OAKLAND, Calif. -- The stage was built for the Rolling Stones Friday
From the massive golden pillars and high-tech lights that flashed every hue
in the color spectrum, to the multi-million-dollar sound system which some
said could be heard from Route 580, the Oakland Coliseum had been transformed
seemingly overnight into the house that the Stones built.
Planes flying overhead flashed their name in lights. The cover band in the
parking lot played their classics for those who had arrived early. Radio
stations set up booths nearby, counting down the minutes until the famous
foursome of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts took the
Most gathered, from the teens to their wide-eyed grandparents, had come to
see the legendary rockers do it again, pulling out all the stops and
reminding fans everywhere what they could do if they put their talents and
several millions dollars to it. There was 16-year-old Carolyn McKibbin and
her friends who'd first discovered the Stones after finding their parents
records lying around the house. "I wouldn't miss this," Carolyn
said. "Stones rule."
There was 22-year-old Lauren Goldberg and her friend 26-year-old Alex
Shenkin, who had been to one of the Voodoo Lounge shows in 1994 and
couldn't wait to see what the Stones had in store for them this time. "I
wouldn't be here if the Stones weren't playing," Goldberg said.
And there was
48-year-old Eldon McNabb and his son, Michael, 24, who'd driven four-hours
from Dianuba to watch the Stones cross another one of their tour's Bridges To
Babylon. "We both came to see the Stones," Eldon McNabb said. "I have loved
these guys for years."
Though there was no arguing who were the guests of honor that night, it
wasn't as clear who owned the crowd.
From the moment the show's openers Pearl Jam began their unrelenting sonic
assault from a make-shift stage set up in front of the Stones' giant Caesar's
Palace, Las Vegas-style props, an electricity circulated that was all about
music and raw energy.
From the explosive opening tune, "Sometimes," off of their last album No
Code, Vedder was in perpetual performance mode, bobbing his head and
projecting his voice with the command of a man performing to a group of
friends in an intimate club. Dressed in a white and red striped sports coat
-- a la a member of a barber shop quartet -- and camouflage pants, his
hair cut to a medium length, Vedder was far from fashionable and seemingly unfazed by the massive rock altar that towered above and behind
He grabbed the microphone as if it were a scepter and pounded it into the
stage. He screamed and ranted the lyrics to "Animal," off Vs., as
guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready thrashed desperately at their
instruments. Their only props were their guitars and the amps they played
While the Stones hired a team of backing musicians and singers, Pearl Jam
relied on only themselves to communicate. And the sound that emanated from
the Seattle quintet was as massive as any rock orchestra.
After tearing through a rousing and particularly moving version of
"Dissident," Vedder stopped to speak, making the first of several off-handed
references to the night's special guests. "There's going to be more rain
tomorrow night than groupies at Altamont," he said, referring to the infamous 1969
Bay Area free concert at the Altamont Speedway, for which the Stones hired the Hell's Angels as
their security, only to watch as the bikers stabbed and beat one fan to
death. Later that night, Vedder quizzed McCready, who he said was the biggest
Stones fan in the crowd, asking him how many grooves are in the Let It
From there, Pearl Jam tore into "Evenflow," one of their more popular songs
and the one that helped launch their career in the early '90s. Vedder jumped
up and down like an anxious child, while Jeff Ament, legs spread wide, rocked
in place, slapping his bass strings. "Good music! Good, good music!" Eldon
McNabb chanted, as he and his son danced at their seats.
The stadium was nearly full, or at least it sounded that way.
Vedder's eyes rolled back into his skull, and he shook his head with a mad
intensity as he sang the chorus to one of the band's most macabre hits,
"Jeremy," off of their debut Ten. The crowd sang along to the darkly
ironic tale, shouting "Jeremy spoke in class today!"
While Pearl Jam played their older songs with the passion of a struggling
band on the rise, perhaps more impressive that night were the new tunes they
sampled, which are expected to appear on their next album, the tentatively titled Yield (Feb. 3). The music ranged from punk to more traditionally
dynamic hard rock PJ songs, filled with storied lyrics and crunchy guitars. "Given to
Fly" (set to be the first single) found Vedder and company in a classic ebb and flow that built to an
explosive chorus, during which Vedder spread his arms and sang "Arms wide
On another new one, "Wish List," Vedder recited all the things he's
wished for in his life, as Gossard chopped at his guitar, driving the song
irreversibly forward. Despite being dwarfed by the stage props, Pearl Jam
seemed larger than life. As they ripped through yet another new tune, "Brain
of J," they played with an abandon that was refreshing and vital.
Clearly Vedder had taken control of an audience which was not his own. "These
guys are wonderful," self-described Stones fanatic Eldon McNabb was now
telling his son. "We came to see the Stones. But, wow! These guys are some
The final new song, "Do The Evolution," featured Gossard playing a churning
punked-up locomotive guitar, while Vedder shouted a sort of tongue-in-cheek
call to arms, "Do the evolution, baby!" This tune featured Gossard doing a
cameo, offering a background falsetto on the chorus.
"We'll play one more and then the real party starts," Vedder finally told the
While there was certainly much more to celebrate that night as the Stones
offered a sensational, if not surreal two-hour performance of their bluesy
rock classics accompanied by a stage that metamorphosed throughout the night,
shot giant flames into the full-mooned sky, billowed a smoky fog across the
arena and exploded confetti that floated like stars above the crowd, the
party, as Vedder put it, had already begun.
The energy was flowing. The night was electric.
In perhaps one of the more impressive acts of production, the Stones stage
crew even launched an hydraulic bridge that carried the band over the audience
to a smaller stage at the center of the stadium.
What some may not have realized, however, as the Stones traversed that
bridge, was that Pearl Jam, about an hour earlier, had crossed a bridge of
Only their music carried them.
[Mon., Nov. 17, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]