Wednesday, June 26, 2019

It's Only Rock 'n Roll...: The Rolling Stones Hit Some Bumps Tuesday Night, but So What? -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Rolling Stones
w/ opening act Whiskey Myers
Soldier Field, Chicago
June 25, 2019
(Stones also played 6/21)

"Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones!"

It truly makes me tingle every time.

Proudly ecumenical when it comes to live entertainment, I genuinely enjoy the art of performance at all levels, from free programs at local libraries to community & storefront theater to unknown bands playing in local parks, all the way up to Broadway musicals, arena rock concerts and, well, the Rolling Stones in a football stadium.

Other than having gone to the 2016 World Series--the one won by my beloved Chicago Cubs--I don't think I've attended any spectator events I would consider "bigger" than seeing the Stones in concert.

Not Bulls playoff games with Michael Jordan (I never went to an NBA Finals game). Not Game 1 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, won by the Blackhawks for the first time in nearly 50 years. Not Paul McCartney in various ballparks or even--just a few weeks ago--Green Bay's famed Lambeau Field.

Historically, perhaps I should cite being part of the Grant Park throng for Barack Obama's victory speech in 2008, but I mostly just saw him on a video screen.

Now, when I say "biggest," I don't  mean qualitatively the best.

I've liked many Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band concerts more than most Rolling Stones shows, and McCartney at Lambeau was decidedly better than the Stones this time at Soldier.

I also don't mean quantitatively, as I've been to several other football stadium concerts where a comparable number of tickets were sold (U2, Metallica, Guns 'n Roses, Coldplay, Bon Jovi, even Taylor Swift.)

But in terms of buzz and excitement and history, no one matches the Stones.

Although to a simple "Beatles or Stones?" query I'd always vote the former, and McCartney remains terrific live--playing several Fab Four classics at any show--in concert on his own he isn't "The Beatles."

Nor for that matter is Robert Plant--who I've seen 9x including twice with Jimmy Page--"Led Zeppelin."

I've now had the pleasure of seeing the Stones live 13 times since 1989 (same as McCartney, one more than the Who, both of whom I first saw in that year, and most recently within the past 2 months. I've seen Springsteen 50 times, and U2, Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins at least 20.)

So although the Rolling Stones aren't quite my favorite artist of all-time, that they:
- were the Beatles' greatest rivals during the "British Invasion" and throughout the '60s
- have had core members Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts remain intact since 1962 (Ron Wood has been in the band since 1975, and Darryl Jones has been the tour bassist since 1993)
- have regularly sold out huge stadiums around the world
- have traditionally created oversized concert extravaganzas
- have the greatest logo ever created (certainly in a rock 'n roll realm)
- have produced tons of the most indelible music ever
... makes it hard not to take their self-proclaimed moniker as "The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band" as pretty damn accurate.

Even in the present tense.

Seeing the Stones is always a big deal, and though this was the 13th time, my excitement was palpable for months, weeks, days, hours and minutes leading into Tuesday's show.

When announced last November right after Chicago's June 21 date sold-out faster than I could get tickets, Tuesday's show was the last scheduled on the No Filter Tour.

And with the band's mainstays well into their 70s, one has to imagine this might well be the last Stones tour.

Though, of course, I've heard the same thing said for 30+ years.

In late March, the start of the 2019 tour--scheduled for April 20--was postponed because Jagger had to have a heart valve replaced. The Chicago dates stayed the same, but became the beginning of the tour that is to end in Miami on August 31.

Hence, there were additional reasons for my eager anticipation.

Which was mostly met. Wondrously.

After a decent but forgettable--and not loud enough--opening set by a band called Whiskey Myers, and preceded by a brief introductory video, the Stones took the stage to the simple but scintillating announcement atop this post at a bit past 8:50pm.

And ripped right into "Jumpin' Jack Flash."

They followed with "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)" and I turned to my erstwhile concert pal, Paolo--he was seated right behind me in Section 438, rather than next to me--and said, forthrightly:

"Life doesn't get much better than this."

