69… 69… 71… 65… Years old, respectively. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood. The Rolling Stones. Synonymous with rock and roll. They rocked Oracle Arena in Oakland, California last night for two and a half hours. There were more people than seats (more on that later) and (mostly, well initially) very expensive seats at that (and more on that later too), but it was a remarkable night to witness one of the most (and last standing) legendary rock bands of all time plow through 23 songs. Sure, some will point out some occasional sloppiness, but I always heard a bit of that in their studio recordings. It’s the Rolling Stones. They more than make up for some lack of precision and complexity with enthusiasm, and Mick Jagger has moves like, well, him. He possessed fans in the audience of all ages who mimicked his moves with pure glee. And really, any time Keith Richards did much of anything, the two 52-year old women sitting to my right could barely contain themselves. I quizzed them about this deep into the set, between songs, and one of them said, “the fact that he’s still alive and standing there is nothing short of a miracle”. Some miracles are self evident, and others are in the eye of the beholder. I think one’s take on the show last night is likely more about and reflective of each person as much as it is the show itself. Each person’s connection with the Stones and what they mean to him or her. Given the reactions from the crowd, I would guess a majority found it nothing short of miraculous, and certainly unforgettable.
Who: Rolling Stones
Venue: Oracle Arena
Where: Oakland, California
Promoter: AEG Live
When: May 5, 2013
Seating: Upper Level Section 209, Row 15, Seat 18 (center at rear of venue looking at stage, as high up and far away as you can get)
Of course, with any huge act – and it really doesn’t get any bigger than the Rolling Stones – there will be people eager to criticize, as is our right. And the first criticisms leveled at this tour was with regards to the high ticket prices. And this is one of the big global themes of live music in 2013 – the push for higher and higher and higher ticket prices. How much can the public take?
This shift in the past few years is with artists and promoters and other principals involved in putting these concerts together, trying to capitalize on those people willing to pay top dollar for better tickets (and in some cases, “experiences”). What is “top dollar”, and how many of these people are there for any given artist? As far as “experiences” go, business people in suits believe it is about alcohol and finger food and cheap swag in a bag, but that is a topic for another day.
The people behind these escalating ticket prices are trying to cut out the middle man (scalpers) who have been profiting by buying choice tickets with the sole intention of reselling them at marked up prices.
Unfortunately, various promoters haven’t come up with ways around this to satisfy everyone, and that would be the case with this tour as well. More, the prices often higher than they would have been under the previous scalper model…
When this tour was first announced, the prices were quite high, with the worst tickets in the arenas starting at around $170 including fees, and the best tickets selling for as much as $2,000.
Just a day after initial sales, there was an announcement on the official Rolling Stones website that they would be selling some tickets for $85, in pairs, wherein purchasers would not know where the seats were in the venue until they showed up day of show (after showing their ID at the door, so they could not be resold). This sold out almost immediately.
I actually liked this idea personally, and I ended up buying a pair of tickets to last night’s show in Oakland as well as this week’s upcoming show at HP Pavilion in San Jose.
A sort of Rolling Stones ticket lottery. As worst, I figured I would have the worst seats in the venue for $85, which is still better than the worst seats in the venue for $170.
As far as how people might feel who paid a lot of money for a ticket, to be surrounded by people who paid $85… well, that is another issue. And I understand this happened to some extent. In any event, none of this seemed to be planned, but an evolving situation to mitigate an overreach on prices resulting in non-sold out shows.
Overall, given that there was the initial $85 ticket sale, a subsequent $85 ticket sale a few days ago, and the fact that my Ticketmaster iPad app kept telling me all day yesterday that tickets were still available for last night’s show… I would guess that their original pricing for this tour overestimated what fans of this band can justify paying in order to see them, in this day and age. Yes, the demand is there… but how many people can shell out $625 a piece for mediocre floor seats is something else entirely.
So it would seem that 2013 will be the year that prices go way too far and a resulting push back by fans… as discussed in my recent Bon Jovi review (with some fans paying $1,875 and others getting $13 tickets from Groupon) and as I’m seeing more and more with other tours, even with Prince tickets at one of his shows being discounted at two for the price of one in the final days. This weekend, The Guardian published a story about the Stones and their ticket prices specifically.
