When The Rolling Stones come to play in your city, you go see them.
For rock music fans and history lovers, it’s a no-brainer – a privilege not to be taken for granted these days, especially after the Mick Jagger health scare earlier this year that threatened the start of the band’s current No Filter tour and required several dates to be rescheduled.
Thankfully (and seemingly miraculously), Mick Jagger recovered and the two original Chicago dates were honored, becoming the tour’s launch point. And for two nights, 120,000 Stones fans had the privilege of filling Soldier Field to witness history, as the age-defying rockers rolled through a set of twenty songs (each night) that had people on their feet from start to finish.
I attended the second of those shows Tuesday night and – as expected – the mere sight of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts sent the crowd into pandemonium. They were a sight to behold, with wrinkles to prove not only their ages but their awe-inspiring, logic-defying resilience.
Think about it, these men have survived the 1960s, rock and roll (and all the legendary stuff that went with both), plus various health scares to still be here and performing in damn-near 2020. The youngest of them – guitarist Wood – just turned 72. Jagger and Richards are both 75, and Watts – the ever-stoic time-keeper whose simple, less-is-more style of drumming would never be linked to any cardiac issues – just turned 78.
You wonder then how this foursome can still get a rush from seeing 60,000 people alternately singing, dancing and screaming at the top of their lungs while the band plays tunes that have – in some cases – been around for 55 years (“Satisfaction” hit No. 1 in 1964).
Yet it was clear from the beginning that The Stones were in their element, and for the 39th time in Chicago – and ninth at Soldier Field – the world’s greatest rock and roll band showed us why they’ve earned that title.
Tuesday night kicked off with “Jumping Jack Flash,” “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and “Tumbling Dice.” Mick Jagger sang and yowled in the way that only he can while prancing and strutting across the stage with the energy of a man a third his age. His signature moves were all there, from the peacock-like strut to the wild hand waving, clapping and pointing to the famous hip-swinging. As the night’s biggest curiosity given recent headline news, Jagger is nothing else if he isn’t physically fit.
Musically, the Stones gave us everything from cocky brash (“Bitch”) to country-rock (“Sweet Virginia”), and from down-home blues (“Write ‘Em All Down,” which was accompanied by a video tribute to African-American blues and soul artists) to downright inappropriateness (“Brown Sugar”).
The beauty of this show was in its unpredictability. Fans, myself included, who’d searched the Internet in advance for a peak at the set list were thrown from the start when it became clear that this show would not mimic Friday’s. That one had kicked off with “Street Fighting Man” and “Let’s Spend The Night Together” and later included the No. 1 ballad “Angie,” none of which were present in Tuesday’s set.
Added instead were the songs “Monkey Man” (by fan demand online), the obscure 1965 tune “Play With Fire” and “Slipping Away” (a song featuring Keith Richards on lead vocal).
In all, thirteen of the 20 songs performed each night were common to both shows, including classics like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Miss You,” and “Start Me Up.”
Given the Stones’ immense song catalogue, including nearly 60 Hot 100 chart singles and many more album-rock classics, they could literally mix up set lists and still intrigue fans for days on end and from miles around.
Indeed, people had come from many miles around to attend Tuesday’s show. The couple seated next to us, for example, had flown in from Texas. They were an older couple in their seventies who had to purchase tickets here after the rescheduling of the show planned for their hometown following Jagger’s illness.
They agreed that they had gotten their money’s worth, even if Tuesday’s show did have a few imperfections. These were mostly technicalities that might have doomed lesser bands, but not the Stones.
For instance, there was the sound quality. Soldier Field created a lot of reverb which caused delay and echo effects that distorted some of the vocals. And at one point, while the group was performing “Sweet Virginia” – one of several songs played on the extended catwalk runway – a tech appeared onstage (stepping in front of Wood) to make an adjustment to Mick’s guitar wiring.
Later, Jagger took a break while Keith Richards sang two songs, “Slipping Away” and “Before They Make Me Run.” Richards’ microphone was barely audible, perhaps by choice as the legend is known more for his guitar riffs than his singing.
Then there were the longer-than-normal pauses between songs. After performing “Miss You,” the group appeared to be going into another tune before Jagger was reminded that they were supposed to be performing “Paint It, Black.” While making the adjustment, he remarked to the crowd – as if he owed us an explanation – “it’s only our second night…and it’s our first fuck-up!”
He was right, and loud cheers followed – including by yours truly – as the band went into “Black,” the song for which I have special affinity (it was No. 1 on the day this writer was born).
The mistakes, which might have flustered artists without the Stones’ stature, had been more endearing than anything else as they added to the jam feel and the spontaneity of the event. You almost felt with each pause between songs, for instance, that the band was deciding right then and there what to play next, and they might very well have been. The fact that Tuesday’s set didn’t match Friday’s only added to this perception.
Plus, the crowd – some of which were in their twenties and thirties and many of whom were in their own haze – didn’t seem to mind anyway. Marijuana smoke wafted through the late-night air as more than a few Chicagoans decided to celebrate early the pending legality of recreational cannabis in Illinois, an eventuality signed into law earlier Tuesday by Governor J. B. Pritzker (and effective January 1, 2020, for those counting down).
Apparently, the fans in attendance had to be reminded of that fact by Jagger who, upon first mentioning Pritzker’s name during a break in the music, heard a few boos come back his way. When he then pointed out the cannabis legislation, the jeers were replaced by loud cheers.
Jagger also acknowledged to loud applause new Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was in attendance, while his very brief – and slightly inaudible remarks about the current Chicago Pride Week, and a famous Eagles-Bears game that didn’t end well for Chicago sports fans, fell flat.
But Jagger meant no malice, and none was taken. We were there to see him (in all his resilience) and his legendary band mates perform, which they did astoundingly.
After two hours, the set closed with “Brown Sugar,” “Gimme Shelter” (featuring beautiful vocalist Sasha Allen – too bad her mic wasn’t turned up more) and their first No. 1 single in America “Satisfaction.”
The Stones had stretched the 20 songs over two hours in a classic performance for the ages. The band who continues to defy the odds came and conquered Chicago, with Jagger’s recovery (and high-energy performance) seemingly nothing short of miraculous.
I’d never have to see another band live to know that The Rolling Stones are indeed the greatest rock and roll band alive.
And thank goodness for that last part!
Rolling Stones’ Set List for Chicago’s Soldier Field on June 25, 2019:
- Jumpin’ Jack Flash
- It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It)
- Tumbling Dice
- Write Em All Down
- Monkey Man (by demand)
- You Can’t Always Get What You Want
- Play With Fire
- Sweet Virginia
- Sympathy for the Devil
- Honky Tonk Women
- Slipping Away (Keith Richards vocals)
- Before They Make Me Run (Keith vocals)
- Miss You
- Paint It, Black
- Midnight Rambler
- Start Me Up
- Brown Sugar
- Gimme Shelter
- (I Cant Get No) Satisfaction