as �T&A�), Keith had a long black coat. With a few big medallions around his neck, black and white headband, and hair ornaments of a large brass washer on one side and a tassel on the other, the complete outfit made Keith look like some kind of mystical sorcerer. This was not Jack Sparrow�s dad; it was a new, even higher level of lovable evil.
While Midnight Rambler seemed to stall (and not in a good way as it often does), and Satisfaction was barely recognizable at the start, we did get a clean version of Paint it Black, and Mick�s �Tell me!� chants during Sympathy for the Devil have revitalized the song. The crowd control was mellow, allowing people to stand on their chairs, and also to linger well after the show had concluded. The attitude of El Paso, Dave Matthews, and the gorgeous outdoor setting made expectations high for the Stones. They came through, focused yet relaxed, making sure the perfect desert evening remained that way.
�Out in the west Texas town of El Paso,� Dave Matthews once again oversaw the Let It Bleed Massacre, but the Stones provided a nice surprise by performing the Marty Robbins song that begins just as this sentence does. Mick�s reading of the first two verses of �El Paso� � a maudlin gunfighter ballad � was very strong, and the crowd was most appreciative. But � as with their cover of �Wichita Lineman� in Wichita � it would be nice if they could do the whole song, not just a tidbit. Ronnie got to dust off his pedal steel guitar as well.
The Sun Bowl is in a beautiful location, surrounded by rock formations just like the Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. The weather was warm, and � I hate to say this � the largely ethnic crowd loved the Dave Matthews Band. The Stones� set list wasn�t that dramatically different from Seattle � �Shattered� and �She�s So Cold� replaced �She was Hot,� �Let�s Spend the Night Together� and �Oh No Not You Again.�
After the familiar one-two punch of �Jumpin� Jack Flash� and �It�s Only Rock �N Roll� � during which Keith seemed to be more enthusiastic than usual, if only for the benefit of the photographers � Mick remarked, �It�s great to be back � after 12 long years. You�re looking better than ever.� Then they performed �Shattered� for the first time on this leg of the tour. The good vibes that followed �El Paso� quickly disappeared when the roadie placed a second mike stand next to Mick�s, just as happened in Seattle. Again, Mick made an odd comment thanking Matthews and suggesting that he was probably flying in his private jet to San Francisco by now. �We wish him godspeed.� Sure enough, Matthews came out soon after �Let It Bleed� began. His anguished shout of the line �But you knifed me in my dirty filthy basement� was particularly painful.
Other highlights: Mick spoke to the crowd in Spanish on two occasions; danced animatedly throughout �Midnight Rambler� like a performance artist; welcomed fans from Albuquerque and Fort Bliss; got a big cheer for Bobby Keys by telling the crowd that he was from Lubbock, Texas; introduced Ronnie as �the Rembrandt of rock�; and improvised a bebop scat with Charlie after introducing him as �dry but not high.�
Keith told the crowd, �It has been a long haul, but we got here.� After much applause, he added: �Let�s face it, I have a job to do,� and played his usual songs. He seemed to be reading the teleprompter throughout �Little T&A� � which he introduced simply as �T&A� � but still managed to mangle the words. As I rushed to the b-stage, I was surprised to see rows of people on the floor sitting down. Hopefully they got on their feet for the b-stage and home stretch portions. Keith and Ronnie rubbed noses at the end of �Under My Thumb,� and both Chuck and Mick signaled to Ronnie to get ready for his solo on �She�s So Cold,� prompting him to scratch his head, seemingly at a loss as to what to play.
Back on the main stage, the familiar songs played well with the fans. The tempo on �Satisfaction� seemed quite a bit faster than usual. Mick seemed to be in a rush to get through the song, and Keith ditched his big white Gibson guitar for a brown model, which had a markedly different tone. Overall, another solid show � Yay! We�re done with Dave Matthews�
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