Hard-rocking, energetic concert from the Rolling Stones
THE ROLLING STONES
With Living Colour.
Sullivan Stadium, September 29.
By ALFRED ARMENDARIZ
and PETER PARNASSA
AFTER A SEVEN YEAR HIATUS, THE Rolling Stones are back on the road in support of their new album, Steel Wheels. On Friday night, their North American tour rolled into nearby Foxboro for the first of three sold-out shows. Fans spanning several generations turned up for the band's first performance in the Boston area in over ten years.
When the Rolling Stones announced their plans to tour, fans everywhere were a bit skeptical. After the Stones' 1986 album, Dirty Work, it seemed that the rift between band leaders Mick Jagger and Keith Richards was irreparable. They spent their time after Dirty Work involved in other projects and taking jabs at each other in the press. A successful reconciliation between Jagger and Richards occurred earlier this year, and the two began writing songs for what was to become Steel Wheels. The album, propelled by the success of the first single "Mixed Emotions" and by wide critical acclaim, quickly entered the Billboard Top 10.
Rolling Stones mania hit the country after the announcement of the tour. The band appeared on the covers of Time, Forbes, and Rolling Stone magazines and were the subject of many television reports. Their tour was booked at the largest stadiums in the country, often at three or more shows per venue, and tickets sold out in record time. The country was bracing itself for the coming of the "World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band."
From the opening chords of "Start Me Up," the band proved itself worthy of all the attention. Mick Jagger silenced all the critics who said he was too old to rock with an electrifying performance. In addition to his great vocal performance, Jagger played guitar and harmonica on many songs. Richards, the musical soul of all Stones shows, led the band with steady rhythm guitar lines and colorful solos. When the two sang together, as in "Dead Flowers," their renewed friendship was obvious. Fans, glad to see the Glimmer Twins having so much fun together on stage, cheered wildly.
Undoubtedly the most surprising element of the concert was the song selection. The band played some early hits such as "Paint It Black" and "Play With Fire," songs which they have rarely played live in over twenty years. "2000 Light Years From Home," another long-forgotten number, was resurrected at the show, accompanied by a psychedelic light display.
The Stones were careful to make sure that the arrangements of the songs matched the "feel" of the original recordings. In order to accomplish this, the band was accompanied by three backup singers, two keyboardists, and a five-piece horn section. All these musicians were given chances to prove their abilities, but longtime Stones associates Bobby Keys on saxophone and keyboardist Chuck Leavell were especially impressive.
For the most part, the band's playing was exceptional. The dual guitar attack of Richards and Ron Wood was mean and rough sounding in classic Stones tradition. In particular, their interplay on "Midnight Rambler" was very strong. The two silent Stones, drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman, provided a steady beat for all the songs. While these two band members are the least visible in the press, the Stones themselves in interviews have credited them with being the reason why the band is a success.
At the concert, however, the crowd gave Mick Jagger their attention for the majority of the time. Although he is known for mumbling unintelligible lyrics on hard-rocking hits like "Satisfaction" and "Honkytonk Women," Jagger can shine on slower numbers as well, as in "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Later on in the show, Richards displayed his vocal abilities when he led the band through two numbers while Jagger rested backstage. Though he no longer has much of his higher vocal register, Richards's singing is still extremely powerful. This is because Richards's singing, like his guitar playing, derives its power not from technical finesse but from the power of the emotions behind it.
One of the most talked about aspects of the tour has been the stage, and it is well worth the fuss. Reportedly, Jagger told the designer to model it after the movie Blade Runner, and the influence is obvious from the first glance at the stage, which contained two giant video monitors. The band was able to roam across a platform which spanned the width of the football field. There were also two staircases which Jagger, Richards, and Wood wandered up occasionally, much to the delight of the fans. Without a doubt, the most remarkable aspects of the stage were the giant inflatable women which appeared during "Honkytonk Women" and the platform at the top of the stage from which Jagger sang "Sympathy for the Devil."
While the concert was for the most part excellent, there were a few faults. During several of the early songs, the sound mix favored the keyboards. This resulted in many of the harder-edged songs, like "Bitch," sounding far too smooth. Also, the opening band, Living Colour, left much to be desired. While guitarist Vernon Reid has obvious technical abilities, he sometimes seems more caught up with playing fast than with saying anything melodically.
Whenever the Stones tour, the question always arises regarding if they will ever tour again. During his solo tour, Keith Richards spoke of how elder blues statesmen like Muddy Waters and B. B. King rocked into old age. After all, rock and roll is only forty years old, so who is to say when a person is too old to play anymore? If Richards has it his way, chances are that the Stones will keep rolling into their third decade.