It’s only rock ‘n roll

stones-stage

I’m not sure, really, what I expected Tuesday night. I’m generally an optimistic guy, but I’ve done this kind of thing before, so I guess I expected hot and sticky, and shoulder-to-shoulder, and hard aluminum benches (no backs) and a bunch of graying and screaming rock-n-rollers trying to act 19 again.

I guess I kind of expected a lot of loud, unintelligible sound, and some bonehead in front of me who wouldn’t sit down. A horrible view. The smell of dope and sweat. Maybe some drunk women yelling “Woo hoooo!” and “We love you Miiiiiiick!” every five minutes.

Just an overall hassle, you know? And who needs more hassles?

So I am happy to report that, despite my unusually pessimistic forecast, Tuesday night in downtown Atlanta — the Rolling Stones at Bobby Dodd Stadium, on the surprisingly beautiful campus of Georgia Tech, Luke and me, an unexpectedly cool and dry night — was absolutely, unequivocally, awesomely, laugh-out-loud great.

Just. Great.

A few months ago, Mary Jo heard that the Stones were going to play Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium. “You and Luke should go,” she said.

Now, I’ve never been a huge Stones fan. Nothing against them. I know their hits, of course, at least (or so I figured) the choruses. I appreciate their songs, I guess. But I guess I always considered them just a little bit before my time. I mean, I remember my older brother bringing “Sticky Fingers” home. (Who could forget the zipper?) But I don’t think I’ve ever owned any of their albums. I certainly don’t have any now.

I went to see them once when I was in college, at a big stadium show, in what I thought, surely, had to be their Goodbye Tour. But that was probably more curiosity than anything. They were in their 40s at the time. They had been at it for 20 years or something. What rock ‘n roll band lasts 20 years?

stones-tixWell, more than 30 years (damn) after that concert, they announced they were touring again. (This is, in fact, their 10th time on the road since the American Tour 1981.) But the tickets were $69.50 apiece (damn!), with a $12.75 service charge for each one (whaaat!), and it was liable to be 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity with no parking and $10 sodas and sitting on that hard bench for a couple hours while idiots barfed all around you …

But Mary Jo persisted. Luke, who is into all sorts of music, had never been to a big stadium show. He wanted to go.

And I knew … well, it was the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones! If we got lucky, I knew it could be a memorable night.

We wolfed down a family dinner, then Luke and I jumped in the car and zipped down (as much as you can zip in Atlanta traffic, which isn’t much) to the nearest MARTA station. We took the train to the North Avenue stop, walked three or four blocks east to the stadium, arrived a good hour before the 8 p.m. start, wandered around the stadium a bit, took some pictures and started to make our way to the upper deck.

Section 211, row 43, seats 7 and 8.

About halfway up the deck, checking the row numbers on the steps, the thought occurred to both of us about the same time that we might land on the very top row. A couple more rows passed and Luke started sprinting to the top to see if we made it.

We did. Top row. Maybe 1,000 people in the 42,000-seat setup had seats that were farther away than ours.

The view was awesome. Just awesome.

pano-stones

(Click on this panorama and zoom in for a better view. You can see the headquarters of Coca-Cola and one of Georgia Tech’s iconic buildings right in front of it, on the right. You can see the top of the soon-to-be demolished Georgia Dome over the stands at right. You can see the ferris wheel by Centennial Olympic Park. As Atlanta skyline views go, you don’t get much better than this.)

Now, clearly, the performers on stage were pretty much ants. The shot above was taken shortly after St. Paul & The Broken Bones came on at 8. (They’re a Birmingham-based R&B band. They were good).

(Also, how do they assign these seats? We were online the second tickets went on sale. For sure, we went with the cheapie seats. But back row? Really?)

Anyway, when I went to see the Stones 30 years ago, I had lousy seats, too. And, back then, no one had the huge video boards that they do today. I’m sure the sound setup wasn’t nearly as good back then, either. So I was, despite the bad-luck seats, optimistic.

Plus, the June night in Atlanta was amazingly cool. The night before, I covered a game a few miles down the road at Turner Field, and it was hot. Sticky. It was like a June night in Georgia is supposed to be.

On Tuesday, we had a breeze. There was just enough cloud cover to keep the sun from getting out of hand. And, because we were in the top row, we had a fence to lean on, too. Nobody was sitting directly in front of us, so we could stretch our feet out. Things were looking good.

