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If you liked the way the Rolling Stones sounded back in the late 1960s and early '70s -- darker and bluesier than more recent conjurings -- you have a chance to hear that signature growl once again.
The Stones' 50 & Counting tour, which returns to Southern California for three shows starting Wednesday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, pays tribute to those years with no-nonsense renditions of songs such as “Midnight Rambler,” “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Gimme Shelter.”
It starts with the gear. Guitarist Ron Wood is usually seen with a Fender Stratocaster, but for the concert at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night, he frequently turned to a Gibson Les Paul, with its heavier rock rumble.
Keith Richards still favors his Telecasters, but for key moments -- including his shrieking leads on “Sympathy” -- he switched to a battered Les Paul Jr.
But nothing brings back that classic hard-rock Stones sound like the man who sits in with the band for a song or two: Mick Taylor.
Taylor played lead guitar on what many consider the Stones’ three greatest albums -- “Let it Bleed,” “Exile on Main St.” and “Sticky Fingers” -- before quitting over his perceived lack of songwriting credit.
A virtuoso guitarist, Taylor has the chops to take a song far beyond what’s written down in the lead sheets. It’s hard to imagine “Wild Horses” being quite so poignant without Taylor’s haunting solo. On the Stones' 1970-released live album, “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!,” Taylor's bluesman’s skill at improvisation is on full display, enabling the band to transform “Midnight Rambler” and “Sympathy for the Devil” into tunes quite different than the studio recordings.
Taylor hasn’t stayed lean like his former bandmates, but when he plugged in for "Midnight Rambler" in Las Vegas, it was clear that he still had his touch. You watch him play because you don’t know where he’s going next, but you know it’s going to sound great.
Give credit to Richards, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Wood for bringing Taylor back for this tour. The Stones don’t really need him; they’re a monster touring act that can sell out arenas on their own.
But this particular rock corporation started off as a humble blues band. When Taylor takes the stage, however briefly, we can truly see back 50 years to the band’s roots.