Stones got it live: Bono and blues


September 18, 2002



“The world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band” has always been a bit of a misnomer for the Rolling Stones. Not necessarily because of the hyperbole of that claim, but because that has never been [ital] all [ital] that the Rolling Stones are.

During a relatively intimate performance before 4,500 people at the Aragon Ballroom on Monday—the third and last Chicago show on the first leg of the band’s tour—the Stones opted out of the arena rock that has dominated stadium extravaganzas of recent years, choosing instead to show the range and depth of their musical ambitions.

Since the band had promised to deliver “themed” shows during the small-venue gigs on this tour, and it has been highlighting a different one of its classic albums with five or six songs during each of the bigger shows, many fans expected that Chicago’s “club” gig would be heavy on the blues that initially inspired the long-running superstars.

We did indeed get some of that, as opening act Dr. John joined the group to deliver a spirited cover of “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” the Willie Dixon tune whose definitive version came from the great Muddy Waters (who also loaned the Stones their name).

Mick Jagger introduced the tune by saying something about Chicago’s legendary Chess Studio, where the band first met Muddy, but the exact comment was lost to the equally famous mud of the notorious sound pit that is the Aragon. (The venue was also hotter, sweatier, and more disgusting than I’ve ever seen it in 10 years of reviewing there—though that was also part of its perverse charm.)

Yet rather than offering a back porch hootenanny from the Delta, the musical menu was surprisingly varied as the Stones branched out to give us reggae (with an endearingly awkward version of Peter Tosh’s take on the Temptations’ “Walk and Don’t Look Back”), disco (a fiery and funky “Dance Part 1”), country (Ron Wood took to the pedal steel for a sloppy but wonderful “Torn & Frayed”), and up-tempo R&B (with the horn section leading the way through “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”).

Curiously, though this was billed a show “for the fans,” and the band took great effort with ID-checks and an elaborate voucher system to assure that few of the $50 tickets would fall into the hands of scalpers, the audience’s response to these fabulous musical detours was lackluster, compared to the rabid glee with which they greeted the greatest hits at the opening and closing of the performance.

For years, Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards have said that they have chosen conservative and predictable set lists because that is what the fans who pay top-dollar expect and demand. It was sad to see that borne out to some extent, but it was to the Stones’ credit—and the hardcore fans’ true rejoicing—that the band finally decided to dig a bit deeper into a catalog that truly is one of the greatest treasures in pop-music history.

And it wasn’t as if the lovers of classic-rock radio didn’t get some of what they wanted. The band also tore through predictable but exciting versions of “Start Me Up,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Brown Sugar,” and Keith’s ubiquitous solo showcase, “Happy.”

There was also an added bonus with a high-octane celebrity cameo as U2’s Bono sauntered onto the stage in his trademark sunglasses to trade choruses with Jagger on a rollicking run through “It’s Only Rock and Roll.” As the band jammed out the ending of the tune, Bono’s chant of “Going to a go-go” was adopted by Jagger to become “Going to Chicago,” instantly becoming a moment that this city’s fans will cherish forever.

Throughout, Jagger’s moves were lithe and limber, though as he nears age 60, he spaces the dance numbers out with tunes that allow him to take a breather while he dons an acoustic guitar (“Torn & Frayed”) or sits at the keyboards (“Worried About You”). Still, on the latter, he gave his vocals more of a workout than they’ve received onstage in quite some time, gamely catapulting into the higher regions of a still-impressive falsetto.

As always, one of the major joys of seeing the Stones in concert was witnessing the deft interaction of Richards and drummer Charlie Watts, who remains rock’s great minimalist groove master. But a freshly rehabbed Wood was also in fine form, especially when he stepped forward to trade incendiary solos with Richards on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.”

Longtime Stones fans know better than to buy into the ever-present talk that “this could be the last time” (especially because the group is already talking about return to Chicago on a second leg of the tour). But if the Stones do in fact opt to retire from the stage at the end of this jaunt, however long it lasts, they will have bid us farewell in fine form indeed.



Start Me Up

Live With Me

Rocks Off

Hand of Fate

Torn & Frayed

Worried About You

Everybody Needs Somebody to Love

Walk and Don’t Look Back

Dance Part 1


Slipping Away


It’s Only Rock and Roll

I Just Want to Make Love to You

Honky Tonk Woman

Rip This Joint

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking

Jumping Jack Flash

Brown Sugar

Encore: Tumblin’ Dice