"The concept is a rock tour by a rock band with guitar players," says Mick Jagger with a laugh when asked about the Rolling Stones' plans to hit the road again this fall. "We're not reinventing the wheel." Indeed, like U2 and Paul McCartney, the Stones have come up with ways to pare down the production of their shows and concentrate on the music. "It's a question of how much spectacle do you want, or can the show have a beautiful, clean line?" says Keith Richards. "I mean, how many dolls can you blow up?"
At press time, the Stones had lined up thirty North American dates, beginning on September 5th in Boston and ending on February 1st of next year in Denver. Later that month, the band will head to Mexico, then Australia, Japan and, for the first time in the group's history, China. The current schedule calls for the tour to end after a year, but promoter Michael Cohl says that could easily change. "If they're having a good time and the fans are enjoying it," he says, "who knows what this could turn into?" In its boldest innovation, the Stones' American tour will include a mix of stadium, arena, theater and club dates, sometimes in the same city. For their shows in September in New York, the band will hit Giants Stadium, Madison Square Garden and the Roseland Ballroom. "As much as the stadiums are exciting, if that's all you do, it's easy to fall into a rut," Richards says. "As good a showman as Mick is on big stages, he could work on a coffee table and be better than anybody, because that's how we started -- in clubs that had a stage the size of a milk crate."
Jagger suggests that the Stones will be switching their set lists around in surprising ways. "You have to do certain songs for the bigger shows," he says. "The smaller ones can be different. And I have some ideas for thematic shows. For example, you could do an Eighties show." He pauses, and laughs. "Well, why not?" he continues, a bit sheepishly. "You could do a Sixties or Seventies show. You could do a blues night. Or you could play an album in its entirety. . . . We'll need to get a week into rehearsals for me to tell you if any of that is really going to happen."
When asked about Jagger's theme idea, the sound of Richards' eyes rolling is virtually audible over the phone line. "I'm all for it -- everybody who's got an idea, fling it out there and let's see if we can pull if off," he says. "That's what makes it interesting. It's not just another go-round. We'll just have to dig around in the warehouse and see if we can find the wardrobe!"
According to Cohl, ticket prices for the shows will vary according to venue and market, with highs of $250-$300 for Golden Circle seats in arenas ($150 in stadiums) and lows of $25 for some stadium general-admission seats. He estimates that the average theater and club tickets will cost from $75 to $100. The Stones will head to Paris in May to work up new songs that might be included on a two-disc, forty-track greatest-hits retrospective that will cover the band's history from 1964 on. In addition, the band's Sixties albums will be remastered and reissued in both their American and British versions around the time the tour starts. Also in the works is a box set of rarities for later release. Rehearsals for the tour will begin in July.
So what's driving the Stones, who are all pushing sixty, to tour the world this time? "What's the big deal about still working?" says Richards. "Retirement age is sixty-five, and that's at a normal job -- and I ain't there yet. I'm just doing what I do."
As for Jagger, whose most recent solo album, Goddess in the Doorway, has sold more than a million copies worldwide, it's the challenge. "You've got to prove that you've got the hunger, the energy and the ability to do the job," he says. "I'm not kidding anyone. You wonder, 'Am I still able to do this? How physical can I be at my age? How difficult is that going to be?'"
Fear not. Jagger is evidently willing to pay any price to make sure the Stones' shows live up to the band's reputation as one of the greatest live acts in rock & roll. "I've already forsaken the pleasures of the flesh," he says with mock ruefulness. "I'm going to the gym as soon as we hang up the phone."