- Ivor Levene
The World's Greatest Club Gig - Recollections on The Fonda
The Fonda. Just say it and Rolling Stones' fans will know what you're speaking of. For those of you who don't, The Stones play a "warm up" gig before every tour, and they're special because so few people get in. You can't even really buy tickets, you have to be "inside". What made this the club gig of club gigs? The fact that The Stones played the entire Sticky Fingers album, something they have never done and will probably never repeat. Add in the fact that Sticky Fingers is arguably the most popular album by The Stones, and well, you get it.
So reprinted in it's entirety is my original post from IORR.org, a place where Stones fans go to post and seek knowledge on the band.
Recollections of the Fonda Theater
Tuesday 5/19 4:30am - My wife informs me that a link has been posted to IORR that a production company is looking for “people with interesting stories” about the SF album. I dash off my story and head off to work.
Tuesday, 5/19 11:29pm - Sara from the production company sends me a text message telling me that she’s trying to email me but it keeps “bouncing back” and that they would like to interview me at 12:15 at the Fonda. Signed Sara x. Being that I’ve long since gone to bed, I don’t see it or hear the notification.
Wednesday 5/20 5:55 am. I awaken and check my phone as I do first thing every morning. I see the text. My fingers start to tremble and I can barely tap out a “Confirmed” on the phone. I wait 15 minutes and call, like an excited schoolboy.
Me:Hello Sarah, this is Ivor, I’m calling to confirm your text.
Sarah (groggily): Yes, it’s a bit early, would you mind if I called you back in an hour.
Me: Not at all, I’m sorry if I woke you.
Sarah: It’s ok, I’m still jet lagged, I’ll call you back.
Me: Cheers, bye.
I head off to work, unable to believe what i think is going to transpire. Nothing indicated that tickets would be given out for this, but I guessed they would be. I was unable to concentrate on work. I call my wife to let her know what has happened. She freaksout.
7:30 am: Sarah calls me back, confirms my email, asks me if I can be at The Fonda at 12:30. Tells me to just dress as I would normally, not to wear anything at all with any logo on it, not to dress up, just be natural. I will have to sign a release. I’d be willing to sign away my car….
7:32 am: I call my wife again and tell her that it’s confirmed. I’m going to be interviewed for a documentary on Sticky Fingers. I tell her I’m leaving work to go home and change (even though I already look natural, I want to look good too). I tell her I can’t even think about work and that she should come home so she can accompany me, in case they will only hand out wristbands to people who are present. She drops work and starts home.
8:30 am: I’m back home, going through the closet for a cool-looking outfit. We discuss all that may happen, and decide she will wait at home, and if I score a +1 I will call immediately. A note here: She was supposed to already have a +1 through a friend who is very well connected, but it fell through. It was agreed that if there was only one ticket, she would get it. I would stay home and contemplate missing yet another landmark gig…..
11:00 am. I have to leave. In case of traffic, earthquake, or any other thing that could make this not happen. Even if I have to walk, I’m going to be there. It’s only about 15 minutes by car.
11:30 am. So much for 15 minutes. Traffic of course. I was told to phone Sara’s assistant when I arrived, but I’m an hour early so I decide to walk around and see what’s up. There are already about 20 people waiting in the front of the building, and the line has another 20 or so going around the side. A woman is walking a small white dog. I later find out that this woman is Jane Rose, Keith’s Manager I have no idea why his manager would be walking around there. I spot a guy who does not look like the usual Stones fan and does not look like he’s been camping out there. A lot of the people there I guess were camped out based on the information I put on IORR a week or two earlier stating that the gig would be at the Fonda. I knew this actually months before. Back to the gentleman walking around, checking things out, almost like he’s scoping the theater in an analytical way. I get closer and notice he has an accent and he’s not from here. I ask him if he’s Bjornulf, and he replies, yes. I tell him I’m roller99 (screen name), I’m here for the filming, and we exchange a few pleasantries. I ask him to pose with me for a selfie and he agrees provided I promise not to post it. We do the selfie. I thank him for the information that led me here, and bid him a fond farewell. Nice guy.
