Toronto 09 26 05 Review
Date: September 29, 2005 08:23
Welcome to the cheap seats! Here we are in the nosebleed 500 section of the Rogers Centre. The stage is sprawled out before us, a baseball field away. It’s a huge silver and black art nouveauish structure, with a three-story projection screen for a backdrop. Four giant speakers hang mid air, two below the rafters, two more half way down, for those of us who can’t afford ground level tickets. The Rolling Stones race out to the lip of the set far off below, mere tiny ants. The show begins! How was it?
It’s said that the first will come last. That’s true! The glory days of last summer are over, for me at least. What a difference a scant six weeks makes. It’s fall now. As I take Janet’s hand in mine, leaning back in my chair, I gaze out into the stadium. My thoughts drift back through the haze of another long workday, spent racing about town, on business. Another big meeting. I’m went with my suit jacket draped over my old Stones tour 72 t-shirt, in my black jeans, and running shoes. I wasn’t into any b.s. today! My real job? To get down to the concert on time! It’s surprising what a lot of determination, and more than a few gray hairs will do, to stop anyone who’d dare try get in my way.
The blazing stage lights explode to the opening chords of Start Me Up. For a brief moment in time I’m back under the scorching hot summer sun, standing right beside Mick, outside the rehearsal gates at Greenwood School, as he autographs a record sleeve for me. I see Keith and Ronnie grinning into our faces, as they tear out onstage at the Phoenix Club, leaning into their thundering guitars. So close, I could almost reach out to touch and be touched by the Rolling Stones, at the concert of a lifetime! The world’s greatest rock and roll band in full club land stride. The hot searing licks. The scorching vocals. The pounding drums, knocking out a summer beat, like never before. We were dancing on the lip of a volcano, as the boys exploded in pure undiluted glory, a communion of oneness, of song. And now?
It’s time for a little post modern redux. It’s life after god. I spent the summer under the full heat of the Rolling Stones spell, real up close and intimate, much more so than now. But that’s to be expected. Keith flubs a guitar part! The boys are off to a wobbly start. Hmmm. Oh well. Nothing new. Three years ago he fell on his ass as he raced out onstage to the opening chords of Street Fighting Man! Steadfast, Charlie holds down the beat. The rest of the band quickly looks about at each other, and undeterred strut out amongst the fiery rock and roll pyrotechnics. Jagger cockily prances about in full swagger. Ronnie fires off a few heavy riffs, as he picks up some of the slack. I look about where we sit. Nobody even noticed the mistake! It’s not because we can’t see or hear. This has to be the world’s largest home entertainment set. The boys loom before us, blasting above the 40,000 heads below, from the multitude of speakers, and giant screen. There is still a din, but if anything it makes everything sounds boomier, emphasizing any mistakes like this. The crowd around us is ecstatic. Nobody seems to care!
It’s pure Toronto here. A multicultural mix of faces from around the world. Asian. Middle Eastern. Black. White. The young Indian couple sitting beside us, just heard the new album, and are attending their first Stones show. He was interested in my 72 Tour T, didn’t know they’d been touring that long; they hadn’t even been born yet! Gee thanks for noticing guy! Ha. Ha. Errrr…..Meanwhile a gaggle of teenyboppers bounce up and down in their seats, a row or two back. Another group lean over the rail, clapping along, and point down at the Stones. No parents in sight, they are on their own, probably at their first rock show. Hmmm. I can’t believe it! Am I getting to old to go see the Stones ?!?
