The Rolling Stones are still the “world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band”, naysayers and cynics be damned. Granted, there’s a lot to be cynical about when it comes to the Stones. Shameless merchandising, ticket price gouging, band in-fighting, and creative stagnancy have all hounded the Stones for the better part of the last 30 years. But their semi-regular globe-trotting tours continue to astound, and not just because of the ever-broadening spectacle that accompanies each, but because the band still plays like they’re the best, even if the world has become disenchanted with them. That’s all right, though: the Stones don’t need you or me to recognize that they are indeed the greatest, past, present, or (probably) future. History bears them out.
Still, for us mortals, it’s nice to have a reminder every now and again that the Stones can still bring it. We got that last week in the form of a live collaboration between the Stones and Tom Waits, a dream pairing that I for one never dared hope for. On May 5 in Oakland, CA, on one of the relatively few American stops of the Stones’ 50 and Counting tour, Waits joined the Stones for a searing rendition of the blues standard “Little Red Rooster”. Of course, Waits kills in his parts — his voice, like shrapnel and gravel being shaken in an old tin cup, suits the lyric perfectly. What’s perhaps more noteworthy is how well the Stones perform the number. Ron Wood offers up some great slide work, Keith Richards remains rhythm incarnate, and Charlie Watts is irreproachable. Jagger, who gets a bad rep (and rightfully so sometimes) for outlandish preening and oversinging, is especially impressive, proving that he’s still one of the all-time great blues and rock singers. His tone is as rich as ever (perhaps more so), and his phrasing excellent (note the way he drags on the word “lazy” in the first verse).
Music bloggers everywhere were going pretty wild last week when the clip surfaced, but I must admit that I was skeptical. As much as I love the Stones, I’ve come to expect disappointment from them. My faith in their classic work is unshakeable, but when it comes to their recent and current endeavors, I’m a doubting Thomas at best.
But that’s the great thing about the Stones: if you wait long enough, they’ll always reward your faith. This performance is proof positive.