11:45 am. I phone Sarah’s assistant and he asks me to come around to the side. I walk down the side of the building and see him come out between a crack in the chain link fence. He ushers me in and immediately places a purple Fonda Theater band on my wrist and asks me to follow him. We go in through the side door of the theater. I see Charlie’s drum kit with it’s famous sign hanging on it. We go through to the front of the theater, up some stairs, up some more stairs and emerge onto the roof. I turn around and look back toward the stage, it’s pretty far from the top of the theater. This is the funny thing about getting access to this kind of gig. At each step in the process, you are constantly moving through it thinking of the next step and no matter how good it is presently, you’re thinking “I want something better”. So I’m thinking I’m gonna end up in the back. I move to the roof. People are milling about and one person sits at a folding table. My handler advises me that someone will be right out to process me. There is another person sitting beside me waiting to be processed, and we start chatting. I ask him if we are going to get tickets to tonight’s gig. “Of course we are, what did you think”. I stare blankly, so I don’t fall to my knees and scream Yeaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh! The handler comes out, has him sit at the table, and thanks me for coming (he’s thanking me….) and tells me my turn will be soon.
12:00 pm. After what seems like 3 hours, I am asked to sit at the table. I am handed a release form and asked to produce ID. I skip through to the last page and sign. I don’t even read the pages. It could very well state that I agree to be pushed in front of a truck after the gig. I sign. I go back to the bench and wait………for what seems like another 3 hours.
12:05 pm. Someone comes out and says “we’re ready for you, come on in”. I enter a small building which looks like a Spanish mission. A building on the roof. I later learn that Mick Jagger kept coming out here to use his phone. I’m led over to Sarah. I want to fall to my knees again and thank her, but I remain cool, take her outstretched hand as she thanks me for coming on such short notice. I think to myself, I’d have donated a kidney and you’re thanking me? Wow. I am led over to a director’s chair, and asked to sit. I do so, and put my phone on vibrate. Sarah leads me through the interview process, what’s expected, how I should act, etc. A makeup person comes over and dabs foundation on me. Good thing because the lights and the enormity of the situation are making my brow sweat.
12:07 pm. The interview is taking place. I recount my story to her and the cameraman. Other people scurry about in the background. The interview starts and stops in short bursts. I try to remain cool. I get into it and forget the camera is even there.
12:30 pm. The interview ends. Sarah hands me a copy of the SF Deluxe box set (vinyl) and asks me if I’ve seen it. I ask if I can take it with me and she informs me no. She also informs me that the interview is at an end and I should go outside and they will take care of the tickets and wristbands. THIS IS REALLY GOING TO HAPPEN!!!
12:31 pm. I’m being processed. An envelope comes across the desk. Inside it are two yellow wristbands and two tickets. I have to pee. I thank the person, put the envelope in my pants and head for the nearest bathroom. Then I head back downstairs, unescorted. I walk up to the front of the stage. I’m tempted to take a picture of the drumkit, but I don’t want to jeapordize anything, so I leave through the side door. I cross Hollywood Blvd to make sure i’m out of earshot of the theater, phone my wife and tell her she better be sitting down, because we have two ticket to THE FONDA GIG!!!!!!
12:40 pm. I start the drive home, going about 10 miles an hour (16km/h) so as not to risk getting into an accident.