Ahh I don’t have to worry. It’s quite obvious age doesn’t matter here. Mick raises his hands and claps them in the air, as the Stones roll straight through into You Got Me Rocking. Never my favourite, but who can resist? It’s soon obvious everybody loves the band as we all wildly clap along in unison. That guy -over there; he told me he was at the Elmocambo Show in 76. And there’s a couple of graying biker types with a great big stoned smile on their faces. They aren’t down for the count –not yet! And it looks like the Trailer Park Boys have just arrived! Dancing to their seats with beers and joints in hand. Real hard core Canucks! Their big fat chicks in tight tops and jeans jump up and down, dancing the bugaloo, doing the frug. While one hubby tries to squeeze into his seat without spilling the beers in either hand, sucking on a joint, his buddy in the cheap leather jacket is dramatically singing along with the Stones, at the top of his lungs. Thrusting his arms in the air, drowned out by the rush of pure undistilled rock and roll joy that explodes about us. I don’t see any jaded cynics here! The Stones are once again banging Toronto but good!!! And everybody is just loving it!
She’s So Cold ratchets up the rock and roll madness a few notches, as the guitar weave tightens, and erupts, into a bleeding volcano behind Jagger’s taunting vocals. I look about. The older fans seem surprised. They smile, laugh, and nod in recognition. Give each other the high five. The younger ones are clapping louder now, waving their hands in the air, caught up in the sheer building energy, as the show kicks into higher gear.
Keith and Ronnie are on a guitar roll, as they throw the Tumbling Dice for the next number. Ronnie is poised to go for a solo, as Lisa and Bernard kick start the gospel chorus, underscored by Daryl’s bouncy base. A ripple of spiritual frenzy washes through the huge stadium. Hands in the air are waved in unison. The stage lights pulsate, to what has certainly become, for most in attendance anyway, a trance like anthem. Uncertain, the young teenyboppers look at each other, puzzled, but soon seem hooked as they too join in, quite likely for the first time. An Exile right of passage, now uniting yet another new generation of Stones fans within our ranks. Ronnie moves to the edge of the stage. Leans back with his guitar thrust out for his solo. Loud, and boomy, the notes soar to fill the stadium as he toys with the riff. Tripping over a bum note, it comes crashing down on the crowd. Omigod! Yes! He blew it! Big time! The boys look at each other. Mick paces back and forth for a moment, glancing at Charlie, then Keith. What to do? They both step forward to the front of the stage. Keith picking up the slack with his unrelenting rhythm, Mick belting the gospel tinged chorus over the top, as the crowd madly stomps and claps along, the song taking on a life of it’s own, far greater than and quite forgiving of the sum of any of it’s parts. Pure feel making up for any technical flaws; it’s the spirit and essence of the Stones, still alive and well after all these years, whatever the ups and downs. And the audience? We don’t miss a beat! The deafening cheers drown out the fading strains of the song. The boys are in full stride, the audience united behind them. With some true showmanship, they’ve been able to turn the mistakes around. Snatch victory from the face of defeat. But it’s a crapshoot now. I can’t but help wonder if they can hold it together. Two mistakes in three songs! No doubt the next few numbers could be crucial!
Mick announces they are going to be playing some songs from their new album tonight. The Rolling Stones have a new worldwide best selling album, their first in many years. How will the crowds react to something less familiar? It’s a risky endeavour! Ronnie and Keith crank out the opening chords to Rough Justice. Mick struts about, the proverbial red rooster, the cock. Ronnie deftly slides his finger up and down the guitar neck wringing out the notes, while Keith squeezes every last ounce of rhythm out of his strings. The teenyboppers in front of us race to the landing below our seats, precariously leaning out over the huge dark stadium abyss, clapping and cheering madly. There’s a roar of approval as the lights flash in time to the music. The Stones rock out, no bars hold, still on a roll, with what would seem to be a new crowd pleaser!
As the lights fade, we hear the gentle guitar strains rising from the dark stage. It’s from long ago, as the boys bookend their newest hit with Ruby Tuesday, an instantly recognizable blast from my past. The youngsters listen intently, quite possibly hearing it for the first time, as we oldsters sit back in our chairs. Drift away to when for many of us this was the boy’s latest hit song. What a long Stones trip it’s been, near four decades, from Ruby Tuesday to Rough Justice! It’s been a rich one, as deep as the ruby red light, which now bathes us in this old chestnut’s simple, understated glory.
