Ageless wonders keep rolling
Stones deliver dazzling concert at Soldier Field
By Steve Metsch
From the opening strains of “Street Fighting Man” to the last chords of “Satisfaction,” The Rolling Stones delivered an amazing night of music filled with hit songs, a couple surprises and a ringing endorsement for Mick Jagger’s heart surgeon.
Friday night kicked off their 15-city tour of America and Canada or, as Jagger put it, “we love Chicago so much, we decided to start the tour here instead of Miami.”
This from a 75-year-old man whose heart valve troubles forced surgery a few months ago, and postponement of some tour dates. Friday’s show was performed as originally scheduled.
On the first official day of summer, the cool evening saw Jagger acting as if he never had heart valve surgery. He was prancing, strutting, jogging, dancing and preening like the Mick of old, not like an old Mick. He was all over the stage. He made no mention of his surgery and let his actions speak for themselves. In other words, he’s fine. And his voice? Check that birth certificate. He sounds terrific, no matter which song he sings.
The rest of the band is doing well, too.
Charlie Watts, 78, again was sturdy force behind the drums. But even the stoic Watts, providing a steady backbeat all evening, allowed a smile to cross his face during “Satisfaction.” He looked happy.
Guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood were also in good spirits, smiling and laughing throughout.
Wood, 72, was outstanding all night and seemed to play lead more often than usual. I can’t recall his being in the spotlight so often.
Richards, 75, playing on how he seems to survive no matter what life throws his way, quipped: “It’s good to be here. It’s good to be anywhere.”
Richards allowed a bit too much breathing room on some guitar solos. He redeemed himself taking lead vocals on two songs midway through the concert. A nice surprise was the bluesy “You Got the Silver” with his gritty vocals. On “Before They Make Me Run,” however, he seemed content to let backup singer Sasha Allen sing more than he did.
Once again, the band has solid backing musicians that help in many ways. It was amusing when Wood chided Jagger for forgetting to introduce keyboardist Chuck Leavell. Jagger chalked it up to being the tour’s first night.
The four core Stones are collectively 300 years old. The rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle is etched on their weathered faces, although they’ve long since abandoned their partying days for a healthier lifestyle, one which likely has them back in Soldier Field for an eighth time. Jagger also noted the band was playing its 38th concert in Chicago since their first visit in 1964.
“I still haven’t had an Italian Beef,” Jagger said. “Should I have it wet or dry?” Get that man a sammich, and soon.
His dry wit targeted Chicago politics. After he welcomed new Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whom he said was at the concert, Jagger added, “I’m sorry Ed Burke couldn’t make it tonight.” The embattled alderman, in trouble with the feds, to the best of our knowledge was not in Soldier Field.
Even his wardrobe choice made me wonder if Jagger was making another statement. He came out wearing a black-and-white checkerboard vest. My mind immediately flashed back to 1981 when the band, in town for a couple shows at the then-Rosemont Horizon, showed up to see and play with Muddy Waters at Chicago’s famed Checkerboard Lounge. Hmm.
Without an album of new material to promote, the Stones focused on hits from a career that is fast approaching 60 years. They did toss him some surprises like “Let’s Spend the Night Together” with that distinctive piano lead-in by Leavell, a rocking “Sad Sad Sad,” and “Paint It Black,”which took on a mystical feel.
Keen-eared Stones fans may have picked up a few notes from “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” the instrumental they recorded in 1964 after they had worked in the legendary Chess Records studio at that address just a few blocks west of Soldier Field. The brief snipet was played as the band made its way “to the 50-yard-line” and played two songs on a small stage.
Those were “Angie” – that bittersweet love song – that still sounds terrific; and the seldom-heard “Dead Flowers,” one of the band’s forays into country music, that had some of Jagger’s best vocal moments.
Of course, some tried-and-true huge hits were played and, with a few tweaks here and there, sounded fresh.
Wood had a nice solo on the singalong “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
The woo-hoo chorus of “Sympathy for the Devil,” a song with some of the band’s best lyrics ever, swept across Soldier Field as the near-capacity crowd sang along. Bathed in a demonic red light, the stage looked menacing while Wood and Richards traded hot licks.
But no moment was more dangerous then the evening’s highlight, a scorching version of “Midnight Rambler” which saw the band really get into their blues masterpiece. Jagger was playing the harmonica quite well, and snuck in a few lyrics from “You Gotta Move” midway through. They seemed to enjoy getting to their roots.
Chicago’s own Darryl Jones, the band’s bass player since 1993 after Bill Wyman retired from the band, got his props with a terrific solo on “Miss You,” which was more rock than disco Friday night.
Solid showman as always, the Stones know how to work a crowd.
They saved a rocking solid one-two punch to close the show with “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Brown Sugar.” After leaving the stage to roars of approval, they returned for an encore of a haunting “Gimme Shelter” and “Satisfaction.” I’ve seen the latter performed nearly each time I’ve caught the band, but I can’t recall a more rollicking, fun version that was capped with fireworks exploding high overhead.
Is this the last blast from the Stones? I don’t know. We’ve heard that for years. We’ve also heard they are too old. Blah, blah, blah.
What I do know is that if you missed Friday night’s show, there’s no need for despair. They band plays at Soldier Field on Tuesday night. I did see some empty seats. Do yourself a favor. Shop around, find a good deal, and buy a ticket.