Stones Fest did something The Rolling Stones don't anymore--play their songs like they sound on the records.
Thursday night’s Stones Fest was what it promised—a lot of people playing and singing songs by The Rolling Stones. Most of the songs were performed faithfully and passionately, which means the show at its best delivered something the Stones themselves don’t do anymore. Some were too passionate. Butch Walker overheated every vocal. When he sang, “It’s just a kiss away” and started to grab Ruby Amanfu in their duet on “Gimme Shelter,” the song turned awkward because she didn't seem to feel the same need to make the moment physical..
More often though, the show was at least good fun and it was often powerful. Midlake’s Eric Pulido clearly felt the moment as powerfully as Walker did, but his version of “Street Fighting Man”—aided by surprise guest Danny Masterson from That ’70s Show on acoustic guitar—stayed just on the right side of over the top. Ann Wilson of Heart was measured as well, picking her moments in “Wild Horses” and “Sister Morphine” and letting the song do most of the work. It helped that she was joined on stage by Doyle Bramhall II on guitar, who impressive in much the same way.
The show wasn’t all faithful, though. Baton Rouge’s Jonathan “Boogie” Long turned “Satisfaction” into a surprisingly chugging blues, and Walter “Wolfman” Washington made “It’s Only Rock and Roll” barely recognizable as he adapted it to his voice and style. It helped that he had George Porter Jr. on bass, but the two couldn’t entirely funkify the song. As Porter’s version of “The Last Time” showed before Washington came out, you can only be as funky as your drummer will allow, and he constrained Porter. Ace Harper and former Guns ’N Roses drummer Matt Sorum didn’t transform “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” as radically as some of the Louisiana artists, but she brought an L.A. hard rock intensity to her vocal that juiced the song.
The news in the show? No members of Lucius, and no Jason Sudekis. The role of SNL alum was played by Jim Belushi, who played harmonica with Dr. Dog’s Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman on the most obscure song of the night, “Dear Doctor.” The stars of the show? Ruby Amanfu, who charged every moment she had on stage with soul. Lukas Nelson, who was far more of a guitar player than I expected. Bramhall, who was spot-on throughout, and John Mccauley of Deer Tick, who along with Midlake’s Pulido seemed to get the moment most exactly. In his case, that manifested itself in a healthy irreverence. He never appeared on stage without a Bud Light, even thought Jameson sponsored the show and gave away free cocktails.
The horn section in the night was from New Orleans and included Jason Mingledorff, Bonerama’s Greg Hicks, and Jimmy Carpenter, who got a star time moment playing Sonny Rollins’ sax solo from “Waiting on a Friend," sung by Pat Sansone from Wilco. Bramhall called up Ivan Neville to play B-3 on “Ventilator Blues,” and Neville returned to sing a verse of the night-closing “Sympathy for the Devil.”
The versions were too true to the originals to offer any fresh insights on The Rolling Stones, nor did we learn much about any of the artists with the possible exception of Nikki Lane, who was awkward and detached on stage. She carried her weight during her duet with Amanfu on “Bitch,” but she performed more like a music fan than musician, which might explain why her music’s so cool but she remains a name people pass around more than a singer whose songs people know. More often though, Stones Fest offered musicians having fun playing songs they’ve known for most of their lives, and that was good enough.
The full set list and who performed each song is online now at TheBestFest.com.