The Rolling Stones - No Filter tour of North America - Soldier Field, Chicago, IL, USA - 21st and 25th June 2019.
“We love Chicago so much, we decided to start the tour here instead of Miami” joked Sir Mick Jagger as the self-proclaimed greatest band in the world began their 2019 tour of the USA (with a single stop in Canada).
This tour, which had been postponed for two months due to Jagger’s recent heart surgery was supposed to end here in Chicago but instead the windy city got to play host to the opener of what the local press were calling a “comeback”. (They finished the previous european leg of this tour less than a year ago, but whatever) The tour’s finale will now take place in what will no doubt be the sweltering heat of Florida at the end of August.
Support act St. Paul and the Broken Bones were a very pleasant surprise to me, soulful and a little jazzy with a lead singer with an amazing voice (and a rather fetching cloak), I really enjoyed their set.
I’ve followed the Stones around the world for a few years now and the first show of a tour is never the best, they take about three nights to hit their stride in my opinion but not this time. Night one was tight, crisp and on point. You’d never know that their evergreen frontman had been in hospital just a few short weeks ago as he continued to run across the stage like a man a third of his age. They started with Street Fighting Man - a perfectly good place to start since it gets the crowd into it straight away. Sad Sad Sad was a surprise as the fourth number. These shows are made for the majority of the audience who will only ever see this band once or twice, and want to hear all the classics, so rarities like this are a treat for the regulars.
The new twist this year is the proper use of the B-stage. For the last few years fans have been able to enjoy Mick, Keith and Ronnie coming further out into the stadium for most of Miss You and Mick and backing vocalist Sasha Allen on Gimme Shelter, but not since the Bridges To Babylon world tour over 20(!) years ago have we been given a B-stage section with Charlie Watts down there as well. The acoustic versions of Angie and Dead Flowers that they performed there were great and very well received by the crowd. In a rather touching moment, Keith held Charlie’s hand for some of the walk back to the main stage.
Sympathy For The Devil and Honkey Tonk Women continued to please this appreciative, packed out stadium - I was particularly squashed in my spot in pit 1 in the early part of the show, but by this point seemed to have a bit more booty-shaking room. Following the band introductions (where a few forgotten members had to be hastily added after a gentle reminder to Mick - it is the first show) Keith’s two song section always seems to signal a lull in proceedings in the US, perhaps because the songs are less well known. Tonight’s version of You Got the Silver was a particularly good one though, with Ronnie shining on his slide guitar. The highlight of the run-in for me is always Paint it Black but the 12 minute version of Midnight Rambler was fun too.
Night one in Chicago was an impressive start to the tour, leaving me excited for night two.
The 3-4 day gap between shows that is necessary for a band this advanced in years gives the tourists among us a great opportunity to explore new cities. Despite having lived for three years in mid-western states, this was my first visit to Chicago. I had a great time at various museums and significant blues sites. Chess studios, where many blues legends have recorded offer a really interesting tour and we stumbled across a great Bob Dylan exhibit at the American Writers Museum, which is full of really nicely curated exhibits. Oh, and I enjoyed the close up view of the architecture you get travelling on the train around the Loop so much that I went around twice!
On to show 2 then where our Lucky Dip tickets were incredibly lucky, scoring us pit 2. We decided to try to stand near the back of the pit this time to get a better view of the B stage and it proved a great decision. Before I get to that though a quick note about the problems getting into the stadium. A brief thunder storm meant that the queues for the pits had to be dispersed away from the stadium for safety. This was done in a fashion that in itself was pretty unsafe and created a dangerous crush when people were allowed to queue again. It also meant that people who had been queuing all day (and it was a really hot one) to get spots at the front lost their places. The rain also meant that a further sound check was required, so when we finally entered the stadium, we were held in tunnels again with no explanation as to why. Everyone understands that things happen at big events that require a change to the advertised schedule, but all people need is clarity of information - it’s a shame the security staff weren't able to give us that.
On with the show then and thankfully, despite the queuing problems we were able to get the spot we wanted down by the B stage. We noticed that there was a small roped off standing area behind us and in front of the floor seating closer to the B stage, apparently people with floor seats were randomly upgraded here (we didn’t notice it on the first night but there is an area like this on both sides of the stage) - I’ve seen the seats in front of the B stage going for $5,000 at some of the other venues - so this is something to look out for if you are attending later shows as they had a great view!
They opened with Jumping Jack Flash, another good place to start although my own preference is to hear it a little later on. Song four was Bitch, Mick letting us know how good he was feeling by thumping his chest as he sang; “My heart is beating louder than a big bass drum” perhaps he had read all those news reports focusing on his health in the run up to the first show. Ride ‘Em On Down was next, a welcome return to the set list, I had been waiting for something from the Blue and Lonesome album, it would have been criminal not to have had some blues in this town. The least democratic vote in the world (™) got us Monkey Man so I have no reason to complain about it this time around. It was nice rendition, despite how rarely they play it.
I mentioned that standing further back than usual proved to be the right decision, and as the band ambled down to the B stage - delayed a bit by Keith apparently wandering off (“Where’s Keith gone?” asked Mick as he, Charlie and Ronnie lined up to go down the catwalk. Keith appearing a moment later to much laughter on stage as well as off) I was excited to see what we would get. Play With Fire which has been played live exactly once in the last thirty years was more than I could have hoped for. It’s one of my favourite songs of all time. They could have completely messed it up and I would have loved it, but it was actually a lovely, gentle version - fingers crossed that it went down well enough that it gets included again. Sweet Virginia was the follow up, what a beautiful interlude to the main stage action.
When you see the same band play the same songs repeatedly, you find you actually really enjoy the occasions when they make a mistake and tonight we got a doozy. Keith started to play Midnight Rambler, except he was supposed to be playing Paint it Black. It took about 15 seconds or so for everyone to notice and there was a kerfuffle as the set list was checked and everyone looked a bit bewildered. Mick wandered over to keyboardist Chuck Leavell and asked; “What’s happening? Are we in the wrong key?” Smiling, Mick then gave Keith a hug “It’s alright Keith, it’s ok, it’s only the second night and it’s only one f**k up!” said Mick jovially. Both he and Keith were all smiles and normal service was resumed for a blistering version of Paint it Black followed by Midnight Rambler in its proper place.
Another great night in Chicago ended, as great nights always do with Satisfaction. Both shows were impressive with tight performances across the board and surprisingly varied set lists. I have a feeling this tour is going to be a vintage one. As I always tell people, if you’ve never seen the Stones and they are taking their rock and roll circus to a town near you this summer, get yourself a ticket, you’ll have a brilliant time, even up in the nosebleed seats.