The problem for music artists and promoters and ticket sellers is that the more these issues gain mainstream media attention, the more hesitant fans will be in the future to be the first to shell out high prices for tickets, always wondering if others will get equivalent, highly discounted seats closer to the show date.
In my opinion, the powers that be have tried to solve what they viewed as a problem and now they’ve essentially created new problems for themselves by pricing things too high while still not coming up with better ways in which to sell the tickets in the first place. I imagine that they are only looking at things from their own business perspective, and not taking into account the circumstances and perspective of their customers.
“Doors” for the concert last night was 7:00, and the instructions I received for the $85 ticket line-up was that we could not line up until 6:30. Arriving at around 7:00, it was general pandemonium outside Oracle Arena, including a combative guy with a Jesus sign, ready to tell thousands of people that they are going to Hell. You know you are at one of the most fun events of the year when the Jesus sign people show up.
Unfortunately, the Jesus sign guy was the only one who thought of signage… as there was nothing posted informing anyone as to where we were supposed to line up, depending on the variety of potential circumstances (ticket in hand vs will call, $85 ticket, etc.). I began asking people at random what they were standing in line for, and most simply got into lines, not even knowing what it was for or where it was going.
Eventually we found the $85 line – which was much, much longer than the other lines, and I guess indicative of how many people were coming in discounted. It was all quite unorganized, as other lines merged into us, and people with tickets in hand were instructed to push through our line to get into another line… Overall, the $85 ticket line wrapped around half the lower level, up some stairs, and snaked around half of the top level.
It took well over one hour to get our mystery tickets and get to the main door. I can confirm that it was a totally random system – at the check-in table, they had stacks of pairs of tickets in envelopes, unmarked, and once confirming our purchase by checking our photo ID against the list, they would hand us a pair of tickets.
I was very happy to see two gentlemen a bit behind up in line actually got a pair of the “Tongue Pit” tickets, which is the standing general admission area within the stage and catwalk around that pit. More, these were big fans – I understand that one was from New York and paid a ton of money to see the Stones at Hyde Park last year, and when they heard about these $85 tickets, bought them to all of these U.S. shows, so I can’t really imagine a more deserving fan to get the awesome upgrade for this show. And it was really cool to see that they actually did include some of the best tickets among the $85 ticket pool.
I ended up with Upper Level 209, Row 15, Seat 17 & 18. In the arena, that is center at the very rear of the arena looking at the stage, at the very top, with only three rows behind. So pretty much as far away from the stage as possible, but with a centered view. Unfortunately, the jumbo monitors were somewhat blocked by lighting rigging and other scaffolding. But… it’s the Rolling Stones and $85, so I can’t complain at all.
Things kicked off with video footage of famous people and fans talking about the Rolling Stones… when they first saw them, etc. A bit of hype, a bit of history… a reminder that this is an epic band, and seeing them is a big deal. Not that anyone needed such a reminder, but it was quite fun none the less.
A benefit from being so far from the stage… taking in the enormity of the crowd, and seeing everyone jump up from their seats, arms in the air… waiting for the band to emerge on the stage. I go to a lot of concerts, and I can say without a doubt that this crowd – all of it – was amped about what was in store for them.
And it was not just any crowd. Sure, there was what you’d expect – frankly old people who grew up with this band and this music – but there were people of all ages, and a lot of kids probably going to the first concert of their lives.
One thing that did strike me as unusual was how much dead space there was on the floor of the arena – the wide open areas in which there were no seats. Again, my point of view made it easy to notice, but I’ve never been to an arena show with some much unused, empty floor space (whereas usually, they cram in as many seats as possible).
The stage itself was pretty great – wide, deep, without clutter. Going over the top of the stage is the top of a lip, with the bottom of the lip serving as a walkway ramp that wrapped around and enclosed the standing-only general admission pit “Tongue Pit”, giving those within a 360 degree view of the action that circled around them throughout the show.
They opened with “Get Off My Cloud”, but the highlight for me was three succession of “Paint It, Black”, “Gimme Shelter”, and then “Little Red Rooster”, the latter of which entailed a positively growling Tom Waits joining the Stones on stage, with showmanship on par with Mick Jagger himself. As if he was possessed by Blues greats long since passed. I think that these one off live collaborations (like the ones with Gwen Stefani and Keith Urban at the debut show at Staples Center in Los Angeles two nights prior) are awesome bonuses for this tour.
