The Rolling Stones at the United Center, September 2002

September 12th, 2002

By Mark Guarino
Daily Herald Music Critic

Music performed in sports stadiums is like ballroom dancing on ice – everyone agrees it’s an aberration, but somehow, some way, it became the norm.

The Rolling Stones have played stadiums for most of their 40 years and have not-so-subtly compensated for the unnatural experience with every visual trick in the book, from strobe lights to garish costuming to inflatable Honky Tonk Women.

But at the United Center Tuesday night – the first of three concerts, including shows at Comiskey Park Friday and the Aragon Ballroom Monday – the Stones followed in the steps of recent high-profile tour by U2, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen. It was a rock ‘n’ roll show with strict attention on the rock ‘n’ roll.

Simply using a wall of video monitors stylishly illuminating the band’s personalities, the Stones seemed to be directly challenging long-time detractors who continually scream that rock bands should die before they get old.

Some should, of course, and the Stones are long from whipping up the type of rebel furor you might find any night of the week and Chicago’s punk Mecca, the Fireside Bowl. This was, after all, a big-moneyed show wary of spontaneity that hit the appropriate cues.

But there was no doubt it was the band itself that carried it off. There were obligatory hits and generous obscurities in the 22-song set and less a sense of mandatory nostalgia than hard-fought fun. Witnessing a group of bandmates now hovering around age 60 carrt it through with vigor and taste made the night a celebration.

This tour is directed to focus mainly on the prime Stones recording years, from the late ’60s to the late ’70s. In fact, aside from one new son (“Don’t Stop”) from an upcoming greatest hits package, the only lat-era Stones songs on the set list (“The Worst,” “You Got Me Rocking”) were pulled from 1994’s “Voodoo Lounge” (Virgin).

The Stones whittled the wannabes from the diehards early on, with choice but left afield cuts from defining albums like “Exile on Main Street,” “It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll,” “Beggars Banquet” and “Some Girls.” A four-man horn section featured original “Exile” tenor sax player Bobby Keys, who ended up becoming a key presence throughout the night, reprising solos and, for “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” playfully passing the song around with Woods and Keith Richards and Mick Jagger’s harp.

Particularly buff at age 59, Jagger didn’t tone down the hip shakes and wrist thrusts – his sole fashion flourish of the night was when he pimped in a white coat and fedora to sing the Otis Redding Stax Volt gem, “Can’t Turn You Loose.”

Soul music figures heavily into the roots of this band, as do country and the blues. Both were well served. The Stones plucked “Far Away Eyes,” steeped in twang and Woods’ pedal steel guitar.

And on Chicago’s West Side, the blues could not be avoided. Late into the set the band made its way to a matchbook-sized stage at the opposite end of the floor where they played a three-song set beginning with Muddy Waters’ defining song, “Mannish Boy.”

The Stones then slipped into their earliest incarnation; although capped with routine run-throughs of “Sympathy For the Devil” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” their white-boy blues were thick and greasy.

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