On every much-hyped,
ever-more-expensive tour between 1982 and 2002, the Rolling Stones devolved
further and further from their self-proclaimed status as "the world's
greatest rock 'n' roll band" -- a hyperbolic claim that was once close to
the truth -- to become more of a bloated, self-parodying, second-tier
Rolling Stones cover band.
The primary cause for
this sad decline was that the band simply stopped challenging itself. Here
is a group with one of the richest catalogs in rock history, yet time after
time, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Charlie Watts and the latest
hired hands trotted out the same tired set list, heavy on the staples that
dominate classic-rock radio, because they claimed that was what fans wanted.
Meanwhile, ticket prices grew ever steeper; the top seats at Soldier Field
on Saturday night cost $450.
The welcome and long
overdue exception came on the group's last tour, when the Stones gave the
people what they allegedly wanted during their show at Comiskey Park ("Brown
Sugar," "Start Me Up," "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll," etc.), then played a gig
for themselves and the hard-core devotees at the Aragon Ballroom.
On that night, Sept.
16, 2002, the Stones jammed with Dr. John on Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to
Make Love to You." They flirted with reggae (via Peter Tosh's take of the
Temptations' "Walk and Don't Look Back"), disco (a fiery and funky "Dance
Part 1"), country ("Torn & Frayed") and up-tempo R&B (with the horns leading
the way on "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love"). They tore through a batch of
songs from their best album, 1972's "Exile on Main Street." And for several
hours, they were once again one of the best bands I've ever seen.
THE ROLLING STONES
Lonely Boys; Belushi/Aykroyd & the Have Love Will Travel Revue
425 E. McFetridge
The group's current
tour isn't likely to match the highs of that relatively intimate night at
the Aragon. The set list has taken a big step back toward the safe and
predictable (see "Reasons for Living"), and the group is varying things very
little from night to night. The most adventurous and emotional moment is a
tribute to Ray Charles in the form of a cover of "Night Time Is the Right
Of course, fans get
the obligatory four songs plugging the new album "A Bigger Bang." But in an
apparent acknowledgment that all of their albums since 1980 have been little
more than disposable concert souvenirs, 1997's "Bridges to Babylon" and
1994's "Voodoo Lounge" are represented by one song each, and everything else
dates from 1980's "Emotional Rescue" or much, much earlier.
The good news is that
the Stones seem to be playing many of their hoarier staples with renewed vim
and vigor. They apparently reconnected with the muse during 2002's Licks
Tour, or at least remembered something they had long forgotten, emphasizing
immediacy and energy over spectacle. "Jagger seemed to be particularly
pumped for the show, using every inch of the ample floor space to strut and
stomp like an angry ballet dancer while working the catwalk,' " raved the
"The best stadium
tour by the Stones since 1988's 'Steel Wheels' [tour], " declared the Boston
Globe, which went on to call the musicians "the Dorian Grays of rock 'n'
roll -- most are in their 60s, but they perform like musicians half their
age." Added a second review in the same paper: "The Stones seemed to echo
the bluesmen they grew up admiring, men who also played well into their 60s,
70s and even 80s."
It has long been a
rock-critic cliche to say that any new Stones album is "their best since
'Some Girls,' " released in 1978, inspired by the then-burgeoning punk
movement and the last inarguable classic. But another factor that bodes well
for this tour is that "A Bigger Bang," the band's first new album in eight
years, at least stinks less than any of its releases in the '90s, rating as
a perfectly OK [**1/2] effort.
To be sure, this is
still a simulacrum of a once-great band. Harder-edged tunes such as "Rough
Justice," "Oh No, Not You Again" and "Rain Fall Down" sound like the current
Stones imitating the earlier Stones of "When the Whip Comes Down" and
"Shattered," who sounded like the even earlier Stones of their mid-'60s
through mid-'70s heyday. But at least the group is rocking out a bit, and
"Sweet Neo Con" actually qualifies as something new for a band that's hardly
ever gotten specific about its politics.
There are also plenty
of duds, including the uninspired blues vamp "Back of My Hand," the anemic
drone "Laugh, I Nearly Died," and the tepid toss-offs "Biggest Mistake" and
"Look What the Cat Dragged In." Yet producer Don Was generally knew what was
worth aping from the past, highlighting the aggressive interplay between
Richards and Woods' guitars and the stripped-down power of Watts' simple but
massive backbeat. But you don't have to take my word for any of this.
You can judge for
yourself online via free streaming audio at
www.rollingstones.com/abiggerbang. When have the Stones ever given us
anything for free? Gee, maybe the fellas are improving in their old age
REASONS FOR LIVING
The Rolling Stones'
Boston gig on Aug. 21 stands as a typical example of the set lists on their
"Start Me Up"
"You Got Me Rocking"
"Back of My Hand"
"Beast of Burden"
"She's So Cold"
"Night Time Is the Right Time"
"Oh No, Not You Again"
"Honky Tonk Women"
"Out of Control"
"Sympathy for the Devil"
"Jumping Jack Flash"
And encores of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "It's Only Rock and
Some of these tunes
are mediocre at best, while some were once great but have become tired
warhorses. My gripe is that the Stones have recorded dozens of others I'd
rather hear. While compiling my choices for the ultimate set, I tried to be
fair, allowing them to keep two new tunes as well as the Ray Charles
tribute, and generally following the same mix of rockers, groovers and
"All Down the Line"
"Rough Justice "
"Sweet Black Angel"
"19th Nervous Breakdown"
"Going to a Go Go"
"Night Time Is the Right Time"
"Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby (Standing in the Shadows)"
"Can't You Hear Me Knockin'"
"Oh No, Not You Again"
"Before They Make Me Run"
And an encore of "Wild Horses" and "Torn and Frayed."
Now, be honest,
Stones fans: Wouldn't you much rather hear that set?