It's Only Rock'n Roll
For me, a good part of the fun at a Stones stadium show is the pre-concert parking lot festivities. The weather was perfect--sunny, about 70 degrees, much warmer and much more pleasant than opening night on Tuesday. The crowd at the show was a mixed bag: hard core Harley riders (but not near enough of them), very young kids who looked totally clueless in their tie-dyes, professional couples of a "certain age", psycho sluts in leather who pour beer on your head (more about that in a minute), stoner dudes in VW buses, obvious drug abusers, and fitness freaks and salad eaters (the yuppie types and soccer moms). This is true about the salad eaters; the car on my left (driven by a Frank Zappa lookalike) was loaded with contraband of dubious legality, while the one on the other side was an SUV piloted by Mr. Corporate and Mrs. Bridge Club who opened their tailgate to eat a very fresh-looking salad. I secretly hoped that they would accidentally knock over a couple of Harley's and have to face the consequences, and perhaps offer the bikers some of their salad in a show of goodwill. Walking the rows of cars (with my wife--her first ever Stones show) was a great exercise in people watching. Every 40 feet a different Stones song is blasting from a car or boombox. People are cooking burgers and hotdogs on little grills and drinking tons of beer and having, seemingly, an incredibly great time. Wonderful atmosphere. The smell of the food makes me hungry, (I brought a cooler full of beer, and some vodka and Kahlua for the wife--no food), so I propose a trade with a grizzled Stoneshead who's cooking brats and burgers: two ice cold beers for two brats. He says "Shit, we got more than we can eat. Help yourself to a couple brats." I can tell it's going to be a good night.
After buying the requisite T-shirt for $27, we mill around a little more, I snap a few photos to document I was there, knock off a couple more beers, and head to the stadium gates.
The place is absolutely packed to the rafters (well, no rafters in Soldier Field, but you get the point). Inside the stadium is a throng of people so thick that I think I'm never going to get to my seat before the Stones come on. And by the time we end up getting to our seats, Blues Traveller has just finished their set. But that's okay; I didn't come to see them. Decided I'd better make one more quick pit stop to the restroom, so I go back out in search of the loo. Long lines for the women's room (no surprise), but the men's room line is short. (Once inside the men's room I see about 10 females who evidently decided the hell with waiting in line.) Edging my way back to my seat I squeeze by 3 chicks in short skirts, very drunk, laughing loudly. One of them looks at me with drugged eyes and says something like "You bastard! You Bastard!" and pours a cup of beer over the back of my head and down my back. Another guy behind me gets it worse. Anyway, I chalk it up to normal chaos that should happen at any self-respecting Stones concert, and I walk away feeling good about the whole thing. Weird.
Our seats are center stage (almost dead center), 29 rows back. The catwalk that leads to the small second stage in the center of the floor is about 8 feet to my right (we are 3 seats in from the catwalk). Still, I'm envisioning giving Mick a low-five when he passes by. I'm easily close enough to walk up to it if security isn't a problem. As showtime nears, I take a look up and around and behind me. 54,000 Stones maniacs about to go nuts. Not an empty seat to be found, even at the very very back; the stadium is filled to the brim.
Lights out, and the riff to Satisfaction starts, spotlight on Keith. Then Mick comes on, stage left, from a raised platform. I can hardly remember this song at all. Ronnie's smiling, playing a cool Les Paul. Someone behind me trips over their chair and falls into our row. It's like I blacked out from the excitement--I can't remember how the song finishes. Then It's Only Rock and Roll, followed by Bitch.
The stage is huge, just like the last two tours. However, it's not what I'd call incredibly incredible. In fact, the Steel Wheels and Voodoo Lounge stages might give one a more awe-inspiring visual first impression (or perhaps I'm just too jaded now and nothing short of a nuclear explosion is going to excite me). The back of stage contains a huge eye-shaped disc that contains the clearest video screen I've ever seen in a venue like this. It's so sharp you think you're in a movie theater. During Bitch, some somewhat pornographic animated visuals are displayed on the screen. Interesting, really. Here's a band that now attracts more than it's fair share of families to their show (as much as it pains me to say it, it's more about "goodtime" entertainment these days than finding rock-n-roll oblivion), and yet here's a very graphic image of the female genitalia opening and closing. Once again, I smile, and hope that some are offended. Though there are a couple of huge inflatables, they are ornamental and just sit there decoratively. Which is fine with me. I thought the inflatables on the last couple of tours were sort of hokey anyway. I really get the impression that this stage is designed to spotlight the band, and it does. It seems less gimmicky than the previous two tours, putting the focus on the band rather than effects and props.
