Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels Tour Stutters, Then Rolls

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And then there were the hits. "Ruby Tuesday," one of Jagger's less convincing moments in concert, and a soaring, gorgeously lyrical "You Can't Always Get What You Want" both inspired stadium-wide sing-alongs. An improvisatory falsetto burst from Jagger while he vamped with the two female background singers ignited "Miss You," and Charlie Watts propelled "Paint It Black" with relentlessly churning rhythms. "Honky Tonk Women" — during which two enormous blowup dolls of bar floozies provided the show's hokiest, most distracting element — and "Tumbling Dice" both were delivered with a raucous, appealing looseness.

As usual, the Stones saved the best for last. Jagger emerged at the top of the scaffolding, shrouded in smoke, as the Stones tore into the percussive introduction to "Sympathy for the Devil." Lit from behind and standing more than a hundred feet above the stage, Jagger cast a dark shadow across the entire stadium, providing a gripping visual corollary to the song's exploration of how evil infects the world. Once back on the stage, Jagger danced into a Bacchic frenzy, and Richards unleashed a mean, winding, angular lead that constituted his strongest playing of the night.

In what seemed to be an edgy reference to the Stones' tragic 1969 show at Altamont Speedway, in California, at which a young black man was killed, a taut, sinewy version of "Gimme Shelter" — on which background singer Lisa Fischer turned in a torrid duet with Jagger — followed "Sympathy for the Devil." After that, the mood lightened as the band leaned into "It's Only Rock'n Roll" while on the video screens appeared footage of the pantheon of rock greats, including Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and, in a funny aside, the young Rolling Stones.

Richards then lit the fuse on the opening chords of "Brown Sugar," during which Jagger climbed down into the photographers' pit and slapped fives with ecstatic fans and Bobby Keys blew his patented sax solo. As soon as "Brown Sugar" wrapped, Jagger, who seemed to be adrenaline incarnate at this point, said, "Okay, here we go," and Richards launched the band into "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Jagger spiced up "Satisfaction," the last song of the set proper, with a host of R&B flourishes, largely borrowed from Otis Redding's cover of the song. A one-song encore — a fierce, no-frills reading of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" — ended the show.

The concluding segment of the show — running from "Sympathy for the Devil" to "Jumpin' Jack Flash" — was particularly notable because it did not pitch into accelerated, deafening chaos, as Stones shows sometimes have done in the past. For the most part, the Stones worked closely from the recorded arrangements of the songs and recognized that a touch of restraint would only heighten the impact of their fervor. The result was a hard-hitting close that capped, but never overwhelmed, all that had preceded it. Then, after the Stones and their fellow musicians took their bows and left the stage, a fireworks display lit the sky as "Toreador Song," from Bizet's Carmen, played over the sound system.

From Philadelphia — where Richards' former girlfriend Anita Pallenberg made a stylish appearance at the second night's show — it was on to Toronto for two dates. In 1977, Mick Jagger and Ron Wood's high jinks with Margaret Trudeau, then the wife of Pierre Trudeau, who was the Canadian prime minister at the time, and Keith Richards' arrest for heroin possession electrified Toronto and made headlines around the world.

This time the Stones lay relatively low, though Jagger slyly alluded to the previous decade's scandal when he quipped onstage the first night, "I was a little bit worried when I saw Mrs. Mulroney [the wife of Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney] backstage, but everything's cool." Meanwhile, Toronto Star columnist Rita Zekas reported that a woman who identified herself as Margaret Trudeau drove up to the El Mocambo club, the scene of the Stones' 1977 revels, and left in a huff when told that the Stones were not on the premises.

In Toronto — where the Stones have added two more shows, on December 3rd and 4th (they've also added two Detroit shows on December 9th and 10th) — Jagger turned up at a party at the Squeeze Club, tossed by one of the club's owners, Marcus O'Hara, the brother of comic actress Catherine O'Hara. Producer Lorne Michaels, who is filming a documentary of the Stones' tour, and singer-songwriter Mary Margaret O'Hara — another O'Hara sibling — also were on hand. Dan Aykroyd and his wife, Donna Dixon, who attended both Stones shows at the 60,000-seat Exhibition Stadium, had dropped by the Squeeze Club the previous night, along with Richards and Watts. A few days later, on the night before the September 6th show at the 62,000-seat Three Rivers Stadium, in Pittsburgh, Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall slipped out to a movie theater in Squirrel Hill, a suburb of the city, to catch sex, lies, and videotape.

As for the Stones' own impressions of the tour, Richards could not be happier with how the shows have been proceeding. "They're going well, man, so far," he said, before going onstage at Alpine Valley, in East Troy, Wisconsin, on September 11th. "We're keeping our fingers crossed, and I'll hit the wood here, but, yeah, they're getting better every day. The band's really winding up now." Given the success of the tour and the initial response to Steel Wheels, Richards said, "this has been a dream year for the Stones as a band."

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