1:20pm. I arrive home. Home does not look the same. Nothing does. I’ve just landed on a different planet and nothing will ever be the same. It seems like about a 10 minute walk from the curb to the door, really 20 feet (7m). I enter the house. My wife and I jump up and down like two baseball players who have just won the world series. We spend the next two hours discussing wardrobe, timing of when we should leave, etc. We agree to leave at 3:30pm
3:35pm. We are out the door and on our way to the gig. We get there in no time and park at the structure across the street and walk over. We get in the back of a long line that extends around the block. After a while standing there, someone comes over and informs us that if we have a wristband, we are at the wrong part of the line, we need to move up to near the front. We move as instructed and are let in by security. A short time later, a woman comes out with a clipboard checking names against wristbands. My name is on the list as #2, so we are pulled out of the line yet again and placed behind the first person at the head of the line. So now I am thinking that we will get in before anyone. We are ahead of Bjornulf in line. How is this possible? We nod in recognition to each other, I do not address him verbally as I know he’s private. I whisper to my wife “that’s Bjornulf”. She quietly shakes his hand and thanks him for all he does for the Stones community.
4pm to 4:30pm: We watch as a group of model-looking girls are let into the theater and mutter about how they will probably pack the front row with sub-25 year-old people so the video looks like the Beacon show. A man with a bluetooth speaker on his car plays through a bunch of Stones songs and attempts to explain their meaning to us. There is a very loud and annoying woman dressed in red with a beret. She will show up again later in the story. Someone comes out with the list again and writes a big “11” on my wrist.
4:30pm to 6:30pm: Trips to the bathroom in the auto repair facility across the street, trips to the “secure” area for the smokers. Finally, the moment has arrived. The rope is moved aside and they let us in two at a time, as though we are boarding Noah’s ark. When we get to the theater door, all of a sudden there is a much larger group, I don’t know where they came from. We go for the portal that has the least amount of people, and the idiotic devices attached to smartphones they are using malfunction and we are standing there watching the other line move, screaming at them to just let us in. We change lines. Same malfunction. We go back to the other line in frustration. We are in. Having been there earlier, I start running, yelling to my wife to just follow me. I know where I am going, to the KR side of the stage (of course). I can see the barrier in front of the stage. THERE IS SPACE THERE!!! I run faster. We plant ourselves right at the barrier, right in front of where KR will be. I start to breathe normally once again. My wife and I look at each other and say “can you believe this is happening”? We get into the Fonda gig, we get right in front, we get right in front of where KR will be. They are serving drinks in the back. I decline because I will not be leaving this spot to use the bathroom. I will not miss a minute.
6:30pm to 8:30pm. We anticipate what’s going to happen. What will it be like being that close? I’ve been in the photo pit many times before and have been within a few feet, but this is the Stones. And in 2015 they are larger than life. In 1984 they were a current band that I just didn’t care that much about when I had that kind of access. After not having that kind of access for 30 years, it means a lot. I spot Kevin Mazur (the photographer) between the barrier and the stage. I had been trying to do business with him for about 5 years. I write a note on my business card, and pass it along the front row to him, and motion him to come over to me. He does, and we have a brief conversation about publishing my work. I guess this will go nowhere.
8:42pm: The familiar announcement comes over the PA - Ladies and Gentlemen, will you please welcome to the stage, on the first night of their 2015 Zip Code Tour, The Rolling Stones. A wave of applause like nothing I have ever heard rises up and lifts us all up as though we are now 12 inches higher. Keith Richards is the first one out on the stage, followed by Mick, Ronnie and Charlie. The band launches into “Start Me Up”. All of a sudden this is no longer a tired old warhorse. I’m standing two feet from the band and they are playing for me and me alone. The song does not sound like the same old same old. The guitars are very loud, the drums sound like cannon, and Mick sounds like he’s right inside my head. It is only the core of the band. There are no keyboards, horns, other singers, just them and Darryl Jones. They could be playing in a small bar somewhere just as easily. They dispel all the comments about needing to be “augmented”. They are a wall of sound. It’s amazing how much sound the core band can make.
They next launch into When The Whip Comes Down, one of my favorites from Some Girls. On a bad day, they attack this song with youth and a punk sensibility, and tonight is no exception. This song comes flying out of them like a chainsaw. It cuts through everything, especially all the naysayers who think the Stones are too old and they should hang it up. They are playing like men half their age.
