It's Only Rock'n Roll
Show time 9:05 p.m. - 11:20 p.m.
Maybe Johnnie inspired the band, because the Stones then ended the evening on a triumphant note. "Street Fighting Man" was stupendous, and Mick seemed to feel that it was something special. As the song was climaxing, he waved at Mick, Ronnie and Darryl to form a line with him, and the four of them advanced to the front of the stage -- like they did with "I Go Wild" on the Voodoo Lounge tour. Then Keith launched almost immediately into "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Usually, the band loses so much momentum when it takes a tea break between songs. But tonight's segue shows what a powerful force they can be when they, er, get rolling. The encore of "Satisfaction" was delivered with the usual extra modicum of panache. Keith played an extended intro as Mick was late coming in. And everyone left happy.
I have to say the night started rather slowly. Three hours after organizers opened the gates to let the throngs in from the biting chill, the band came on with "Brown Sugar." From my 12th row seat on the floor (scalped for $150), I could hear no guitars. It took a few songs before the mix seemed to come right. I'm sure others will have different opinions though.
Ronnie remains an interesting character. He spent a good chunk of "If You Can't Rock Me" behind the monitors in some heated conversation with his guitar tech. During Bobby's solo on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," he went over to Mick's onstage closet and picked out Mick's Stetson hat, and waved it around the stage. Then he realized he'd ruined Mick's surprise, looked over apologetically at Mick, and sheepishly replaced it like a naughty schoolboy. Later, during the intros, Mick officially unveiled his Stetson with the remark "Totally Shameless." After introducing Ronnie, he took off his Stetson and crowned Ronnie with it. Bygones. On the small stage, he excitedly tried to get Mick to look at a girl's banner declaring that she had named her son after Mick, but Mick just blew him off.
The crowd seemed a bit lame. During "You Can't Always Get What You Want," Mick instructed everyone to sing the title line. They did it twice and it sounded pathetic, so he gave up. In Europe, they would have been singing it all night. Also, the applause during the intros was more polite than enthusiastic. Because of everyone's stoicism, I was able to get right up to the b-stage, while everyone else stayed in their alloted seats. I was too busy taking photos to pay much attention to the goings-on. But, as usual, Mick lost the beat on "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" and had to rush over to Chuck mid-song to get counted back in. Only 3 or 4 pieces of underwear were thrown onto the small stage - another small clue as to the crowd's conservative nature.
Like my last show in Pittsburgh, nothing overly memorable, perhaps a solid "B-minus" effort overall. But an "F" to the Houston PD who had half a dozen plainclothes cops busting civilians trying to sell tickets. Fortunately they did not target buyers, though one cop saw me looking at a bust and threatened to throw me in jail. Maybe this is why I enjoyed "Street Fighting Man" more than usual.
Yes, I know it may sound completely spoiled to say the arena shows were getting a bit routine, but Keith kicking off the show with the opening chords of Brown Sugar signaled that it would be an extraordinary night. Rather than Brown Sugar capping off the small stage songs, it was fresh and energetic in getting things started with Keith ripping away at his guitar. Other pleasant surprises were All Down The Line and You Can't Always Get What You Want, with Mick and Keith working the big stage to its maximum potential. The Houston crowd was enthusiastic in being at the concert, but not completely into the music at first. Besides empty seats in the 2nd and 3rd decks toward each side, most of the crowd seemed more concerned with running out for another beer or trying to scream a conversation over the songs. When Keith did a passionate Slippin' Away, most of the crowd on the floor slipped away for another drink or just plain sat down. While the band was doing extremely well from the start, it seemed the crowd began to notice after Mick came back for Sympathy For the Devil, which was complete with the stadium-stage flames billowing forth each time the "Pleased to meet you!" part came up. When the Stones moved to the small stage we first got It's Only Rock'n'Roll, and then things really intensified with a great Little Red Rooster and a Midnight Rambler that had the full spectrum from slow blues to rampaging rock and roll. Here was another benefit from the stadium show: rather than exiting from the small stage like the arena shows so far in 2003, the band was able to build on the energy they created on the small stage. They returned to the main stage with a Gimme Shelter that had Lisa Fischer and Mick mixing it up with Keith's guitar, so that pyrotechnics were not needed to seem like this song was on fire.
