Thursday, June 25, 2015

Old, Milwaukee?: The Rolling Stones Deliver Satisfaction on 'Zip Code' Tour -- Milwaukee Concert Review

Concert Review

The Rolling Stones
w/ opening act Buddy Guy
Marcus Amphitheatre, Milwaukee
June 23, 2015

I first saw the Rolling Stones live in September 1989, when I was 20 and Mick Jagger was 46.

This was some 25 years after the Stones first garnered attention in America as part of the British Invasion.

Although quite legendary, they were regarded as an "old" band and I remember workplace discussion the next day among others who had seen them centered around how amazing it was that Jagger could still run around the stage with such boundless energy for a guy "his age."

Now it is 26 years later; I'm 46 and Mick is a month from turning 72. In far better shape than I can ever hope to be, he continues to prance around like a hyperactive teenager as the Stones rocked Milwaukee on the eve of Summerfest.

Of course, Jagger--with his voice sounding better than it had 20 years ago--isn't the only Rolling Stone defying the ravages of time, seemingly mosslessly.

At 74, drummer Charlie Watts remains as solid as an immovable boulder, while "new Stone" Ronnie Wood--who joined the band in 1975--is now 68.

And both a poster child and punchline for debaucherous indestructibility, Keith Richards seems genuinely happy and healthy as he holds down the rhythm with Wood, Watts and longtime touring  bassist Darryl Jones, accompanied by keyboardist Chuck Leavell. (It was sad to note the absence of erstwhile saxophonist Bobby Keys, who passed away last December.)

Taking centerstage for his two-song vocal turn that has been de rigueur at every Stones show since at least 1989, Keef glibly noted:

"It's good to be here. It's good to anywhere."

He then blazed through searing renditions of "Before They Make Me Run" and "Happy," reminding that he sang lead on some first-rate material. It was also fun to see Wood play slide guitar on the latter song.

Sounding terrific from the get-go on a picture perfect night, the Stones are relative youngsters next to their opening act, the legendary Buddy Guy.

Guy's scintillating guitar leads sounded as good as ever as he and his band powered through songs such as "Damn Right I've Got the Blues," "Slippin' In" and "Made in Chicago" to an appreciative crowd.

His was an excellent 45-minute set, with no time for long monologues that consume a good portion of his shows at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago.

When he played a fairly recent song called "74 Years Young," he admitted--as I suspected--that he is actually now 78, the song dating back four years.

Later, he joined the Stones for Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer," a highlight of a show that had many.

Taking the stage around 9:15pm, the Stones launched into the perfect opener, "Jumpin' Jack Flash," followed by "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)."

Then came "Tumbling Dice" and a relatively new song, "Doom and Gloom," before the Stones harkened back to Sticky Fingers, which has just been elaborately reissued and--given the Andy Warhol album art, complete with workable zipper--is the basis for this 15-show outing being dubbed the Zip Code tour.

Though they would play "Brown Sugar" to close out the main set, the Stones' eschewed "Wild Horses" to mine the 1971 album more deeply with "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"--with new saxophonist Karl Denson dazzling on the parts long-played by Keys--and "Moonlight Mile."

Both these songs sounded great, followed by the duet with Guy--see the Rolling Stones' full Milwaukee setlist on the combination of somewhat esoteric material and imperfect personal comfort made me wonder if this wasn't a bit lesser of a Stones experience than my last one, in May 2013 at Chicago's United Center.

Though my reserved bleacher seat offered pretty good sightlines and proximity for far cheaper than pavilion seats, the "bum space" allotted for people my size and considerably larger was, let's just say, tight.

This wasn't a huge problem as I stood most of the show--providing its own discomfort, especially after having walked to and through a fine exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum that I'll write about separately--but a woman next to me kept arguing vociferously with one behind her about personal space issues.

And a bit offputtingly, the guy to the right of me sat motionless throughout the entire show.

As this was by far the smallest capacity venue of a tour that is otherwise playing football and baseball stadiums, the Stones themselves seemed a bit cramped, as their video boards and Mick's catwalk were downsized to suit the covered pavilion setting (on the Summerfest grounds).

Even so, there was no doubt in my mind at any point that this was a @@@@@ show; the Stones just sounded that good.

But a blitz of "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)--which won an internet request poll; I voted for "Rocks Off"--"Honky Tonk Women," the Keith duo, "Midnight Rambler," "Miss You," a blistering "Gimme Shelter," "Start Me Up," "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Brown Sugar" left no doubt.

For the encore of "You Can't Always Get What You Want," the Stones welcomed the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee concert chorale on a night where Mick had duly dropped references to Cheeseheads, bratwurst, Miller Lite, Bears vs. Packers, the sausage race and one of "Milwaukee's favorite sons," Liberace.

So as the show ended with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"--recorded in Chicago 50 years ago--I indeed was fully satisfied, even in not getting home until 2:30am.

Though I had done so ten times before and will at least once more, I had seen "The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band" still--rather astonishingly--damn close to the height of their powers.

I've been to Summerfest even more often, and though this may well have been the costliest, most-hyped show ever at the "Big Gig," the old Stones undoubtedly delivered one of Milwaukee's Finest.

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