The Rolling Stones have been around so long they've served as punch lines and punching bags for multiple generations of young rock 'n' rollers sworn to overthrow the Old Guard. The gag reflex can even extend to life-long devotees when watching a 65-year-old multi-gazillionaire rooster strut and sing about an alleged lack of satisfaction. Seriously, Sir Mick, you really can't get any?
Funny thing is, though, each generation of naysayers tends to perform the same ideological 180 eventually: In their prime, which arguably lasted longer than any other rock bands', nobody embodied rock 'n' roll's core fundamentals -- songwriting, instrumental chops, attitude, sensuality and the celebration of youthful excess -- better than The Rolling Stones.
You can see some of that generational pull play out locally on May 1, during the 6th Annual Fool's Brigade benefit. What began in 2004 as a last-minute, Unplugged-like night to collect money for laid-off Pillowtex workers has evolved into one of the local music community's bona fide events. Previous tribute subjects have included Tom Waits, CBGB, The Kinks and David Bowie, but you can credit the expanding audiences to the good times emanating from the growing number of musicians taking part.
This year's benefit moves to Neighborhood Theatre to accommodate both, and sees an influx of young local talent adding their takes on Stones' classics and deep catalog cuts. First-timers include The Stellas, The Sammies, Yardwork, The Mangles and Noises 10, among others.
"The last two years I haven't had to ask anybody to play," laughs Bruce Hazel, founder and ringleader for each of the benefits. "It's been pretty much booked up for about a year. I decided to add that extra hour just because some of these younger bands just found out about it and asked to play, and of course I'd love to have them in the mix."
Hazel estimates he's actually had to turn away another 10 bands this year. With 18 acts (including a house band comprised of 30-plus players) performing 50 songs in a 6-hour set starting at 8 p.m., you'd have to assume maximum capacity has been reached anyway. This year even includes donated props and a for-charity calendar featuring some of the female band members.
If you've yet to attend one, you may wonder what the fuss is about -- there are venues in town where practically every night is tribute night. But this is no cheese-ball nostalgia trip, and you don't have to take my word for it.
"I've seen the past couple of these shows whiz by and was incredibly jealous," says Yardwork's Bo White, who'll also be playing songs with Bo White Trio Select. "I love The Kinks and Bowie, but this is the first one I've been asked to be a part of. Fortunately, I also love The Rolling Stones."
Poprocket's Jay Garrigan, who'll be part of the house band and playing his fourth benefit, cites the friendships he's made as one of the event's coolest by-products, and it's a familiar refrain.
"I'm very, very thankful that I can walk into a room with any of these dudes now and pick up an instrument and feel comfortable," he says. "Maybe 10 or 20 years ago this thing probably would have been more competitive -- now it's communal. It's not, 'I'm putting something in, I want to get something out.' What you're getting out is that you get to play with some of the top dogs in town. Every year there's new people coming into the fold, too."
There are other tangible benefits beyond even the $20,000 Fool's Brigade has raised for local charities over the years (this year's proceeds go to Jacob's Ladder Job Center). Hazel says that includes his own band, Bruce Hazel and Some Volunteers, formed in part from new friendships made at Brigade rehearsals.
"I don't know if networking is the right word, but it's at least that cross-pollination. You get in that room and you start playing Stones songs and you drink beers with everybody and you get to know people -- then next week you need somebody to play keys, and then it's comfortable and easy."
The bands also get a buzz from delving deep into another classic band's DNA. The Stones' impeccable consecutive-album stretch from Beggars Banquet ('68) and Let It Bleed ('69) through Sticky Fingers ('71) and Exile on Main Street ('72) naturally drew the most interest, but this night there'll also be songs covered from critical ugly duckling Their Satanic Majesty's Request through the band's often maligned 1980s output.
Hazel points out that even though the average wedding band could play versions of the familiar hits, capturing what's made The Stones the Stones is no easy task. In particular, guitarist Keith Richards' unique tunings, and his interplay with the rhythm section, is anything but simple.
"You can do a version that sort of sounds like the song, and people will recognize it, but then you can do what they're actually doing and get inside it, and then there's even more room to grow and do your own thing," Hazel says. "You get into the minutiae, which we've been obsessed with for about a month, then all the rest of the songs start to make sense -- 'holy shit, we're figuring The Stones out!'"
Mick Jagger, too, presents a complex front man even if he didn't change personas with every record like last year's tribute subject, Bowie.
"[Jagger's style] is egotistical and sexual and playful," says Garrigan, who'll take his turn at the mic on one of the iconic singer's falsetto numbers. "You do have to get in that kind of mindset to have fun with the audience, I think, and deliver it."
So far, over five years, consider the fun delivered. Sure, it's only The Rolling Stones, but they like it. And that translates across generations.
Exile on 36th Street, the 6th Annual Fool's Brigade Benefit, kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday, May 1 at Neighborhood Theatre. Tickets are $10 and all proceeds go to Jacob's Ladder Job Center. For more information, see this week's La Vida Local.