The absolute highlight of the night was on Honky Tonk Women, where Chuck Leavell yielded to a large man with a hat on. There was Johnnie Johnson, Chuck Berry's piano player, and a musician we've grown to love from playing and recording with Keith, or just appearing at Buddy Guy's club in Chicago. When it came to the piano part, Johnnie Johnson made it sound like a Johnnie Johnson song and not Honky Tonk Women, and that was perfectly fine. Keith and Ronnie huddled around Mr. Johnson, playing guitar and paying homage at the same time. As far as guests on this song go for the LICKS tour, Sheryl Crow certainly has unsurpassed visual appeal, but Johnnie Johnson simply has 100 times more cool!
Street Fighting Man came late in the set, and was especially good. Rather than working opposite walkways, when Keith went far stage left, Mick ran out after him. There to the far right of the crowd they both stood, with Keith firing off the surface-to-air-missile-like chords, and Mick a foot away scowling, snarling, and egging Keith on.
Jumping Jack Flash was the last song of the main set, followed by an encore of Satisfaction. For the encore, Keith came out in a washed out red T-shirt that said HAND TIGHTEN ONLY on the front, and had a guitar not seen before. The guitar body had a silver lower half, and the upper half and neck were a bright magenta. It was a shock to the eyes, and Keith took advantage of the additional attention with some extra nice playing. Mick's shirt was color coordinated to Keith's guitar (to think that is coincidence would be naive!), as during the song Keith gestured to both his guitar and Mick's shirt, to which Mick shook his head and smiled. This Satisfaction was longer than usual, with Mick going down the walkway almost all the way to the small stage, and then later stage right at the end of the song. As Mick stayed out on the wing working the crowd the rest of the band kept checking his whereabouts, but did not seem to mind continuing to crank out the music. Only when Mick returned did Keith and Charlie appear to consider completing the song and the show. Satisfaction finally ended, followed by everyone's bows, then Mick and Charlie, and then the stadium show fireworks. I know if the Stones were playing nothing but stadiums, I would be the first screaming for arena shows. But on a night like this where the band takes over every square inch of a large football stadium, the magic is far more intense and the show much better than any arena appearance-or club appearance--could provide.
Johnny Johnson - there were rumors that he would make and appearance and he did, sitting in on Honky Tonk Women. His presence was not mentioned until after the song, so I don't know how many people realized who he was at the time, although the camera was on him most of the song.
Can't You Hear Me Knockin' - this would be a highlight for me at any show, but they really nailed it tonight. Keith's intro was loud and strong, and his amp settings had just the right amount of dirt to give it that perfect sound. Ronnie really nailed the solo as his playing continues to hit new heights on this tour.
All Down the Line and Monkey Man - what a treat to get both of these in the set. Again, Keith's guitar settings were perfect. His intro to All Down the Line was rough and choppy, the way it should be, and I could hear his chugging rhythm through most of the song. Money Man was so true to the original it was scary. Great sound on the guitars, and the keyboard was at the right level in the mix. Both of these were jewels.
Angie - Keith sitting on the drum riser for most of the song while playing the acoustic. Very true to the studio version.
The B Stage - when IORR was not played early, I knew it would be the opener on the B stage and it sounded great. I was hoping for some blues or a rare one for the second song and got it with Red Rooster. Since it was a stadium show, I was prepared to settle for Like a Rolling Stone for the last song, but instead we get a smoking hot extended version of Midnight Rambler. We were so close I could hear Charlie smack his snare a moment before I heard it through the loudspeakers. An awesome performance, with Mick really working the crowd on all three songs.
You can't always get what you want - this song has really changed from the last tour when the guitars were hardly a factor. Tonight we got a long extended version with not one, but two solos from the new and improved Ronnie Wood. A great combination of the original studio version and the guitar dominated versions from '72-73.
Keith's set - great versions on both songs. He really seemed to be singing from the heart. He made a comment about the new stadium being a virgin and the Stones had to break it in.
It looks like my highlights have turned into the whole show, and that's about how it was. They did not run through any of the greatest hits. Sympathy, Tumbling Dice and Street Fighting Man were all extended versions with lots of jamming. Keith played a chrome guitar with a pink neck and pick guard on Satisfaction. Someone told me Billy Gibbons gave it to him. Ronnie had some equipment problems during 'If You Can't Rock Me', but who cares. It didn't seem to bother him or any of his band mates. I was just glad to hear this song.
It's hard to believe these guys get better and better, but it's true. For both performance and set list, this show was better than those I saw in '78, '81 or '98. This show will play over and over in my head for a long time.
