While Metallica's 2007 under-the-radar Bonnaroo warm-up show at The Basement seemed like it would forever reign supreme as Nashville's ultimate pinch-yourself-or-kick-yourself happening, it's small potatoes compared to what transpired on the Rock Block a mere 12 hours ago. Anyone who toes the party line that England's oldest hit-makers, The Rolling Stones, are a bunch of past-their-prime dinosaurs obviously didn't catch the secret two-and-a-half hour tour-de-force of gritty rock 'n' roll they put on at The End last night.
Appearing under the name Dartford Maypole, rock's most decorated dynasty made the Elliston Place haunt feel like London's Marquee Club circa 1962, as they got their ya-yas out and utterly ripped the joint in two, to save our souls. The Scene was tipped off to the band's rumored appearance midday yesterday, but after such blue-ballers as Pavement at The 5 Spot and Kings of Leon opening for The Features, we had no expectations for the rumor to have any basis in fact. But fuck it, it was a Wednesday night and we didn't have shit to do.
To our utter shock and amazement, we entered the club and were immediately greeted by the sight of Charlie Watts' blond Gretsch drum kit -- complete with Ufip China cymbal. "No way," we thought to ourselves, "maybe you can always get you want." Shock turned to bona fide disbelief as we made our way out to the smoking patio and saw 73-year-old former Stones rhythm king and bassist Bill Wyman sucking down a safer cigarette in stoic solitude. The last time Wyman played a Stones gig was at the 1990 Urban Jungle Tour finale at London's Wembley Stadium.
Within an hour, what tiny amount of standing room space the club had to offer was maxed out by a crowd that transformed the cramped club into a veritable voodoo lounge of salt-of-the-earth boomers, beggars, monkey men, midnight ramblers and a few dozen kids who'd misheard the rumor and thought Be Your Own Pet were reuniting. There were some girls there too -- factory girls, stupid girls, bitches, sisters morphine, honky tonk women, sweet black angels, little red roosters and wild horses. Each one was a rainbow. And if you can think of a celebrity with an even tangential relationship to Nashville, they were there as well. No shit.
A collective gasp spread through the crowd as Jagger, Richards, Wood and Watts made their way through The End, en route to the club's semblance of a green room. We even peeked inside it to catch a glimpse of their doctors administering their pre-show B12 shots. Holy fucking shit, this was happening.
Word on the street is that End sound man Brad Baker and Keith Richards go back a long way, explaining how the club became the latest destination for a Stones secret gig. Some folks even went as far as to tell us that Baker helped Richards pen songs like "Happy," "Before They Make Me Run," "Little T&A" and "You Got the Silver." Neither would comment on the claims, although we did see Richards fraternizing with the legendary local sound man out by his truck.
You know all those jaw-dropping performances captured in Gimmie Shelter and The Cocksucker Blues? Well, compared to what we saw last night, those sucked. After a rousing onstage introduction courtesy of East Nashville indweller Phil Kaufman, the band made their way onstage, launching straight into the outright classic Exile on Main St. opener "Rocks Off." Life doesn't get better than this, or so we thought.
The following rapid-succession run of "Rip This Joint," "Shake Your Hips" and "Casino Boogie" gave way to some dangerous wishful thinking; "Could it be? Were we actually in the midst of watching the Stones perform Exile in its motherfucking entirety?" we said to ourselves. It would make sense. The band announced, Monday, that a re-mastered deluxe treatment of the 1972 long-acclaimed classic, is slated to drop this coming May. By the end of the now-we-can-die-happy one-two punch of "Tumbling Dice" into "Sweet Virginia," we were convinced we'd gone to heaven. The feeling continued all the way through the album-closing trifecta of "Stop Breaking Down" into "Shine a Light" into "Soul Survivor." No shit.
As if the material wouldn't speak for itself, the band was on fucking fire as they tore through their decadent magnum opus with all the energy of 37-year-olds. With trademark Jagger Swagger intact, the mighty Mick strutted about the stage, physically interpreting the songs like a sexually ambiguous coke-addled iguana. Indefatigable, he proved, hands down, he's still rock's alpha frontman.
