I had been waiting nearly six hours in the dark, smoky and extremely crowded bar area of the Horseshoe Tavern, a small club located in downtown Toronto, hoping for a chance to see the Rolling Stones perform a number or two on stage, presumably for MTV. Standing before a drawn black curtain, which acted as a partition between the bar area and the performance room, stood various security people, informing everyone, including such local celebrities as Denise Donlan, producer and former VJ of Canadas MuchMusic, that unless you had an MTV pass, you would not be admitted to the performance room.
Since I had come early, I was right in the front of the line. So finally, a very pleasant Englishman came out from behind the curtain and warmly addressed the crowd. OK everyone, be calm and walk slowly. Were going to let some of you in. Well after six hours of doubt his warnings only made my heart beat faster. After a moment of hesitancy, his arm lifted in front of me and I was in...
I was among a densely packed crowd of a couple of hundred people, staring at the empty stage containing the equipment of the Rolling Stones. The crowd was rather restless, as no one could contain their excitement. After a half hour or so, the recorded music stopped, the house lights dimmed, and the stage was bathed with coloured lights. Then the Rolling Stones walked on stage. To be so near to the Rolling Stones was very exciting, a fantastic thrill. It was amazing.
But to witness the Rolling Stones in a small club was to feel the heat of their passion in your face. You could feel their amazing presence. They were smiling, waving to the audience from the stage, looking directly into your eyes. The room filled with incontainable excitement. Everyone is feeling nervous in anticipation, smiling and fidgeting.
They stood on the stage a moment, readying themselves for the performance while everyone waited. Suddenly, Keith Richards looked at Mick Jagger, and guitar chords attacked the audience.
Everyone froze, staring in awe at Keith Richards, fully animated, thrilling the audience with the opening chords to Little Queenie. And then the band explodes.
The sound is rich, crisp and clear, but most of all it is thundering. It reaches out into the audience and grabs each person mercilessly. You are in the grasp of a powerful sound, moved by the groove of the music. And then Mick Jagger begins to sing. He is transformed from an affable bystander into an intensely dramatic performer. His body becomes tense, as an animal before it strikes. His movements and quick, his performance mesmerizing. You are hypnotized. The audience is in a trance, swaying to the groove of the music, awestruck at the mystery of Mick Jagger and the passion of the Rolling Stones.
Then one by one, each member of the band is recognized. Ronnie Wood, in intense concentration over his guitar, inciting it, squeezing out a sound so powerful that the force of it sends you to another place. Charlie Watts, behind, pushing the band hard, barely able to control the force inside him, astounded by his own abilities to drive this ferocious music. Daryl Jones pulsating bass holding everything together, looking slightly nervous of the power that he is a part of. I was in another world for the rest of the night.
I had been writing down the titles of each song as they were played, but as it turned out, this was unnecessary as I managed to obtain the set list of the show at the end of the evening. During the show, I slithered closer and closer to the stage until towards the end I had just one or two people in front of me. When the show finished, I was right at the front, hoping to get some momento of this amazing evening. I had missed Micks Tshirt, which he removed mid-concert and swung around his head, his sweat flying everywhere, and tossed into the audience. Charlie tossed a drum stick towards the audience, although it only reached the edge of the stage, so a roadie tossed it into the audience. I jumped for it but I just nicked it. So at the end I saw the set list taped to the floor and tried to get a roadie to give it to me, but unfortunately there were others who wanted it too. So one roadie, noticing the interest in the sheet of paper on the stage floor, picked it up, crumpled it and tossed it. I looked around in a panic. Then, I looked down, and there it was, at my feet! I picked it up and left immediately, feeling ecstatic.
Little Queenie This song was played with great authority. Chuck could not have done better. It was similar to the Get Yer Ya Yas Out version, but with a stronger, more intense feeling that sent me to a better place.
Honky Tonk Women No need for Mick to sing the chorus of this one. Keith, looking very cool in his shades, arms flailing, played some amazing guitar on this one.
19th Nervous Breakdown Were going to play an older one for you now people. If we dont remember it, youll have to tell us the bits we missed. The groove on this song was unlike the single. It was a little slower and funkier, sounding the way Muddy Waters would have played it.
You Got Me Rocking Were going to play a new one for you now. I always liked this song, but hearing the Stones play it the way they did in a small club was nothing short of exhilarating. An amazing number.
Under My Thumb Weve been trying to work out this one for you, people. The keyboard player started this one. More true to the original that any other version I have heard. Ronnie was having so much fun grimacing and hamming it up for the crowd he hardly played this one. It was fun!
Little Red Rooster This song was listed on the set list as Blues. It was during this number that Mick took out his harmonica. His playing was fantastic! As Keith has said, Thats when you find the pure, unadulterated Mick Jagger, when hes playing the harmonica.
Miss You Mick Jagger with a guitar. He coaxed, with very little trouble, the crowd into singing parts of this song along with him. When it came for the sax solo, out steps Bobby Keys and the crowd goes nuts. His face went red and he blew a mean sax.
Out Of Control A new one. Mick seemed to get into this one more than the others. A slower number that sprung into life during the chorus. This song is FANTASTIC and I cant wait to hear it on the album.
The Last Time Mick played acoustic guitar for this one. Slightly different from the single. One of my all time favourites.
Start Me Up Everyone was going berserk by the time they played this one. This song just makes you feel great! When he sang You make a grown man cry, he pointed to himself and then the audience, as though he loved to play for everyone. Earlier he made a comment that the people of Toronto always treat the Stones very well and that he was happy to be spending time in the city. This part of this song felt as though Mick was giving us a little message. ...... Tumbling Dice (not performed, unfortunately)
Jumping Jack Flash This is my favourite Rolling Stones song. This was the best version I have ever heard. It was tight and it had a very strong groove. You couldnt hear Mick during the chorus.
Brown Sugar They took a break of about a couple of minutes and then came back. People were shouting out requests for all kinds of songs (John mostly heard a loud guy beside him shouting out Paint It, Black with every breath). Before they launched into this one, Ronnie approached the microphone and said Brown Sugar and Gimme Shelter? Come on, you dont want to hear those ones! Again, Bobby Keys came out and his playing was fantastic!
Well what else can I say? Usually I stare at Keith when I see the Stones (or any guitarist at whatever show I am at) but this time I could barely take my eyes off Mick Jagger. His performance was riveting. It was like watching him perform in 68 or 69. You know what I mean.
I found out later that the show was announced at about 7.00pm, but by that time you couldnt get in. In fact a crowd of 400 people had gather outside. I hammed it up and said I am covered with the sweat of Mick Jagger, which I was.
The greatest show of my life!!
It's Only Rock'n Roll no. 30 - Oct. 1997 - © The Rolling Stones Fan Club Of Europe