Rockin' us like no one else
September 12, 2002
BY JEFF JOHNSON STAFF REPORTER
'So much of our inspiration came from the Stones," joked Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, who opened for the Rolling Stones Tuesday night at the United Center. "Our clothes, our haircuts, our drug habits ..."
And the music. And on that score, the onetime bad boys are at their mannish best as they approach or reach their 60th birthdays, as confirmed by their two-hour-and-15-minute tour de force Tuesday. If the "Voodoo Lounge" and "Bridges to Babylon" tours that preceded it were gray, faceless monoliths, the current "Licks" tour is a Technicolor explosion of sound.
At one time the Stones seemed the worst possible candidates to endure on a superstar level for 40 years. Did they pull a fast one with their celebrated burnout personas, leading a generation of would-be street fighting men down the path to self-destruction as they secretly ate health food, practiced yoga and worked out?
ALL DOWN THE LINE
The Rolling Stones spanned the years during their show Tuesday night at the United Center. They're expected to play different sets for each of their three Chicago appearances. This was the program Tuesday:
* "Street Fighting Man"
***"It's Only Rock 'n' Roll"
***"If You Can't Rock Me"
***"Don't Stop" (new song)
***"All Down the Line"
***"Stray Cat Blues"
***"Far Away Eyes"
***"When the Whip Comes Down"
***"The Worst" (featuring Keith Richards)
***"Happy" (featuring Richards)
***"Can't Turn You Loose"
***"Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
***"Honky Tonk Women"
***"You Got Me Rocking"
***"Sympathy for the Devil"
***"Jumping Jack Flash"
No, the leathery Ron Wood and his positively sandpaper-faced guitar mate Keith Richards, while still impossibly lean and taut, are the poster boys for hard living.
The impishly endearing Mick Jagger, however, is singing so well at age 59 that you'd suspect he's been granted some sort of satanic request. As he sprinted across the stage, preening and pointing to the faithful, there were no thoughts that he was doing well for his age, only that he's at the peak of his powers. The dedicated follower of fashion may make more wardrobe changes during a show than Cher, but he has the remarkable ability of convincing 16,000 people in a jam-packed stadium that he is singing directly to each of them.
Charlie Watts, the elder statesman at 61, is steady as he goes, drumming with a calculated ferocity that keeps the musical circus running with pinpoint precision. He gets a considerable hand from Chicagoan Darryl Jones on bass, who is still relegated to junior member status after several tours, along with keyboardist-backing vocalist Chuck Leavell and saxophonist Bobby Keys.
"Licks" is playing three times in most cities, following a format of hockey arena, baseball stadium and funky older hall. They've reportedly rehearsed more than 100 songs for the tour, so ticketholders for the show Friday night at Comiskey Park will hear a different set than the one they played at the United Center. The Stones supposedly are throwing out the set lists altogether for the small halls, which means anything goes Monday night at the Aragon.
One of the things that sets "Licks" apart from its predecessors is there's not much new product to push. The Stones will mark their 40th year in the business with a "40 Licks" greatest-hits set, featuring four unrecorded tunes. They played one of those, an unmemorable "Don't Stop," on Tuesday, but the other 21 numbers were familiar favorites.
If the goal of a Stones tour is building the biggest possible fleet of yachts, then "Licks" is sacrificing in the name of artistry by playing smaller indoor arenas as well as 50,000-seat-and-up outdoor venues.
Each night the band is playing several tracks in a row from a vintage LP, and Tuesday's featured disc was "Some Girls." That 1978 work is widely considered the last great Stones album, although today it seems unabashedly sexist, even misogynistic. The set-within-a-set started with "Far Away Eyes," an ersatz country number featuring Wood on pedal steel (or "the furniture," as Jagger laughingly referred to the instrument as it was moved onstage). "When the Whip Comes Down," with its "XXX" video beauties projected in the background, and "Miss You" were the guiltiest of pleasures at best.
Jagger can whip a crowd into a frenzy like few other performers, as he displayed from the outset with "Street Fighting Man." The revolutionary spirit is alive and well, with tickets scaled at $350 on down. Yeah, right.
But the Stones at heart were never political animals. On the eve of the Sept. 11 anniversary, there wasn't one reference to the tragedy, which was downright refreshing. "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" is more than a song title, it's a philosophy, and fans like it.
While many rock guitarists who were deeply influenced by the blues tend to lose speed and technique as they age, Richards has never been a pyrotechnician so much as a stylist. What he's lost from a technical standpoint is minimal, and he has never played with more rollicking good cheer. His featured numbers, "The Worst" and "Happy," are well-deserved moments in the spotlight.
There's one soul tune on every program, and Tuesday's was "Can't Turn You Loose," with the horn section getting a workout. While there were complaints during the first tour stop in Boston that Keys and his three fellow brass players were underamplified, the horns sounded distractingly loud at the United Center. The trio of backup singers needed a PA boost, particularly on "Tumbling Dice."
Among the golden oldies, the highlight was "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," featuring Woods' ever-mounting rhythm work. "Honky Tonk Women" always gets a different reading from Jagger, but "Satisfaction" stuck too closely to the source to justify remaining in regular tour rotation.
The group uses a smaller "B stage" for a stripped-down miniset, getting up close and personal with the people in the cheaper seats while performing numbers that don't require the full support staff. Jagger displayed his mastery of Muddy Waters' vocal mannerisms with a dirty-old-blues reading of "Mannish Boy," complete with a Jagger harmonica solo. "Brown Sugar" also went over well on the smaller stage, with Keys breathing fire from the sax.
For the encores, the band selected "Sympathy for the Devil," with Richards laying down some tastefully devilish licks, and "Jumpin' Jack Flash," with an endless spray of red confetti--and torrid sound--from the stage.
Even after 22 songs, the Glimmer Twins weren't huffing hard enough to blow out a candle. These devils need no sympathy, indeed.
The Pretenders delivered a greatest-hits retrospective that featured the blistering power-chord interplay between Hynde and Adam Seymour, and a pretty fair drummer himself in Martin Chambers. Opening for the Stones is an unenviable task, but the Pretenders held the crowd's undivided attention, particularly with old faves "My City Was Gone" and "Back on the Chain Gang," as well as the more recent hit ballad "I'll Stand by You."
||parmeda, thanks for posting this! I hadn't seen it yet. Good review! I hear Greg Kot's review is in today's Tribune as well. Have you seen this one too? I havn't. Are you going to be there tomorrow night? I'll be in section C2. Can't wait! Thanks again!
[Edited by posada]
||GREAT review thanks for posting it Pam!