Band Concert Review
The Rolling Stones: Rocking The Cold Chicago Night
Soldier Field - Chicago, IL - October 11, 2006
I've seen upwards of 300 concerts in my short lifetime and of the ones I have seen outdoors, I have been blessed with blue skies, sunshine and warm temperatures, even for the shows I've seen in the month of October. A fine example being Bruce Springsteen's tour finales at Shea Stadium in 2003 which proved to be chillier than normal for that time of year however, nothing could have prepared anyone for the weather that greeted the Rolling Stones at Chicago's Soldier Field on October 11th. In short, my luck for outdoor shows finally ran out. The temperature at show time was around 32 degrees and that was without the blistering wind chill which took the temperature below freezing. If you are a local Chicagoan, every news report and review written about the show focused on this fact and in what outfits the band were attired when they hit the stage. What such reports and reviews had neglected to mention was that the band gave one of the most illustrious performances of their nearly forty-five year career and performed a number of songs that have rarely been played live. As I read the daily newspapers reviews of the show, I sat there dumbfounded as they discussed and dissected everything except the music. They were far too concerned with the enormity of the spectacle, the weather and how people would keep warm rather than the musicianship and adventurous set, which the band brought to Chicago for seemingly customized showcasing. I came to the realization that virtually all of these reviews were done by people who are some how connected to the business of entertainment and yet they know nothing about it; I'm here to set the record straight. This isn't some sort of exaggeration or fan boy review, but merely fact; the Rolling Stones proved to the Chicago faithful, who braved the extreme weather, why they are indeed the world's greatest rock n' roll band.
The Stones hit the stage as the winds reached new levels almost knocking members of the band over in the process; however, this was no ordinary band. As their scrawny frames took the stage they blissfully segued into the surprising "You Got Me Rocking", a non-standard opener which set the accelerated course for unchartered waters on this chilly evening. It is important to note this show marked the Stones ninth stop in Chicago over the last four years. During this time, they have performed some of the most audacious shows of their career in clubs, stadiums and arenas. Perhaps it was the weather, coupled with the band's desire to prove something to those who braved the chilling air, in any event, tonight was going to be unlike any Rolling Stones show the Windy City had ever witnessed. For the next hour, the band pulled out one surprise after another. The set list had more in common with their best club gigs from 2002 and 2003 rather than the predictable stadium set. "Live With Me" and "Monkey Man" were both delivered with urgent precision. Neither song has been a staple in any of their sets, but both songs have been performed on a regular basis going back to 1994. However, it would be the chosen rarities that would define the evening. The first jaw-dropping moment occurred during "Sway", a song that before last year had never been performed live in its thirty-five year history. I was hoping it would appear during the band two-night arena run last January, but needless good things come to those who wait and it was delivered with seductive fervor. There raw energy with which Ron Wood delivered his solo with meticulousness also brought the crowd to its feet. Personally, I always believed Ron was a loose cannon on the concert stage, but he has proven himself over the last few tours to be the bands secret weapon waiting in the wings. There is more than a smattering of the sublime involved, whenever one bears witness to the exhibition on Ronnie's inner light with the guitar strapped around his neck. Much like "Can't You Hear Me Rocking" (also from 1971's "Sticky Fingers"), one wonders why it took the band so long to perform this one live.
If seeing "Sway" live wasn't enough, the band was primed to blow any and all expectations out of the water with the next number, "She Was Hot." I've been blessed to see tour premiers before, but I've never seen the Stones be this adventurous fourteen months into a world tour. In the past, they usually find their groove and cycle songs in and out of the set list. However, this tour has found them pushing the envelope in ways I never thought imaginable. Mick Jagger belted the lyrics out with extreme fervor, partly to stay warm and largely because he means it. If the Stones had not announced this was a world premiere, no one would have given this performance a second thought as the band delivered this number as if it had been a nightly staple for decades. And yet again, Ron Wood delivered the slide solo as meticulously as Richards' straight forward guitar work was precise. Not only was "She Was Hot" the evening's biggest highlight, but it was also one of the defining live experiences of my life.
Proving they don't fully relegate themselves to nostalgia the band delivered a spare performance of "Streets of Love"- one of the best tracks on "A Bigger Bang" (2005). The band did not begin to perform this number until Europe this summer and now they have found their stride with this song. Ron Wood delivered a nimble and dramatic solo as Jagger's vocal illustrated the song's underlying warmth. The extended coda added to the end of the ballad took the song to an epic status proving this song deserves to be head and regarded as a modern classic.
The Stones could have called it a night and left the stage and I would have been ecstatic, but they proved showed that there was still much for them to prove with a durable rendition of "Tumbling Dice." An ever bigger surprise was the defiant and immediate performance of "Midnight Rambler"; the latter which lasted over twelve-minutes with an extended intro showcasing drummer Charlie Watts and Jagger's harmonica. The bluesy version seemed extra special tonight as the band channeled the Chicago blues legends that influenced them. Keith Richards solo spotlight has found the rock n' roll pirate unearth two chestnuts not often performed; "You've Got The Silver" from 1969's "Let It Bleed" and "Little T&A" from 1981's "Tattoo You", the latter of which hasn't been performed live in almost a quarter of a century.
Your average band would coast through the finale, but not tonight. Daryl Jones' trashy blues bass and Richards' gritty riff brought roars to the crowd as the band soared into "Under My Thumb", as the B-stage made its way to the back of the stadium. The evening could have come to an abbreviated end after "Under My Thumb" due to the severe weather but the band pushed forward with a fired up delivery of "Rough Justice" (which will hopefully be performed with regularity on future tours), the gusty riffs of "Start Me Up" and the seductive "Honky Tonk Woman" which brought the band back to the main stage. As if all this was still not enough the band ran through the requisite hits with a visceral "Sympathy For The Devil", the seditious "Jumping Jack Flash" and culminating with the set ending shot gun riff of "Satisfaction." The "Hot Rocks" portion of the evening kept the crowd moving and shaking which allowed for increased body heat. Even more shocking was that under layers of clothes, the band moved and shook like a band a generation younger (I saw Bon Jovi in Soldier Field in July with temperature fifty degrees higher, and yet they did not move as fluidly as these rock elders). Mick Jogger canvassed and pranced across the entire stage like an up and coming rocker who was a mere twenty year old. The sole encore, "Brown Sugar" left the crowd on a high they would not soon forget. As the fireworks display lit up the sky, those in the stadium felt something far stronger as the Stones warmed our hearts with arguably one of the most storied performances of their illustrious career.
While the weather proved to be harsh, the musicianship served as the ornamental antidote, as it brought out all that glitters in the Rolling Stones. From a song-count perspective, it may have been one of the bands shorter shows, however tonight was not about record length but emotional impact. They are still a lean and mean touring machine and as far as I'm concerned, they're still the best this world has to offer. Despite what any of the naysayer's may have said, the Rolling Stones delivered their biggest bang yet.