The Rolling Stones
The United Center, Chicago, IL • March 26, 1999
A huge Stones fan, I am not. Yet I’ve always found Mick Jagger sexy, his voluptuous lips suckable. And “Miss You” has always sent chills on my spine. But I can’t get no satisfaction, had I paid three hundred dollars for the floor seats. (I can’t recall paying $300 for something that only lasted two hours, mind you.) Even Keith Richards himself said he wouldn’t pay $300 to see a rock band. But that was hardly an issue among those in attendance who had the cojones to go through with it. The apparent age of the “kids” in the audience was scarcely under thirty five, cellular phones in hand, Benzes and four-wheel drives gracing the parking lot. (The establishment attempting to be anti-establishment?)
And Mick is seemingly growing up, too, as he only bared his chest once during “Out of Control,” obviously now a misnomer to coincide with his dress. Although, he still insists on acting like a gigolo offstage, making “Some Girls” as timely as ever.
I may also add, in a move of elitism — euphemistically speaking, “for security purposes” — anyone whose ticket didn’t match the floor level they were supposed to be on, quickly found “No Entry” applied to their person. One couldn’t even wander like a lost kitten into what would normally be neutral territory, not even by accident, or to go to the bathroom. Curiosity seekers? Forget it.
So, anyway, I was sitting in the $150 cheap seats. Or was it $90 cheap seats? I can’t remember. My nose is still bleeding. Thankfully, I was seated in front of a Plexiglas shield to prevent the ensuing deluge. But I must be grateful — being a media person, I paid nothing but attention, since I suspect the only other way I would gain access is if my papa really were a Rolling Stone, I could hit him up for a free ticket.
There were two stages: a huge stripped-down, industrialized main stage, and a semi-circular small stage, separated by a catwalk that spanned nearly three quarters of the main floor. The big stage had a big sound, but was very impersonal, as most stadiums are. The small stage emitted a considerably smaller sound. Yet it felt like a nightclub, even from where I was sitting; maybe how I imagined the Stones might’ve felt during their infancy in the ’60s. It was quaint — cozy, even. Then it was cold again once they returned to their stripped down, industrial-sized platform, devoid of excessive lighting, bells and whistles. Back to basics they went, opening the show with “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Live With Me.” “Respectable,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” then “Moonlight Mile” followed. Richards handled vocals on “You Got the Silver.” Thereupon, Mick emerged with the rest of then Stones again, for “Before They Make Me Run.” “Route 66” and “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)” overpowered the small stage. “Start Me Up” reintroduced the main stage. Hardly any new stuff, but there was “Sympathy for the Devil” in the end.
In retrospect, I can vaguely recall Jagger leaning on Keith Richards once upon completion of “Midnight Rambler” on the small stage. That was a strange sight coming from a once inseparable duo that continues to write songs together, and previously shared on-stage the intimacy of Lennon and McCartney. To be detached from the audience in an arena is one thing, but to be impersonal with each other was rather disappointing.
Regardless, the Stones are still awesome, and they know it. Not their performance, necessarily — although, many would beg to differ — but their persona. Why else would they –should they — command such outrageous ticket prices? Because they can. Thirty-five years, and still smoking — still marketable. What’s more, they’ve grown into their niche. As a friend and I discussed recently, the Stones are shaping rock music into a less age-specific genre. Kind of like blues legends, I’m reminded: the older the better, the more sacred and respected.
The Stones are cool, and they know it. Their aura is entrancing. Damned if Richards doesn’t look worn, but he plays one helluva sweet guitar. He’s smooth, his riffs uncalculated. Charlie Watts is inanimate. But with Mick as a frontman, it would be overkill if it were any other way. Given that assumption, Watts isn’t as inanimate as he is “laid back.” As for Ronnie Wood? Well, it’s interesting to see Jagger’s displaced camaraderie laid there. Currently, it all fits together in their favor, though. And, suddenly, when that brouhaha between Pearl Jam and Ticketmaster over ticket prices a few years ago jars my memory, somehow it becomes an irrelevant icon.