Town sugar: Stones smite Charlottesville
"Beatles or Stones?" goes the celebrity death-match, the age-old battle for rock supremacy. It's a rare fan who'd contend that Mick and Keith are better composers than Lennon and McCartney. But what hyper-masculine bravado the Fab Four demonstrated in their early leather-clad days was savagely siphoned out and fed intravenously to the Stones, and that confident swagger is what separates the men from the boys– and then the legends from the men.
There's something to be said for all-purpose virility, and the October 6 concert at Scott Stadium proved that although the Beatles did some incredible studio work, the Stones own the rock show.
"Welcome, Charlottesville," said Mick Jagger when he first appeared, all gussied up in a sharp blazer festooned with glittering red lips. Chuck Berry may have invented rock, but his creation might have languished in a dusty basement if Jagger hadn't wrapped it up in slick packaging– most notably, his unnervingly tight pants– for public consumption.
A lesser deity might have said "Thank you" and acted like a guest for the next two hours, but this is the man who fathered modern pop culture while taking a break from impregnating supermodels with ruthless efficiency. We ought to be thanking him.
Like any good host, he tried to make his audience feel right at home. "They asked us to play at Lane, but we thought it would be cooler here," he said, "and I'd like to thank the people who came from surrounding areas. We've got a sprinkling of people from places like Richmond, Virginia Beach, and Midlothian." It's hard to believe that Virginia Tech's football arena or Richmond's outlying suburbs are even a blip on his radar, but maybe the references were just a nice gesture.
It's also quite possible that his drug-addled earlier decades have left him without much comprehension of U.S. geography. It's still a nice gesture.
Either way, thus commenced a musical marathon in which Jagger flitted about for nearly three hours, weaving among other band members and astounding even medically licensed onlookers with the fact that not only is he still alive, but he embodies a relentless vitality unseen in rock since Animal started drumming for the Muppets.
Every once in a while something would blow up or ignite or both, falling victim to the most formidable pyrotechnics the town has seen since the departure of Scottie Griffin. But nobody noticed or cared– the real explosions were those underneath each of Jagger's alligator-skin-clad steps.
"We're going to do a song by a great piano player and songwriter who influenced us a lot in the early days," he announced as images of the late Ray Charles flashed up on the giant projection screen behind him. Predictably, the onlookers shrieked with approval, visions of Jamie Foxx dancing in their heads. In a sense, it was a cover song, but there was also a staggering amount of history at play. Chances are, nobody's going to be remembering current pop darling Gavin Degraw that way a half century from now.
Jagger was in the process of seamlessly transitioning from introducing the supporting musicians to introducing the rest of the Stones Proper when a "technical problem," later revealed to be a bomb threat, tore the evening in two.
"They should have had it at Lane Stadium after all," laughed a Virginia Tech alum named Dave. "It must be one of those damn liberal arts majors!"
After waiting an hour and having finally ruled out all possibility of an unauthorized bomb, the crew went back to coaxing deliberate explosions from the pyrotechnics, each growing larger than the last until there was nowhere left to go without potentially undermining the structural integrity of the stadium. That's when the entire center section of the stage detached and began rolling to the center of the stadium– imagine Stephen King's Christine, but this time she's an M1 tank– where the Stones rocked a few of their choice numbers for the everymen and -women with the moderately priced tickets.
Just as the sliding stage began its slow retreat, ferrying the band back to the front-of-house where they rule, it began to rain. Somehow, the mildly insolent weather was just as surreal as everything else and became a part of the theatrics. Most bands use fog machines; the Stones are in a league with Thor himself.
So let's have it, then: Beatles or Stones?
Choose carefully. Even if you didn't risk a smiting, last week was enough to turn even the staunchest allegiances.