Next, the Stones treat us with a self styled Dead Flowers tribute to some of their country roots. Mick the country hick strums his acoustic guitar and bleats out the tunes tried and true hayseed Sticky Finger lyrics. Keith switches gears, and gets to play some sharp, tasty, country guitar licks. Ronnie provides the whining steel pedal fills. It’s a rose on the grave to those who would write off the Stones as irrelevant tired old has-beens! Our sing a long chorus slowly starts to fill the stadium. Our happy response to their second golden oldie, a sure sign that the Stones appeal is still as timeless as ever!
Microphone problems seem to plague the opening verses of Bitch, but few seem to notice. The fans around Janet and I jump up off their seats, punching their fists in the air. Charlie leads with a steady beat. The horns hit all the high notes. Mick runs back and forth across the stage, in time to the screeching guitars, belting out the lyrics, as the boys push the crowd over the top for the first time this evening, in a mad frenzy of rock and roll mayhem; the sheer delight of two Sticky Fingers classics in a row!
The huge backdrop screen is put to especially good effect during The Night Time is the Right Time, for a tribute to Ray Charles. The Stones now pay homage to more of their roots with a truly soulful version of his classic song. Lisa takes center stage with Mick for a gospel shout and response, after which he steps back to let her wail. Lisa’s voice soars to the rafters of the Rogers Centre in a commanding showcase of her talents, bringing down the house, as she shows us how it’s done! Some of the black roots of the Stones classic rock sound is for a moment laid bare with the songs quirky, catchy rhythm and driving beat, it’s neophyte soul origins, and big “make show” performance. With the full band; guitars, drums, horns backing her up to the nines, Lisa strolls the length of the centre stage. With her audience in full enthrall, she taunts and engages us. A gutsy performance from her very heart and soul!
The energy level is high enough to sustain a ballad now. Keith is joined by Bernard to flesh out the vocals on his Voodoo Lounge standard, the Worst. Many of the fans seem to relate to this late favourite better than myself. They cheer upon hearing another song from their touchstone Stones album, just like I would if it were another Sticky Fingers classic. I can appreciate Keith’s humility and self-depreciating manner. The touch of irony that he conveys so well in his simple treatment of the lyrics. And the catchy sketched out rhythm and offbeat humour implicit in his play on words during Infamy. Many of the fans seem quite pleased, and hoot and howl, as they realize that this is another song from the Stones new hit album. Not only have the Stones switched vocalists and tempos a few times now, but eras too, from way back in the day to present! The boys are appealing to a wide cross section of their fans, main street and otherwise, so as not to disappoint! There definitely seems to be a method to their often hotly debated and supposedly quite delimited North America Bigger Bang Tour set list! Everyone can be touched by it’s embrace!
By now, my legs are starting to feel cramped from sitting perched up here tight in the stadium nosebleed seats. I regret the lack of intimacy. It’s not the same as seeing the band up close like we did at the Phoenix last summer. Their musicianship hasn’t been nearly as tight, or as intricate as back then either. But am I disappointed? Like everyone else around me, I am glued to their performance, by the sheer showmanship of the Stones big rock act. The loud, often overstated singing and playing. The spectacular lights, videos and set. They project themselves well this way, out into the huge cavernous Rogers Centre stadium. I can see and hear everything, much better than at other shows, where I’ve sat at lower levels, even on the floor. This isn’t a club, that’s too bad. It won’t be nearly as tight and musically focused a Stones show, but it’s quite engaging, even thrilling, easy to enjoy –a near excellent stadium rock show. Near excellent? Well, as a long time Stones fans and veteran of countless shows, through thick and thin, I’d of course like to hear a few rarities, some more special nuggets; Sway? Moonlight Mile? The list could go on and on!
