Tour Kickoff: The Rolling Stones Storm San Diego

by Steve Spohn
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The Stones at Petco Park [photo: Mike Blake]

The Rolling Stones opened their Zip Code Tour on Sunday night before a sold-out crowd at San Diego's Petco Park.

Anticipation had been building steadily for weeks ever since SongMango broke the story on March 9th that The Stones would tour North America and that San Diego would be the first official stop.

If you haven't had the pleasure of seeing a show or a game at Petco, you should make the effort if you ever get the chance. The "gaslamp district" that surrounds the park offers plenty of food and drinking fun so there's no need to tailgate in the parking lot.

PetcoParkNight SongMango.comSan Diego, the micro-beer capital of the United States, is a great city for a lot of reasons, and top-shelf music, food and drink are just a few of them. The weather felt good. It was a little overcast but the temperature, in the mid-60s, was just about perfect for an outdoor show.

As Mick said during the show, he doesn't understand why anyone would ever leave San Diego, since it's so nice. Apparently, the band's frontman took a hike the day before the show in Los Penasquitos Canyon (below).

JaggerSanDiego SongMangoAs far as tickets go, the band sold out the 42,000-capacity Petco Park, home of the Padres, in a matter of minutes. There were only a couple sections of sideview seats released on May 23rd, the day before. The secondary market was quite high, making it tough to get in the building for less than $300. Yet I wasn't at all surprised to see people out in droves since Petco is the only show on the West Coast and it was Memorial Day weekend.

Last week, after trying for most of the day to get into the "secret show" at the 1,200-seat Fonda Theatre – and getting shut out – I was very happy to set up shop in the 6th row, just left of center.

GaryClarkStonesHPBig SongMango.comGary Clark Jr., an up-and-coming Blues guitarist from Austin, opened the show with a blistering 45-minute set. He would also join The Stones onstage for a scorching version of "Bitch," one of the night's major highlights (see footage below). If you get the chance, go see Gary Clark at a small venue. You won't be disappointed.

By the time The Stones hit the stage, the energy inside Petco Park was huge – and it erupted as the band burst into "Jumpin' Jack Flash." I've seen a lot of great openers performed by different bands, but I can't think of one that's better than "Jumpin' Jack Flash" – so much energy and attitude. The Stones first show in San Diego in 1969 opened with the same song. I sometimes wonder if Mick is aware of things like this, and he does them intentionally, or is it just coincidence. Here's "Jumpin' Jack Flash" from Petco Park:

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The setlist (click image to enlarge)

Mick's vocals were spot on, and the band took the stage on top of their game. After two years of gigs, playing off and on, I expected they would be tight. I think having sober guitarists – both Richards and Wood – helps focus the songs and does away with a lot of the sloppiness that comes with drugs and alcohol (and age). Of course, when you have the human metronome Charlie Watts on drums, that helps too. As the show-opener the band kept JJF shorter than when they perform it as a closer or encore. The shorter version worked very well at Petco.

Up next were "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" followed by "All Down The Line" and "Tumblin' Dice" both from 1972's Exile On Main Street.

"Tumblin' Dice" has readily recognizable opening notes (like many Stones songs) so that everyone can name the tune in three notes. This is when the real relaxed fun started up in the high seats of the venue, bringing the crowd together for the next two hours. Mick's singing, not shouting as he sometimes does, sounded excellent. Keith was all smiles, and his playing is also as good as it's been in years.

The Stones' newest number "Doom And Gloom," of course, lost some people to the beer and bathroom but I'm a fan of the song. Any tune that talks about the Louisiana swamps is fine by me. The song was released in 2012 as the lead single on GRRR!, the band's 50th anniversary compilation album.

"Doom And Gloom"

After "Doom And Gloom," Mick talked to the crowd about playing Sticky Fingers in Los Angeles the other night and how they would play a few songs from the album for San Diego (but not the entire record). They brought out Gary Clark Jr., to perform "Bitch," and they tore it up. You could tell Keith loved playing with Clark. Richards is a blues guitarist at his core as is Gary Clark, who played a short ripping solo and shared vocals with Jagger.

"Moonlight Mile," unfortunately, gets a bit lost in a huge baseball stadium, but I loved hearing the final track on Stick Fingers performed live. I will say that the execution needs a little work, because Mick doesn't remember it that well yet. They released the song in 1971, more than four decades ago, so we'll give him some latitude. I'm sure it will get better as the tour goes on.

"Can't You Hear Me Knockin," even without Mick Taylor, is such a great exploratory musical experience. With Karl Denson replacing the deceased Bobby Keys, the song is in very good hands. It had more of a jazz feel than ever.

To my delight, the Internet-voting choice from the audience was "Street Fighting Man," a song I haven't seen performed enough in my life. The bassline makes this one – and Darryl Jones came through loud and clear. Jones replaced Bill Wyman after his departure from the band in 1993.

The crowd-favorite "Honky Tonk Woman" had the audience woo-wooing on their feet. Then Keith sang a couple of songs – "Slipping Away" and "Before They Make Me Run" – a low point for new fans but a high point for the veterans in the crowd.

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Lisa Fischer

"Midnight Rambler" was good, but not great. "Miss You," the disco-esque track off 1978's Some Girls album, really seemed to hit the mark. To sing her vocals on "Gimme Shelter," Lisa Fischer (at right) paraded all the way out on the catwalk that extended deep into the crowd. The song is always spine-chilling, and as usual, Fischer brought down the house.

They ran through "Start Me Up," and although it didn't seem to flow out of "Gimme Shelter" very well – misplaced in the setlist, in my opinion – of course, everyone liked it.

The classic, "Sympathy for the Devil," was the song the band changed up the most. For the past couple of years, this song has sounded radically different, straying farther than ever from the studio version we're all familiar with. Keyboarist Chuck Level has been playing a very different New Orleans-style piano when performing "Sympathy For The Devil," which changes the flavor a bit. It's something I like, but might not be for everyone.

They closed the set with "Brown Sugar" – a song played for the first time in forever without Bobby Keys. Some fans complain about the classic old warhorses, like "Brown Sugar," played tour after tour, and that's a legitimate complaint. However, when a band, like The Stones, lays claim over so many songs that are some of the greatest ever written, it's got to be hard to leave stage without playing them.

That said, another entire show could be played with just Stones "mag-hits," and it would be almost as satisfying. That tells you something about the depth of their catalogue. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" brought out the local choir. The song sounded great, and the whole stadium was singing along with Mick.

"Satisfaction" closed the show with the crowd – from the field to the upper deck – going absolutely nuts in the cool San Diego night.

Every Stones show seems about three songs too short to me which goes to the old axiom of leave the crowd wanting more.

As for their age, B.B. King died last week; he was 89 years old. Nowhere did I read that B.B. King shouldn't have been playing until the day he died. Seems The Stones will likely do the same – and they should.

Steve Spohn is a former Saturday Night Live and Nickelodeon Television executive. Growing up near Princeton, NJ, led to a musical addiction, with WMMR in Philly and WNEW in NYC providing the daily dose. When not attending or planning to attend Bruce Springsteen concerts, he's plugging away as a screenwriter in Beverly Hills. Reach Steve at SSpohn@SongMango.com.

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