If anyone has ever questioned the enormity of the Rolling Stones greatness, they have never seen them live. They are the most popular touring act in the history of rock 'n roll. Since the late 1980's each tour has gotten larger and larger. Then in 1999, after three successful stadium tours, they stripped the set down and brought the shows indoors for the first time since 1981. So what else did they have left to accomplish? How could they top what they have done in the past? Somehow, on their current Licks
world tour, they have upped the ante. What can a bunch of 60 rockers do to reinvent themselves? They rediscovered their past and embraced like a life preserver in an ocean. When the tour was announced in May 2002, they said that they would be playing stadiums, arenas and clubs with a different set list is each venue. I figured this would mean that they would swap up two or three songs each night. Boy was I wrong. In Chicago alone, they played 46 different songs over 3 nights in September. When I saw Springsteen over three nights in 1999 here in Chicago, he switched up 42 different songs. The fact that the Stones out did that feat astounded me.
Over the years, the band has had a lot of criticism from critics who say their set list does not show enough adventure and relies too heavily on their "big hits". However, I would like to disagree. On their '89/'90 trek in support of Steel Wheels, they played largely big hits, however, in '94, the band took many chances. Instead of the sweet chorus of "Ruby Tuesday" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" the band treated us to deep album cuts like "Memory Motel" and "Beast of Burden". The really big hits were there, but the band was pushing the envelope with a wider range of their catalog. Their '97/'98 venture proved even more audacious as the band would play one song every night that the fans would vote for online. During the tour we were treated to such rarities as "Waiting On A Friend", "Under My Thumb", "She's A Rainbow", "Fool To Cry", "Crazy Mama", "Star Star" and numerous other gems that had hardly ever been played. Then on their '99 arena tour, they played a stripped down set, no super stage effects, just blood, sweat and rock 'n roll. Yet somehow, many critics still chastised the band for numerous reasons, especially their tickets prices that have reached $350 in most cities. I'll be the first to admit, I find the prices deeply offensive. However, it has not stopped me from going and when you look at ebay and people are paying $600 or $700 for a $350 seat, it sometimes make me wonder if there really is a ceiling on ticket prices for the Stones. Yet, somehow, even if I was in the nosebleeds, I have tried to get to every Stones show I can since 1994. However, seeing the Stones live has never once thwarted me. They have always managed to exceed my expectations and substantiate why they are called the greatest rock 'n roll band in the world.
Round #1: The Arena, United Center, September 10, 2002
I walked into the United Center on a nice warm night with my friend Andy. The first time I ever saw the Stones in-doors was at a special one off gig the Stones did at this very building in 1998, their final stop on the US tour for Bridges to Babylon. What we witnessed over the next two and a half hours was pure magic. I saw a band at the top of their game. The new material was good enough to have the crowd cheering along to it and the old material, "Gimme Shelter" especially, sounded better than it ever had before. Andy was my partner in crime that night in '98, as he would be again tonight.
We grabbed our seats in the balcony and watched the Pretenders give a good opening set. This was only the second stop on the tour for the Stones, having played Boston the week before. Would they change the sets dramatically from the week before on improve on them? I guess we would have to wait and see. As the lights dimmed, you could see Keith's shadow as he made his way to the front of the stage before he started to attack his guitar to the tune of "Street Fighting Man". The song sounds better than it ever has, giving it a spot as the lead off song for a show has given it a new life, and the song has not been performed on a regular basis since 1995, so I knew that things would only get better from here. In the third spot, "If You Can't Rock Me" made a welcome return to the set, and I believe it was its first appearance since the mid-70's. It stood right up there with the big hits and is another gem unleashed from obscurity from the It's Only Rock And Roll album. Since it was early in the tour, the level of inquiry was high, as I did not know what would be coming next. Would I be excited? Would they play long lost gems? The answers continued to unravel as the band continued with "All Down The Line" and the Beggar's Banquet gem "Stray Cat Blues".
