The Rolling Stones Rock Chicago
Chicago has held a special pull for the Rolling Stones from before the group even existed. Mick Jagger was famously carrying albums from Chicago-based Chess Records when he ran into his childhood pal Keith Richards at the Dartford railway station in 1960. It began a partnership that, 53 years later, brought them back to the city on May 31, the second night of a three-night stand at the United Center.
Given their age, the volatile nature of the Jagger-Richards relationship (it would be senseless to call it a friendship at this point) and the controversy surrounding the ticket prices, a healthy degree of skepticism as to whether or not the Stones could still deliver the goods was understandable. All doubt, however, was washed away quickly enough when, following a video tribute, the band took to the stage and tore into 'Get Off My Cloud.'
The 22-song set (see below) focused almost exclusively on their post-1968 hits, with 'Cloud,' 'Paint It, Black' and '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' coming from their earliest days and only the two new songs, 'Doom and Gloom' and 'One More Shot' stemming from after 1981. 'Shine a Light' was the evening's winner of a fan request Internet poll, beating out 'Worried About You,' 'If You Can't Rock Me,' 'Out of Control' and (sigh) 'Sway.'
It's impossible to review any Stones concert without mentioning Jagger's endless energy, Charlie Watts' ever-steady backbeat, Ron Wood's perpetual smile and the fact that it's amazing Richards can still stand upright, no less play the guitar. Needless to say, all the cliches about the Rolling Stones were on display in full glory.
Jagger was in excellent voice, staying on pitch throughout despite being in constant motion and playing to the back row for nearly two-and-a-half hours. Jagger the Strutting Entertainer may have replaced Jagger the Dangerous Insurgent long ago, but he's still as compelling a frontman as has ever existed.
Richards may occasionally lack precision on some of his signature riffs - a reminder of the chaos of some of the best Stones tours - but his tone still stings even when playing with the most economical of movement. And he got the biggest ovation of the night when he stepped front-and-center for 'You Got the Silver' and his signature tune, 'Happy.'
The cameos were every bit as impressive. Sheryl Crow, the night's special guest, traded verses with Jagger on 'All Down the Line,' the Roosevelt University Conservatory Chorus were brought out for the first encore, 'You Can't Always Get What You Want,' and both 'Emotional Rescue' and 'Miss You' served as spotlights for bassist Daryl Jones' funky playing, as well as reminding the audience that the Stones' forays into disco were actually pretty good.
If all that wasn't enough, there was longtime sax man Bobby Keys honking away on 'Brown Sugar' and 'Honky Tonk Women' and -- oh God -- a double dose of Mick Taylor! He's been sitting in on 'Midnight Rambler' (which also featured Jagger's exceptional harmonica playing) throughout the tour, and on this night he also came on earlier in the set for 'Can't You Hear Me Knocking.' But background singer Lisa Fischer came the closest to stealing the show with, as she's done for every Stones tour since 1989, her incredible take on Merry Clayton's legendary turn on 'Gimme Shelter.'
Despite the arena setting, the band were able to bridge the distance from the crowd both metaphorically -- via a giant video screen directly behind them -- and literally, with a semi-circular walkway that extended halfway across the floor for Jagger, Richards and Wood to occasionally walk across.
As great as the concert was, it's still hard to say whether or not it justifies a top price of $600 without resorting to lines like "It's the Stones" and "How many more chances are you going to get to see them?" But even though their relative inactivity over the past two decades means that they've probably relinquished their claim of being the World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band, the Rolling Stones proved that they can still be a dangerous force to be reckoned with.
The only quibble was that, given their history with Chicago, would it have killed them to do 'Around and Around?' After all, they cut it at Chess Studios -- a mere four-and-a-half-miles away from the United Center -- on their first trip to the Windy City in 1964.
Rolling Stones Setlist - United Center, Chicago, May 31, 2013
'Get Off My Cloud'
'It's Only Rock 'N' Roll'
'Paint It, Black'
'Shine a Light'
'All Down the Line' (with Sheryl Crow)
'Can't You Hear Me Knocking' (with Mick Taylor)
'Doom and Gloom'
'One More Shot'
'Honky Tonk Women'
'You Got the Silver' (with Mick Taylor)
'Start Me Up'
'Sympathy for the Devil'
'You Can't Always Get What You Want' (with the Roosevelt University Conservatory Chorus)
'Jumpin' Jack Flash'
'(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'