The Rolling Stones aren’t merely a band, but a globally-beloved institution. For nearly six decades, the legendary English rock group has presented their era-defining collection of blues-rock hits to the global masses. Their mixture of eye-popping production, superb musicianship and raw charisma has long solidified their position as the absolute gold standard of the 70,000-seat stadium circuit. In a world where so many people can’t seem to agree on anything, the accepted greatness of the Stones is a unifying force, capable of bridging multiple generations and deep cultural divides.
The Stones have survived it all by this point: near-breakups, the death of one member, the voluntary departure of a few others, medical maladies, as well as all the typical travails that have doomed countless other bands coming up in their wake. Nothing can slow them down, it seems. For so long, it was common to wonder when it all might come to an end; now it’s hard to fathom what a world without the Stones might even look like.
Fortunately, we’ve haven’t yet to had to reckon with this horrifying reality, though this year we came seemingly closer than ever before. The band didn’t originally intend on kicking off the North American leg of their No Filter tour at Soldier Field in Chicago on Friday night (June 21). It was a surgery to replace one of the valves in frontman Mick Jagger’s heart several months that necessitated a postponement. There’s always been an aura of invincibility that’s surrounded Jagger, eclipsing even his imitable partner and “Glimmer Twin” Keith Richards, whose own brushes with death are almost too numerous to count. For the first time in 2019, he seemed mortal.
Perhaps seeking to prove that neither time nor a bum ticker can slow him down, the 75-year old singer was a paragon of unbridled energy and enthusiasm throughout the uncharacteristically chilly Friday night performance. From the opening notes of “Street Fighting Man,” Jagger proved across two hours and 20 different songs why he’s considered by many to be the greatest frontman in the history of rock and roll. There was hardly a moment in the show where he wasn’t flailing his arms, gyrating his hips, strutting or jogging up and down the lengthy catwalk and asking the crowd to give him more. We were all only too willing to oblige.
The Stones have been visiting Chicago for 55 years, going all the way back to their first tours of the U.S., when they cut tracks at the venerated Chess Records recording studio located just two miles up the road from Soldier Field. Though they originally planned on beginning this particular run in the sunnier confines of Miami, you could hardly have picked a more appropriate location to mark their American return. That being said, Jagger apparently also had some unfinished business in the Windy City.
“This is our 38th show in Chicago, and I still haven’t eaten an Italian Beef,” he admitted. Given his legendary level of fitness, it wasn’t exactly a revelation that Jagger has yet to enjoy the city’s signature, grease-laden sandwich. (If he deigns to give it a shot before the band’s next show at Soldier Field, I’d suggest popping a spare Lipitor ahead of time, you know, just in case.)
As the show progressed, it became obvious that the Stones have a problem unique to a band of their immense stature: they have too many great songs. Realistically, they could easily perform for upwards of four hours and not make it through a large portion of their most beloved hits. For the tour’s opening set, they made sure to pack in as many crowd favorites as they could alongside an impressive array of deep cuts meant to satisfy the fans who’ve already come out to see them five or 100 times before.
Early in the show, they busted out the Steel Wheels cut “Sad Sad Sad” for the first time in almost 17 years. That was immediately followed by Voodoo Lounge standout “You Got Me Rocking,” which made it into the setlist thanks to an online fan vote. Both songs were a nice compliment to the expected classics like “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Gimmer Shelter,” “Start Me Up,” “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women.”
Richards, clad in a leather jacket, teal green sneakers, and a long red scarf that dangled from his belt, got his expected moment in the spotlight midway through the show. With Jagger somewhere backstage, “Keef” cut a shamanic presence as he poured his heart out over gutwrenchers like “You Got The Silver” and “Before They Make Me Run.” As ever, Richards’ irreverent sidekick Ronnie Wood stood right by his side, pulling out haunting slide notes from the neck of his guitar while his friend crooned mournful tunes.
Though Jagger copped to first night of the tour feeling “a bit wobbly,” the rust wasn’t readily apparent to the crowd. By the time they made it to monolithic jam “Midnight Rambler,” you could hardly believe it’s been nearly a full year since this collection of musicians played together onstage. The song remains the ultimate expression of the Stones as a band. At one point, Jagger physically tossed Wood out onto the catwalk during the song’s epic guitar solo. Later on, he threw in a bit of Sticky Fingers track “You Gotta Move” near the coda. Even the normally stoic Charlie Watts cracked a smile from behind the drum kit as the Jagger huffed and puffed into his harmonica. It was one of those rare moments that forces you to stop for a second and just think to yourself, “Is this really, actually happening right now?”
The night ultimately ended like so many other Stones concerts have before this one with a loose, but extremely enthusiastic rendition of the band’s ultimate hit “Satisfaction,” kissed off with an explosion of fireworks high into the Midwestern sky. Ultimately, the show in Chicago was just another stop on a seemingly endless stretch of road that the Stones have been rambling down since their days as a barroom band performing for drunken ravers in London’s West End. By the look and sound of it, there’s no reason they should consider stopping now.