For each arena show, the band does a trio of songs from one of their classic albums. The Boston crowd was treated to an Exile set, so I had no idea what to expect. Then the band blew my mind; they played "Far Away Eyes". Some Girls was my very first Stones album (not including Hot Rocks). What blew me away is that they performed a song that had barely been touched since 1978. It was an exquisite country-esque version that put my mindset into a mode to be ready to accept anything. It was followed by rollicking and rocking performances of "Shattered" and "When the Whip Comes Down". I sat there mesmerized that I was being overwhelmed by a bunch of guys who were roughly 60 and were even outdoing Springsteen in terms of the set list. Just then you heard the beautiful chords of "Tumbling Dice". The Exile track may be the Stones at their best. It has all of the sweat and swagger that rock n' roll inhibits; yet the blues overtones shine as well, building the perfect branch between old school and new school rock of the 70's.
A pair of songs by Keith followed band introductions. Say what you want, but Richards represents rock n' roll better than anybody else. Yes, I am sure he cares about the money, but his first and foremost love is always music, rock music with deep blues and r & b roots, which are evident on his two solo albums. "Happy" brought the crowd to the next level, which helped with the constant motion on the set, which included "I Can't Turn You Loose" and "Miss You". "I Can't
" was especially great for the Chicago crowd as the band's horn section tore through it like a big brass machine.
The next song would be the song that defines the entire tour and finally gives Ron Wood the credit he deserves and identify his place in Stones history. For years, I thought he took up space. I never saw him doing anything that was really meaningful and always thought of him to be a middling guitar player (especially when compared to the brilliance of how Mick Taylor used his guitar). However, all of that would change on this warm balmy evening in Chicago. The song that would give me new light into Ron Wood and more importantly, redefine the Rolling Stones as the band that all other bands will be compared to now and forever; "Can't You Hear Me Knocking".
"Can't You Hear Me Knocking" is on Sticky Fingers and my love of the song came from the Martin Scorsese epic, Casino. For my money, Scorsese's use of songs by the Stones in Casino (including "Satisfaction" and "Gimme Shelter") is possibly the greatest bit of scoring ever used in cinema. He somehow uses these raw, energetic and smoky songs add an element to the situations his characters are going through, whether it is heisting, murder, or stabbing a guy in the neck with a pen. This is where I really took notice of the song. From here, I tried to find bootlegs that had copies of the song, but much to my amazement, they never played the song live. When the set list from their surprise Toronto club show came out last August, some of our prayers were answered; "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" was performed for the first time ever. The Chicago performance was only the fourth time it has ever been played, but it was performed as well as "Satisfaction" or "Brown Sugar", songs the Stones have been playing nightly for 30 and 40 years.
The song took on another life with its sultry and grimy sound, which the Stones do better than anybody, ripped across the arena. Not only did the song rock, but the solo interlude at the end of the song was amazing, especially for Ron Wood's amazing guitar solo and Charlie Watt's persistent and perfect percussion. This song lives and dies on the backbeat, which the Wembly Whammer kept at a perfect pitch. Ron Wood's solo was simply amazing and it was at this moment where he went from being the guy who got lucky to replace Mick Taylor, to an official Rolling Stone. He nailed the solo perfectly, and played gritty blues that I never thought was possible from him. Not only that, but throughout most of the evening on the deep album cuts, he had the majority of the solo's. Many of which, he never played on record, but he made them his own.
What followed was the pure ecstasy of "Honky Tonk Woman" and the rawest "Satisfaction" the band has played since the 60's. This along with the magical "Knocking" brought the crowd to the next level. After a rip-roaring "Satisfaction", the band made its way to the mini stage at the other end of the arena. Here is where they go back to basics. On this night, possibly for Chicago, we were treated to a wonderful and bluesy "Mannish Boy" where Mick shined on harp. This was followed by their best song from the 90's, "You've Got Me Rocking" and the raw "Brown Sugar" which had the whole crowd chanting "woo-woo-woooh!"
