The Rolling Stones’ “50 & Counting” tour rolls on into Washington’s Verizon Center on Monday at 8 p.m. This will be the Stones’ first show in the nation’s capital since October 2005, when they played the same venue, though it was then known as the MCI Center. (They did rock Baltimore’s 1st Mariner Arena a little more recently, back in February 2006). Then, the spur was a new album, 2005’s “A Bigger Bang.” This time, there’s no new record to support, besides another greatest hits package; rather, Mick and the boys? are celebrating their 50th anniversary as a band with 18 arena shows here in the U.S. and Canada, plus a handful of dates in the U.K. in July.
The band members may have been eligible for retirement benefits long ago, but they remain 100 percent rock ‘n’ rollers. Frontman Mick Jagger still “moves like Jagger,” even as he’s about to turn 70, and guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood are still the coolest guys in rock music, riffing hard with cigarettes dangling out of their mouths. They’re backed up by the ineffable human metronome himself, drummer Charlie Watts, along with a smattering of sidemen. (Bassist Bill Wyman retired from the band in 1993, and was replaced onstage and in the recording studio by Darryl Jones, though he’s never been made an official Stone.)
In addition to their usual lineup, the Stones are bringing along a special guest this go-round: Mick Taylor, the Stones’ virtuoso lead guitarist from 1969 to 1974 during one of the band’s most fertile periods. Throughout the tour, he’s been guesting on a couple of songs each night. Spoiler alert: If you’ve always dreamed of hearing Mr. Taylor play live on “Midnight Rambler,” a la 1970’s “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!,” you’re going to want to get down to the Verizon Center on Monday night.
In addition to Mr. Taylor’s sure-to-be spectacular performance, fans can also expect a healthy dose of the band’s biggest hits: The Stones are certain to break out “Brown Sugar,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Start Me Up,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Miss You” and a few predictable others. But, for many of the dates on this tour, fans have also been invited to vote online for a special song to be performed. At a gig earlier this week in Philadelphia, for example, the fans were able to choose between two hits (“Street Fighting Man” and “You Got Me Rocking”) and three deep cuts (“No Expectations,” “Dead Flowers,” and “If You Can’t Rock Me”). “Dead Flowers,” a relative rarity — and an absolute gem of a country song from 1971’s “Sticky Fingers” album — emerged victorious. Indeed, deep cuts have won at essentially all of the other shows, as well. In Boston last week, fans voted in the heart-rending ballad “Memory Motel” from 1976’s “Black and Blue”; last month in Los Angeles, “Sway,” also from “Sticky Fingers,” was the winner.
There’s a lesson for the Stones here. As much as fans love the big hits, they also want to hear something different! On a 22- or 23-song set list, there’s more than ample room to throw in some surprises and album tracks. But the Stones are strangely reluctant to stray from the hits. (They typically bust out only one or two rarities per show.)
Mick Jagger, in particular, is famously averse to playing “obscurities,” claiming last month that “not everyone wants obscure songs.” But with global sales of more than 200 million albums, how many “obscure” Rolling Stones songs can there be — even on their relatively “unsuccessful” albums? Take “A Bigger Bang” (2005), their last (in both senses of the word, perhaps) full-length studio album. It was considered a commercial failure, at least by the standards of the Stones, yet it sold a more than respectable 550,000 copies in the United States and was certified platinum — all with virtually no radio support. Songs from that, or any Stones album for that matter, can hardly be considered “obscure.”
And while there’s something to be said for hearing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” for the 871st time (they still do that timeless tune justice), the Stones could really tickle their fans if they, say, took a page out of Steely Dan or Bruce Springsteen’s book, and started performing full albums in their original sequencing. A night devoted to playing 1972’s magisterial “Exile on Main Street,” or their absolutely brilliant foray into disco and punk, 1978’s masterpiece “Some Girls,” or even the highly underrated, in-your-face arena rock of 1989’s “Steel Wheels,” would surely prove successful, both commercially and artistically. The jam band Phish has been known to play entire Stones albums at their gigs — something that the Stones themselves have never attempted.
Maybe the Stones can try it on their “60 & Counting” tour.
WHAT: The Rolling Stones
WHERE:Verizon Center, 601 F St., NW
WHEN: Monday, 8 p.m.
ADMISSION: $171.90 to $640 (with fees included)