Rolling Stones Set List Interview: Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood - Rolling Stone
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The Rolling Stones on How They Craft the Perfect Set List

What’s Keith’s favorite show-opener? Why doesn’t Mick like playing “Beast of Burden?” The band shares how they plan a gig ahead of their U.S. tour launch

Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Keith Richards. The Rolling Stones perform during the 'No Filter' tour show in central LondonBritain Rolling Stones Concert, London, United Kingdom - 25 May 2018Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Keith Richards. The Rolling Stones perform during the 'No Filter' tour show in central LondonBritain Rolling Stones Concert, London, United Kingdom - 25 May 2018

Ahead of the Rolling Stones' American tour, we asked Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards to share how the group maps out its nightly sets.

Mark Allan/Invision/AP/Shutterst

The Rolling Stones have a system for planning what songs they’re going to play at every show. On concert days, the band usually soundchecks in the afternoon. Then Mick Jagger gets to work with keyboardist Chuck Leavell on making the set list. They take a few things into account: They look at what songs they played the last time they were in the area to make sure they don’t repeat themselves, and Jagger thinks about his voice and what he’s comfortable singing. Sometimes, the band makes song suggestions: “He’ll be quite honest,” says guitarist Ronnie Wood. “He’ll say, ‘Actually, no, that won’t work here,’ or ‘We played it here too many times.’ Or he may just go, ‘Yeah, we’ll give it a run,’ so you never quite know what to expect, but you always get a reason why we won’t perform something.”

While Wood says the band has “stock numbers” — such as “Brown Sugar” and “Tumbling Dice” — that he considers the “meat of the show,” his favorite songs from recent tours have been the surprises. They include 1965’s “Play With Fire” (“I’d like to play that one more often, Keith and I on acoustics”)  and 1989’s “Mixed Emotions” (“That one came out of the blue — Mick said, ‘Can we give this a go?'”).

“When we get the final list,” says Wood, “I can get cracking on my canvas.” Wood has been turning the band’s set lists into art for the last 20 years, sketching detailed, psychedelic illustrations. Guests in his dressing room have been asking for prints of them for years, so he decided to release them in his new book, Set-Pieces. As the Stones kick off another U.S. tour in Chicago, we asked the band to go inside a favorite set from last year: June 19th, 2018, at London’s Twickenham Stadium. Here’s how they did it.


1. “Street Fighting Man” (1968)
Early in the tour, the band kicked off with “Sympathy for the Devil.” But then, Mick Jagger switched to this explosive political rocker for the rest of the run. “It just felt good,” says Keith Richards. “I don’t know if there’s another that can top it.”

2. “Ride ‘Em on Down” (2016)
The Stones take on Eddie Taylor’s 1955 deep cut keeps the early-show momentum going. “Mick decided to keep it to one blues song last tour,” says Ronnie Wood. “I disagree. I think, ‘C’mon, let’s do more!'”

3. “Bitch (1971)
“It comes off pretty smooth, but it’s quite tricky,” says Richards. “There’s an interesting bridge you have to watch out for. Otherwise, it’s straightforward rock and soul that we love. It’s Charlie Watts’ meat and potatoes.'”

4.Beast of Burden” (1978)
The group soundchecks this song all the time — and are puzzled why Jagger rarely puts it in the set. “I’ll look at the set list and go, ‘Hey, Mick, we just rehearsed this!’ says Wood. “He doesn’t answer — it’s like a tease. But then three weeks later, boom, it’s in the set. That’s what keeps you on your toes.” Adds Richards, “I wish we did it more. I always feel like I’m exploring it, finding a little bit more to it every time. But it’s up to Mick. He doesn’t feel like it.”

5.Honky Tonk Women” (1969)
“‘Honky Tonk’ can be a bastard to play, man,” says Richards. “When it’s right, it’s really right. There’s something about the starkness of the beginning you really have to have down, and the tempo has to be just right. It’s a challenge, but I love it.”

6.You Got the Silver” (1969)
Richards’ first-ever lead-vocal track wasn’t played live until 1999, but has since become a staple. “He didn’t realize how much people like that song,” says Wood. “I’ve kind of reintroduced that, and it’s gone down really well.”

7.Sympathy for the Devil(1968)
Richards calls this epic “such a bizarre thing to play. It’s incredible fun, because there’s all these gaps. Ronnie and I don’t even play until the bridge: ‘Pleased to meet you!’ And there’s great dynamics in it. And then at the end, I can just dribble about a bit.”

8. “Jumpin Jack Flash” (1968)
“That takes a lot of energy,” says Wood. “‘Jumpin Jack’ is always a groove and a good vibe. It spreads happiness through the entire audience, through the band. It’s great to see people smiling. That’s what we like, you know.”

9. “Gimme Shelter” (1969)
Richards layered several guitar parts on the original recording; playing it live is his “biggest challenge.” “Once you get into it, [it’s fine], but I’m never sure if I’m the right volume. I’m always a bit anxious about. That beginning is so eerie, sometimes in a stadium you start to hear echoes.”

10.(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965)
“It’s the riff of all time,” Richards says. Despite playing it consistently since 1965, he hasn’t tired of it. “I’m still finding how to tighten it up. [Bassist] Darryl [Jones] and I are working on the rhythm end lately — slightly different ideas to make it snappier and better.”



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