The band then left the mini-stage and headed backstage. Shortly thereafter, you heard a tiny drumming sound and everyone knew what was next, "Sympathy For The Devil". I remember this being the highlight of each and every show I saw between 1997 and 1999. It's one of the greatest rock songs ever and it just shines as the crowd roars. The night ended with "Jumping Jack Flash", if anyone doubted that they could still run around the stage and give 110%, this proved them wrong. Many people talk about how they were able to see the Stones back in the 60's or 70's and if you didn't, you missed something. I know for a fact that this is wrong, because after their powerful United Center show, I knew that what people will be witnessing on the Licks world tour is a band at their pinnacle.
Round #2: The Stadium, Comiskey Park, September 13, 2002
Just a few nights after the Stones showed everyone that they had a few more tricks up their sleeves, they performed their first stadium show in Chicago since 1997. In the stadium, the band was most likely going to play more "hits" and probably leave the daring deep album cuts for the arenas and clubs. However, that does not mean that it would not be good. Just because a show is in a stadium and there are 50,000 to 80,000 people there does not mean that it is not good. The Stones have proved this time and again.
My good friend Jenn accompanied me on the perfect Chicago night. We sat and waited patiently for the sun to set. This would be the first concert ever at the new Comiskey Park. The last act to play the old Comiskey was the Jackson's in 1984, however, when their stage did not fit; the crew took it upon themselves to rip up concrete to fit the stage. Needless to say, that was the last concert held there. Since then, Soldier Field has been the cities main stadium. However, all of 2002 and most of 2003 are being spent on rebuilding the building, so no concerts there for two summers. In the meantime, the atmosphere at Comiskey was great, it as an incredible night for a stadium concert.
The lights went off and slowly the anticipation built until the pyrotechnics went off and you had Keith Richards hitting the opening notes of "Brown Sugar". It was clear right from the beginning, that the set list and atmosphere would be drastically different from the arena show a few nights previous. The show continued with crowd favorites, "Start Me Up" and "It's Only Rock N' Roll". Over the course of the next hour, the Stones continued to deliver with more big hits including "Honky Tonk Woman", the shadowy sounds of "Monkey Man", the exquisite "Angie" and the crowd sing-along "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and more obscure songs "Slipping Away", "Undercover The Night" and "Neighbors". The band was clearly out to get the 45,000 plus audience on their feet and keep them there. Whereas most bands slowly build to a climactic end, the Stones catalog is so vast and huge that they can blow you away right from the beginning and continue to pound those hits, one after another, something only a handful of acts in the world can do, very few as well.
The second half of the show included a full-blown "Sympathy For The Devil" with fire and smokes everywhere. What most impressed me during this song was the way that all band members covered all parts of the stage. When I have seen U2 and Bon Jovi (maybe on a global basis, the only two other bands that can give the Stones a run for their money) I noticed that the band members pretty much stay in their part of the stage. While Jon Bon Jovi and Bono are powerful front men, they are becoming more centered, as they grow older. It's not a bad thing, but with the vastness of a stadium, you need to be able to grace with your presence to the numerous people on all ends of the stage. You rarely see the members go to the other side of the stage, which is how they work their magic. During the course of the night, Mick, Keith, Ronnie and even replacement bassist Daryl Jones, moved all over the stage. This floored me because anyone who has ever seen a stadium show knows how large and vast the stages can be. Mick and Keith especially never gave in as they strutted up and down and back again and again so that everyone on all sides got a good view of them.
The "B-stage" tonight consisted of a rocking "Little Red Rooster" and the crowd sing-along "Like A Rolling Stone" which when you hear it, makes you wonder why it took them close to thirty year to record a version of it. Their return to the main stage brought out the big guns. The moody lights and quiet guitar riff of "Gimme Shelter" shined as back up singer Lisa Fischer stole the song with her solo towards the end. Then Keith attacked his guitar for the last two numbers, "Street Fighting Man" and "Jumping Jack Flash" which proceeded to bring the house down. After a very brief encore, the "Midnight Rambler", harp and all graced us with one of their truly signature live songs, however, I felt that the song worked better in an arena setting when I saw it back in '99. The finale on this night would be their best know song, "Satisfaction". Three nights earlier, it was raw and rough, tonight, it was big, bombastic and everything it should be as the finale for a stadium show. The horns were brought out and fleshed out the song while the band brought the crowd to another level. As the final fireworks blasted at its conclusion, it was apparent that the Stones still have the goods to play stadiums any time they want.
