When Mick Jagger had surgery this past April to replace a heart valve, it was the first time the world has seen this iconic front man be vulnerable. Despite the jokes and criticisms, no one wants to live in a world without the Rolling Stones. With a stadium tour of America already scheduled, the dates were put on hold to allow Jagger to recuperate. Shifting the tour back two months, the band hit the Chicago stage on Friday with a fire and a fury attesting the world's greatest rock n' roll band is alive and well as they stormed through 125-minutes of high adrenaline rock.
Every time the Rolling Stones hit the road, they're worthy of our attention and admiration, so let's breakdown our five takeaways from the opening night performance.
1. The Miracle of Mick Jagger
When Keith Richards emerged from the shadows to rip through the opening chords of "Street Fighting Man", all eyes were on Mick Jagger. Would the sprightly front man take it easy after his surgery? Would the band's dynamics change as a result of his health scare? As Jagger emerged behind Richards in a waist length black-and-white jacket, he silenced everyone as he strutted and sang his heart out. This wasn't an arena or an amphitheater, but a stadium where it's his job to build bridges with the audience and he dashed across the stadium stage with more ease than most acts a quarter century younger. In the same stadium in 2013 I watched a performer who was barely fifty-years-old struggle to move, so witnessing Jagger move so fluently was a joy to behold as it's a reminder that we don't have to grow old as long as we have music.
2. The War Horses
While the Stones haven't ever been well known for mixing their sets up the way Springsteen, Phish or the Grateful Dead do, every performance is different. Even if you see the band multiple times on a tour, songs such as "Start Me Up" and "Brown Sugar" will appear different night-over-night thanks in large part to the dueling guitars of Keith Richards and Ron Wood. They often go eye-too-eye challenging themselves how far they can take a song while keeping it from veering it off course. It's why you can never quite judge the performance by the set list. The opening night wasn't without its rust, but the Rolling Stones make an art of messiness. There's a different between being sloppy and raw and the Stones always embrace the latter. "Let's Spend the Night Together", "Tumbling Dice", "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Sympathy for the Devil" are essentials to their set, and the band still delivers them with all the zeal and zest that makes them stadium anthems that never grow old. Ron Wood was particularly invigorated delivering some of the best solos I've seen him perform dating back twenty-five years. "Paint It Black" featured the trouncing drums of Charlie Watts and a vivacious crowd of 55,000 clapping in unison. Even if you've seen the Stones before in concert, this isn't one to miss because one can never tire hearing these war horses.
3. The B-Stage
Beginning in 1994, the Rolling Stones began performing a set at a b-stage located on the other side of the arena/stadium for those in the back to get their up-close moment with the band. The 2019 version doesn't reach the back of the stadium, but it almost places them halfway back. In Chicago, a makeshift drum set was setup and only four core members of the band (Richards, Wood, Jagger and Watts) took their places for a pair of songs. Up first was "Angie" from their underrated Goat's Heap Soup album from 1973. Jagger's vocal was elegant while Richards and Wood's acoustic guitars emanated regretful sorrow. Up next was "Dead Flowers" which hasn't been performed in the Chicago area since the Steel Wheels tour in 1989 when the band performed three nights at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin. Charlie Watts brush beat drums were impeccable but it was when Jagger went over to Richards' microphone, put his arm around his bandmate and they shared the chorus of "Take me down little Susie" that really hit home. While the Stones are a musical institution, there has been a distance between Jagger and Richards, so seeing this warmth on display on the b-stage is a moment those in attendance will never forget.
Ever since the band redefined what a concert tour entails beginning in 1989, the band has never been afraid to steer their way through the past and rarities. Some get a one-off performance never to be heard from again and others make reoccurring performances over the years. The first rarity of the evening was the Steel Wheels album opener "Sad Sad Sad" which has only been performed three times since the tour in support of that album finished in 1990. With Jagger adding additional guitar, the band was defiant in their delivery of this up-tempo number. The band ran a fan vote between "Out of Control", "When the Whip Comes Down", "Respectable" and "You Got Me Rocking" with "Rocking" nudging out the other three. The only other significant rarity was Keith's "You Got the Silver" which was devilish with Ron Wood's slide guitar taking the spotlight for the evening's best musical performance.
5. The Legacy
In the 1995 The Simpsons aired an episode called "Lisa's Wedding" that had a poster showing the Rolling Stones "Steel Wheelchair Tour 2010" which was funny at the time, but nearly a quarter century later, and nine years after that fictitious poster, the Rolling Stones have taken this crazy rock n' roll circus farther than anyone could have ever imagined. They've set the bar so high for every other musician that it's unlikely their resolve will ever be matched. It's insane to think we are living in a world where "Jumpin' Jack Flash", "Gimme Shelter" and the show's closer "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" sound every bit as piercing and potent as they did more than fifty-five years ago. We're in triple overtime with the band at this stage in the game. When I watched the band in 2002 on their Licks world tour, I couldn't imagine them still performing at that level ten years later, let alone seventeen years later. A world in which the Rolling Stones are a force to be reckoned with is a good one to be alive in. With each passing year the band takes us further into the depths of their desires and dreams which in turn become our as well.
The Rolling Stones No Filter tour will run through the end of August
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
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