© Words by Wendy Rose Watson & Dr. Richard Williamson
We saw the Rolling Stones at Chicago's United Center on June 6, 2013,midway through their '50 and Counting' tour. They played great and gave the fans an outstanding, if not particularly new, show. You could dun them fairly for playing things too safe in places but by and large, they did their reputation justice and deserve much credit for delivering major league guitar mastery with powerful, fluid ensemble playing.
We're not sure if there were any newer listeners but if so they can't be blamed for wishing they were seeing a more adventurous show, as this is after all one of Rock-N-Rolls all-time best outfits and, they display better chops and more depth than most bands will ever achieve. Yes, we miss original bassist Bill Wyman and pianist Ian Stewart [and not to mention Mr. Jones] but there is still enough of the Rolling Stones to count for the genuine article.
The crowd was a little older than in years past, but happy and already feeling good, still a little more reserved compared to earlier tours. Regardless, there's still an unmistakable edge to the anticipation, a running vibe that lets us know that we were in for far more than most shows can promise. The stage set up looked good - big lips backdrop [lit to many cool effects, circular catwalk, side screens with animated logo sketchesfor the warm-up, then the back screen started to pulse and come alive. Whoop, with a no nonsense introduction, there they were, the Rolling Stones looking almost just as fit, balanced and ready to roll all of us through the yesteryears.
Happily, it was just the basic band at first. Charlie Watts, in perfect form, kicked the band right into gear on primal classic Get Off My Cloud. Ronnie Wood clearly understands his rhythm guitars duties, meshing well, though not perfectly with Keith Richards sinuous leads. Mick prowled all about the stage right on time but his vocals sounded a little too mechanical, maybe I missed something, does age desensitize you? Darryl Jones on bass and Chuck Leavell on piano filled out the classic Stones sound. A good Chuck Berry groove loosened up It's Only Rock n Roll, but the hot playing really commenced on Paint It Black, Keith got open string blues modal and Ronnie took it to the wall with vintage electric sitar.
Gimme Shelter's opening chords took flight with Lisa Fischer's beyond soul felt gospel pipes, abetted by snake-y percussion. What Mick lacked Ms Lisa Fischer sure made up for. Lisa Fischers' vocals added a dimension that drove the white-light holy spirit out. Sadly, our master of ceremonies, Jagger fell short of doing this however Mick did leave plenty of room for some seriously bonafide guitar interplay, especially front and center with Mick Taylor's emeritus spotlight on Sway. Tempos accelerated most welcomed on Live w/Me, with veteran sideman Bobby Keys finally stepping up to add the song's signature rock and roll sax. All the ingredients were in place now for the full-tilt concert sound that The Rolling Stones had established in their American tours from 1972 forward.
Recent Stones tours have also set a controversial new precedent - guest stars, some of whom seem most appropriate, such as Taj Mahal on the first night of their Chicago run, and others like Sheryl Crow, a good performer with strong vocals but who didn't really add that much in her cameo on the second night. Maybe she was tired , who knows? Anyhow, tonight we got Taylor Swift, in a pretty fair but also somewhat mechanical vocal tribute to Marianne Faithfull on As Tears Go By. We miss you Marianne, and it's fair to say there will be no topping Ms. Faithfull as she's always been beyond measure, singing straight from the soul. Poor Swift, hard to follow in those shoes so why not just stick behind Mick and let his mechanical vocals be the semi-shine? It was a pale attempt but Swift was just following Jaggers lead. Maybe Ms. Fischer would have bee a better choice but the image would not have held out - What I want to know is if seeing is believing then where are the musicians of today that could have accompanied Jagger on this one. Jagger should have dialed up Ms. Karen Elson, she could have brought her country-mountain ballad vocals this way and helped bring this diamond 'small' song through or at least we think so. Highlight of the song was the exquisite acoustic 12-string from Keith. Taylor's performance may still be a highlight for some enchanted by her clear 'sweet less than soulful vocals' and by her play on Faithfulls' classic hair cut] but it's true, Swift was less impressive to many who saw her turn as filler, a pale shadowy girl who has not yet earned the stripes for such a role. We wish her luck -'cause baby, it's a wild world!
Backup music and guest artists do give the band a lot to play with in pacing a career-spanning show. The high standard of quality throughout even the slackest moments and the band's very lively mood and performance keep the crowd on their feet, redeeming even Eighties slog like Emotional Rescue and none-too-memorable current excuses for singles like Doom and Gloom and One More Shot. The scarcity of material from their last thirty years' recorded output suggests they have been in retrospective gear for a long time already.
As always, Charlie gave purpose to Honky Tonk Women, but otherwise this one is a by-the numbers excursion into stock tropes. The big show sound got turned down again, giving welcome play to less-slick tunes. Chuck Leavell's Allmans-honed piano chops get their feature on You Got the Silver, which Keith sings, as well as his gypsy punk anthem Before They Make Me Run.
Funky and tour- de -force come together to grand effect, old school level, with Mick Taylor's solos for Midnight Rambler. Jagger got dark and deep on harp and vocals, while Taylor gave it his all, as did Ronnie and Keith. I mean they were taking this quite seriously, a Brit-blues troika that made absolute sense in ideal combination. Taylor upped the ante with barn burning slide and Charlie and Darryl nailed it exactly on the dime every second, note and lick. This ladies and gentlemen is The Rolling Stones and, for better or worse, so are Miss You [with a great Darryl Jones funk-a-po-ta-mous workout] and Start Me Up [which are less redeemable], latter day hallmark tunes that define the band for too many audiences and, damn if the band can't play the daylights out of these 'old nags' too as they seemed to breathe life into these cheeze-corn-zombie warhorses.