Round #3: The Club, The Aragon Ballroom, September 16, 2002
As great as the shows the Stones are doing in the arenas and stadiums across the US, nothing can compare to the club shows that they have decided to put on. The idea behind this tour was to offer people something they have never seen before. The Stones have only played a handful of gigs over the last few decades in places smaller than an arena. Amazingly, two of them have been in Chicago. One was on November of 1981 when they went to the Checkerboard Lounge to jam with Muddy Waters, just a few short weeks before his death. The next time would be September 1997 when the band did an impromptu gig at the Double Door, capacity 450. The Double Door gig may have been the most impossible ticket in the history of Chicago, but the Aragon proved to be a close second. However, I found myself with a ticket in hand, waiting to get into the famous "Brawl room". Little did I know about the ride I was about to take?
As I entered the theater, I looked around for the best place to stand. One thing I noticed is that A LOT of people got really lucky in obtaining these tickets. Believe it or not, the club shows have been the cheapest shows of the tour with prices of $50. Compared to the top dollar price that the arenas and stadiums had ($350) this is an absolute steal. I decided to head over through the left corridor next to one of the walls, where I soon realized, I had one of the best views in the house. As I stood there, sweating and losing weight by the minute, for the world's greatest rock band to prove to me that they could be as good in a club as they were in a stadium. The only other act I have seen in a club, arena and stadium situation is Bon Jovi. They perform each venue with the same ease and can grope any fan's attention no matter what the size of the venue. U2 does not play clubs for a reason, mainly because I don't think they are comfortable with it. Hence, this is why they have only done a handful of them since 1985. It's not that they are bad in a small club, but they differ from what they would normally play and what we usually get is a shortened show that is about 80 minutes. However, tonight would be the testing ground for the Stones. Would they blow me away, or would I prefer to see them big and bombastic instead of small and intimate?
The time came; they rolled out onto the stage one by one, when Keith hit his first chords of "Start Me Up". Traditionally "Start Me Up" is a big bombastic stadium song enhanced by pyrotechnics and all, the songs transformed into a marvelous starting point for the club show. The song was sweaty and in your face, like all of the best rock should be in a club atmosphere. It followed by the great Let It Bleed track "Live With Me", which Charlie Watts dominated with his precision drumming, one of the best in the business. What followed was pure ecstasy for a die-hard Stones fan; songs that has never been aired live before, or has not seen the light of day for decades.
Many people consider the Stones best album Exile On Main Street; it's the perfect blend of rock and blues mixed together over a double LP. It has stood the test of time and is constantly an album that you can listen to without skipping any of the songs. As the Stones launched into "Rocks Off", I knew this would be a special night. The song sounds every bit as raw and gritty as it should, except that the Stones are infinitely better musicians now than they were thirty years ago. Following this was the gem "Hand of Fate" from Black and Blue. This is an album that has been greatly ignored for the better part of the last few decades live. With the exception of seeing "Memory Motel", this album is largely ignored. However, I had just listened to the album the day before this show and it blew me away at how good "Hand of Fate" sounds, both on album and live. It's one of those songs from the 70's like "Tumbling Dice" that should be played nightly, the band looked like they really enjoyed playing this particular song, I only hope it shows up on an end of tour live album. Ron and Keith traded licks off of each other and watching the two of them duel on such a classic track was worth the price of admission alone.
Next up was "Torn and Frayed", with some amazing backing vocals from Keith. When I hear the song, I can hear something pure and innocent in it. It was played beautifully by the band and made me think that this song would have fit in perfectly in the film "Almost Famous".