Instead, the boys roll out the big hits, the tried and true warhorses, as they once again switch gears. The instantly recognizable dance groove of Miss You sure gets a lot of fans off their seats! My fellow Canucks sitting beside me are up madly shaking their booty as they happily quaff back another couple of brews. The teenyboppers lean precariously over the handrail to watch Mick and the boys roll on their trolley towards the small stage far below us. Mick looks up and waves. Keith, cigarette dangling from his lips, tosses back his head to where we are, and laughs. He leans into his guitar, and tosses off a complimentary burst of machine gun notes our way. Seemingly larger than life, Ronnie hops up and down as he plays his much loved solo part for us. Without all these theatrics, like the rest of them, he’d seem so small. Dwarfed. Corny perhaps, but it works! The crowds going wild. Me too!
As the boys slide into Oh No Not You Again, a squeal goes up from our teeny bop contingent. They laugh, hug, cheer and wildly start dancing up a storm. It’s one of their favourites! Hands to the mouth, they giggle and blush when Mick swears. They boldly mimic his moves for each other, are in sheer ecstasy. Guess what? Over forty years later, our bad boys of rock have a new group of converts! For them it’s their rock and roll moment. Wow! They’re playing it live! Here! Now! For us! I wasn’t originally a big fan of this tune, but it seems to have gelled nicely as a fun little Stones rocker. It’s got a catchy guitar weave. Ronnie and Keith playfully exchange licks. It may not become one of my all time favourites, but the girl’s enthusiasm is contagious, hard to resist. Maybe with the years, I’ve sometimes come to take the Stones too serious, and have forgotten that they can also just be a lot of fun?
The boys follow it up with what is probably the best, most stripped down nitty gritty Satisfaction I have ever heard them play live. It totally rocks! The Rolling Stones are showing their fans, both old and new, how to riff hard. Keith’s guitar is primordial; it sends shivers down my spine. Mick’s vocals clearly evoke the songs hard seething
sexual edge. Charlie is bashing away at his kit likes there no tomorrow. Ronnie’s joins in tight with the groove. This is vintage Stones, now or then! It’s the past meets the present, a lightening rod jolt that gets everybody young and old off their seas dancing, clapping and singing along!
The riffing doesn’t stop here, even as the Stones trolley rolls back to the main stage. Despite an uncertain start, where Keith’s guitar seemed initially lost in the opening chord mix, they continue to forcefully bat out the riffs to those of us way out in the backfield. It’s a rousing version of Honky Tonk Woman that guarantees nobody sits back down.
Next the boys slow down the pace but still hit another home run! It’s aimed directly at the nineties Stones fan club; a seasoned, fine tuned, full-blown version of Out Of Control. The stage is bathed in blue. It is moody and absolutely breathtaking, starting off as a soulful lament, with the horns and base rising from deep, down low. Then cascading forth into a furious orgasmic explosion of guitars, drums and rock and roll pyrotechnics. On the screen above, the classic Stones tongue wiggles and jerks about in mad, furious, confused rock and roll delight. It is graphically altered, deconstructed and morphed into different lines, colours and shapes, before our eyes. Amongst the crazy flashing strobe lights, I sit transfixed, as if in a trance. What’s old seems new. What was then is now. Everything stays the same but changes forever. Into what? We see! We hear! But none of the old rules apply! This Stone tongue rolls over –it’s different. That Stone tongue rolls over -it’s the same. All deals are off! The music, like the Stones themselves, is the only constant. But they are old! No, they are new! The past? The present? The future? It’s all constantly changing! Nothing is instantly recognizable anymore it seems! And here I am, totally lost to the rock and roll, but I haven’t smoked or drank a thing! Surrounded by the Stones sound and vision; their images on the huge stage and screen loom before me. The Stones fill our eyes, our ears. They are everywhere. They are everything. They are for certain. Seemingly in freefall. I grab onto my seat. I flashback to the start of the show, just as the galaxy explodes into a million different pieces. Flying out into the vast crowds all around me, to my right, to my left, back behind me, down below. Lighting up a sea of changing faces, off all ages, backgrounds; pure postmodern mayhem. Yes! We are here. We are it baby! It’s the biggest bang of all!
