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Stones roll in, tavern rocks during surprise gig on Queen

STONES DO QUEEN ST.: Mick Jagger, left, and Keith Richards sang Rolling Stones favorites as the rock band played a surprise concert for a small group of patrons at the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen St. W. last night.
Mick Jagger thanks Toronto for hospitality

By Betsy Powell
Toronto Star Pop Music Critic

In what's becoming a Toronto tradition, the Rolling Stones played a surprise gig before a small, hand-picked crowd in a downtown bar last night.

Looking relaxed and in high spirits, the veteran rockers thrilled the packed Horseshoe Tavern with a set filled with favorites, making good on a promise to play a tiny club show before returning for a Jan. 9 concert at SkyDome as part of their world tour.

The Stones are here rehearsing at the Concert Hall for the tour that kicks off Sept. 23 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

If last night was any indication, the rock 'n' roll superstars are primed for the bigger stage, though they kept material from their new album, Bridges To Babylon, to a minimum. Instead, with lead singer Mick Jagger strutting his magic, they trotted out hits that included ``Honky Tonk Woman,'' ``Under My Thumb'' and the rarely heard ``19th Nervous Breakdown.''

Before the band launched into the sultry ``Miss You,'' Jagger took the opportunity to thank Toronto for the hospitality he said the band has been shown since they arrived two weeks ago. ``We've been very well treated here in Toronto. Everyone's been really, really good to us,`` he told the cheering crowd.

``Very welcoming, you know, they've gone and been nice to us . . .''

In 1994, the group also rehearsed in Toronto for their world ``Voodoo Lounge'' tour. The band has said in the past it's partly because people here leave them alone, words with greater resonance these days in the aftermath of the car crash that killed the paparazzi-hounded Diana, Princess of Wales. The other reason is Toronto-based concert promoter Michael Cohl, who last night mingled with industry movers and shakers.

Word of last night's ``secret'' concert spread by word-of-mouth throughout the day so that a block-long queue started forming by 6 p.m., four hours before the Stones took the stage at the back of the Queen St. West club.

``They called like any other band and said they'd like to play,'' said X-ray McRae, one of the owners of the venerable Horseshoe.

``It's a great experience having them here. How often do you get this chance?''

In Toronto, more often than other cities: In 1977, the Stones played their infamous El Mocambo gig over on Spadina Ave. In 1994, they announced a surprise show the day of the performance at the former RPM nightclub.

In some ways last night's gig was more predictable since the Stones were slated to appear on the MTV Awards in New York City via satellite. At first it seemed they would be beamed from their rehearsal space at the corner of Davenport and Yonge. However, band sources said they wanted a bar-room atmosphere for the background. Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards, drummer Charlie Watt and guitarist Ron Wood sat at the bar for the broadcast before taking a break.

The returned to the stage with bassist Darryl Jones, vocalist Bernard Fowler and keyboardist Chuck Levell around 10:45 and opened their hour-long set with ``Little Queenie.'' No tickets were sold. Instead, the room was full of people with connections, though some diehard fans managed to talk their way in.

No one from the Stones camp could say whether the band plans another club gig before leaving the city.

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