The Rolling Stones performance at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York will be remembered as one of the most unique and musically intense small venue performances in Stones history. I can say this from experience having seen over 50 Stones concerts since 1972, including Toads Place in 1989 and both Amsterdam Paradiso shows in 1995. Most U.S. fans by now have seen the segment broadcast on MTV, and I suspect video tapes will soon surface in other hotspots of Stones fandom worldwide. Why was it special? Well, most small venue shows have been "club gigs" which are usually warm-ups for tours and - lets face it - the band is sometimes a little rusty and still in the rehearsal stage when these shows occur. Also the staging is compromised in the small clubs, adding to the intimacy but often not giving the band room to stretch or sound their best. The Capitol Theater gig provided the best of conditions: a small venue with a spacious stage and the band playing at mid-tour form with a crisp, clear and balanced sonic attack. For the first time, an American audience was able to see the type of show they missed at Brixton or Olympia in 1995. My only complaint might be that the show was relatively short at 70 minutes (with two commercial breaks), although similar in length to recent club gigs at the Double Door and Horseshoe Tavern.
The Build-Up: As soon as rumors began circulating of the first scheduled date, October 14th, the word coming from "insiders" was that this would be a television event, essentially a taping, and not a "real" Stones concert. Several sources insisted that the band would do five numbers and leave after performing the contracted 30 minutes for MTV. When the date was rescheduled due to Micks sore throat (A good decision; it was obvious that he was not quite 100% at the October 12th Philadelphia show) the rumors of a short hit-and-run performance grew stronger since this would be the third of four straight nights on stage (Washington on Oct. 23rd, the VH-1 Fashion Awards the night before, and Nashville the next day starting at 5:30 PM). This rumor persisted right up to the time of the show, until word started leaking from the sound check that this would be a full performance.
The Venue: The Capitol Theater is a converted movie theater on the main street of a small working-class town about 20 miles north of New York City, almost on the Connecticut border. Since the late sixties it has been used for rock concerts, and in the early 70s competed with the Filmore East for rocknroll tour bookings. Due to its age, the interior has an atmosphere of decayed elegance. The main floor was open for a standing audience with a balcony section containing typical theater seating. A large section of the main floor was cordoned off for camera crews and lights. Although full capacity might be as much as 1500, my rough guess is that there were about 800 to 1000 people in attendance for the Stones show. The stage was decorated in Bridges to Babylon style and augmented by new construction which allowed the crowd in front to reach up and touch Mick, Keith or Ronnie whenever they moved out onto a triangular projection at the center of the stage or onto a small hook-shaped section that protruded into the audience on the right side.
The Audience: Every fan knows the that the Rolling Stones feed off an enthusiastic crowd and the best performances are always in front of the most eager fans. There was a lot of concern among the hard-core fans that this audience would be made up of industry insiders and contest winners who did not deserve to see our heroes under these circumstances. This was mostly true, yet there were plenty of real Stones fans, judging by the clothing. I saw many of my hard-core friends (you know who you are!) who all managed, like me, to gain admittance without an invitation. From what I can tell, most of the tickets were controlled by MTV, but enough tickets were allotted to Stones staff for distribution to a select few, which is how most of the hard-core got in. However, most of us did not secure our tickets until about 6:30 PM that day, so there was a lot of nervousness as we stood out on a cold street corner behind the barricades until we clutched those tickets in our own hands. There is nothing worse than traveling a long distance only to end up standing on the street while the band plays inside.
The audience was divided into two groups at the door. Those with green VIP tickets (200-300 people) were given blue wristbands with the words "10 Spot" and sent to the reserved seats in the balcony, where there was an open bar, a fully catered buffet, and waiters walking through the crowd with plates of various taste treats. The other group with red tickets and wristbands were sent to the general admission section on the floor (500-700 people). Tickets were rather special with an embossed 3-D Stones tongue and the word "satisfaction" printed diagonally across it, a small hologram of a globe, and the words "special concert"; no dates, no band name. Much to my dismay, I was in the upstairs VIP group but was able to stake out an excellent position in the first row of the center aisle (next to Patti Hansen and Jane Rose). Other celebrities in the balcony included Jann Wenner (founder and publisher of Rolling Stone magazine), Bette Midler, John McEnroe (U.S. tennis star), and the governor of the state of New York. The audience on both levels was incredibly enthusiastic, sensing they were among a privileged few. In the balcony VIP group there were many children, teens, wives, and nannies from families of band and crew members. Near the end of the show both Keith and Mick could be seen scanning the balcony and making eye contact with or waving to family members.
The Show: The live MTV broadcast was scheduled to start at 8:00 and most people were in the building by 7:30. The floor was packed tightly in front while the VIP group upstairs was mingling in the seating and rear bar area when, unexpectedly at 7:50, the lights went down and the band walked on stage with no fanfare whatsoever. Many in the bar/lounge area were caught by surprise and rushed to find their seats as the crowd roared and the famous open G chord filled the air.
