If you start them up they’ll never stop!

If you start them up they’ll never stop!

I know, it’s only rock ‘n roll, but I like it. – Mick Jagger

I mean some doctor told me I had six months to live and I went to their funeral. – Keith Richards

Considering how the Rolling Stones’ trajectory matches my own, I cannot fathom why it took 62 long years for me to finally catch up with them at Soldier Field on Sunday evening. Had you told me that would be the case back in rock’s ‘70s heyday, I would’ve laughed out loud, further stipulating that, in light of some questionable youthful activities, the boys from Britain would never become certified octogenarians, much less continue to perform if they miraculously made it that far.

All I can say is I’ve never been happier to be wrong on both counts because they put on one heck of a show.

Aside from the unseasonably chilly weather, exacerbated by sitting in the nether regions of the upper deck, the NFL’s smallest stadium is a great place to see a rock concert. There are no bad sightlines and the acoustics are virtually perfect. I wouldn’t have wanted to stand in the back-of-the-stadium floor area cattle bin, but despite the plethora of intervening obstacles, a large contingent of Stones fans clearly thought otherwise.

The only surprise was the “staircase” leading up to our Section 434, Row 21 seats. Had I been aware of that Himalayan climb beforehand, I would’ve brought a burro and hired a sherpa. My reasonably-in-shape wife and I had no problem getting up there, but the closest approximation to that brand of steepness would be the great pyramid at Chichen Itza.

That incline was so daunting that most of the older fans, and even some of the young ones, had to stop multiple times to catch their breath before continuing their ascent. Having to watch an elderly black woman mount those steps with a tripod cane was nerve wracking. I wanted to help her out, but short of heaving her over my shoulder there wasn’t much I could do.

Contrary to the Stone’s reputation (think Altamont), the proceedings ran like clockwork. Opening act, Lainey Wilson, took the stage at 8 p.m. sharp and finished at exactly 8:45. Then there was a 25-minute intermission, which would be more accurately described as a stampede to the bathrooms. The Stones stormed the stage at 9:25, played precisely for two hours, with the last lingering echoes of their Satisfaction encore subsiding by 11:25.

A friend who attended Thursday’s performance told me that 78-year-old blues/gospel artist Bettye Lavette had a rough go of it, but the same can’t be said for Lainey Wilson. My eclectic 7,000 LP record collection notwithstanding, I’m not a fan of that kind of twangy country music, But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate Ms. Wilson’s commanding presence and her stellar band was every bit as tight as the Stones, too.

My prediction is Ms. Wilson will be a country star in her own right within the next five years.

To make matters even better, she was adorably starstruck at being asked to open for the world’s greatest rock and roll band, and she was clearly grateful for the opportunity.

Then it was the Stones’ turn, and as has been the case for the entire Hackney Diamonds tour, they aptly opened with Start Me Up, which did just that to the abundantly appreciative crowd. It quickly became apparent that, though Mr. Jagger is getting up there, his voice is every bit as powerful as it was back in those Exile on Mainstreet days.

I’d kind of hoped we’d get to sit for some of the show, but by the reaction to that song, I knew that wasn’t gonna happen.

From there Mick launched directly into Let’s Spend the Night Together, which conjured up memories of that infamous lyric change on the Ed Sullivan Show. The ensuing applause/howling was downright deafening even in the upper reaches of the stadium.

In a rather pleasant turn of events, they performed Rocks Off next, one of my Exile all-time favorites, for the first time in the tour (as far as I can tell). The two saxophonists, whose names escape me, filled in the horn parts brilliantly.

The next offering was Angry from the Hackney Diamonds album which is even better live.

The night before the concert, we received an official email asking us to vote for one of four titles to be played the next night. I was hoping for She’s a Rainbow, but having inserted that one into Thursday’s lineup, it wasn’t an option. I’d desperately hoped for Beast of Burden but that was not to be, either.

The two obvious choices where Shattered and Like a Rolling Stone, but as much as I would’ve LOVED to hear the Dylan cover, the rest of the crowd, my wife included, voted for the former.

The irony there is, back in 1978 when Some Girls hit the record stores, my friends and I were all card-carrying members of Steve Dahl’s demonstrably anti-disco Insane Coho Lips. But there we were, lauding the Stones latest album, clearly influenced by the burgeoning disco movement as indicated by beat heavy songs like Shattered and particularly Miss You.

Mick Jagger has never missed an opportunity to jump on a musical bandwagon to make more money.

The band wasn’t done with the pleasant surprises, either, because Mick brought Ms. Wilson back on stage to do a Dead Flowers (Sticky Fingers) duet, and they knocked it out of the park.

Ms. Wilson had to be nervous standing side-by-side with one of the greatest rock frontmen of all time, but you wouldn’t know it by her performance. She matched Mick move for move and note for note. My fondest wish is they’ll put that one on whatever live album comes out of the tour.

Then it was back to their newest release with Whole Wide World followed by a rollicking rendition of Tumbling Dice. That’s when we got the first inkling of the immense power of backup singer Chanel Haynes’ incredible voice. Thankfully, it wouldn’t be the last time we’d hear it.