Next song: All Down The Line. OK, not one of my favorite songs, but this is strictly a matter of personal taste. The separation between the guitars is incredible. I start to notice band dynamics that I’ve never seen. Who is queueing who. Having played in bands before and being very acutely aware of how this works, it is incredible to see up close. From my vantage point, it appears that Ron Wood audibly cues Keith quite a bit. Mick queues the band with physical movements, and Keith turns around occasionally to queue Charlie. Charlie seems to follow rather than lead for the most part.
They pause and Mick speaks to the audience. “We’re going to do something tonight that we’ve never done before. We are going to play the entire Sticky Fingers album”. A roar goes up from the crowd. This is indeed going to be an epic night.
The band goes through Sway and it sounds great. Next up is Dead Flowers. I have always said that the guitar hero in the band is Ron Wood and that there is nothing really spectacular about Keith Richards’ guitar playing, EXCEPT when he’s playing an acoustic guitar. He proves me right on Dead Flowers. I look over at my wife and yell into her ear “I told you he is one of the world’s greatest acoustic players, now you judge”. She nods in agreement. But the best in that area is to come.
Wild Horses is next. I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the rendering of this song. I was hoping for an air-blending of voices, i.e. Mick and Keith singing into the same mic, but it was not to be. Mixing vocals in the air in front of a single mic gives an effect that no amount of mixing at the board will every achieve. It’s just not possible. Not in my opinion.
Next up is Sister Morphine. Another great song, but it also seems to be missing something, but I have to tell myself, “this is a live performance, it’s going to be missing some of the elements you’re used to hearing when you play the record”. When the song ends, Mick apologizes to the “down” nature of the song, saying “it was a real down kinda time. Sorry for all the drug references, but it was the 60’s. Next year we’re going to come back and play all of Satanic”. I scream “Nooooooo” as loudly as I can.
Next up is for me (and my wife) the highlight of the entire show. Keith sits down with a 12-string acoustic, and after a bit of fumbling around launches into “You Got To Move”. Now Keith is operating the saw. He is attacking his guitar with an old-fashioned crosscut saw. Up, down, up, down. This song has never sounded so close to the original. I am transported back in time to the 1930’s where old blues masters sit on the porch with a guitar and pour out their soul. I watch the soul of Keith Richards go from his hands, into the guitar, and come back out the sound hole at us. He exists in this space and time as nothing more or less than an instrument himself, communicating with us through his guitar. He is one with the guitar and the audience, and there is a deep, personal connection with the man. We are, for a brief instance, able to touch him and be touched by him. It is at moments like this you understand why KR does what he does, and it’s not for fame or money, its for the sheer love of his craft and the people who inspired him. He is passing a gift on to us, and this is a gift that will never die. I feel like I am alone in the room with him. Nothing will ever match this. As everyone has now heard, Mick engages the audience in a little sing-along saying “can you do this”? The moment of sheer beauty is over, ruined by the hokey audience participation that Mick seems to demand, although there is something a little bit “tantric” about this audience participation. Energy is flowing back and forth between the audience and Mick, I just don’t care for this sing-along, at any concert. I came to hear the band, not the audience. When the song is over, there are people in the audience who were literally moved to tears.
Next up: Bitch. Not much to say here. At this point, I’m starting to become more critical in my asessment of the show. I’m not there to be critical I’m there to enjoy, but having seen them enough times to be critical, I do so. Bitch sounds like it always does in concert.
Next up: Can’t You Hear Me Knocking. Not only is this my favorite Stones song, it’s one of my top 3 songs ever. It’s my ringtone. I have hit the repeat button on this song in my car for three days sometimes. I want to hear this song at my moment of death. It starts out well, and I lose it, again. For the reasons listed above. But once it gets to the sax break where Bobby would have played, the song starts to lose it’s luster. I know I should not be comparing one player to another, in the same way I have admonished people not to compare Ron Wood to Mick Taylor, but for this song, I want them to replicate the sound of Bobby. They seem to cut the song short…… I’ve since gone back and listened to the subsequent live recording and my opinion has changed, but on this night, I’m let down.