One of the joys of these small shows is not knowing the set list and being surprised as each song begins. We knew the stadium set and had fun guessing before the show on the mysteries of which songs they would play tonight. They started off with Honky Tonk Women in a fairly relaxed style as if they were doing a sound check, building intensity as the song progressed. Keith did a terrific solo and later, much to everyones delight, included his goofy licks and toe-slamming flourish on Chucks piano.
Next they launched into Lets Spend the Night Together which has become a staple of the Bridges to Babylon stadium show. I prefer the more guitar-driven 81-82 version, but this version may be closer to the original recording. One can tell when Keiths in a good mood because he takes his vocal harmonies seriously. Some nights he doesnt bother to sing at all. Tonight he sang perfectly in that wonderfully off-kilter key that is known only to Keith and his fans. The crowd loved it.
At the end of Lets Spend the Night it was eightoclock. The lights went down, an announcer introduced the band to start the MTV broadcast, and the boys exploded into one of the finest versions of Tumblin Dice Ive ever seen. It was clear that the band had turned up the intensity a notch when the broadcast started. The sound was fully balanced by now and the guitars matched perfectly. Ronnies solo sent aural laser beams through the room while Keith rang out the main riff and Mick was in full swagger, with the horns bringing it all home. The next song was Anybody Seen My Baby. This, quite honestly, has been inconsistent live and continues to be a slow part of the stadium shows. Although they play it well, it suffers from a rather turgid tempo that the audience never really synchs with. In the stadiums they unveil the golden babes during this song and the audience is distracted from the shortcomings of the song. Tonight in the small theater we were just happy to see the boys up close and enjoyed the song.
After Anybody Seen My Baby, the lights dimmed and the band retreated to a makeshift backstage area behind the amplifiers for about five minutes while MTV ran commercials on the air. We in the balcony could see them talking. joking, swigging from bottles, having their make-up and hair touched up, and changing shirts and jackets.
Eventually they sauntered back out to the darkened stage and, on cue, started into a spooky yet lovely version of Sister Morphine. This number has been one of the treats of the tour having never before been played live, and we all felt very fortunate to be blessed with this intimate version tonight.
Next was Out of Control, which continues to be a centerpiece of the shows on this tour. Its fun to watch the audience reaction as the songs dynamics start out slow, reach a peak, and slow down twice more before rocking out in an amazing crescendo of harmonica and guitars. This is when the casual fans, coming for nostalgic reasons, realize that this band can still produce a vital hard-rocking throb that stands up with any band playing today. The harp solo and accompanying back-beat almost scratches my itch for Midnight Rambler. Tonight the band had the audience in awe as Ronnie really stretched out on his wah-wah solo and Mick danced and writhed in the strobe lights as if in some form of electric seizure.
Another five minute break ensued as the boys went behind the amps to freshen up while MTV ran more commercials. When the lights came up again Keith was laying down the delicate and foreboding opening licks of Gimme Shelter on his Gibson. I began ascending to heaven as this song reached the levels of perfection seen and heard at the Paradiso in May 95 - one of those truly transcendent moments that keeps me coming back to see these guys live again and again. Among the great thrills of these small venue shows is the ability to see the entire band together within your field of vision, and not have to look in different directions to see Mick and Keith at opposite ends of the stage. It also enhances their playing as they are much tighter when they are confined to within a few feet of each other. This is very apparent during the "center stage" portion of the stadium shows and tonight Gimme Shelter never sounded better.
This ended the MTV portion of the show and the band pretended to bow and wave good-bye but never really left the stage. A lot of talking and discussion followed, as if they were deciding what to play next and, of course, we were all guessing. Keith stayed with his hollow body Gibson and I was expecting Its Only RocknRoll when they broke into a blistering version of Little Queenie, another song which reminds us that the Rolling Stones are the roots and masters of our rocknroll hearts. Keith has become the illegitimate son of Chuck Berry, leading a perfectly snarling version of this seminal song, showing us all how its supposed to be done.
The rest of the show is bang, bang, bang: Start Me Up, Jumpin Jack Flash, and a Brown Sugar encore, all played in a tight concise style never seen in the stadiums. Charlies gunshot snare cracks drove Start Me Up like a steam hammer into Keiths spine, triggering each chain saw stroke of his Fender. Brown Sugar and JJ Flash may have been the best versions I have seen or heard since the Mick Taylor days. They were just so damn tight when unencumbered by the long drawn out stadium jams, which are fun but detract from the compactness and seamless perfection of these classic rocknroll singles.
Yes, I wanted them to jam forever, but the intensity was undiminished by these just-right versions while time seemed to stand still for those few seconds when Keith delivered his opening riffs. Its like a great roller coaster ride. You hang on for dear life, exhilarated and thrilled, waiting for the next surprise. Yet, when its over you are ready to get back in line as soon as possible and ride again.
The concert ended at 9:00 PM sharp. Most of the hard-core stayed around in the lounge area, decompressing and marveling at our good fortune to be allowed to witness this special show. Eventually the theater staff forced us out into the cold autumn night, giving us one last chance to gaze at the lighted marquee and remind ourselves that this unique performance by the greatest rocknroll band in the history of the world was not a dream.
The complete setlist:
It's Only Rock'n Roll no. 31 - Jan. 1998 - © The Rolling Stones Fan Club Of Europe