Whew! Hang onto you seats. The staccato high tech drumbeat of Sympathy for the Devil rapidly follows as we fall headlong back into the sixties meet the new millennium. Mick caustically appears between the burst of flames on both sides of the stage. Crazy flashing red patterns race by on the screen, one after another, each more intricate, in rapid succession. I can feel the heat on my face, and in my very gut, as our satanic majesty works his demonic charms on the audience, as we join in the refrain. After all, the Stones are you and I. It’s the devil of the thing, come back to Toronto! It’s a haunting melody, bashed out with a grinding, swirling fury! Deftly plucked from mid air as Keith fingers ply his strings, and in the solo bursts from Ronnie’s guitar!
By riff, and by refrain, the tension builds. We know the show must be coming to an end. The Stones hit a gallop with a romping version of Brown Sugar. From Oooo! Ooooo! to Oooh! Ooooh! Our hypnotic voices echo with the Stones, back and forth across the vast stadium, into every nook and cranny, washing away any leftover reservations one may still wish to entertain. Give up to the music! This is it; we’re going over the top! Straight into the cross fire hurricane of Keith and Ronnie’s Jumping Jack Flash guitars! Their prototype steely resolve and hard nitty gritty playing are but a hard rock nemesis. It’s buried deep in our psyches, echoing back and forth, a mad rebellious streak from the sixties through to today. The Stones once again show us how it is done. True masters, they bear down for a mad ecstatic race to the rock and roll finish!
And just as suddenly as the concert started -it’s over! Guitars and drumsticks are put down. The boys walk away, leaving us momentarily floating, lost in space and time, amongst the darkness of the Rogers Centre, clapping and stomping for more. But of course they’ll be back! A lone Keith wanders out first, with guitar in hand, to the lip of the runway. He fingers the lamentful opening chords of You Can’t Always Get what You Want. Is soon joined in full force by the band that never seems to go away -The Rolling Stones! Back for more! Voices. Guitars. Drums. Rising and falling, rising and falling, time and again. Picking up the momentum, as if they’d never been away, we once again join in the chorus. Forty thousand voices strong, finishing every line for Mick, he hardly needs to sing -we can do it ourselves! We’ve been taught well! The Stones are once again with us. We are united as one in song. Making our connection. We don’t think about it, not if we really get it. I don’t think so. We feel it from our heart and soul. The Stones will make sure we get what we need. The huge stadium is once again turned into our church. The pure Stones synergy cleansing and purifying us of all sense of self. A rock and roll community, lost in the sea of our collective voices, floating between the Stones chords and notes. This is bigger than any of us. We are, if even for a brief moment in time, the Rolling Stones incarnate. We are them. They are us. They start the melody. The chorus. We take it from there, and finish it. Together. Some of us for the first time. Now plugged into the music with the rest of us, reliving it time after time and again! In concert! On cd! On dvd! Alone, or with our friends. Listening to the Stones over the course of our changing lifetimes throughout the years.
The Stones final encore number pretty much says it all. The band finishes off with a rip snorting It’s only Rock and Roll. The drums pound. The guitars blaze. The crowd sways, as we sing along. Eh? No. We didn’t get to hear Sway, or Moonlight Mile, or any of the other umpteen songs I’d have chosen to hear if given my druthers. And no -it wasn’t a technically perfect show, but in my experience, with the Stones, it rarely is. That’s all beside the point!
Quite simply the Rolling Stones are the last high priests; the shamans of rock. This tour is about big bang showmanship. In my opinion, it’s what’s needed to bring back together everyone into the Rolling Stone fold, from across the years, including the new generation of fans, who’ve just been turned on by the latest hit album. It’s about creating the ties that will bind our otherwise exploding galaxy of lives, and the times and the spaces in-between. It’s about being together as one. It’s a magic mix, a mad ecstatic energy flow, graced by a rock and roll communion of song. Maybe we don’t always get exactly what we want from the Stones, but if we just let go and enjoy the show, I think you’ll find, the boys can truly give us just what we need! Them and us together in song -it’s the biggest bang of all!