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Madison Square Garden 2
Jan. 16, 1998
Review by John Marko

The second of the Garden shows was a masterpiece. The playing throughout was nearly flawless, the sound improved, and the set an ideal mix and display of this tour. Chicago didn’t compare to the atmosphere in Madison Square Garden. The stage was low and small, nothing on it besides amps. It was just prior to the lights turning that something hit me: the Stones were playing in an arena, I was close enough to really see them, and I was surrounded by hardcores.

As the Stones hit the stage I was blown away by Satisfaction. Keith hit the opening riffs and Jagger appeared onstage lurching toward him, knees bent. The intensity in Jagger’s eyes as he glared at Keith was a picture to behold, one of several throughout this and the next night. An unbreakable, intense stare, as if he were feeding the energy into the riffs.

The Stones had clearly come to play tonight. They put it all out from the first beat. Jagger was still a bit raspy but strong. The night off seemed to recharge him, and the affect he has on the entire show was demonstrated as this night he would not hold back. Every performance would rise above the previous show, and one of the main reasons was the singer’s added energy and drive. Charlie won the battle between Jagger’s vocals, Richard’s guitar and his drums on the opener, adding fills and extra beats to propel the others.

The gauntlet had been thrown and the Stones responded. Let’s Spend The Night Together (tight and short), Flip The Switch (gritty, highlighting the guitars, using the backup vox in a perfectly limited role) and Gimme Shelter (retaining it’s impending doom) all came off smoothly with ripping guitar solos by Keith and Ronnie. The sound was improved, both by my seat and the men in charge.

Wood’s role is that of rhythm man, playing underneath Keith’s fills and solos. He continually provided a solid foundation of riffs and progressions for Richards to work off. They are in constant communication with each other. Wood’s guitar, bright and thin on the last tours, is a deep grooving tone - dare I say Exile-like. It’s meant to provide a blanket of sound underneath and does just that. Without it, the sound would be hollow. This is a great improvement over the piano-based sounds of ‘89 and ‘94.

The focus of the band members, greater on this tour in general and enhanced by the smaller venue, harkens back to ‘81 and ‘78. While tonight the weaves would be creeping in, they would take over on Saturday. It was as if the band was providing the model for the B2B tour on this night. When Jagger strapped on a guitar the crowd was caught. Rock and a Hard Place? Miss You so soon? Soemthing new? Just as good: Respectable. A big ‘Thank You’ came from inside me, and the boys ripped off this rocker in classic style. Two Ronnie solos and all the lyrics in place. It was awesome.

Another lost snapshot surfaced: Clustered in front of the drum riser, three guitar players all watching each other, driving each other. There may have been a smile or two in there if you looked closely. The entire feel brought back the spirit of the fantastic promo video. Twanging Teles and Strats all over the mix. Jagger’s rasp fitting perfectly. Amazingly tight for such an underperformed number.

Seizing the moment, the band premiered Already Over Me. Fittingly replacing the missing Sister Morphine, with Jagger on acoustic and Keith squeezing out bluesey fills. Again, the hoarsness hid the familiar melody, making this more a Stones tune than Jagger solo number. It could have sat next to anything in the mid-70’s the way it sounded this night. A great Hammond-sounding organ filled in behind, and the acoustic electric mix heard on classics like Through the Lonley Nights porved again that the Babylon tracks grow onstage.

Bitch was finally impressive: played as fast as it needed to be, the guitars fighting with the brass on the same level in the mix. Bitch is a song about frustration and angst. It too often has been treated like a crowd favorite and showpiece. What’s been missing is the guitar battle and the drive. Jagger focused his vocal, clipped it and took it deeper. Richards and Wood weaved around the progression, and kicked it around with Bobby’s barritone. Darryl kept the train rolling and the whole performance synced up. Kudos to Watts again, who stepped it up and forced the results.

Saint Of Me started fast and barrelled along, picking up right after Bitch. Jagger had abandoned his vocal tricks by now and was belting like days of old. His growls were real, emotions in his voice weren’t faked. Guitars twanged out again, Ronnie took a tight solo, Jagger returned with intensity and the "Oh yeah’s" sounded less put on than in the past. Everything was coming out honest tonight, nothing dragged.

Out of Control followed with nothing less than a stellar closing jam. By this point the groove established was unbreakable, Ronnie’s wah-wah, Jagger’s harp and Keith’s leads twisted in a psychedelic funk jam. Even Miss You partied down in the Garden. After the singalong and Bobby solo the band jammed, Ronnie providing a spark during his solo.

Richards swithced his set around and pulled out a solid yet standard All About You after which he was ready to storm into Wanna Hold You. Without power in his guitar, the band reminded him that they were doing You Don’t Have To Mean It. Ronnie took a turn on keyboard and Blondie Chaplin was ‘pickin owt a riddim’ on the guitar. The reggae was think in the brief guitar-only intro. Instant shades of Cherry Oh Baby in ‘75 in the same arena came over me. I became VERY aware of the room the band was playing to. Another solid, tight rendition - there were no awkward crash landings during this show - and the boys hit the small stage.

Returning to Little Queenie and the same grit and drive of the first half, the Stones began to pull the crowd back to their feet. Let It Bleed followed with nice slide work throughout and Like A Rolling Stone, not a favrotie choice of mine, sealed it. I was converted by being where I was and seeing what I saw. During the sing-along I looked around the Garden and saw this amazing crowd, on it’s feet, screaming along. Guys with raised fists, chicks shakin their hips and so many people being absolutely blown away. They were rocking, standing, in the far up 400’s sections! The house lights dimly lit for the chorus and I stared at that Garden roof, knowing crowds rocked here in ‘69, ‘72 and ‘75. The Stones, and rock and roll for that matter, never belonged anywehre else. Making it should’ve meant playing arenas forever.

Sympathy For The Devil and Tumbling Dice, though not as fiery as the first night were still explosive. Honky Tonk Women, with the better mix, accented the guitar interplay nicely. The horns soared in the background, never intruding. Especially tight were the descending lines after the refrain. Blondie’s continual taunting of Charlie with the cowbell provided another entertianing side show. Chaplin’s presence on stage should not be overlooked. He is a clown, basking in his first ever Super tour.

Watts’ drive on Start Me Up overcame the guitars which seemed to lose their place in the sloppiest number of the night. Ronnie’s solo strayed slightly, but the unit pulled together, kept it tight and the tune never lost it’s focus on that classic rythmn chop. The final portion came together and provided the punch needed to segue into another guitar focused jam on Jumping Jack Flash. Searing leads by Richards and Wood and a building momentum as the horns come in have given a new edge to this the most performed song the Stones do.

Unlike past tours, the guitarist are using the horn fills to grind out guitar jams instead of walkway poses. Another double encore of You Can’t Always Get What You Want and Brown Sugar closed the tightest and fastest show the Stones have done in 20 years. YCAGWYW has been tightened up this tour, no sing-along mid section or showcase solo. Call it the "single edit." Brown Sugar picks up where JJF left off - more grinding classic guitar. These tunes actually sound fresh.

As the confetti poured down I was reminded of the balloons in 81 and felt I knew what it was like back then. I had seen the band up close, returned to arena form, all watching each other, working off each other and rocking out. Everything was in it’s place in the mix. Everyone was giving it up. This performance was nothing short of amazing.

Previous page Next page First page IORR home It's Only Rock'n Roll no. 32 - March 1998 - © The Rolling Stones Fan Club Of Europe