No Stones concert would be complete without You Can’t Always Get What You Want, and with no boys choir involved, Mick exhorted the audience to take that role, and that’s exactly what we did. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

After Mick introduced the band to thundering Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards applause, he took a three-song backstage break with Keef filling in on vocals on Tell Me Straight, Little T&A, and in yet another delightful turn of events, Before They Make Me Run, another tour debut from Some Girls.

Please let me preface this with the indisputable fact that Keith Richards is one of the greatest rock ‘n roll lead guitarists of all time, and he didn’t miss a lick Sunday night. No one has ever matched his exquisite “less is more theory,” a mien which made the Rolling Stones the Rolling Stones. But not only is his voice completely shot, but he actually looks older in person – if that’s even possible. Even though he sat down for some numbers, there were times I wondered if he was gonna make it through the night.

With the exception of Miss You, it was on to an epic greatest ‘60s hits run consisting of Sympathy for the Devil, Honky Tonk Women, Gimme Shelter, Paint it Black, and the ostensible evening closer, Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

Just like a horse gains energy and speed as they approach that barn feedbag, the Stones intensity ratcheted up a notch with each succeeding number. But the inarguably standout song in that magnificent set was Gimme Shelter. Because that’s when Ms. Haynes took over the famous “just a shot away” female vocal, and to say “that woman has a voice” would be the most massive of understatements. I’m sure they heard her all the way over at Wrigley Field.

That amazing performance solicited yet another round of goosebumps.

I was similarly struck by her resemblance to a young Tina Turner on a number of levels, only to r discover she’s a very well-regarded Tina Turner impersonator. Were I in her inner circle, I would strongly advise Ms. Haynes to seek out her own musical voice.

Not to be completely outdone, the evening’s rendition of Jumpin’ Jack Flash sent me straight back to the Stones’ subversive early days. It was as if they’d suddenly become 40 years younger.

We all knew that wasn’t the end, but of course, if you choose to attend a rock concert, then you have to buy into all that encore pretense. With the crowd dutifully reaching a fever applause pitch five minutes in, the boys returned to the stage for their typical two-song capper, Sweet Sounds of Heaven and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. The driving Telecaster guitar strains of Satisfaction were the perfect ending to a nearly perfect evening.

Mick may not be as nimble and animated as he once was, but he never stood still, prowling the rather large stage like a hungry hyperactive panther. And that ain’t bad for any 80-year-old man. He “talked” his way through some of the songs near the end, particularly on Miss You, but it still worked. Ronnie Wood, the youngster of the bunch at 77, humorously hammed it up the few times he took center stage. He is clearly having as much fun as the day he joined the Stones back in 1976.

If I had one Mick wish, it would’ve been for him to display a little bit more of his British sense of humor.

During one break in the proceedings, he presented a brief photo montage of “The things I’ve done in Chicago.” He said he wanted to go to the Pride Parade, but he was too busy watching the English play football, referring to the UEFA prelude to the World Cup. Then he flashed a photograph of the Chicago Naked Bike Ride, from behind of course, pointing to one of the riders claiming, “That’s me over there.”

Drummer Steve Jordan may not possess the late Charlie Watts’ jazz nuance, but I believe his more propulsive beats better suit those legendary Stones songs. Again, I can’t wait for whatever Blu-ray or LP comes out of this tour.

We brought a pair of small concert binoculars, but the stage big screens mitigated the need for them. Whoever directed those cameras did a phenomenal job. Security was everywhere, yet ironically unobtrusive. Having survived the bathroom rush, for the first time I truly understand what women are up against at these kinds of events. There may not have been much of a police presence on the walk from the Congress Hotel to Soldier field, but they were EVERYWHERE on the way back.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt safer in The Second City.

The only negatives were the cold and $14 beers. We had aisle seats and I was shocked at the number of nearby folks who asked us to move so they could acquire another round of beers. I’m thinking those folks resorted to a second mortgage to pay for them. Needless to say, I did not partake if for no other reason that I didn’t want to endure the steep descent to the bathrooms any more than necessary. To round it out, t-shirts were $50, sweatshirts were $80, and a really nice Stones jacket would run you a mere $500.

I was also struck by the number of shirt, food, and other non-official vendors lining the park route back to the hotel. Had they offered a large/tall size, I would’ve happily purchased a ten-buck t-shirt. I’m sure they were officially licensed, too.

It took far too long, but we finally got to see the Rolling Stones. I’m glad we endured the insane ticket purchasing process to do so, because my friend Anton, who attended Thursday’s show, aptly noted that it’s likely going to be “their swansong.” I don’t see Keith touring two or three years down the road and it ain’t the Rolling Stones without him.

Oh! And for the record, despite its “highly haunted” reputation, no ghosts visited us at the Congress Hotel. I suppose there’s always next time.

It was certainly the kind of epic evening that my wife and I won’t forget anytime soon. Here’s to another bucket list check off. It was a great concert.

 

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