The main set's closer, Sympathy For the Devil, torqued the fire level up as it's one of our personal favourites from that era and Micks vocals came to a head here, he wasn't plugged in to the battery anymore, everything raged bright at full charge - band, giant lips, singers, sax, percussion screens, lighting, crowd, everything. They were not yet done this evening, the crowd roars for more of the real thing and they get to it too, w/a string of encores considerably more impressive than the dross leading up to Sympathy for the Devil. A choir appeared for You Can't Always Get What You Want. What the choir makes of the lyrics is unknown, but they hit the right mix of holy Chicago tongues, high church and Jordanaires, French horn likewise sublime. This is The Rolling Stones and we expect an elevated level of culture and sound. We demand, as well, the requisite of getting-down-like-a-motherfucka' going beyond above and below, that we got on the second encore, Jumping Jack Flash. The backdrop screens flash collages of their 50 year get down all-out ride. Redeem us please, wash our souls stone cold as ice or just warm us like an easy bake oven, one way or another, you got to roll us.
They took another bow and retreated to make the crowd beg for one last roll before launching into whiteout/blackout plasma fusion on I Can't Get No (Satisfaction) Rock and roll guitar playing rarely gets much better than this, Charlie Watts rules the beat of the universe, everybody on stage [and in the crowd] put all their wow into the now and the Rolling Stones pay the fans and themselves the perfect compliment of giving all they have on their benchmark, as good as can be done.
The crowd left w/big smiles on their faces even as they rededicate themselves to satisfaction, still energized, if not brought to the brink of mayhem seen in the collages. The sense that such total abandon has already passed is implicit. No, this is not the kind of vanguard rock and roll documented on Got Live If You Want It, or Shindig or Get Your Ya Yas Out or Love You Live. This tour is obviously a review, a retrospective. The performances are first rate, sometimes stellar but not impeccable. Sometimes the spectacle [guest stars included] does outshine the music. They could have done a couple of Chuck Berry or Motown numbers, as they usually do to great effect, or even better some Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters. We would've betrayed the world for them to play Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man or 2000 Light Years From Home. And as awestruck as some were by Taylor Swift, we would have swapped her number in a second for a guest star like Taj Mahal or an old Chicago blues survivor like James Cotton or the modern mountain-ballad queen Ms.Karen Elson. Bill Wyman's continued absence is near tragic, perhaps key to why they madeno worthwhile records in the last twenty years but, like the song says, "I can't get no ..."
The Stones show we saw on that eve in Chicago in June, was excellent. "Finest thing I'd seen in years." Dr. Williamson says. "Even if not up to their best performances for many people in the US of A, The Stones still delivered the closest thing some of us may know about old school classic rock and roll satisfaction." I can't argue with Dr. Williamson about that, looking around at the audience I see a very mixed crowd, not the crowd from the yesteryears but there were a lot of old-timers there and outside of Jack Whites' get up and go bad-assery shows of today, whom to me is the closest modern rock of the past, there is no doubt about it...50 years on Charlie Watts has still got a great band. It's true, Dr. Williamson and I both agreeDr. Richard Williamson was born in New Mexico in 1952. He has lived in and around New Orleans for most of his life and worked on surveying crews in swamps & desert, as an oilfield diver/tender, draftsman/printer, technical writer and video editor. Despite the interruptions of both his home and nearby University of New Orleans being flooded by Hurricane Katrina, he earned his MA in history in 2006, concentrating on stages of the BErlin Crises. He completed his doctorate in history at LSU, and his book, First Steps to Dente: American Diplomacy in the Berlin Crises, 1958-1963 was published by Lexington Books in May 2012. He is currently working on the topic of US-Soviet progress on disarmament during the Johnson administration. He swims, makes musical noises, and hangs out in the swamps while working on sci-fi Western and his chronicle of détente.Wendy Rose Watson was born in Georgia in 1970 and moved to California in 1996 where she opened her clothing salon, Kate Los Angeles. Wendy worked with many artist throughout the years that her establishment was alive during1997 - 2009. Her clothing salon was known for more than just her excellent taste in wardrobe selection as she also sold rare vinyl that clients would seek her out for. Wendy has always loved music, art, photography and clothing. She was born into a family who introduced her to blues and folk music that would later on influence her work in many ways. Her grandmother,Sibyl McCarthy was a vocal coach in Georgia and was the first woman in the state to have her own radio hour at WFOM where she had special guest artist as well as played and sang her own music on the piano. Wendy's recalls that her grandmother Sibyl would always open the program with the song "I See Your Face Before Me," and would close the radio hour with the song "Sleepy Time Down South." Wendy is currently a free-lance writer and wardrobe stylist. She is working on a book of short stories, prose and poetry and is also writing a screen-play. She is a vegetarian who believes not only in animal rights but also human rights as she continues to be involved with charity work. She is currently living in the deep South focusing on writing while continuing to travel beyond whenever the opportunity arrives. Painting by Xany Ruoff "Sticky Fingers" (Triptych)12 carat white gold, watercolor, and a big bulge 2013