And his coat is torn and frayed,
It's seen much better days.
Just as long as the guitar plays
Let it steal your heart away,
Let it steal your heart away.
Hearing this song was surreal. For these club shows, the Stones weren't going into their back catalog and playing obscure songs or b-sides, they were playing exalted rock songs, long forgotten by their over the top stadium shows filled with their mighty licks and hits. There is nothing wrong with the big hits, but on this night we were treated to an incredible selection of songs that helped me go back, re-listen to many old albums and truly realize why the Stones are the greatest rock band in the world. This was a night where the songs once considered magical would be resurrected.
After the incredible beginning, you saw Mick take his place next to keyboardist Chuck Leavell. He played the keyboard on the next track, "Worried About You". This is a lost track from the Tattoo You album from 1981. Mick sings the song in falsetto, which sounded incredible, who knew that he could still reach those notes? Following this was a pair of covers, "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love", which was very fitting for the Chicago crowd who relish their memories of the Blues Brothers cranking it out in their hit movie from 22 years earlier. Up next the band launched into a Peter Tosh cover, "Walk and Don't Look Back" which was melancholy, as Tosh opened for the Stones on their '78 tour in Chicago, however, the soul of the song, shined through with great backing vocals from the lovely Lisa Fischer. "Dance" from 1980's Emotional Rescue album even showed up. Emotional Rescue is probably one of my least favorite Stones albums; the album had a tad too many disco overtones for me and has not made it back to my CD player all that often. However, on this distinctive night, that disco sound was forgotten for a straight out funk beat. The horns and guitars were cranked up to the utmost intensity that I wouldn't be surprised if the band brought this one out for a stadium show as it could easily replace "Undercover The Night". Darryl Jones also shined showing that he could clearly keep up with Billy Wyman, whom he has essentially replaced since 1994.
The funk led into straight ahead rock with "Bitch". On previous tours, while the song sounded great, it also felt incredibly polished, the rawness and sleaziness that can be heard on Sticky Fingers can be heard again in the club setting, as the band was clearly pumped to be playing this song. The sweat dripped from their hands down the necks of their guitars as Mick jumped around on stage and Charlie and Darryl kept the rhythm section to near perfection while the horns made sure they blew them loud enough to shake the walls of the Aragon. The song shines so much better in a club setting compared to when the song was performed on the '89 and '97 tours, you can actually see the sweat roll down the horn sections faces are they are blowing their horns with all of their might. Even on a bootleg recording, you can hear these horns give it their all, even as the songs begins to get towards the end
they continue to rock and roll like they have never done before
After a pair of songs from Keith, both old and new ("Happy" and "Slipping Away"), something would happen that would ensure that NO ONE would forget this night. They went into "It's Only Rock 'n Roll". The song itself can be a showstopper, however half way through the song; something happened that would tattoo this show into everyone's memory forever. From the back of the stage, a man in a suit, with sunglasses and a suit slowly made his way towards the front of the stage. Keeping his composure, he slowly strode towards Mick and stood besides him and slowly started to sing along to the chorus
up till that moment, the 4500 people of the Aragon Ballroom had their jaws on the ground, as they truly could not believe what was happening; Bono was jamming with the Stones. It really took a solid 30 seconds for it to sink in that this was really happening, and in Chicago! In typical Bon fashion, he twisted the lyrics around as he sang to Mick, "Do you think you're the only man in town?" Mick simply put his tongue in his cheek for a moment that was so pure that no words could recreate it. During the solo, Ronnie came up from behind Bono and gave him a love tap with his guitar, which was a sign to "Do what you do best". Shortly thereafter, during the "I like it" part of the song, Bono talked about how he "loves Charlie, loves Ronnie, loves Keith, loves Sir Mick". Shortly thereafter, he ad-libbed "Going To A Go-Go" which Mick picked up on and transformed into "Going to Chicago". As the song wound down, Bono continued to scream, "I like it!" What happened was, this was an over the top show to begin with, and with an appearance by Bono, it put it into another stratosphere.