And truly--despite some hiccups in the Stones' performance that made it not quite as good as some past ones--seeing such a legendary, cherished band in a huge stadium with a close friend on a picture-perfect night is rather hard to top.

As I would say to someone at work, "Any day that ends with me singing along to "Satisfaction" has clearly provided plenty."

Yet, while it would be fairly easy to bestow a full @@@@@ on this concert simply because of who the Stones are, how much I love them, the inherent quality of the songs played and how supernatural Mick Jagger was in prancing around a humongous stage just a couple months after heart surgery, as a discriminating fan and self-professed "critic," I feel compelled to offer a candid critical assessment.

Certainly, this was only the second night of the tour, and Tuesday's 20-song setlist featured seven tunes not played on Friday (also 20 songs).

Due to these realities and that the boys are approaching 80--Watts, the eldest, is 78--I'm certainly willing to cut the Stones considerable reverent slack.

And straight up, it was a show far more fantastic than it wasn't, with delectable renditions of "You Can't Always Get What You Want," "Honky Tonk Women," "Start Me Up," "Brown Sugar" and "Gimme Shelter" among many highlights.

Though I'd have loved to have heard--as played Friday--"Street Fighting Man," "Let's Spend the Night Together, "Angie" and "Dead Flowers," the Stones did exactly what I think bands should by mixing things up a bit during a multi-night stand. (I would've gone Friday if I didn't have another show to see and could've scored a reasonable ticket.)

They certainly have the catalog to support divergent setlists, and Tuesday-only selections like "Bitch," "Monkey Man," "Play With Fire" and "Sweet Virginia"--the latter two acoustic on the "B-stage"--came off well.

Though Jagger may have slowed just tad from his dervish days of yore, he remains astonishing, vocally and as a constantly-in-motion stage presence.

At the home of the NFL's Chicago Bears, he also cheekily poured salt into our "double doink" playoffs-exiting wound.

And despite great weather and decent--if far from spectacular--stadium acoustics, there were a few distractions far beyond the band's purview.

As usual, there was a constant stream of people going out of and back into rows, and beer vendors working the aisles during the show.

I used to be a stadium vendor, have friends who still are and champion anyone's need to earn a buck.

But for heaven's sake, a beer seller was camped out next to Paolo and me during the entirety of "Sympathy for the Devil" AND loudly arguing with patrons over the payment owed.

I don't mean this facetiously nor sacrilegiously, but I treat a Rolling Stones show at Soldier Field with
the reverence many do a religious service.

I guess that's not the norm, as there were also chatterboxes conversing loudly throughout.

But beyond anything I can tangibly explain, this just didn't feel like the Stones at their best, nor a show truly meriting @@@@@ (which I bestowed the last three times--1, 2, 3--I'd seen them).

Some of the music seemed out of sync, out of tune or just not quite right, which also seemed true of Keith Richards.

He's normally sported an infectious, Cheshire cat grin through shows, bespeaking one of the coolest--and most indestructible--people on the planet.

But on the big screens and through my binoculars, Keef looked uncomfortable, even grim, sullen or ashen at times. And, despite hair again dyed brown, all of his 75 years.

As a rhythm guitarist he's often let Wood do the heavy lifting, but something just seemed off with Richards...and his playing.

And this was before he botched the opening of "Paint It Black" by playing "Midnight Rambler"--the next song--instead.

Sure, this might sound like I'm letting my imagination run away with me, and presumably many didn't notice anything other than the World's Greatest Rock Band playing brilliant songs across two hours.

To reiterate, without grading on a curve, the Rolling Stones were great and seeing them again was a joy.

I wish there was another convenient tour date, as I'd readily see them again.

But whether compared to Stones shows in fairly recent years or the gigs I just saw by their peers--Paul McCartney and The Who--the performance and/or the vibe just felt somewhat lesser. Enough so to merit a 1/2@ deduction.

I ascribe it to them finding their stage legs again--and hopefully Keith was bedeviled by nothing more serious than perhaps overindulging in Chicago-style pizza--but just maybe the Rolling Stones are finally beginning to gather some moss.

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