And then, at about 9:20 ET, after the sun had set …

 

The videos here don’t really portray a true sense of the night. The camera just doesn’t handle the bright video boards contrasted with the dark night. But the view was awesome. The sound was as good, even better, than I could have hoped. The boys began with “Start Me Up,” which they introduced on the 1981 tour (off “Tattoo You”).

The skyline was twinkling. Everybody was up, singing and dancing. It was high energy from the start, but not with obnoxious, guitar-thrashing rock. It was all rhythmic, driving. It was all … danceable.

Even when we couldn’t immediately recognize a song, Luke and I knew that it was important. That happens when you’ve been around as long as the Rolling Stones have and had enough hits.

(The band launches into the opening strains of a song. The crowd rumbles with anticipation. Luke and I look at each other.)

LUKE: It’s that … that song. With the words! You know!

ME: Yeah! That one!

(We listen, trying to name that song before the chorus gives it away …)

LUKE and ME: La la laaa … Honky Tonk Woman!

They played for two hours — not much more than that — and came back for a single encore with two songs. The first was this one, which began with the Emory University Concert Choir:

 

And they ended with what they had to end with. They just had to. Again, I’m no Stones expert, but I’m sure they’ve finished up a few concerts with this:

 

I spent much of the night giggling (which would surprise no one in my family) at the sheer fun, the absolute joy of watching Mick Jagger move about the monstrous stage. (The stage went waaaay wider than a football sideline-to-sideline — so way wider than 160 feet — with a walk that jutted out into the center of the floor seats at least that far. It was a haul north and south, east and west.)

We’ve all seen Jagger’s moves. They are part seizure, part yoga. Part panther, part peacock. As a performer, he is either sexy or asexual or all-sexual … I don’t know. He slithered down the walk. He bounced around. He convulsed in a dance only he could dance. At one point, he stopped, struck a sitting pose (no chair, mind you), put his left ankle on top of his right thigh as if he were sitting down to talk with the boys, then stuck his arms out to either side, as if to say — oh, hell, he was saying it — “Look at me. You’ll never see this again.”

Jagger, Richards, from the video board, 6/19/15.
From the video board, 6/19/15.

Jagger is 71 now, and much is made of how much he moves. Still. And, yeah, he works it like few performers ever have — and maybe no one at his age ever has.

But what amazed me more than how much he moved, or how he moved, was his voice.

Maybe Jagger’s voice is not as strong as it used to be (don’t know). Maybe he doesn’t hit the notes he used to (don’t know). Maybe he never hit notes (dunno). But for a guy who has been a lead rock n’ roll singer for more than 50 years, Jagger can still scream. He can still hold the notes. He can sing.

I’ve heard studio recordings of aging singers — Tony Bennett and Ray Charles come to mind — that sounded much worse than Jagger did live. That’s not even fair. Jagger sounded good. When he was bantering between songs, when he was screaming for the crowd to get into it. He was awesome.

We bolted down the stadium steps after the encore and moved through the crowd, hurrying out onto the edge of campus and working our way over toward the MARTA station. We were stoked. Even the back up of bodies in a stinking train station — turns out it was much warmer down on street level than up in our awesome seats — didn’t dampen the evening.

The boy. The lights of the skyline. The cool June air. The music. Jagger. The band. The whole experience. I realized, even as we were laughing and searching for lyrics in the middle of it, that Luke and I will look back on this in awe when I’m Jagger’s age. And, yes, thank you, that is still a ways off.

Mary Jo and I often talk about making leaps. When you’re unsure of something, when you’re thinking about not doing something because of the hassles involved — we’ve told Luke this — take the leap. Maybe it doesn’t work out. Maybe it’s a spectacular failure, and a miserable experience, and it turns out to be something you probably shouldn’t have done. Maybe it is more hassle than it’s worth. Even when it is, though, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried, that you gave it a chance.

More often, we’ve found, it works out. It’s something that you’re glad you did.

And sometimes, like Tuesday night in Atlanta, it becomes something special, something memorable, an experience.

Thanks, Mary Jo, for pushing it. Thanks, Luke, for going with me.

Thanks, Mick. Thanks, Rolling Stones. It was great.

luke-me-stones

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