The Stones continued to wow with a straight up blues version of "I Just Want to Make Love to You" which Dr. John joined in on keyboards. Two other gems would be unveiled this night, the Exile track, "Rip This Joint", which is exactly what the song did, and "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" which I can not speak enough of. As incredible as it was in the arena, seeing it in a theater is the ultimate experience. Surrounded by smoke, sweat and liquor pouring out of the pores of the 4500 in attendance was the perfect environment for the song as the band cranked this new live classic out. During "Jumping Jack Flash" Mick ran around the stage like I have never seen him run before. He may be the front man, which all others are compared to. He strutted to each and every part of the stage, shaking his hands outright trying to get the crowd into it even more; he's the ultimate front man. A raw and dirty "Brown Sugar" finished the set. For the encore, the band came out and launched right into "Tumbling Dice". The bluesy uplifting rock number simply kept the momentum that the Stones had built over the last two hours. As they finished, the entire band took their bows before the final four were left. They sulked in the extreme heat of the room, took one final bow and left the stage.
As I walked out of the Aragon that night, I knew I saw something incredible. There are really no words that can sum up an experience like the one I had over those seven days in September 2002. They were simply unlike anything else I have ever experienced in my life. I've been fortunate enough to acts like Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen in intimate clubs, but nothing could quite match the 1-2-3 punch that the stones delivered in all 3 venues. The idea behind the tour may be the one that all other acts will try to top for the rest of their careers.
Round #4 &5: The Return to the Arena, United Center, January 21 & 22, 2003
No sooner did the Stones pack up their stuff from the Aragon, than they announced another show at the United Center in January. No sooner did that show sell out, but they added another show. I got tickets to both nights, as I could not miss them after what I had experienced during the second week of September. As January approached, the Stones did a show on HBO from New York, which showcased their show for the entire world to see. The next stop on the tour after HBO: Chicago. As the tour rolled into Chicago, the band was greeted to one of the coldest January's in recent memory. Both nights, the temperature went below zero. However, the band would prove that once again, rain, shine, frost or freeze, they are here to rock.
The first night, the band took to the stage, mixing things up a bit, with Voodoo Lounge's "You Got Me Rocking", which has always been a favorite of mine, and possibly the best song the band has recorded in the post Tattoo You era. The band was tight as they were clearly in command of what they were doing. It had been over four months since the band played Chicago and in the meantime, had played close to 40 more shows. They were clearly in command on this particular night at the United Center. From there, the core of the arena set returned; the in your face "Street Fighting Man", "If You Can't Rock Me", and "Live With Me". For me the first major highlight of the night would be "Wild Horses". This was my 9th time seeing the Stones in 9 years, and yet, this was the first time I had ever seen "Wild Horses" performed live. I have always loved this song, and I think next to "Satisfaction", it may be one of their most popular songs; everyone seems to know it, as they did on this cold Chicago night. To my surprise, they played the sweet song with electric guitars, and Keith shined on this particular night, after what sounded a little like "Honky Tonk Woman", he quickly fixed it and his strutting brought great elegance to this classic song.
On this particular night, the themed album would be Exile On Main Street. "Sweet Virginia", "Rocks Off" and "Tumbling Dice" were the selection we received and the once again proved why the Stones are still so popular forty years after they debuted, these songs are timeless. Exile is strongly considered to be the Stones at their peak. I would have to agree, while they went on to record lots of other great songs and three top-notch albums (Some Girls, Tattoo You and Voodoo Lounge) Exile was the last in the streak of Let It Bleed, Beggar's Banquet and Sticky Fingers. It is such an extreme treat to see a number of selections performed nightly from one particular album; I only hope that they expand on the albums once they hit Asia and Europe.