Rambler on the b-stage seemed to be the consensus show stealer-every bit as good as the HBO performance. Other highlights for me were getting both All Down The Line & Monkey Man in a "greatest hits" stadium show; Knockin' sounded very good to me, better than the San Antonio arena show back in November; Johnnie Johnson on piano for HTW; and the over all set list just seemed to flow very well. Was this the first time If You Can't Rock Me showed up at a stadium show? And a very nice surprise was not getting You Got Me Rocking, which is okay, but come on, at every freakin' show?
It appeared there were some technical problems at the start of IORR,--Mick was off key and couldn't hear well? But it worked itself out and everything came together for Rooster and Rambler. I'm not a fan of stadium gigs, but I really liked this show!
I've seen the Stones on every American tour since 1981 and in the past I've had the chance to see them at stadium shows and at arena shows in various cities in the US. I much prefer the intimacy of the arena show and relish the fact that the less popular songs are better accepted by arena audiences. Therefore, I was hoping Houston would get an arena show but this time it was not meant to be. To me this meant I would probably not get to enjoy Can't You Hear Me Knocking and get the radio-play tunes that don't sound fresh any longer. As the time of the Houston show approached I began to worry that the show would be similar to the HBO performance, which I believe was overwhelmingly Jagger and not enough Stones.
All my fears went away once I took my seat. Having seen the Stones in the front row in the past, this time I got a ticket in the lower lever (not floor) directly in front of the stage. No problem, I was there for the music and if I wanted to see the boys up close I would use my binoculars. As soon as I listened to the opening cords of Brown Sugar I began to worry that we were about to witness a horrible show. I have read so many complaints about the sound on this tour and especially about the sound in San Antonio, that I almost believed we were doomed. There were no guitars on Brown Sugar! Fortunately, half-way through the song all the instruments were coming out of the speakers and by the time Start Me Up was in full stomp the sound was great!
Perhaps realizing this was the last Stadium show of the North American leg of the Tour, the Stones played their heart out. The set list was perfect. It was the soundtrack of my life. Better yet, the Stones didn't go beyond 1981 except to play Don't Stop and for Keith's Slipping Away. The Stones knew that while Houston is country, it is also blues. (Louisiana is down the street, you know). So, rather than a country or a mixed set list they stuck with the blues and rock.
They kicked-off the total blues on the B-stage with Little Red Rooster followed by Midnight Rambler and a heavily blues based Gimme Shelter. The musical theme of the night was Let It Bleed with 5 songs, that is if you include Honky Tonk Women as a substitute for Country Honk. The sound theme of the night was Exile On Main Street as Jagger's voice seemed to be in the background all throughout the show, very much as it sounds on Exile. Awesome!
The Stones rock and roll has evolved over the years. In the late 80s they were 'speeding,' in the 90s they were 'cracking,' and now they are 'stomping.' When they were not playing the blues last night, they were 'stomping.'
It's Only Rock and Roll on the B-stage was special. It had a wonderful beginning. As you would expect from the Stones when they are live! At the start, they weren't getting it together but once they did they put 90s grunge rock in the Easy Listening category. Tumbling Dice, All DownThe Line, Start Me Up, and If You Can't Rock me were awesome jamming sessions defined by the contemporary Stones 'stomping' tempo.
This is one show I will not forget and will keep in a special place forever. A packed Reliant Stadium celebrated 40 years of rock and roll from the Greatest Rock and Roll band in the world. Each one of us privately celebrated the soundtrack of our lives, relived the past and hoped for a great future. Please Don't Stop!
Enough complaining! The show was great! It was a fantastic show by a fantastic band. The Stones seemed to be having a good time too. Anybody else agree with me when I say that it was the best version of "Angie" ever. Do you want to why the Stones still play rock and roll at 60 and sell out stadiums around the world? Because they can!
I thought maybe there was something wrong with my ears, but having just seen the local TV news (channel 13) where they reported numerous complaints from people in the upper levels, thought I'd just add my comments to this page. Apparently some lucky ones who complained to the ushers got escorted to better seats in lower levels... I would have thought the Stones would do better than this. Well, I still love 'em, but really, what a let down.. (Oh yes, there was a 15-20 minute wait in line to buy T shirts on the 6th level, and they had no programs up there - I had to go to a lower level to get one).
Thanks to Mike Newman and H�gne Midjord for press links.
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It's Only Rock'n Roll 2003 -
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