Of course, Keith Richards -- the human riff factory and walking counter-example to every cautionary PSA ever foisted upon the youth of America -- lazily strummed his Tele with a look on his face convincing all in attendance that, despite all the bourgeois rock 'n' roll indulgences, he's still just in it for the pure joy of the "playin' the music, man."
The Stones have the distinction of being the only band to stick together for nearly half a century without ever getting tight, and that glorious looseness was on display and in full effect all night, as drummer Charlie Watts played behind the beat like a clock, never hitting his snare and hi-hat at the same time, and never losing that iconic and lovably smug facial expression that's a cross between concentrated and constipated. And Ron Wood chain-smoked, stumbled, ambled and eye-fucked Richards during each of his solos as only Ron Wood could. His holy-shit moment came when he took center-stage to sing his Faces classic "Ooh La La." No shit.
Despite all that, the man of the hour (or three) was bassist Bill Wyman, who held down the low-end as he blushed a giddy smirk across his face, seldom seen in his previous days performing with the band. Welcome back, Bill. And he wasn't the only one making a triumphant return. Even self-exiled former lead-guitarist Mick Taylor came out of the shadows to join the band for a blistering 18-minute version of "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." No shit.
Never without a little help from some well-paid friends, the band was accompanied by longtime sidemen the likes of saxophonist Bobby Keys, organist Chuck Leavell and backup singers Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fischer, who were all forced to perform on the landing adjacent to The End stage due to space constraints. No shit.
As if a start-to-finish performance of Exile wasn't enough to make us and 200 others feel like the luckiest fucks in Nashville, the band trumped it by following it up with a career-spanning grab bag of deep cuts, of which highlights included "Connection" (as sung by Richards), "100 Years Ago," "Memory Motel," the Their Satanic Majesties Request gem "The Lantern," their version of Eric Donaldson's roots-reggae classic "Cherry Oh Baby," oft-overlooked Tattoo You standouts "Neighbors" and "Hang Fire," and a sensual show-stopping take on the title track from 1980's Emotional Rescue.
The band even celebrated the dark corners of their '83-'91 wilderness period, by playing songs like Undercover's unfairly maligned "Too Much Blood" and Dirty Work's "One Hit (To the Body)." They even played -- for what we believe is the time ever live -- the Steel Wheels nugget "Continental Drift," as well as their 1991 Persian Gulf War protest anthem "Highwire." The band followed that cavalcade of rarities with versions of "Time Is on My Side" and "Paint It Black" that convinced us Brian Jones and Ian Stewart were each there in spirit. No shit.
After running through the obligatory staples of their stadium shows, like "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Street Fighting Man," "Brown Sugar," "Start Me Up," "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Satisfaction." The band exited the stage, leaving only a lone Jagger standing there to sing a solo "Angie" -- A CAPELLA! He then shocked all in attendance by bringing ex-wife Jerry Hall onstage, getting on bended knee, and once again asking for her hand in marriage. She said yes, and the band returned to the cramped stage to back Jagger through an impassioned rendition of "Beast of Burden," that in-house Stones die-hards immediately declared to be the single best vocal performance of his career. Only one word could describe the Spin's reaction: tears.
After a beyond spellbinding 40-plus song dream setlist, the fun was far from over. In what came as almost as much of a surprise as any, in a night already replete with shocking surprises, Richards re-emerged onstage with both Chuck Berry and a reunited X-pensive Winos in tow. They closed out the show by turning the punk rock club into a downright juke joint. We're happy to report that Richards made it through the rest of the night without Berry giving him the boot, as they romped through such classics as "Little Queenie," "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Oh Carol," before all parties departed via motorcade en route to Chattanooga, where Dartford Maypole is rumored to make a similar appearance tonight at JJ's Bohemia.
The only downer of the evening was that, in regrettable Spin fashion, we got there late, causing us to miss the opening set by a reunited Pretty Things. You can't always get what you want after all.