The remainder of the show was largely hits I was able to witness back in September; however, the crowd loved each and every minute of it. "Gimme Shelter" and Lisa Fischer's backing vocals were clearly awe-inspiring; as was the video of a scantily clad girl who pierces the Stones tongue logo on screen during "Honky Tonk Woman". The b-stage was magnificent if only for "Midnight Rambler". I saw them perform this one in a stadium last time, and I felt that it lost a little from the previous time I had seen it in '99. However, tonight, back in the arena on the smaller stage, the song was played like it had been played in a small bar covered with smoke and broken beer bottles. It's amazing to see what a band can do with a song thirty-five years after it originally came out. It's not a song, each and every person there knew, yet they were clearly entranced by the bands movements and their 13 minutes of jamming that followed.
Last but not least, the highlight of the evening and possibly the entire tour is "Can't You Hear Me Knocking". Each and every night, I am totally entrenched in this song. The opening riff and the pure musician-ship of the band are unlike anything I have ever seen. Each and every one of them gets to shine in some way. Not only that, but the crowd is completely immersed in the performance as well. A small complaint I have about seeing the Stones live is that I feel that far too many people see them who barely know more than a handful of songs. However, during "Knocking" everyone's attention is held as the band works their way through the song that will stand as the song that defines the Licks World Tour.
The second of two shows, started off incredibly promising with the band reverting back to "Street Fighting Man" as the opener. A semi-standard opening followed. However, what struck me tonight was how good "Don't Stop" sounded live and it's reaction from the crowd was pretty good, considering most of them will only know the song if they had bought their new best of, 40 Licks. However, something that everyone tends to ignore is that unlike a lot of bands who have made lackluster reunion albums, and are just happy to rely on their back catalog, the Stones have always strived to move forward. This is something I admire greatly. They have received a lot of flack over the last twenty years about their studio albums. I'll be the first to admit, there were a few albums not up to the Stones standards that they put out in the 80's (Emotional Rescue, Undercover, Dirty Work), yet, every album always has a few songs that just shine. I for one was really impressed with Steels Wheels, Voodoo Lounge and Bridges To Babylon, which saw them forging ahead and with the latter two, forging a new sound with a new producer. "Don't Stop" is one of the pure pop-rock songs that is instantly catchy and whether you know the song or not, you find yourself tapping your foot along to it. It reminds me of the pure joy and exuberance many of their songs from the 60's exhibited, it has the energy of "Get Off of My Cloud", but is done up 21st Century style. Who knew that seeing the Stones play a new song would be a highlight of this magical and whimsical tour?
"Don't Stop" was followed by "Monkey Man" which continued to suck the audience in further and they built on that energy with "Bitch", which even though did not have the sweaty feeling when I heard it in the Aragon, it still rocked.
My biggest surprise of the evening was the album they chose to showcase on this night. Tattoo You would be the album of choice, which I believe was a first for the tour. We were then treated to two gems, rarely played, "Neighbors" and the gentle and melancholy "Waiting On A Friend", everything about this song worked tonight, Lisa's backing vocals, the way Keith barely played his guitar, but how the simple melody went throughout the entire arena. However, the real crowd go-getter was the performance of "Start Me Up". In fact, they have only done a few shows since '81 without performing the song. It's stunning that they were able to come up with the song from a left over riff Keith had from the mid-seventies. From here on out, there was no looking back as the band kicked into "Tumbling Dice" after "Start Me Up".
Tonight Keith would be in prime form, as he shined on his two solo numbers. First up was "Thru and Thru", a gem from 1994's Voodoo Lounge. That whole album had a feel like many of their early seventies discs and as far as I'm concerned, it the best album the Stones made since Some Girls. "Thru and Thru" was always a great song, but became famous after David Chase chose to use it over the final scenes of the finale of season number two of "The Sopranos". I remember people constantly asking me who played that song and they were floored when I told them it was a Stones song performed by Keith Richards nonetheless. The sweet and serene song soared tonight as Charlie added great emphasis to Keith's guitar by pounding his drums as hard as any twenty year old would. It was my first time seeing the song live and what a treat it was. He followed this beauty with the ever-popular "Happy", his best-known song. From there on out, there was clearly no going back.
