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Stones Confidently Close Out U.S. Tour In Chicago

United Center, Chicago, April 23, 1998

It’s remarkable what more than ninety million dollars in ticket
sales and the cheers of nearly two million fans can do for a band’s
confidence. Playing the last U.S. show of their Bridges to Babylon
world tour Thursday night at the United Center in Chicago, the
Rolling Stones were a looser, cooler, more playful and more
adventurous group than when they launched the tour here seven
months ago to the day.

Last September, with a horde of international press covering the
tour’s opening night and a chorus of doubters suggesting the
fifty-something Stones were too old for such a venture, the band
played not to lose, delivering a sturdy but slightly workmanlike
performance. Thursday, with the band well road-tested and the tour
assured a place in the concert success history books (in 1997, the
band sold more than 1.5 million tickets and grossed more than $89
million, according to Pollstar), the Stones were a nearly
unstoppable rhythmic juggernaut.

No longer relying on bells and whistles for support, the Stones
abandoned the elaborate stage they used for their outdoor arena
shows, with its towering gilded female figures, huge inflatable
dolls, massive video screen and sprawling runways. Instead, the
group performed for more than two hours on a spare stage flanked by
two video monitors, and they let the music sell the show.

Although they opened with a salvo of fleet, grinding rockers —
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together”
and the new “Flip the Switch,” — the band’s fourth song, “Gimme
Shelter,” set the tone for the performance. Keith Richards’
echo-laden guitar arpeggios and Charlie Watts’ behind-the-beat
drumming drew out the songs’ haunting opening, while Chuck Leavell
sprinkled in dreamy keyboard runs. With Mick Jagger singing in
punchy phrases and backing vocalist Lisa Fisher cooing like a siren
as she draped a red cape around herself, the song changed from a
conflagration to a reverie, a meditation on destruction and

The Stones worked variations on this style time and again,
substituting laid-back grooves and passionate instrumentation for
driving rock force. Watts slyly shuffled even as Darryl Jones,
asserting himself as a full-fledged force in the group rather than
Bill Wyman’s passive replacement, prodded songs’ momentum with his
surging bass lines.

That approach occasionally made for sluggish moments,
particularly a dragged-out version of “Miss You” that found Jagger
licking the staggeringly sexy Fisher’s shoes while Richards, Ron
Wood and back-up singer Bernard Fowler literally flopped down on
the stage. More often, though, the relaxed tempos let the Stones
stretch out and delve into the material, breathing new life into
obligatory crowd-pleasers. Richards and Wood filled “Tumbling Dice”
and “Honky Tonk Women” with all manner of junkyard guitar riffs,
and Jagger sang with the insolence of old, particularly on
“Sympathy for the Devil.”

The band’s reckless abandon enhanced their new songs as well,
which were more plentiful than on the Stones’ classic-rock opening
night playlist. If Jagger’s melodramatic delivery during “Out of
Control” suggested an epileptic seizure, his swampy harp playing
heated the songs’ closing jam to a raging boil, and during “Saint
of Me,” Woods’ pretty slide guitar leads and Richards’ raunchy
chords played off each other like sweet and sour sauce. “Thief in
the Night” provided the evening’s most sensual music, as Richards’
ragged croon floated over Watts’ rustling, swinging backbeat,
supported by lush backing vocals and a dreamy horn section.

If this tender-hearted moment pointed the way for the band to
age gracefully over the next twenty years, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,”
with Richards pulling rending, roaring notes from his guitar, and
“Brown Sugar,” with Jagger hopping on one foot as he sang, showed
the Stones still can rock with massive force anytime they want.

In keeping with the evening’s stripped-down, mid-tempo emphasis,
though, the band saved their rawest music for the small second
stage located on the far side of the main floor, where they ran
through tough-as-nails renditions of Chuck Berry’s “Little
Queenie,” Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” and Bob
Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” Richards and Wood tore the songs
apart as Watts hammered away and Jagger, arms reaching for the
crowd, feet apart, rocking side to side, sang at his most cocksure.
For a few moments, the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band was
Chicago’s best blues band, as the Stones brought their tour, and
their music, full circle.

The band will head north of the border to play Toronto on
Sunday, then kick off their European tour in Berlin on May 22.


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