Should the day come when the Rolling Stones hang it up, it won’t be for a lack of ambition: Instead, the idea factory on how to turn recorded megahits into larger-than-life stage spectacles might reach its apex at a far too costly level, leaving the Stones with nowhere to turn. The group’s current “Bridges to Babylon” show, larger and more impressive technically than the decaying world of the “Steel Wheels” tour and the exotic parlor of “Voodoo Lounge,” is a trip into an otherworld where the still-frenetic Mick Jagger and company can cavort on an arresting Imax level.
The stories-high, oval video screen, the stage and its wings stretching across nearly all of the Dodger outfield, the rich lights and the explosions — they all surround the Stones with a spectacle that ably delivers the band with a fierce directness that clouds easily forgiven shaky moments.
There is no air of artifice or arty abstraction — every huge act is directed from the band forward, bringing the focus to the music and the performers and, without reinventing the band, provide a grand context for each song.
The production seemingly draws its inspiration from the Las Vegas school of reality reinterpretation. In Vegas, each gambling mecca is created to be bigger and flashier than the last, with a combination of the exotic and the familiar. Just as Vegas has become an annual travel destination for non-gamblers — with its core of lust and greed shrouded in copies of cities and shrines, and with the selling point of bring the family — a Stones show similarly has become that once-every-few-years, must-see event for non-concertgoing patrons.
The key to this oldies revue is that everybody gets what they want, regardless of whether they care for blues-based rock ‘n’ roll.
And underneath the bombastic nature of one hit after another lies the sexuality and rebellion that drew every teenager to the Rolling Stones in the first place. That the eerie wordless intro of “Gimme Shelter” and the bass riff of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” can still get the blood racing is testimony to the power of the Stones to tap into that teen spirit quelled by experience and ambivalence.
Sunday night, the Rolling Stones performed 22 songs over 130 minutes, starting with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and encoring with “Brown Sugar.” Beyond the four songs from “Bridges to Babylon” and two Keith Richards tunes (A-plus singing from Richards), the set was dominated by up-tempo, riff-driven hits.
While previous tours used such songs as the psychedelic “2,000 Light Years Away” and the Willie Dixon blues ballad “Little Red Rooster” to nicely slow a set’s pace — and add an obscure treat — this show was all over-the-top rockers.
The centerpiece, beyond excellent versions of “Gimme Shelter” and “Tumbling Dice,” may well be the new number “Out of Control.” Jagger, who seemed to add or remove a piece of clothing after each song, pushed passion to the edge of madness in this rather simple yet personal tale of destruction, elevating it to a spot among the classics that surrounded it.
Technically, “Out of Control” was given a brilliant video treatment with 195 different shots and a mixture of dissolves and quick cuts, soft-focus fades and odd-angle shots that made sense at every turn. Expert video work throughout had the feel of a finished film.
The Stones reduced the scale of the event with a midset turn at a smaller stage in the middle of the audience. The songs performed there, Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie,” “The Last Time” and “You Got Me Rockin’,” revealed more of the rough-and-tumble roots of the Stones and how ably they can still deliver the simpler goods with fiery verve. For this show it was a refreshing change; in a pipe dream, it’s a setting they’ll turn to more often.