The band burst back onto the stage with "Sympathy For The Devil", which is always a highlight when performed live. I remember being at the United Center back in '98 and watching the band tear through this song and I remember going out and buying a bootleg just so I could listen to the live version of the song, over and over again. It's their signature live song, in my opinion. Following "Sympathy" was "Gimme Shelter", "It's Only Rock 'N Roll" and "Satisfaction" which had everyone on their feet.
As the band made their way to the second stage, they played a trio of songs, "When The Whip Comes Down", "Like A Rolling Stone", which turned into a sing-a long, and the rocking "Brown Sugar". As they exited, everyone knew what was left, as they re-entered the stage for the only encore, "Jumping Jack Flash" went into full force re-igniting the whole crowd.
I was able to witness a band, which is the benchmark for all live bands, outdo every other band and themselves. They performed 46 different songs over 3 magical nights in 3 completely different environments. If I ever have kids, I'll be able to tell them that I was able to witness the Stones and how their favorite artists cannot even compare. I'll be looked at as an old man, but that's ok, rock 'n roll will keep me young. It may only be rock 'n roll, but I know that I love it, without it, I'd be dead. The opening riff of the song brings the crowds feet to the ground and their hands in the air. As I sat there watching this band work their magic (for possibly the last time), I was just mesmerized with how good they are live.
Up until the 1981 tour, something people forget about is that they were not the most pitch perfect live band. I feel that Mick Taylor added a lot to the band in the early seventies, but the rest of the time, the band was a bit messy. There's nothing wrong with that, but to listen and watch them in the first two decades of their career and the last 2 decades, it is very evident that they have gotten better with age, just like a fine wine. There are those who make complaints about their latter day material, which is going to happen no matter what. There are people who grew up with these songs don't like the newer material, mainly because most of them have stopped dreaming, most don't have that innocence or a lack of responsibility. The best music always evokes feelings and as I watched a local PBS station interview people about how most new rock music does not hold a flame to these bands original music, I sat there and was uncomfortable with what they said. I do agree that many bands hit a pinnacle at one point in their career and it's impossible to go back. However, just because other people don't love the new stuff, doesn't mean that a new generation can't get into them. I have continued to fall in love with this music, with each album and tour, by a band that has set the benchmark for rock bands.
Now, if the Stones were smart, they would have had tape rolling during all of their shows on this tour. If they have yet to do this, they better do so during the European tour. The ultimate souvenir would be a triple live album; each disc having highlights from each of the three venues (ex. one disc of highlights from a stadium, arena and club). If they really want to get creative and outdo those who download music, offer a free mail away or DVD with exclusive material of live performances that could not fit into the 3 discs to encompass how truly staggering and distinctive this world tour has been. Most of their live albums have been edited down to fit onto one disc; however, it is time to release a definitive live set showing the band at their zenith.
How long can the machine that is The Rolling Stones really continue to roll? Who knows? However, as I sat there, in my seat applauding as the band took their final bows at the United Center this past January, I saw the supporting players disappear one by one; until all that was left was Ronnie, Charlie, Keith and Mick. They stood there, basked in the glow of the adorning 15,000 people and then left the stage. This may be the last time I ever see this band perform. Then again, there are rumors of the band coming back to the US in September and October to hit the major markets one last time. This may be the last time, but if it's not, I won't have a single regret. It's truly magical to see someone be the best at what they are in their particular field, whether it be playing tennis, coaching, lecturing, writing or playing rock 'n roll. When it comes to rock 'n roll, there are many different artists and groups who have made their imprint on this world, however, none have done it as long, and as well as the Rolling Stones. I for one hope they make a return trip in the fall. I'm sure I'll fork over the money without even thinking just knowing that I have a chance to hear "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" again. Till then, I'll wait till I hear the Midnight Ramblers knocking on my door.