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Beatles vs. Stones. 'Twas the great cultural debate of the 20th century, and here in the 21st -- all the really cool Beatles dead, all the surviving Rolling Stones undead -- the conundrum shifts to which exorbitantly priced nostalgia-pimping arena tour will embarrass and horrify you less. So: Did you go to last week's Paul McCartney show at Toyota Center, or are you waiting for Jagger and the boys to give "Jumpin' Jack Flash" its 20,000th spin on that selfsame stage this Thursday?
Did I hear "both"? Don't feel like paying rent this month, eh?
Paul has a few key advantages. At his recent show in San Jose, California, gala opener "Magical Mystery Tour" joyously dropped like a bomb on the crowd, and nearly half of the two-hour-plus hoedown that followed exploited old Beatles tunes so dominant you hardly need to hear them anymore -- if you honestly require an alt-weekly music critic to sell you on "Drive My Car" or "Blackbird," you're a bigger doofus than the guy who wrote it. And that, after all, is McCartney's other great strength: He's a doofus. Proudly. His presence and stage banter are pure arena-rock cheese. He's a ham. He's your dad. He's Woody Allen with self-confidence. But that lack of pretension -- his alarming disinterest in projecting any kind of cool whatsoever -- is what makes him tolerable.
So enjoy the doofus, whether he's turning "I Will" into an indisputably lovely solo picnic serenade or commanding his cadre of far more rock-star-affected sidemen -- by all means introduce the band, Paul, but don't let them talk -- through the cream of his post-Beatles crop: "Jet" and "Let Me Roll It" retain a corny '70s stadium-rock charm. Don't be surprised if the whole Wings era undergoes a hipster renaissance in coming years, with the MySpace Generation scrambling to re-create the awkward grandiosity of "Live and Let Die." (Trust me, it's not nearly as terrible a future as it sounds.) Even the obligatory cuts from his new sorta-okay baroque-pop album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, didn't send everyone scrambling for more nachos, though Paul wheezed through "Jenny Wren," perhaps distracted by an audience sign reading "My grandma saw you at Candlestick Park."
Otherwise, "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" seemed to thrill diehards clamoring for Beatles deep cuts, and "Let It Be" -- here performed by candlelight -- remains one of humanity's greatest cultural achievements, slotted comfortably in the Top Five between Internet porn and the half-cherry/half-Coke Icee. And you have to admire the love Paul still inspires; every song triggered 30 seconds of standing ovations and deep bowing. By all means, let him roll it.
But the Stones, man. Mick is harder to love than Paul just because he's still desperately trying to project that ultra-sexy rock-star image, gyrating about as though intent on fathering multiple litters of illegitimate pebbles yet. There's something mesmerizing about Jagger's geriatric sashays and the riveting/horrifying one-two guitar punch of Ron Wood and Keith Richards, who just absolutely cannot possibly be alive. But other than brief interludes featuring Keith on lead vocals -- by all means introduce the band, Mick, but don't let them sing -- the Stones make megalomaniacal machismo seem perfectly natural and highly enjoyable. At a recent West Coast show, their patented Airport Parking Garage stage proved quite resourceful, with a couple hundred fans packed into its upper levels and a motorized mini-stage trolley that slowly pushed the boys through the crowd. It's tough not to be awestruck as Mick belts out "Honky Tonk Women" while a rapt, panoramic audience exults all around him. Even the absurdly oversexed stuff worked. A salacious cover of Ray Charles's "Night Time Is the Right Time" -- featuring Mick gleefully molesting his duet partner as she soul-shrieked her accompaniment -- brought down the house, and the last 40-minute sprint ("Sympathy for the Devil," "Paint It Black," etc.) was a dogpile of classic rock Mount Olympii.
It's awfully tempting to dismiss these sorts of shows as boomer-gouging cynicism. But it's also amusing to speculate whether any current bands will survive to gouge today's youngster's tomorrow -- any takers at 500 large for the Death Cab for Cutie Reunion Tour at Google Arena, 2025?
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