Rolling Stones Surprise Toronto - Rolling Stone
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Rolling Stones Surprise Toronto

Rockers play small, rootsy gig for Canadian fans

After a month of rehearsals in Toronto in preparation for their world tour, which launches August 21st at Boston’s Fenway Park, the Rolling Stones gave the city a big thank you last night by performing an eighty-minute, rootsy set for 1,100 fans at the Phoenix Concert Theatre. People had been lined up down the street since Tuesday to snatch up the bargain $10 tickets for the show, filmed for a reported DVD.

“I want to thank everybody in Toronto for being so welcoming to us,” frontman Mick Jagger said. “You kind of leave us alone, but give us enough attention to get our egos up for the tour.”

The band kicked off the evening with “Rough Justice,” from the forthcoming studio album, A Bigger Bang, due September 6th. Immediately, the audience rushed the stage, fists in the air as if this were a stadium show. Without the flash of a custom-built stage with runways, inflatables and pyro, the Stones played straight-up rock & roll. Jagger and Co. — guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood, and drummer Charlie Watts — grooved on covers of classics such as the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” Bob Marley and Peter Tosh’s reggae anthem “Get Up, Stand Up,” and Otis Redding’s “Mr. Pitiful,” while also reaching back into their own bag for numbers like “Dead Flowers,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Brown Sugar” and the only encore, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

The standout of the night, however, was the curious rearrangement of “19th Nervous Breakdown,” with its slow, bluesy rock delivery; the words almost spoken, not sung, and the original melody barely adhered to. A new song, the blues-tinged “Back of My Hand,” had a similar feel to the Stones’ 1969 take on Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move.”

After Jagger introduced the core band and nine auxiliary players — including bassist Darryl Jones, keyboardist Chuck Leavell and saxophonist Bobby Keys — Richards stepped up for his turn at the mike to debut “Infamy.” “You’re the guinea pigs,” he cracked, before launching into the song’s dark, almost James Bond-ian rhythm. Jagger then returned to center stage for the playful, straight-up rock & roll single “Oh No, Not You Again,” which rhymes “beauty” and “cutie.”

While an elaborate stage has been constructed for the upcoming tour — promoter Michael Cohl calls it “the Globe Theatre meets Blade Runner” — nights like this prove that the Stones don’t need such distractions.

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