Story by Tony BonyataAfter returning home from their first, less-than-satisfactory U.S. tour in 1964 - with dismal turnouts in San Antonio, Omaha, and especially throughout the Midwest, Rolling Stones' singer Mick Jagger commented when he was receiving the band's award from Record Mirror for Best British Vocal Group of 1964, "All things considered, I would rather be a hit in Wisconsin."
Last Thursday when Sir Mick and The Rolling Stones held court at Milwaukee's Bradley Center (one of the group's smallest arena shows of their current Bigger Bang tour) Jagger would get his wish four decades later. Not only did The Stones sell-out the 20,000 capacity arena, but these aging rockers delivered a high-energy, twenty-song set that weighed in heavy with iconoclastic hits from their past such as "Jumping Jack Flash," "It's Only Rock & Roll," "Miss You" and "Brown Sugar." As lean and mean as Mick Jagger, drummer Charlie Watts and guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood looked (especially considering their age), they sounded just as hungry and tight as any band forty years their junior.
This was, of course, far from the band's first success in Wisconsin. Since their initial disappointing turnout in Milwaukee at the Auditorium on November 11, 1964, the band has sold-out nearly every Wisconsin venue since then (November 25, 1965 at the Auditorium, June 8, 1975 at County Stadium, three consecutive shows at East Troy's Alpine Valley Music Theater on September 8, 9 and 10, 1989, Camp Randell Stadium in Madison on August 26, 1994 and again at Camp Randell on October 6, 1997).
With a more stripped-down stage set from the gargantuan sets they've been using for their recent stadium shows (which actually allows for a few hundred people to actually be seated within the structure of the stage), The Stones, and Jagger in particular, seemed more intent on putting all of their rock & roll chutzpah into their performance, and not on how much stage ground and levels could be covered within the span of two-hours.
That's not to say that the band didn't work the stage, and the crowd as well for that matter. Jagger, looking extremely fit and healthy at 62, strutted, pranced and jived his way from stage left to right with the grace of amphetamine-pumped gazelle. Richards and Wood also sparred with one another from opposite sides of the stage, while the ever-present Watts, along with touring bassist Darryl Jones, held down the fort with their concrete-solid rhythms. And just when those in the nose-bleed seats thought they'd never see their rock heroes any larger than a thumbnail that evening, the band moved out to the center of the arena on a small 20' x 30' stage. While The Stones have utilized this brilliant stage tactic for their last few tours, when these rock icons were all cramped together on this little stage, it still seemed as fresh as ever. Despite the fact that "You Got Me Rocking," a latter day hit from their Voodoo Lounge album, seemed like a lackluster choice of songs to trump out on this tiny stage, the inclusion of "Honky Tonk Woman" and even "Oh No Not You Again" a ballsy rocker in the grand Stones tradition from their latest studio album A Bigger Bang, more than made up for it.
The only drawback of the evening, as well as their last three tours, was the fact that The Glimmer Twins (i.e. Jagger and Richards) never made any connection with one another for their entire performance. What used to be one of the most enduring elements of their early live shows in the '60s and '70s - where Jagger and Richards would share the same mic for their wonderfully unique sour-mash harmonies, the two now appeared happier when working from opposite sides of the stage. It's a pity they don't realize that something as simple as connecting just once throughout every performance would drive the crowd absolutely nuts.
Along with their Hot Rocks-era hits (which have become a bit formulaic throughout their recent tours), they also unfurled impressive live takes of other new songs such as "Rough Justice" and "Infamy," the latter delivered with Richards' gruff, yet undeniable voice. They also tossed in the spirited gem "All Down The Line" from their 1972 masterpiece Exile On Main Street, the rarely performed "Waiting On A Friend" and, what was to be the highlight of the evening, a smoking version of Ray Charles' "(Night Time Is) The Right Time," where the band was joined onstage by opening-act Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy. Situated between Ronnie and Keith, the three guitarists traded off inspired, fiery leads much to the amazement of the audience. The bluesy, R&B swagger of Charles' song along with Guy's welcome appearance with the band only cemented the fact that this style of music (which the band would build a four-decade career on) is what gets all cylinders fully firing for these guys.
So Mick's 1964 wish of being "a hit in Wisconsin" rang true once again last week. Let's hope it continues.
The Rolling Stones 09/08/05 Milwaukee Set list : 1. Start Me Up
2. It's Only Rock 'n' Roll
3. She's So Cold
4. Tumbling Dice
5. Rough Justice
6. Waiting On A Friend (tour debut)
7. You Can't Always Get What You Want
8. All Down The Line
9. Night Time (with Buddy Guy) Band Intros
10. The Worst
12. Miss You
13. Oh No, Not You Again (B-stage)
14. You Got Me Rocking (B-stage)
15. Honky Tonk Women (B-stage)
16. Sympathy For The Devil
17. Paint It Black
18. Brown Sugar
19. Jumpin' Jack Flash
20. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (encore)
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