Next up: I’ve Got The Blues: This comes flying out like an old-time gospel hour number, with the full force of Chuck’s B3. People are swaying and visibly moved by this number when the keyboards come in. Now, Chuck is a hero. Nobody is disappointed like so many posts you see on line. He is commanding the audience with Mick in full lockstep. A great pairing of musicians. I am in the church of the Stones.
Next up: Moonlight Mile. Another one of my favorite EPIC Stones songs but unfortunately one that’s very hard to replicate live. I have never understood why the band continues, year after year to trot out “You Can’t Always Get” with a full choir, but chooses to ignore this song with the same treatment. Imagine how this song would sound with a full orchestra behind it, as it does on the album. Why can’t they stick a string section behind them? Yes, the Fonda is a small stage, but they could pull it off. I think the song sounds flat, without emotion.
Next up: Brown Sugar. Warhorse? Is it possible to call anything a “warhorse” when it’s in this setting. If you were in a room alone with the band and they started playing this, would you jump up and shout “Oh, this is a boring warhorse”? I somehow doubt it. I even throw my hands up and go “yeah, yeah, yeah, whooo” with the rest of the crowd. I’m keeping track. This is the end of Sticky Fingers. Is it the end of the show? Have they given us enough? It’s the Stones, it can never be enough, right? If they could play for 36 hours straight, there would be people there screaming for more. Now it’s time for the encore.
As a tribute to BB King who had recently died, they next played Rock Me Baby. Another song that lays waste to the naysayers that claim that the Stones are an oldies act. They own this number. I play in several blues bands, and words fail me here. They play this so well, that they are for a short time, not The Rolling Stones, they are a blues band on a scale of say an SRV or Gary Clark. Just a bunch of guys playing the blues, and boy do they play it well. Better than anyone. These guys can obviously just dial it up and play almost anything.
Next up: JJ Flash. Mick spits out the lyrics with his trademark sneer and growl. The song sounds pretty fresh, the band cuts like a knife, at times. And then at times this reverts to what you hear at any other show. I think Mick really loves this song, and at times KR really gets into it, throwing riffs out at the audience like bolts of lightning. This was the point that the annoying woman in red with the beret had succumbed to her mixture of whatever she had consumed. She is pushing against all of us, trying to wedge her way between us, which I can’t understand why as she had a spot right in front of Mick further down the line. She is completely wasted and at one point shoves my wife right into the barrier, painfully. I grab her and propel her back into the crowd but she is not giving up, not yet. I have never wanted so much to make someone disappear, but fortunately I was able to give her a huge push and sent her back into the waiting arms of the crowd before she could throw up on me. She can be seen on the official Stones video crowing about this and that…..I hope I never see her again.
Last up: Can’t Turn You Loose. Every time I hear this I can’t help but think of The Blues Brothers unfortunately….grrrr. I saw Mick do this at the White House a few years ago and was equally unimpressed. Tonight was no different. I don’t think this song suits the vocal stylings of the band. It sounds totally dead to me and a waste of the band’s precious stage time.
And then…..the show is over. Did this just really happen? The whole thing is a dream. I loved the fact that nobody was allowed a phone or camera and we all enjoyed the show. I could not focus on my job the next day as I sat there playing the show over and over in my mind.
It’s taken me more than six weeks to write this review mostly because I never had any intention of writing a review, that was until I was “thrust” into my new role as a writer with The Los Angeles Beat. I wanted to share the experience for all those who weren’t fortunate enough to attend. I hope through my writing you can get more of a sense of what this night was like. Sorry it was so long in the works.