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only rock & roll but I love it: the rolling stones in chicago

June 5, 2013

My first Rolling Stones concert was something of a modern-day pilgrimage. As soon as this tour was announced I knew I would do whatever it took to get to it. The Stones have been perched at the top of my Bucket List for far too long. What it ended up taking was the purchase of a single, highly marked-up resale ticket, a flight to and from Chicago – a city I’d never been to before, two hours on the train, and a hotel room that I spent a total of four hours sleeping in. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Rolling Stones stage, Chicago

My view of the stage from up in the nosebleeds

Seeing those big ol’ lips of a stage for the first time made my heart race. My half-a-month’s-rent ticket placed me squarely in the last row of the arena, but the view was actually pretty decent. That being said, I’d probably have eaten a bushel of raw onions for a ticket to the Tongue Pit (if you know me, you know I wouldn’t throw that qualifier around lightly…)

While the seat itself was fine, the company next to me was not. Only a few bars into the opening “Get Off of My Cloud” the two youngish-women next to me started talking over the music. Unless one of them was actively bleeding out right there in her seat I can’t imagine what on earth was more important than what was happening onstage. I wasn’t about to let their inane conversation compete with the music so I left my seat to stand against the back wall next to someone I felt much more akin to – a white-haired man wearing a “Stones ‘75” shirt, silently air-guitaring his ass off. Yes, these are my people.

I’m going to run out of adjectives at some point in this post but the show was epic. For all the hype, and all the months of waiting for a tour announcement, and all the public outcry about their ticket prices, and all the jokes about their advanced age, they came out and reminded everyone why they are still billed as “the greatest rock & roll band in the world.”

Mick pranced around the stage like a teenager, donning several different outfits and teasing the crowd with his trademark wiggle. Charlie’s impeccably elegant posture had me grinning all night. For some reason seeing Keith Richards in the flesh elicited the most awe. Like being at the beach and seeing an actual Sir Francis Drake pirate walk past your sand castle. The legend around him is pretty awesome, in the real sense of that word. Ronnie Wood looks like he weighs about 38 pounds. But I love his elfin weirdness. I feel like Bobby Keys has made an appearance in every rock memoir I’ve read in the past five years so seeing him with the boys was also a thrill. I obviously never saw them in the glory days, but it wasn’t apparent to me that any significant amount of power has been lost over the years. Though, it’s pretty bittersweet to think about how incredible they must have been in their heyday.

Mick Jagger and Taylor Swift

Mick Jagger and Taylor Swift performing “As Tears Go By”

Taylor Swift was the evening’s special guest, which could seem like a non sequitur but their guest roster has been trending toward pop stars so I wasn’t altogether surprised. Though, I was hoping that being in Chicago might have resulted in a bluesier cameo. Swift joined Mick for “As Tears Go By” which was probably one of the better matches they could have given her from their catalog. The song was nice, if a little awkward. Swift gave off a pretty serious lost-lamb vibe during the performance and you didn’t ever get the sense that she and Mick were really connecting on any level. But as a 20-something woman myself I have to say, she was living the dream and even if it wasn’t the number of the night, she was onstage with the Rolling Stones. So you gotta give it up for that.

A very unwelcome distraction came about three-quarters of the way through the show when some guy came up and tried to strike up a conversation over the music with the winning line of “Did you know they don’t serve you beer past 10:30 here?!” I need to work on my icy gaze because apparently it was less than arctic. Homeboy stood next to me for what felt like hours, singing choruses, and yelling more stimulating one-way conversation like “Have you read Keith Richards book? Yeah, I haven’t but I really want to!” and “Man how AWESOME would it have been to see The Stones in their prime like 70’s, 80’s??”  I thought I was rid of him a few times, but like some particularly persistent strain of the flu, he kept popping back up. I did my best to tune him out but what I really wanted to do was push him down the stairs.

The highest points of the night for me musically pretty much all involved Mick Taylor. He came and went throughout the show but when he was there, man, you knew it. I had to take my sweater off during his solo in “Midnight Rambler” and the by-request inclusion of “Sway” was pretty delicious. His tone is just so effortlessly gorgeous, and a reminder of why the Sticky Fingers/Exile on Main Street era was such a thing of beauty.

MSP parking receipt

My parking receipt from the Minneapolis airport, less than 24 hours!

With a career spanning fifty years of huge hits, it’s hard not to have a show that ends up feeling slightly jukebox-y. The crowd went predictably wild when they heard the first bars of “Start Me Up” and “Satisfaction.” And while I love those songs as much as the next fan, it would have been amazing to hear some of their deeper cuts. The Keith and Ronnie delivery of “You’ve Got the Silver” was a real treat, a stripped-down acoustic moment in the midst of all the rocking made you appreciate both sounds just a little more.

Throughout the show the onscreen stage scrolled archive Stones footage. Sometimes the juxtaposition of a giant baby version of the guys with the life-sized current version was a little shocking but it really got me thinking. I realized, watching the footage of the band and especially of the concert crowds over the years, that there’s something truly special about a Stones concert. I suppose it’s a result of their incredible longevity, but there’s a very real sense of living history. Kids have been turning onto the Stones for fifty years. Fifty years of hearing “Paint It Black” for the first time. Fifty years of losing your breath for a minute when the lights come up and there they are. Fifty years of collecting albums, singing in your car, hoping for a tour to hit your town. Most of the first kids to turn onto the Stones are members of AARP now, but at the show there’s this unifying, empowering feeling. It’s like being inducted into a secret club, suddenly you’ve just joined a long line of millions of people who have felt that particular brand of electric magic in the air. So yes, my solo out-of-state adventure, and the dollars it took to make it happen were absolutely worth it.  I will always wish I could have gotten in on the secret sooner, but I’m so glad to be here now.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2013 10:43 am

    Great story. Feel free to check out my blog, where I write about the 50th anniversary of their first single (no need to Follow, just thought you’d like it). Cheers, and well done!

  2. June 6, 2013 10:50 am

    I’ll definitely check it out! Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Pete!

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