“Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones.” These thundering words precede a pantheon of rock and roll that takes its place on stage as tens of thousands of fans, whose ages span several generations, look on in anticipation and joy.
It all started for the big, bad progenitors of rock and roll back in 1962. At London’s Marquee Jazz Club where, one summer night, the Rolling Stones played their first ever gig. At the time, their roster featured founder and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire, Brian Jones; vocalist Mick Jagger; guitarist Keith Richards; and keyboardist, Ian Stewart. United by their passion for American blues, the unparalleled ensemble set off to bring the music of Chuck Berry, Muddy Mutters, et al. to Europe. As Richards explains in his autobiography, Life, “the British invasion was really an invasion of American music into Europe.” The four were joined a few months later, in January, by bassist Bill Wyman and jazz drummer Charlie Watts, thus completing the lineup.
In May of 1963, with a producer on board, the Rolling Stones were signed by Decca, the record label notorious for passing on The Beatles. In June, the Stones released their first single, “Come On,” a Chuck Berry cover.
They have been at it ever since, performing more than 2,000 concerts around the world, with grueling, nearly nonstop touring through the 1960s and early 1970s. They have claimed the title of top-grossing tour four separate times and amassed the world’s highest-grossing tours in both the 1990s and 2000s.
Now, showing no signs of stopping, the Stones are in the last stretch of their latest tour, “No Filter,” spanning two continents, and 45 shows. But the tour has not been without turbulence. A brief scare postponed the last set of shows, as Jagger had to undergo emergency heart surgery. However, Jagger — who just celebrated his 76th birthday — recovered from heart surgery at around the same rate that most adolescents recover from having their wisdom teeth pulled out. Within mere weeks, he announced he was back to his usual exercise routine and had a clean bill of health from his doctor. The tour was back on.
I, myself, saw the Rolling Stones play in their one Canadian show, and suffice it to say, every minute of the six hours spent standing still against the stage-front barricade was worth it for the spectacle that followed. The Stones regaled spectators with fan favorites, the majority of the set-list being drawn from the band’s famed, four sequential chef d’oeuvres: Beggars Banquet (1968), Let it Bleed (1969), Sticky Fingers (1971), and Exile on Main St. (1972).
Lesser-known records were played as well, especially thanks to the audience having a say in the set-list via online voting. Contenders were picked from a bag of forgotten hits and esoteric cuts off earlier albums: “Mercy Mercy” from 1965’s Out of our Heads – played for the first time in 50 years; “Under My Thumb” from 1966’s Aftermath; and the one I got to see, “She’s a Rainbow.” It was a welcome revival of a colorful, pop-ballad from the Stones’ oft-overlooked, early-era Pink Floyd inspired album, Their Satanic Majesties Request.
The Stones opened the show with the energetic, lively paean to protest: “Street Fighting Man.” Jagger emerged, draped in glam and glitter, his bellowing vocals filling the field, Richards in his usual debonair, driving the main riff, Ronnie Wood and Darryl Jones commanding the band’s tight rhythm, and Watts keeping the beat, as a bona fide human metronome. Any remaining qualms concerning the Stones’ ability to perform at peak performance were henceforth quashed.