But what has to be addressed is the sound. I've been to a number of stadium shows, and I've never heard a crisper, clearer sound. Perhaps it has something to do with my seats. At other shows this large, I've been off to the sides or very far away. But where I'm at here, I'm getting sound that's clearer than I've heard in arenas. No muddiness at all. It's not incredibly loud, but it must take a ton of power to provide that kind of clarity in a venue this big. The loudest and shrillest part of the show was Bobby Keyes' sax solos--I found myself wishing that the guitars would come through that strong. But still, good sound. Though I will never be totally happy unless Keith's guitar is so loud my ears bleed--once again, after 5 Stones shows, that didn't happen. (It's a far cry from his hyperdriven saturation that filled arenas in the 70's.)
One of the show's highlights for me was a new song: Out of Control. It rocked convincingly (and seemed fresher than, say, It's Only Rock and Roll, which I think even the Stones must be sick of playing). I think it would've fit in perfect during the closing stretch (when they play HTW, SMU, JJF, etc.). 19th Nervous Breakdown was interesting, too, in that Mick and Keith would dive bomb the same microphone together--just like the old days when Mick would join Keith for a cranked-up version of Happy. However, the new single, Anybody Seen My Baby, really dragged--in fact, that was about the only low point musically, I thought. As far as Stones shows go, this was an incredibly tight performance (i.e., still sloppy by a technique band's standards, but not the shambolic chaos of "loose" Stones shows). I'd say the tour started on Thursday, with Tuesday's show a shaky warm-up. I can't wait to get the boot of this show (hope there is one). They seemed to be having fun.
Keith's songs went fine (though I wish he'd lay off some of the smiley gewgawing and just play), and then they walked down the center catwalk to play 3 numbers on the small stage. I didn't get a chance to slap hands as they walked by cause a security guard was right at the end of my row. But man! I was like six feet from Mick and the rest of them. And Charlie made eye contact with me! (Heady stuff for a Stoneshead like myself.) Incredible. Anyway, I turned around, faced the second stage which was very close to me (about 40 feet or so), and listened as Keith strapped on this beautiful red Gibson hollowbody (I think an ES-335) and blew through an amazing version of Little Queenie. The crowd went nuts when those opening Chuck Berry chords started. Mick played to the back of the stadium, so I only saw his back. Ronnie circled the little stage, and Keith did too. Charlie was seated with his back to me. They played a somewhat perfunctory Let it Bleed, and finished on the center stage with The Last Time, which sounded great. It was interesting to look around at the stadium from this vantage point. As the spotlights illuminated the Stones, I was surprised at the amount of smoke coming up from the floor. It could've been 1975. The girl next to my wife spent the entire night in a stoned catatonic trance, and even I was getting a little high just off the ambient fumes around me. Anyway, they finished on the small stage, and then they staggered back to the main stage and again I was within spitting distance as they passed.
I got to say it; Mick looked fantastic. He's in incredible physical shape, and you really notice this when looking at the video screen. He's got some arms on him, too. Well-muscled and toned. And he looked, I thought, more like the Mick Jagger of old than, say, a Don Knotts lookalike, which is how he appears in some photos these days. Charlie looked especially good as well. Keith just looked old and leathery, but hey, who cares. He probably went through a carton of cigarettes in the 2-1/2 hours he was on stage. Ronnie was Ronnie, though he didn't act as animated he used to. In fact, the last two tours he seems content to be a sideman, subordinate to Mick/Keith. I kind of liked it when he used to act nuts and manic.
By any standard, the show was great. Better than I expected it to be, really. It still could've been a little louder (but I say this about every show I've ever attended--even Pantera), and the song selection could've been steered away from the golden oldies a bit more. The performance, as I said, was excellent--tight yet relaxed. However, I never once got the impression they were pushing the envelope, about to spin into oblivion, jamming like a band possessed, on the brink of careening out of control. That is the Rolling Stones I fell in love with, and Thursday's show highlighted a professional band that plays it safe. However, even if they no longer are the band I fell in love with, they are still about the closest thing out there to it. Great show, and if I get a chance to see them again, I will.
This is the set list:
Read all about the 1997 tour in the It's Only Rock'n Roll magazine issue IORR 30 out Oct. 15, 1997.
It's Only Rock'n Roll 1997 -
© The Rolling Stones Fan Club Of Europe