3:00 PM EDT, May 29, 2013
In the midst of another-night-at-the-office greatest hits show for the Rolling Stones, the eternal drummer Charlie Watts kept things swinging. He smashed a cymbal so hard it looked as if it had been cracked by a two-by-four. And he even allowed himself a smile as the 2 1/2-hour show wound down Tuesday at the packed United Center.
Though the Stones’ set lists have become pretty predictable over the last couple decades, it’s still a lot of fun to watch the band interact. Watts, his posture erect, his hair silver, his wrists bringing the sticks down like dancing sledgehammers, made everything move in the first of three Chicago concerts. The interaction of Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood had its own choreography, a shake and shimmy of jutting elbows and snaking, nearly invisible hips. These are some of the skinniest human beings on the planet, and they slide-stepped around each other as if orchestrating the music on the fly – which in many cases they were.
Weathered they might be and prone to playing certain old reliables again and again – lest the customers who paid as much as $600 for seats protest that they weren’t getting their quota of hits -- the Stones still flirt with the songs as if they just started dating. “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)” was wheeled out again, but Watts’ left-hand punch on the snare and the way his right hand accelerated atop the tom drum as Richards took a guitar solo created its own excitement within the well-worn song.
For all the hoopla surrounding the Stones, they play with minimal gear and minimal fuss. The theatrics were considerably toned down from past stadium shows – no inflatables, no pyro – just a five-piece rock ‘n’ roll band letting fly, abetted by two horns and two back-up singers.
Some of the add-ons gave the show a charge. Long-time backing vocalist Lisa Fischer dug her high-heels into the stage as she reared back and wailed on “Gimme Shelter.” Veteran blues singer Taj Mahal, who accompanied the Stones during their 1968 film “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus,” strolled on stage to perform a fierce “Six Days on the Road” while thrashing his guitar. Mick Taylor, the Stones lead guitarist during their halcyon early ‘70s, added to the six-string muscle on the blues opera “Midnight Rambler,” with a frenzied Jagger peeling off dance moves like James Brown with the jitters. Richards slung his arm around the prodigal guitarist, and Taylor pecked his old pal’s cheek.
It was a good night for the guitarists. Wood and Richards like to keep each other guessing, darting in and out by feel rather than prescription. Richards’ tone was flat-out rude, his riffs announcing themselves like a backfiring Harley on “Tumbling Dice” and “Jumping Jack Flash.” On “Brown Sugar,” Daryl Jones’ bass assumed man-eating proportion.
The Stones did their best to justify the inclusion of two relatively recent songs in the set list, the feisty “Doom and Gloom” and the rather forgettable “One More Shot,” but it was the disco-fired numbers that felt freshest, with Jagger’s falsetto rising to the challenge over the Watts-Jones groove on “Miss You” and especially “Emotional Rescue.” But nothing could top Richards and Wood on acoustic guitars for the unusually tender “You Got the Silver,” with Watts – as usual – adding just the right feel on brushes.
No wonder the drummer was grinning, however briefly, at the end. It was a good night back there in the Stones engine room.
Rolling Stones set list Tuesday at the United Center:
1. Get Off of My Cloud
2. It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)
3. Paint It, Black
4. Gimme Shelter
5. Wild Horses
6. Rocks Off
7. Emotional Rescue
8. Six Days on the Road (with Taj Mahal)
9. Doom and Gloom
10. One More Shot
11. Honky Tonk Women
12. You Got the Silver
13. Before They Make Me Run
14. Midnight Rambler (with Mick Taylor)
15. Miss You
16. Start Me Up
17. Tumbling Dice
18. Brown Sugar
19. Sympathy for the Devil
20. You Can't Always Get What You Want (with Roosevelt University Conservatory Chorus)
21. Jumpin' Jack Flash
22. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (with Mick Taylor)
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