Getting back to “Gimme Shelter”, credit must be given to background vocalist Lisa Fischer for really bringing it to life and keeping the band on track… with this number and some others, you could see the band kind of losing track of their place in the song, with most of the responsibility being put on Jagger’s shoulders, who was usually multitasking with running around, dancing, and putting on new shirts and jackets (that would be then taken off mid-performance in the following song).
Again, yes, they can be sloppy and sometimes the songs devolve into their most basic of elements (and funny enough at times each player would seem to literally take a break in the middle or end of a song), but again, these guys are old legends – I’m more than willing to give some latitude and just enjoy what they bring us. Plus, having heard these songs thousands of times since I was a kid, what might be missing in live playback… your brain kind of just fills in with the studio recordings hardwired into your subconscious. What you experience live and what you might hear back on a video of the same performance might be two totally different things.
The Rolling Stones are all about creating magic on stage, and you can’t really judge a show unless you are there in person living it. It truly is an experience. You are along for the ride.
Keith Richards took to center mic and lead vocals on two songs a little more than halfway through the show, for “Before They Make Me Run” and “Happy”, and former band member Mick Taylor joined them on stage to play guitar on “Midnight Rambler”.
The main set finished up with “Brown Sugar” and then “Sympathy for the Devil”, and when they returned for their three-song encore, they were joined on stage by the San Jose State University Choraliers for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and then closed out with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. Although, ironically enough, I think most in attendance were quite satisfied in the end.
It doesn’t get any bigger than seeing the Rolling Stones, so I found myself flooded with thoughts about the show…
In some ways, seeing them at such a distance kind of gave me some idea of what it might have been like seeing them back in their prime, because at such a distance (without the aid of the jumbo monitors), you honestly can’t see how old they are, so you can kind of imagine, peering through the haze created by all the seniors in the audience who couldn’t get through the show without puffing up, how things might have been back in the day.
On the other hand, for the lucky group in the Tongue Pit (who earned their spots through high ticket prices or sheer luck) I’m sure had a completely different experience. To me the biggest thrill of any live gig is to be close enough to see the artist – the expression on their face – and even better to make that contact and direct connection – to catch a look or glance. So I’m sure those in that group must have had one of the best concerts of their lives. I would say, for those with the disposable income, that it could be worth the high price for those pit tickets, as how many would have such an opportunity to enjoy a two and a half hour long Rolling Stones show from such a short distance?
There is no perfect concert, and I think one’s enjoyment of an event such as this is more to do with their own outlook on life and relationship with the band and their music as much as show itself. Their feelings and history with the band and their music, their expectations, and how they take it all in during the show, and wherever they might be standing in a giant sports arena.
Below is the set list from the Rolling Stones concert at Oracle Arena last night:
- Get Off My Cloud
- It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)
- Live With Me
- Paint It, Black
- Gimme Shelter
- Little Red Rooster (with Tom Waits)
- Dead Flowers
- Emotional Rescue
- All Down the Line
- Doom and Gloom
- One More Shot
- Honky Tonk Women
- Before They Make Me Run (Keith Richards vocals)
- Happy (Keith Richards vocals)
- Midnight Rambler (with Mick Taylor)
- Miss You
- Start Me Up
- Tumbling Dice
- Brown Sugar
- Sympathy For the Devil
- You Can’t Always Get What You Want (with San Jose State University Choraliers)
- Jumpin’ Jack Flash
- (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Definitely a show worth seeing, and as I mentioned, I’ll be seeing it again Wednesday. I would highly recommend doing the $85 ticket lottery and seeing what you come up with… even in the worst seats, totally worth the price of admission.
Since I was so far from the stage, this will be a rare article for me with very few photos… included further below are a handful showcasing the size of the venue and crowd more than the band itself.
To take some advantage of my top down view, and to give a sense of the show, below is a video for “Start Me Up” that really gives a sense of the energy of Mick Jagger working the crowd and he circled around the Tongue Pit during the song:
Below is another example, “Paint It, Black”:
Below are a few photos from the show…