Lips and tongue, everywhere with the lips and tongue. In advance of the first concert of the North American leg of the Rolling Stones’ No Filter tour at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Friday, the town was painted with the band’s signature logo – on the sidewalks, at the airport, even at a Cubs baseball game miles away and hours in advance of the show. Heavy promotion for a group that supposedly needs no introduction, but got plenty anyway.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones,” boomed the baritone announcer at the event itself. If that wasn’t enough identification, the opening verse and chords of Street Fighting Man were a clinching, jagged declaration that cut through the cool June night: “Ev’rywhere, I hear, the sound …”
It has been quite some time since the Stones had anything left to prove, but the concert at the renovated neoclassical stadium marked not only a tour’s initial night, but the first performance by Mick Jagger since the frontman’s “minimally invasive procedure” to replace a heart valve in April. Whether skipping to the samba of Sympathy for the Devil or crooning on a gently strummed Angie or exclaiming “start me up” without need of emergency defibrillation, Jagger passed the stress tests. That is, if there were any to be had at all.
Because even with his cardiologist on speed-dial, the 75-year-old singer never wiped his brow, never sighed in relief, never was anything other than carefree in manner and loose-limbed in gesture. “The first night is always slightly wobbly,” he joked after a small flub. Rock and roll’s greatest all-time imp was alive and well and living unconcerned.
Jagger’s heart surgery had caused the postponement of a 17-date tour that stops, after a second Chicago concert on Tuesday, at Burl’s Creek Event Grounds in Oro-Medonte, Ont. The tour’s lone Canadian show, 137 kilometres north of Toronto, is an all-day festival affair on June 29, with camping and supporting acts Sloan, Dwayne Gretzky, One Bad Son, the Beaches and the Glorious Sons.
What an expected gathering of 60,000 people will see there is more or less what the sold-out crowd experienced on opening night at Soldier Field. There the Satisfaction deliverers drew heavily on their biggest (and long ago) hits: the unhurried Tumbling Dice, the stadium singalong You Can’t Always Get What You Want, the cowbell classic Honky Tonk Women and a show-closing run of Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Brown Sugar, Gimme Shelter and, yes, the fuzz-toned generational anthem and double entendre on what the band could not get in 1965.
The music was untied and imperfect, in the best Stones’ tradition. The core band (supplemented by keyboardists, saxophonists and singers) ruled a comfortable ground marked by funky rhythms and instantly recognizable guitar riffs. Second song Let’s Spend the Night Together, no longer a carnal suggestion, was a communal invitation quickly accepted. A mid-set, acoustic instrument excursion to a small stage at the end of a catwalk by Ronnie Wood, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Jagger for Angie and the Southern-drawled Dead Flowers felt like a drop-in from the old gang.
Four giant screens – each 19.7 metres high and 11.6 wide – afforded fans close-ups of a band at work in its 57th year of existence. Guitarist Wood wore a bemused expression, ruby-red sneakers and suspiciously jet-black hair. Snare-drum enthusiast Watts, the band’s elder statesman at age 78, was nonchalantly regal. Long-time bassist Darryl Jones – shout-out to the South Side Chicago native – pumped out unmissable Miss You grooves. Richards, looking like warmth death-ed over, was impassive to the circumstance.
And Jagger? He was as he’s been for so many years now: Grinning and mischievous – glint personified. He shimmied with his licorice legs. He waved his hands in showman fashion, somewhere between magician’s assistant and bad jujitsu. At one point, he wore a T-shirt available at the merchandise tables – lips and tongue for sale, at US$45 a pop.
One of the world’s most famous people, and one of the most meticulous behind the scenes, too, Jagger publicly never seems to take himself too seriously. The lyrics he presented in Chicago often implied resignation. “What can a poor boy do," he shrugged on the opening number, "but sing for a rock and roll band?” Later, his life’s philosophy was offered: If one can’t always get what one wants, well, then, get what you need instead.
If there was meaning to the night, perhaps it could have been found on 1994’s You Got Me Rocking. Although Jagger said its inclusion on the set list was chosen by an online fan vote, the song served the occasion.
“I was a pitcher down in a slump, I was a fighter taken for a sucker punch/Feeling bad, guess I lost my spring, I was the boxer who can’t get in the ring …”
It’s about downs, doubts and resilience. The band that has never left us is back. “I’d go see them again,” I heard one dude say to another while leaving the stadium. That fan will get his chance. The Stones are just getting started.
Street Fighting Man
Let’s Spend The Night Together
Sad Sad Sad
You Got Me Rocking
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Angie (on acoustic stage)
Dead Flowers (on acoustic stage)
Sympathy for the Devil
Honky Tonk Women
You Got The Silver (sung by Keith Richards)
Before They Make Me Run (sung by Keith Richards)
Paint It Black
Midnight Rambler (with You Gotta Move interlude)
Start Me Up
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction