With nary a Hells Angels member or flying pool cue in sight, the Rolling Stones played their first free concert in 33 years on Thursday, as a celebrity crowd headed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton looked on.
The event at the Staples Center was a considerably more sedate affair than their last free show, at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco in 1969. Then, security was handled by the local Hells Angels chapter, who clubbed fans with pool cues while the band looked on helplessly. A teenager was stabbed to death as he appeared to point a gun at the stage.
There was nothing like that at the Staples Center, a sterile indoor arena with plenty of earnest ushers. Most of the 18,000 tickets were given away in a lottery handled by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental lobby group that presented the show to raise awareness of global warming.
All costs were paid by Hollywood producer and Democratic fundraiser Steve Bing, who earned bad press last year after he denied fathering the baby boy of English model Elizabeth Hurley until DNA testing proved otherwise.
Actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Pierce Brosnan, Lisa Kudrow, Larry David, Mira Sorvino and Cameron Diaz, singer Christina Aguilera and director Rob Reiner graced the event with their presence, some turning up in environmentally friendly vehicles. They posed for photographers as they strode up a green carpet to a private VIP reception that preceded the concert.
CLINTON OPENS FOR STONES
Clinton kicked off the night by addressing the crowd from the stage for five minutes. Such a coupling would have been unthinkable 30 years ago when the U.S. government sought to keep the bad boys of rock ‘n’ roll out of America because of their drug busts and bad behavior.
Clinton told the crowd, “I am here because the Stones aren’t term-limited and they’re just as old as I am.” He also mentioned the recent space shuttle disaster and warned that a chunk of Manhattan – “where I work” – could fall into the ocean if global warming continued.
His speech cast a pall on the crowd, and the band struggled for most of the night to whip up any enthusiasm. Its 20-song, 135-minute set focused on the classic hits, ranging from opening tunes “Start Me Up” and “Street Fighting Man” through to the energizing blues jams “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and “Midnight Rambler.”
The band kept its comments to a minimum. Lead singer Mick Jagger noted that the Stones had been preceded by some great opening acts over the years, such as Tina Turner and Stevie Wonder, “but we never had the president of the United States open for us.”
He later said, “We’re putting the spotlight on a very good cause, and you can all feel very good about that.”
Guitarist Keith Richards, politically incorrect as usual, muttered that “the Eskimos are feeling the pinch.”
Thursday’s show marked the penultimate stop on the North American leg of the Rolling Stones’ “Licks” tour, which began last September in Boston. After a stop in Las Vegas on Saturday, they will fly to Australia, where the Asian leg will begin in Sydney on Feb. 18.