Sunday, June 02, 2013

One For the Aged: Mossless Stones Provide Nothing But Satisfaction, All Down the Line -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Rolling Stones
United Center, Chicago
May 31, 2013
(also performing 6/3)

Unless you were at the United Center on Friday night, for the band's second of three Chicago shows on their brief 50 & Counting tour, it may be hard for you to believe just how good the Rolling Stones were.

I was there and it's hard for me to believe. 

Sure, they have now spent half a century living up to the self-proclaimed title of "World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band." (Yes, in the erstwhile "Beatles or Stones?" debate, I side with the former, but they didn't last through a decade).

And truly, the Stones have never been less than magnificent in the 10 times I have now seen them live, in eight different years since 1989, when they were already considered long in the tooth. 

So no, I've never given credence to critical scoffs--and likely public assumption--deriding the Stones as an oldies act that tours simply to refortify their castles and the trust funds of children they may have fathered, knowingly or not. 

This doesn't mean that I don't find their opting to charge $600 for the majority of seats on this tour disgusting; I think it's utterly egregious and rued having to pay a quarter of that for the "cheap seats," which is still the most I've ever spent on a face-value concert ticket. 

Especially with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards turning 70 this year, Charlie Watts hitting 72 today and Ron Wood having celebrated his 66th yesterday--both were feted with "Happy Birthday" at Friday's show--it wasn't implausible to conceive that the Stones' battleship could be starting to creak, perhaps even leak. 

But really, unless they completely embarrassed themselves, a fraction-of-their-past performance would've been OK. It's not inconceivable that, as the song goes, "This could be the last time" one gets to see the Stones, and my friend Paolo and I went into the UC with a sense of reverence, while hoping that those who hailed earlier shows on this tour weren't judging on a curve. 

Well, you can take the band's famed logo lips and kiss that notion goodbye. 

Friday night I witnessed one of the greatest artists in musical history still at the height of their powers. 

The Rolling Stones weren't just every bit as good as I would've wanted them to be in 2013. They were as good as I would've wanted them to be in 1973. 

Perhaps even better, as I have concert DVDs from tours in 1969, 1972, 1978 and 1981.

While except for the reptilian Jagger--supernaturally fit and frenetic a month shy of 70--the band members aren't quite as spry as they once were, their 2-1/2 hour show was longer than any of those earlier ones. And with Mick's voice in fine form, Keith playing strong rhythm & lead guitar and Charlie as rock solid as ever, they sounded truly remarkable.

And of the 22 songs they played, at least half--if not more--easily qualify as being among the best rock 'n roll has ever produced. 

After a laudatory video featuring people like Johnny Depp, Martin Scorsese, Perry Farrell, Cate Blanchett and Iggy Pop trying to define what the Stones mean to them, the core band members plus bassist Daryl Jones and longtime keyboardist Chuck Leavell--subsequently augmented by saxman Bobby Keys, another horn player and a pair of backup singers--launched into "Get Off My Cloud." (video here, not shot by me)

You can see the Rolling Stones' full Chicago Night 2 setlist on, but virturally everything they played sounded great and worked well into the show's pacing. 

"Paint It Black" and "Gimme Shelter" were early highlights (see video clip at bottom), and while I wasn't all that excited about the announced "Special Guest" being Sheryl Crow--Tom Waits, Gwen Stefani, Dave Grohl, Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood and others have joined the Stones elsewhere on tour--she acquitted herself well in helping the band rage through the relatively rare "All Down the Line," one of four tunes culled from Exile on Main Street (including the requested-by-online-vote "Shine a Light). 

Former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor has been guesting throughout the tour and added fire to another lesser-played gem, "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," as well as "Midnight Rambler."

Though the Stones aren't touring on a new album--somewhat thankfully as most of the recent ones have largely
been lackluster--the two songs they put out last year, "Doom and Gloom" and "One More Shot," didn't substantially stagnate the festivities. 

Nor did Keith's pair of lead vocal selections, the touching "You Got the Silver"--accompanied only by Wood--and a rollicking romp through "Happy."

And if one didn't enjoy hearing "Honky Tonk Women," "Start Me Up," "Brown Sugar," "Tumbling Dice," "Sympathy for the Devil," "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (featuring a Roosevelt University chorus), "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Satisfaction," well, they paid $600 or some fraction or multiple thereof for the wrong show. 

Of course, with the Stones, there are always myriad other songs I would have liked to have heard, including "Rocks Off" and "Wild Horses" (both played on Tuesday), "Let's Spend the Night Together" and likely my favorite of theirs, "Street Fighting Man."

But even though "Emotional Rescue" was one song they didn't quite pull off perfectly, I'm glad they pulled it out of mothballs for this tour and it was fun to hear Mick sing falsetto and tenor in the same song. 

Compared to past outdoor stadium extravaganzas, the band's stage was rather barren, backing musicians sparse and lewd inflatables & other bombast not missed. 

As appropriate, given that many couples conceivably spent roughly a mortgage payment to sit on the first two levels of the United Center, Mick was appreciative and rather affable in his stage patter. 

With a "Stones 50" Blackhawks jersey in hand, he acknowledged the extra efforts of the band's crew in tearing down and rebuilding the stage around playoff hockey games, and joked that after the pair of weekend Hawks games, Monday would see a performance of "The Rolling Stones on ice." 

Although after every Stones tour I'm always incredulous about their ability to mount another one, let's hope it's awhile before the most legendary band still in existence is truly on ice.

Although just in recent months, I've seen and greatly enjoyed several concerts by artists well into their 60s or beyond--Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel--except for Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones were amazing well beyond any of them.

Without my binoculars or video screens, from Section 304--in the far corner of the top deck--you couldn't have convinced I wasn't seeing and hearing a band in the prime of their career. 

And while in life in general I might not always get what I want, with a show that would blow any relatively new band I'm aware of off the stage, the Rolling Stones once again provided living proof that if I try sometime, I can still get what I need.

Here's a clip from YouTube of "Paint It Black" and "Gimme Shelter," posted by MrMotown100:

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